The first person I noticed was the girl with the green suede sneakers. She was just alittle different. Standing there alone, she had scraggly brown hair pulled tautin a florescent pink tie that clashed miserably with her misshapen green- andblue-striped jacket. With stretched-out cotton blue pants that failed to extendpast her ankles and glowing orange scrunch socks, she stood in silence, cleaningher frosted eyeglasses with her shirt.
It was a cold day in November andthe start of the winter track season. I stood with my friends, carefullysurveying the scene of prospective new teammates. It was all too obvious that agood number were not athletic, and we knew they would be gone within days. It wasthe same way every year. Yet, there was something about the girl with the greensuede sneakers, as I listened to my friends gossip about her.
"Haveyou guys seen that girl over there?" I heard someone say, pointing in herdirection.
"Does she honestly think that outfit looks good?"another giggled. Glancing at my new shiny spandex and brilliant white shoes, Iadmired my running apparel. Surely I must fit in. No one would dare talk aboutme. So the girl with the green suede sneakers stood alone, and I joined thegiggles of my friends. I too began to wonder about what she was wearing, as ifher clothes determined her personality. Sticking out like a sore thumb, sheshivered in the wind as we began our workout.
Following us to the startingline, the girl with the green suede sneakers looked confused.
"Whatis a 400-meter repeat?" she asked with a slight accent unfamiliar to me. Ipondered her origins for a moment, then quickly forgot about it as one of myteammates sarcastically yelled the answer. I rolled my eyes in disbelief alongwith the others.
Quickly, though, I remembered that just last year Iwould have asked the same question. I wondered if they had been that sarcasticwith me. No, that wasn't possible, I looked like a runner. So I continued,showing off my speed and joking with my friends as the girl with the green suedeshoes fell farther behind. Clearly out of shape, she huffed and puffed across thefinish line as my friends stood, barely out of breath, and ready to push on.Walking to the bleachers where I had left my water, I took a sip and relaxedwhile my friends started to do cool down.
Deciding to wait and catch mybreath, I started running by myself. Moments later, I heard the loud slap oftired feet close behind me. Thinking it was one of my friends, I turned around,only to see the girl with the green sneakers looking confused again.
"What is cool down?" she asked, and I explained, beginning towonder how anyone could possibly be so clueless about what we were doing. Runningin silence for a few steps, we rounded the track again as I gazed up at thesky.
"Isn't the sunset beautiful?" she remarked, her accent moreobvious this time. Indeed it was, a swirl of pastel oranges and pinksintermingled with stripes of pale purple. "I just love sunsets, especiallythose at the lakes by my home," she added. Beginning to wonder about heraccent, I asked, "Are you from this country?"
"No, I amfrom Germany, I'm an exchange student this year."
For the next lap, Ifound myself asking her about everything: her favorite foods, how she likedAmerica, how to say different words in German. I was so engulfed in ourconversation that even after we finished our run, we walked into the building,still talking, as I grew more fascinated with her culture andexperiences.
When we got to the locker room, I said, "Nice meetingyou," and continued on my way. Then I paused. Had I just been having thatawesome conversation with the girl with the green suede sneakers? Was she thesame awkward character whose mismatched clothes and slightly unkempt hair hadattracted the attention of me and my friends?
Disappointed in myself, Irealized how judgmental I had been. Her personality was not represented by theclothes she wore. I had made a great new friend from another country whosestories were fascinating. How could I have been so wrapped up in appearance? Ihad always prided myself on being accepting of other cultures. Narrow-minded, Iwas caught in what I thought would be acceptable to others and had almost missedout on making a new friend. After all, wasn't she more than a pair of green suedesneakers?
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.