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Out of my Comfort Zone, Into a Friendship
'Hey Cynthia! Look what I got!' I turned around in my seat, looking at my friend Jordan sitting behind me, wondering what she had in store.
'What?' I asked. She handed me a packet.
'These are the pictures we took from 7th grade, remember?'
'Oh yeah!' I said, skimming the page, 'I was wondering where these were.' I was about to turn to the second page, when I noticed the very last picture at the bottom. It was a picture of four girls and a guy smiling, huddled up in a semi-circle in front of the camera. They seemed to be good friends and looked like they were having the time of their lives. I spent what seemed like ages staring at this photo, lost in the memories of seventh grade, one of the most eventful years of my life.
I always thought I was meant to be an observer. I loved watching movies and reading books, just to see the plot unfold before my very eyes. I was the kind of person who made predictions about what's going to happen next in any television or book series. So for me, school was just another one of those drama-filled, action-packed reality shows that I enjoyed, starring the pretty queen bees and the admired drones. Every social crisis'every romance, argument, and secret the 'in' crowd had'was seen with my omnipotent eye. And during the periods of monotony between each social crisis, I would switch my focus from the 'in' crowd to the 'wannabe' crowd, watching them rise or stumble on the steps of the social ladder.
And I wasn't the only one. Tons of people at my school were observers: too low on the social ladder to be a part of the action. We weren't outcasts or nerds or anything like that, but we weren't part of the elite either. We all had our circle of friends that were great to have and fun to be with, yet, I have to admit, compared to the social lives of the 'in' crowd, we were BORING! So to make up for the insignificance of our social lives, we loved to watch and worship theirs, secretly dreaming to be in the spotlight.
Seventh grade was when I took up the position as observer, and I enjoyed it. There was so much to see, and so much to gossip about. My friends came to me for the latest news that I happened to overhear, or scandals that I happened to see. I examined everyone, analyzing his or her every move, and figuring out how it could affect someone else. It was very easy, as the 'in' crowd was very predictable. It was an ongoing cycle of boyfriends/girlfriends, lies, rumors, and drama, which led to break-ups, and new boyfriends/girlfriends. It was boring in every exciting way.
Until Bradley came along.
Bradley was, in my opinion, perfect. He was funny, smart, outgoing carefree, and he wasn't obsessed with himself, unlike the rest of his friends. And, I reluctantly acknowledged to myself, he was really cute: tall, tan, and handsome with a messy mop of brown hair that he would flip every 5 minutes. I knew since the first time I laid eyes on him'during a dodgeball game at the end of 6th grade'that I would like him. Sure enough, when he walked into my History class on the first day of school in 7th grade, I was totally love struck.
Yet there was one problem. He was part of the 'in' crowd. He was one of the stars of my favorite sensational soap opera called 'School', while I was merely part of the audience. Because of this, I thought he was totally off-limits, out-of-bounds, and way out of my league. It was like having one of those celebrity crushes; you can fantasize for a day, but then reality kicks in and you have to learn to live with the thought that he will never-in-a-million-years think the same about you. But then you move on. And that's what I did. After what I thought would be a brief fancy, I resumed watching my little reality show and going about life as usual.
But not for long.
Day by day I grew increasingly uncomfortable with the thought of just watching the action instead of being apart of it. I was tired of just blending in with the shadows. I didn't want to be just another forgettable girl in the jungle I called middle school. Observing Bradley just wasn't enough for me anymore. I wanted to be observed by him. So one day in history class, I decided to make the first few steps out of my comfort zone.
I decided that I was going to stop watching and start acting.
A couple of minutes after deciding this, I realized that I had no clue where to start. I wanted to stop fading in the background, yet I didn't want to come on too strong and seem desperate for attention. I didn't know how to accomplish this, so I nearly gave it up as a lost cause. But when the school bell rang, I spotted something that made me change my mind.
I saw Bradley and his friend Samantha walk out the hallway and down towards the buses together, chatting away as if they were close friends. Samantha wasn't part of the 'in' crowd at all, yet here she was conversing with one of the most popular guys in our grade; a guy who could probably make girls blush and giggle just by looking at them. Seeing the two talk to each other gave me the courage to continue on with my plan. And now I had a goal. I would walk out of the hallway and down towards the bus ramp with Bradley by my side. Because if Samantha could hang out with Bradley, why couldn't I?
