Millbrook Elementary was a medium sized school, with mediocre teachers and mediocre students. The school was mostly a pale orange, but there was the occasional strip of blue paint. A large checkerboard took up the majority of the blacktop in the “town hall” of the school. The playground was placed in the middle of the blacktop like a deserted island in the ocean. The paint on it was blue and white because of the principal, Mrs. Welch loves the Cowboys. I could see the other kids playing on that polished structure, and I was stuck staring at everyone having fun without me. Just because of one person.
Everything started with the whispering. All of my classmates in Mrs. Otewalt’s 3rd-grade class where staring at me wherever I went, were silently mumbling in each other’s ears. And all of them were glimpsing at me. It was like a pattern: look, whisper, laugh. Look, whisper, laugh. What did I do? Why was I so hated? All of my friends and people that I didn’t even know were treating me like I was a pinhead. Well, everyone except for one person. She was Alida, my best friend from preschool, had braids with beads hanging from her head like she had a mop on top of her head; it didn’t look half bad. Alida said that she was a “tomboy” and she hated girl stuff. She was the only one that wouldn’t believe what they said and my only real friend.
Whenever the others started to laugh about me, I would go to a lonesome bench, and Alia winked, and she went into gossip mode. She would go out, listening, pretending to gossip, and come back and tell me what other people were saying, although I felt that she wasn’t telling me the whole thing. None of what people were talking about was right. It was all lies, and wild ones too. People were saying that I was a loner, I had a crush on Alida, etc. None of this was right, of course, but my so-called “friend” Malachi was spreading the rumors like the Black Death. Malachi had been one of my best friends at the beginning of the year, but now he singled me out, blamed me for everything he did wrong, and at the end, he would laugh, and say he was just kidding. Malachi was a short kid with a buzz cut, and a he is a Mexican. Malachi had a silver filling on his right molar and a mischievous smile that would make you suspicious. One time, he persuaded everyone turned against me in Egyptian War and made another team without me because I was apparently “cheap.” I always had a feeling he didn’t like me but was worse was that I didn’t know he would go to this extent to quarantine me. Malachi was a newbie this year, and somehow became friends with me shortly after school started. He didn’t have many friends in the beginning, but now it felt like he was being backed up by the entire third grade. Whenever Malachi saw me, it was a pattern: stop, look, hesitate, turn, leave. It was like he didn’t want me here at this school. I only had one defense: come back tomorrow and hope he is back to normal. It never worked.
Alida was my best friend, doing everything to help me out, make sure that I wasn’t alone. She was like a mother to me, and all of that washed away with one small decision that I still deplore to this day.
Alida and I were silently talking amongst ourselves on the swings when Malachi came behind us.
“Get off the swings. It’s my turn,” he mumbled. I stayed quiet.
“Jeez. Alida, come on. Let’s go. Leave this weirdo alone,” he instructed her. I watched as she went with him, not turning back. Maybe she was doing her gossip mode thing again. Maybe.
“Alida,” I said to her, hoping she would come back. “Alida!”
Her back was turned to me still, and then I couldn’t take it anymore. I got up from my seat and went straight to the mean yard duty.
“Excuse me? That guy is making fun of me. No, not the other one that’s my friend, but the other guy,” I said, all hopes lost. The yard duty told me to get him, and I walked up, I told him the teacher was calling and watched from my seat on the swings to see him get in trouble. As Malachi was getting spoken to, the yard duty pointed her pointer finger at Alida and motioned for her to come there. The yard duty stopped talking, they started nodding their heads vigorously and started back with hatred in their eyes. My face went cold. Oh my god, did I just fail my only friend? I thought, fear in every part of my body. Maybe she’s not mad at me? I watched as she walked right past me to her class as I said,
“Are you still mad at me? What did I do?!”
Her back was still facing back at me. I did. I feared that I had lost my only real friend. How can I go on with school? How can I go on knowing I don’t have anyone to have my back?
After school, I went to the checkerboard and waited for Alida’s class to come out. I knew it wasn’t worth it, but why not try to talk to her? Alida’s class and the other classes too came running out, with the sound of rolling backpacks on the rough asphalt. Gathering the last of my hope, I approached her.
“Alida, talk to me. What did I do wrong? Please, tell me,” I asked.
Her response: Walking right past me.
That was it. I had lost everyone. No one was my friend. Tears welled in my eyes. I walked back to the main gate to get picked up, and coincidentally she was walking the same way as I was. I wiped my face and dried my hand on my shorts. Alida stopped, and Malachi going ahead. She turned around spoke,
“Sorry for not answering. Malachi was on the edge of not trusting me to hate you.”
My hopes rose like helium.
I couldn’t say anything.
I just smiled.
Later that week, I looked back at the orange school from the shotgun seat of the U-Haul moving van and knowing that I had not left that school in isolation. However small the quantity you have of friends, even though it’s only one, they still matter.