Being an 11th grader in a huge out-of-town Bais Yaakov with 100 girls per grade is a social breeze—said no one ever.
Having a grade comprised of five classes with 20 girls each, it’s almost impossible to know everyone. But you do learn to recognize the intricacies of the different groups if you sit back and watch. That’s what the floaters do best: we sit back and watch. We’re not part of any specific group, but we’re generally friendly with everyone.
For example, there was the yeshivish-cool group. These were the girls who wore the particularly shiny flat loafers with small bows. Typically, this group sports the Bais Yaakov Bump hairstyle with the shiny black headband. Socks were always argyle, and a New York accent was common to these girls even though they were born and bred out-of-towners. They were typically heads of dance, choir, or drama groups. The leader of the clique is usually the head of a school delegation. They were the girls who generally started to kumzitz while having massage trains in the halls during free periods and never got in trouble.
Then there were the regular cool girls, who generally were known for their sense of style, poise, and confidence. These were the girls who would come to school in the winter with the brand name, “in” style puffer coats, never an imitation or off-brand. In the summer, they’d come with different colored Chinese slippers every day to mix things up. The name brand headbands always added a fun pop of individuality to this group. Always adorned with the new season Michele watch or Tiffany necklace, these girls loved to make a fashion statement despite the school uniform.
Then there were girls like me. Us floaters had individual friends from each group, never managing to fit into one particular mold. It was kind of like those chocolate-chip cookies you make for a kiddush that come out of the batch deformed. They’re yummy all right, but they’re always eaten out of sight or placed on the bottom of the serving dish. After all, you wouldn’t want your guests to see the deformed cookies next to the perfect petit fours and cake pops. So you eat them all before the event—and maybe even enjoy them more.
These girls love to hang out, but if you’re not part of their clique your time spent together will always be off school grounds, or when the rest of the clique is absent. I wasn’t particularly the cool kid, but people thought I was funny. Always chosen to play the comic relief part in the school production, I’d look forward to every opportunity to make people laugh. I was happy with my friends, but I always wondered what it would feel like to have the halo effect like the cool girls or be super-organized like the yeshivish-cool group.
All of this shifted at the beginning of 11th grade when a new girl named Shev Portney joined our class. Shev definitely had the halo effect. She was always surrounded by a group of us girls, regaling us with stories from her previous life. She claimed to have moved from the West Coast: Los Angeles, California.
Shev’s stories were fascinating. She was the daughter of Hollywood actors who became observant, which prompted them to pick up and move elsewhere. The tales she told from back in her modeling days mesmerized girls from all the groups, and I was her ticket in.
Shev quickly chose me as one of her best friends and never left my side. We spent recess together, and she had me introduce her to everyone. Shev was clearly on the fast track to become the most popular girl in 11th grade.
The first time I invited Shev over to my house for Shabbos was a wonderful yet harrowing experience. She spent the duration of the Shabbos meals amusing my family with stories from the West Coast and her previous life. We spent the afternoon hanging out with friends, neighbors and family. All seemed fine until Shev left and my parents offered their two cents as a rude awakening.