Now the question was how to accomplish this. I couldn't just ask to walk with them, because that would make me look desperate. I thought of just casually bumping into them on the way towards the bus ramp, but then I remembered that I didn't ride the bus at all, and I thought it would look really stupid to be walking to the bus ramp alone for no apparent reason. So I decided that maybe I should just start talking to him first, and then see what happens from there.
However, I didn't think merely talking was enough. I needed to initiate conversations to ensure that I would get noticed, and that's a big thing to do around people I barely know. So I tried to find something to start a conversation with, like school, friends, sports, whatever. I wanted this conversation to have a meaning too' starting out with a topic like 'How's the weather' wouldn't make the best first impression. I'd just look stupid. So I racked my brains day and night for a good conversation starter.
Then I remembered something huge and scolded myself for being so forgetful. Bradley and I went to the same summer camp! Even though I only went for two days, I definitely remembered seeing him there. This would be perfect to bring up, and even the conversation ended up not being important to him at all, it'd mean a lot to me. It would signify my first step outside my social boundaries, my first attempt to lose the image of being an observer.
One day I tried it out. It was the end of class, and everyone was packing up because the bell was about to ring. Wishing myself good luck, I finally plucked up the courage to talk to Bradley.
After waiting for him to finish talking to Samantha, I asked, 'Hey Bradley, did you ever go to the Teen Extreme Camp at the YMCA?'
'Uh yeah,' was his lengthy reply.
'Really? So did I'
'Really? I don't remember you,' he said. Uh oh, this isn't starting out well, I thought.
'Well, that's because I only went for two days, but I remember everyone there, since most of them were my friends,' I replied hastily, my brain in panic mode, trying to save the conversation from an awkward end, 'Oh, and I remember your name because there was another Bradley there, who had red hair. He was really hot. Do you remember him?'
'Oh yeah! He was always messing with Livia,' Bradley reminisced, flipping his hair again.
'I know, right?' was my response, which I always said when I had nothing more to add.
'Wow, that's weird. You guys met each other before, but don't even remember it!' commented Samantha.
'Yeah, I guess so,' Bradley said. Thus the conversation ended, and Samantha and Bradley continued to talk about other things while I just listened. I wasn't sure whether my plan worked out or not, but I didn't have much time to reflect on it since the bell rang while I was still packing up my backpack. Well, it turned out the conversation did mean something to Bradley, because one minute after the bell rang, I heard him say three special words. 'Hurry up Cynthia!'
I immediately turned around to see Bradley and Samantha waiting for me at the door. Bradley actually wanted me to walk with him! My first step out of my comfort zone was a success! Here I was, walking down towards the bus ramp with one of the most popular guys in the grade. I finally got a small part of the action I craved, and I knew that someone had to be watching me. There were so many observers at my school that anything involving the 'in' crowd had to have been seen by at least one of them.
Every other day, I'd walk with Bradley and Samantha towards the bus ramp. It was the beginning of an unlikely relationship. Before long, I thought of Bradley not as a mere classmate or student, but as a friendly acquaintance. But that wasn't enough for me. I wanted to take out the '-ly acquaintance' and just be a friend. That's right, I wanted to be friends with one of the most popular and attractive members of the 'in' crowd. It was a huge goal for someone a bystander like me, but with enough bravery, perseverance, and willpower I knew I could do it.
So, I kept my observing to a minimum and focused on just being myself in front of an audience, instead of only my close friends. I found an outgoing side of me that could be seen by others if I merely opened myself up to them. This discovery made me have more confidence in myself, and throughout the course of the year I made a lot more friends than I did in 6th grade.
From then on, I always made the first move. Instead of watching Bradley hang out with other girls, I'd make sure I was one of the girls he hung out with. Instead of waiting him to talk to me, I'd talk to him first. Instead of only laughing at his sense of humor, I got him to laugh at mine. Our relationship progressed rapidly, and soon enough Bradley, Samantha, and I, along with my newly found friends Emma and Jordan, were like a posse in history class. And that by itself was a lot of action for someone like me. It wasn't the full-scale drama that I was used to watching, but it still was something. I knew that a lot of observers at my school would never get a chance to develop a friendship with such an amazing person. You could go as far as to say that some might be jealous! Knowing this, I constantly felt that I was on top of the world.
