In 9th grade, I had the body of a 32-year-old woman, the eyebrows of a lunatic, and the style of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog from circa 2004.
The cherry on top?
I just moved schools.
I only really knew a couple of people before I moved, so I was open to making new friends. On the night of open house, I met someone who was about to either make or break my high school experience.
A revered figure within the community, Buford Roberts was notorious for flaying people alive with his insults that were as sharp as razor blades, right before hanging them out to dry for the world to see.
No one was safe, including teachers.
One look at me, and he made me his little project. I wasn’t complaining, either. You didn’t want to be one of the unfortunate ones who weren’t in his social graces.
Homecoming King, Prom King, and Regina George of Fairview High School were just a few of the titles he held.
I froze like a deer in head lights when he approached me. I already knew who he was, because you didn’t just not know who he was.
He stood at about 6’4, with light mossy green eyes that made you feel like he knew all of your secrets.
Because, he did.
His most notable feature was his hair, which wasn’t shaped in any particular fashion. Because there was so much of it, it sort of resembled a powerful, all-knowing bouffant that surged with gossip.
Either way, with his squarish jawline and a nose that would make Paris Hilton jealous, there was definitely a good-looking man underneath all that high school awkwardness.
“You look good in green. Has anyone ever told you that?” he coyly smirked, exposing his impeccable white teeth.
Somebody had way too many coupons for Crest White strips.
Before I could answer, he aggressively grabbed my arm, pulled me closer to him, and looked me directly in the eyes like he was about to beat me up.
“You’re cute. Let’s be friends,” he said, tenderly letting go of my shirt.
I mean, I wasn’t going to say no. I didn’t have any friends, plus he held the school’s crotch in the palm of his hand. Social suicide wasn’t exactly on my agenda that year.
Buford wasn’t just a Mean Girl, though. He was also annoyingly funny, which meant that no matter how awful he was to you, or told you that your outfit looked like shit, he said it in a way that made you feel important.
“Did you get dressed with your eyes closed this morning?” he’d say to my best friend at least once a week.
Like a ruthless dictator, he’d wait for about five seconds, then burst out into laughter, which let everyone else in the group know that it was okay to laugh as well.
If I’m being honest, though, this girl did kind of dress like an owl going to prom.
That year, Buford developed a “crush” on this same friend, and tried to convince me to get her to go out with him. I saw straight through this, It was just a gentle maneuver to elevate her popularity, while making him appear less gay.
If that was even possible.
One day, he passed me a note in the hall, which I eagerly opened in my social studies class.
“Do you have a boyfriend named Arnold* that I need to know about?” it read in a sarcastic tone.
He was referring to her boyfriend who was like 17 years her senior.
“This is so stupid. I mean… I just don’t think this is going to work. She led me on for far too long. I don’t want to be friends with her anymore,” he wrote, masterfully manipulating the entire situation.
That day, my friend called me in a panic.
“We need to talk,” she said in a worried voice.
“Yeah, I know. Buford is mad at you. About the whole Arnold thing,” I replied.
“I KNOW! He completely ignored me when I spoke to him today. He literally pretended like I didn’t exist when I said hi to him in the hall,” she continued laying out the pre-cursor to WWIII.
Oh no. It was worse than I thought. He had already doomed her to ghost status.
“Well, what are you going to do? You seriously don’t want him mad at you,” I responded.
We are already disliked by nearly every girl in school. Were we really about to revoke our social rising amongst our gay friends?
I pushed for dating Buford.
“Look, you’re just going to have to break-up with Arnold. I just moved to this school and I’m not going to let you jeopardize our chances of having any friends. We can’t lose Buford as our ally,” I told her.
“It’s not that easy, Hannah. And, isn’t he is gay? I mean there’s just something different about him,” she argued.
“I mean not officially, but who cares if he is gay. Just let him be your boyfriend. Now do what you have to do,” I strategically advised.
Thankfully, within a week or so, Buford quickly forgot about the whole ordeal and got a different girlfriend from his church.
