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My Friend Victoria MAG
I have a friend named Victoria. We both love buttery popcorn, know how to play “For He's a Jolly Good Fellow” on the piano, and like to sing, even though neither of us can carry a tune. The only major difference between us is that Victoria has special needs.
When I signed up for Best Buddies Club, an organization that breaks the social barriers between mainstream high school students and students with special needs, the advisor described Victoria as a “tough case.” She fixates on one topic and will often look as if she's spacing out even when she's listening to you. She lives with her grandmother and wheelchair-bound uncle. The advisor's carefully chosen words presented me with a clear challenge.
And so my palms were sweating as I cautiously stepped into the Best Buddies room for the first “Get to Know Your Buddy” pizza party. “Hi, Victoria, I'm Libby,” I said. She just nodded without looking up from her pizza. I brushed the awkwardness aside, grabbed two cookies for us, and dragged a chair next to her desk.
The continuing silence forced me to wipe my palms on my jeans and ask, “What's your favorite kind of pizza?”
“Sausage,” she responded. Again, silence. To avoid three-second conversations, I answered my own questions too.
“Oh, I'm not much of a sausage fan. But I love pineapple and black olive pizza, which works because nobody likes to eat it, so I get half of a pizza to myself.” I'm not sure if my nervousness was making me ramble or if I was actually bringing us closer, but I could not stop talking about trivial subjects – favorite colors, movies, and sports. At least I was entertaining myself.
Our conversations revealed that Victoria and I had the same lunch period. The next day, I spotted her in the cafeteria and invited her to sit at my table. This time, to my surprise, she began asking about my interests. I don't know if it's fair to say that I felt proud of her, but I was pleased by her sudden curiosity. Finally, she asked, “When can we eat next?” and before I knew it, we had made lunch plans for every other day.
During the three years we've known each other, Victoria has helped me learn boundaries and determine my comfort levels. Sometimes she's told me overly personal information, and I've had to say, “I'm not comfortable talking to you about this. You should tell your grandma.” It's hard to tell someone I've grown close to that she can't confide in me about certain things, but I have learned when to draw the line.
Victoria has also brought out my extroverted side, helping me realize that I can relate to anyone I meet. In my diverse town, Victoria is just one individual who has helped me gain intercultural understanding and broadened my perspectives, but she has had the most significant effect on me.
I joined Best Buddies Club because I wanted to make a difference in someone's life, but I had no idea that Victoria would change the way I view my own life. I am now dedicated to bridging gaps, not only with handicapped people, but with those of different races, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Recently, I hosted a dance party at my school with the goal of mixing Best Buddies members with those who aren't normally involved with the group. The advisor said it was the most successful party the club had seen, and six people approached her to ask how they could join. I hope eventually to start an organization that introduces people with intellectual disabilities to the outdoors, making it possible for them to take week-long adventure trips and write about their experience.
I can't help but smile when I call Victoria's house and hear her announcing to her family, “My buddy is calling!” Last year, Victoria and I won an extracurricular award for maintaining a strong friendship. Even more important than the award are the intangibles that lie behind it. She'll always be the girlie, bologna-sandwich-eating, loving Victoria in my eyes, and I hope I'll always be her outdoorsy, chocolate-eating, dependable Libby.