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My First Lifeline

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In the weeks before summer vacation ended, I moped pitifully around the house, making sure everyone knew how miserable I was. My only friend had moved, and in fifth grade, I was to be alone. She had promised to write but in the months of her absence I hadn’t received a single email. Since I couldn’t take my frustration out on her, I took it out on everyone else. Slammed doors and temper tantrums were common; my harrowed parents had no idea what to do to control me. By the time school started, my relieved parents couldn’t push me out of the door fast enough; I was no longer their problem.
As unreasonable as my behavior seemed, in my mind I was perfectly justified. At school, I had no friends. I was the quiet kid that sat in the back of the classroom, the one that hardly said a word. My tattered paperbacks were my only companions; I carried them around wherever I went. I read at a frantic pace in the corner of the library every lunch. A soggy sandwich and crushed juice box lay by the ground next to me, as I immersed myself in the stories of characters that I would never be.
There was a group of girls in my class that I looked upon with a mixture of intense loathing and secret envy. They were like the collection of Barbie dolls I had stuffed in the back of my musty cupboard. Even after months of neglect, their hair was perfectly in place, their plastered-on smiles were impeccable, and their clothes were unruffled. The fifth-grade ‘populars,’ as they were called, hung around the basketball court at recess in a giant formation. Ever so often a high-pitched laugh would break through their impenetrable barrier, a force field that you would be stupid to even consider broaching, before quickly being repressed by muted giggling. They were outgoing and well liked by everyone. I loved them. I hated them. I wanted to be like them, but didn’t have the courage to try. It was one of the girls in that clique, far by the most popular out of all, that would throw me a first real lifeline. Immersed in self-pity, I didn’t realize how fast I was sinking until she pulled me back up.
Her name was Taylor. She had long, black hair flicked carelessly over her shoulder, and piercing hazel eyes that challenged everyone that looked at her. It is said that “eyes are the windows to the soul”, but Taylor’s gave nothing away. Every time she looked at someone, it made them feel like she was stripping them bare. She uncovered everyone’s secrets while revealing none of her own. Her small, quirky smile made it seem like she was dying to share a secret with you; in fact, her whole demeanor suggested something mysterious. She had the ability to make her peers feel included, make them feel important. Whoever she graced with her attention would follow her around for the rest of the week, a look reminiscent of an eager puppy dog slapped on their faces. Enigmatic is the word I would use to describe her today. Pathetic is the word I silently chanted in my head then. Like I did everyone else, I ignored Taylor completely. I was happy to be left alone; my books were the only companions I needed. Their dog-eared pages welcomed me with open arms; their familiarity was a comfort. But there was a little part of me that hoped Taylor would pay as much attention to me as she did everyone else. That day occurred a month after school started…
It was one of those hot, muggy days that seemed like they would never end. The oppressive heat pressed down on my head; I felt myself melting onto the gritty pavement below. The school had implemented a new rule that banned food from the library, and I was forced to eat in the cafeteria like everyone else. I hated the cafeteria: it’s grimy walls, noisy patrons, and greasy smells made me sick. It was a welcome relief to exit the place and breathe clean air again; I grabbed my book and dragged myself to the corner of the bleachers that provided me with some measure of shade. I tried to distract myself with The Famous Five, but the ‘boink’ of rubber balls hitting hard cement distracted me. I settled myself to watching the game in the basketball court in front of me instead…
So immersed in the game, I didn’t notice the pitter-patter of footsteps approaching behind me until it was too late. I turned sharply, a string of fifth-grade vulgarities at the tip of my tongue (stupid being the most predominant). Then I stopped. I felt the unsaid words dribble down the side of my mouth as I closed it with a “snap”. It was Taylor. Completely out of her element, she seemed lost. After a few false starts, and plenty of stuttering she finally stammered: “I don’t really know you, and I guess this is all pretty strange. But, you know, I was wondering if you wanted to come and hang out with me and my friends?” The lingering question hung in the air, I was free either to accept or decline. After a moment’s hesitation I shook my head and muttered, “No, it’s okay,” and as an afterthought. “But thank you.” With an understanding smile, Taylor nodded and walked back to her friends.
As anti-climatic as that interaction seemed, it was the lifeline that pulled me back to shore. I wish I could say that Taylor and I became best friends after that incident. We didn’t. She was simply a girl to me: a girl who I smiled at in the hallways, a girl who waved to me in the cafeteria. We never interacted except for the occasional polite niceties. But something transpired that hot, muggy day; Taylor saved me when I didn’t even know I needed saving. It was only later that I understood the implications of her actions. My self-destructive, egotistical behavior had sent me on a downwards spiral of loathing and self-disgust. Taylor helped me see that. She talked to me; she came over and had a conversation with a girl who refused to let anyone in. Taylor didn’t need to—she could have ignored me; I could have ignored her. It wouldn’t have made a difference in her life, but it made a difference to mine. Someone cared.
A 10-year-old can’t be expected to put all this in words. I know I didn’t. I never found out what made her come over to talk to me; I never needed to. Instead I let go of my self-pity, anger, and hate and actually tried to make friends. When people realized that I was willing to make an effort, they did too and I was happier than I had been in a long time. For the rest of the year, every time Taylor and I came across each other she would give me one of her secret smiles and I knew that she understood.



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