Talk about a close one…
A few months later, little to my knowledge, he entered me into an actual popularity contest. Yes, it was that wonderful time of the year, where the school voted for the most-liked kids in each grade. It wasn’t that I was disliked, but I certainly wasn’t the most popular girl in my grade. I was shocked that I even made the list of top five.
I was even more surprised when I actually won.
I remember thinking, “This is not right. I am not the most popular person amongst these other girls. I’m not even a cheerleader.”
After I found out I won, the first person to congratulate me was Buford.
“Congrats on the big win. You really deserved it,” he said in the most fake pageant queen tone I’ve ever heard.
“No, I didn’t? What are you even talking about. I’m definitely not the most popular person in my grade,” I told him.
“I know,” he said still brilliantly smiling.
“I might’ve had a hand in swinging the election a bit,” he explained.
Buford was the president of student council, which meant that he was in charge of the ballots for any kind of vote. In an act of immense political corruption, he personally voted for me about 900 times, so that I’d win.
“OH MY GOD! BUFORD! I DIDN’T EVEN WANT TO WIN!” I yelled.
“Yes, you did. You did want to win. But it wasn’t possible. So, I made it possible. You’re welcome,” he said.
What was he? The Robin Hood of popularity?
He was right, though. I guess this meant that I was officially popular by law.
It was nice not feeling alone during my first year at a new school. Me and my best friend quickly became a part of Buford’s squad of suspected gay kids, except we really were straight.
It also led us to question our own sexuality.
“Have you ever noticed that all of our friends are gay?” my best friend asked me one day.
“Well, not officially gay,” I reminded her.
Whatever that meant.
“Yeah, but like, have you ever thought that you were gay? I mean… maybe we are gay, too. Like, how do we not know that we are gay?” she tried reasoning.
“I mean, I think you just know,” I said back.
“Wait, do you need to tell me something?” I followed up to my last question.
There seemed to be an internal struggle of sorts going on.
“I don’t think I’m gay. I’m just wondering how you know if you are or not,” she said in a way that made me think she’d seriously spent some time muling this issue over.
“I think you just know if you are gay. I don’t think we are, but I do think most of our friends are. I know a lot of people consider it to be bad here, but I don’t care. It just doesn’t matter,” I said.
We seemed to both agree upon this and left it at that. It didn’t matter to me if my friends were gay or not. Not only were they the funnest people to be around, they were also the funniest. They made me feel included, when I could’ve easily been excluded.
Fast-forward to 10th grade, where we all decide to take my mom’s new creative writing class. No offense to my mom, but this class was a shit show, and she loved it. It was just me and all my friends writing horrible comedic material that my mom had to grade.
That’s where I met another squad member, Cody. We bonded over him telling me captivating stories about what life as a Pentecostal was like.. Between people slithering down the aisles of church like snakes to a strange man possessed with a dark demon, it was enough to give Stephen King a run for his money.
I know that we did have actual assignments to complete, but I don’t remember any of them.
Except for one.
Our final project was to create and film a story. We were split into groups, in which I was separated from my best friend, but put onto Buford’s team. Naturally, he would take the lead role as the villain in the classic vaudeville story that we wrote together.
I couldn’t tell you what exactly this movie was about. All I remember is being tied to a tree, right before Buford punched me in the stomach for a more “dramatic effect.”
My junior and senior year, I transferred again to a community college to complete an Associate’s Degree, while I also took my high school graduation requirements. Even though I didn’t get to hangout with my friends as much, we still stayed in touch. Thinking back on my high school experience, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. I had two really fun years of being a part of a group of people that I genuinely liked.
During my other two years of high school at college, I actually learned how to do math.
Now, that’s a success story that we can all rally around.
Today, Buford is an all-star traveling nurse, who currently lives in St. Louis with his long-term boyfriend. He grew out of his awkwardness, styled his hair, and is annoyingly handsome.
He is also still a total bitch. Let me make this clear.
But in a way that makes it okay, because it’s funny, which is an important life lesson to remember. Buford taught me that you can be mean to people, but only as long as you do it in a comedic way that makes them feel like it’s okay to be the butt of your joke.
It’s a great social skill to put on your resume and will make you famous at holiday parties.