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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
The Observer

For the Outsiders

I remember it clear as day: The grass was yellowing, becoming more straw-like, and the fireflies by the creek were nowhere to be found, probably hibernating or doing whatever fireflies do when summer ends. Practice had just ended and the moms were too busy shepherding groups of girls into heavily bumper-stickered minivans to notice me shuffling around in my soccer cleats, searching for Anna’s bandaid.

Anna had mentioned that her bandaid fell off during practice and I was determined to find it, searching the sparse patches of grass, until I found the blood-crusted bandage. Proudly, I held it up high, and shouted toward the car line, “Anna! I found it!” 

To my dismay, I received no praise or fanfare. Instead, the moms flashed looks of horror and disgust and in that moment, I knew I had messed up (badly). 

The scene was chilling — Kate Casper, eight years old, frizzy hair tied back, size three soccer ball in one hand, bandaid in the other; Kate Casper, the last girl left in the middle of the soccer field; Kate Casper, the only one not carpooling home, the only one not sitting in a friend’s moms’ minivan, sipping on a CapriSun; Kate Casper, the Outsider.

My dad consoled me the whole way home. He didn’t shame me for picking up someone else’s used bandaid (although that was pretty gross), he just told me that it was a kind gesture and he was sorry.

Needless to say, I had a tumultuous relationship with soccer growing up — between those glorious parent-provided halftime oranges and end-of-season pizza parties at Fuddruckers was a lot of loneliness and humiliation. I spent water breaks collecting cones instead of socializing with the other girls, chased down teammates’ soccer balls that got booted into the creek in a desperate attempt to become a part of the clique and often got little-to-no say in choosing atrocious teams names like Team Chocolate or Team Fudge. I tried to be liked by the girls, but it seemed the harder I tried, the more “other” I felt.

Maybe these memories from my rec soccer days should haunt me, but today, I see them as integral parts of my Outsider origin story. On the soccer field (or more often the sidelines) was where I felt the most alone, the most “outsider,” but also, frankly, the most “me.” 

The soccer field was where I learned to love the smell of freshly mown grass and the feeling of slipping off my sweaty shin guards after practice; it was where I learned to be a teammate, an underdog and a competitor all at once. 

The truth is, once you catch a case of the “Other,” you have it forever (it’s like mono, only less sexy). Once you’ve been the Other, you can recognize the Others among you. 

You can recognize the Other in the crowded house party on East Washington where everyone looks comfortable and loose and drunk, except for the shy girl in the corner, sipping on a Coke. You can recognize the Other in South Dining Hall when you see the boy from your first-year calculus class who always eats alone in the corner with his headphones in. You can recognize the Other when your friend tells you they can’t afford the spring break trip or the house on Corby you’re signing a lease for. You can recognize the Other when you ask a girl what dorm she’s in and she replies with “Oh, I’m a Smick.” 

There are Outsiders everywhere.

We are the Outsiders. 

We are the kids who don’t fit in with the guys in our section. We are the kids who don’t drink. We are the kids who fumble around the Notre Dame introduction. We are the kids who have no idea what we’re doing after graduation. We are the kids who aren’t white or aren’t straight or aren’t rich. 

We are all “Other” at some point, so we might as well be “Other” together. 

That’s why the name of this column is “Outsider Instincts,” because I want these 800 words every two weeks to speak to the Outsiders, to speak to all of us. I want to speak to the first-year girl who eats dinner alone every night on the phone with Libby and JT because she’s struggling to make friends. I want to speak to the girl who picked up Anna’s bandaid. 

Because I was that girl. 

And I’m going to hold onto her so tight because she was trying, and she was beautiful even in her “otherness.”

Kate Casper (aka, Casper, Underdog or Jasmine) is from Northern Virginia, currently residing in Breen-Phillips Hall. She strives to be the best waste of your time. You can contact her at kcasper@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.