Mark has never had any friends. I don’t know why, nobody really does, but it’s been that way since kindergarten. We would be playing with blocks and Mark would be in a corner by himself with a Raggedy Ann doll. That’s when Mark was classified as “the weirdo.”
Now we’re halfway through sophomore year and nothing seems to have changed. We sit at our lunch tables chatting energetically and eating our meals. Everyone’s trying to enjoy the best part of the day and no one seems to notice Mark, sitting three tables away, with his bagged lunch and what looks like 20 pounds of binders and textbooks. He is alone.
Mark is in some of my classes, but I never talk to him, nor does anyone else. He is not bullied, only because there is nothing to bully him about. Everyone seems to have stopped acknowledging his presence.
Everyone at my school is selfish, including me. We are only concerned about our own lives. I suppose that’s why no one notices Mark. They have their friends, they don’t need him. What’s the point in trying to be friends with a stranger?
I thought this way until one day at lunch when I saw Mark sitting just like always. He had his bagged lunch, his load of books - the usual. But he didn’t completely blend into the surroundings that day, at least not to me, because he was crying. He was crying! I didn’t know what to do. I felt horrible. There I was, sitting with all my friends, acting stupid and being happy, and there he was, 20 feet away, crying to no one.
Eventually, my conscience got the best of me and I went over to his table. On my way, I tried to think what I would say. I had been in the same classes with this kid since kindergarten but had barely said a word to him. Part of the reason I went over was guilt, knowing someone was sitting in the middle of a crowd and crying. It was sad. And I’ve heard about teenagers being neglected and hurting themselves, teenagers just like Mark. Friendless, insecure people. Social outcasts. I didn’t want Mark to hurt or possibly kill himself, me, my friends, or anyone else.
When I got to Mark’s table, I stood there for a minute before sitting down across from him. He didn’t notice me for what seemed longer than a moment. When he did, he seemed embarrassed. He looked at me and then down again, sniffling like he wanted me to leave. But I didn’t. I asked what was wrong, and he told me. He told me his problems and his worries, about his family, the friends he wished he had, everything. And I listened. I listened to Mark that entire lunch period and by the end he seemed better.
When the bell rang, we said good-bye and went to our next classes as usual. But things were different after that. I started to be friends with him, as did my friends. Then we no longer just talked about his problems, but everything going on in our lives, and we became close. The change in him was extraordinary. Quiet Mark became outgoing and personable, and my friend. I noticed the unnoticed and was a friend to the friendless. For me, this was just making another friend, but for Mark, one new friend meant finally putting behind him years of loneliness.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.