By May, I was far away from being Bradley's observer, but I didn't think I was that close to being his friend. Sure we talked and had fun, but that didn't really mean much. It just meant that we enjoyed each other's company. And I wasn't sure that you had to be friends with someone to enjoy their company. So, I worked even harder to become Bradley's friend, especially with the school year coming to an end in only one and half months. Then on e day, I hit a stroke of luck.
I was looking at people's Myspace profiles, because that was the 'in' thing to do before Facebook came along, and I suddenly came upon Bradley's profile. By habit, I decided to make the first move and send him a message, asking him how long did he have a Myspace (since in February he told me he didn't have one). He answered, and we sent messages back and forth for about 2 days, and then he suddenly friend-requested me. I was overjoyed and of course, I accepted his friend request, because back then being friends online was just the same as being friends in school. I felt so proud of myself when his picture showed up on my list of friends because that was living proof that Bradley and I were not friendly acquaintances anymore. We were just friends.
May and June turned out to be some of the best months of my life. During those months, Bradley and I were chatting with each other during class, in the hallways, and online. He even asked me to sit next to him at lunch one time, but it was only for ten minutes. Still, our friendship was stronger than ever, and whenever we got to get along with our posse, we were bound to have a good time.
The last day of school couldn't have come sooner. Just a couple of days before, I had finally gotten Bradley to sign my yearbook and Jordan got our history teacher to take a picture of our little group. The picture showed us huddled in a semicircle, smiling and looking as if we'd be together forever. But before I knew it, I was in the last History class of the year, having the time of my life with my friends. We took pictures of ourselves, sang 'We Didn't Start the Fire' by Billy Joel at the top of our lungs, and basically just goofed around the rest of the period. During the last five minutes of class, I found myself giving hugs to Samantha, Emma, and Jordan, but purposely leaving out Bradley in case he didn't want one.
I was about to go back to my desk when I heard a voice behind me.
'Hey, what about me? Don't I get a hug?' Bradley asked.
'Fine, you get one too,' I replied, in a mock annoyed tone. I strode over to his desk and gave him a small hug. During that brief moment of friendship, I looked back on everything I had accomplished throughout the year. I couldn't believe that just 10 months earlier I thought I was merely part of the background. I thought about all that had happened after I took the first few steps out of my comfort zone, and all that might not have happened if I hadn't taken those steps. I realized how many risks I took in always making the first move, and how hard I tried to become Bradley's friend. I thought about how long it took for me to be able to get as much as a greeting from Bradley, and here I was getting a hug. I asked myself, was it worth it all? Was being Bradley's friend worth stepping out of my comfort zone? Was it worth me giving up by hobby of observing just because I craved some of the spotlight? Was it worth all the time and effort?
I looked back on the year once more, and saw how many friends I made because of my need to step out of the shadows. I thought about all the fun times I had hanging out with my new friends throughout the year. Most importantly I thought about what the hug meant to me. That one hug symbolized the miles I went and the boundaries I crossed. Above all, it symbolized friendship, a friendship that I had once thought impossible.
In less than 10 seconds the hug was over. I strode back to my desk and again asked myself the question, was it worth it all? And then I decided the answer was yes. All the energy I spent in trying to become Bradley's friend was worth it, just because of that hug. Sure it was short and a bit awkward, but it meant more to me than any other tangible reward a friendship might bring. My goal that year was to be friends with Bradley, and that hug was proof that I had accomplished it. It was like a Cinderella story; I had defied any rule there was preventing an observer from being friends with someone from the 'in' crowd. What more could I want?
A long time afterward, I found myself sitting at a desk, staring at a certain picture, lost in the memories of that adventure long ago.
'Cynthia? Hello? Are you still there?' a voice said as if from far away. Reluctantly bringing myself to the present, I looked around for the source of the noise. I finally saw Jordan staring at me, probably wondering what was going on in my mind.
'Sorry,' I replied, putting the packet down, 'I was just''
'I understand. I can't get enough of these pictures either. Seventh grade was a pretty eventful year, wasn't it?'
I picked up the packet again and turned around in my seat just in time to see a familiar face walk through the doorway; a familiar face with tan skin and a messy mop of brown hair. I waved at this close friend of mine and he flipped his hair as a sign of greeting. As he turned around to talk to the teacher, I gave the packet back to Jordan and whispered,
'You have no idea.'