My elementary school years are the ones that I often recall as being one of my greatest challenges. It is somewhat ironic, one might say, as for a majority of people claim that their high school years were the most difficult ones. It is to be expected; high school students, with hormones raging throughout their body, are finally making that big leap from a child to an adult. Elementary school is the prime time for a child to enjoy him or herself without the burden of money or work. What in the world could make a person despise such a carefree period in life? Truth be told, I never had many friends in elementary school. I was a quiet student, keeping my nose buried in a book most of the time. There were times I’d come home feeling as if though I had a great day at school, yet when I would recall my day at the dinner table in front of my family it became very clear that I hadn’t spoken to my peers often if at all that day. My day felt so eventful because I explored the great world of Narnia or became a witch with Harry Potter. Books blinded me from my reality, and I was infatuated with the process.
It was the beginning of my fourth grade year. I was at a new school once again, my chest had been rattling as if it were a cage filled with rabid butterflies as my anxiousness consumed me. That day, my fourth grade teacher had us sitting on the floor in a circle. I was only supposed to attend that school for one more year before moving to a new school, so I saw no use in making friendships. As a result of my father’s job, my family had to move around quite frequently. At nine years old, I was already attending my fifth school, of which would certainly not be my last. I thought that surely this new school would be the same as all the other schools. That is to say, I would spend most of my time alone in the back of the class or in the corner of the cafeteria. My teacher who had called us all down to the floor had instructed us to turn to the student next to us and tell them what we did that summer.
I glanced to my right and frowned. I had not seen the student in the classroom up until that point, but I had seen him around in the hallways that day. Although I was merely gazing upon the student, something about him rubbed me the wrong way. He had jet-black hair that fell just below his ears and swept over his eyes. His eyes were a similar dark color, studying me intensely. I felt a knot in my stomach as my mind began reeling with all the possible negative outcomes of this activity. Realizing the silence between us, I turned to him and gave him a small smile. “Hello,” I put my hand out for him to shake and introduced myself. His eyes flashed down to my hand, then back at me. I waited for him to shake it, but he acted as if my gesture was invincible. I uttered an awkward chuckle and hid my hand behind my back. “Right. This summer, I stayed at home. I went camping one week, but for the most part, I was pretty lazy.” My eyes shifted towards him. “How about you?” He peered at me in silence, his lips pursed. I stared blankly at him, waiting for a response. Anything. Yet to my dismay, he said nothing. I skittishly glanced away in embarrassment. What’s up with this guy..? I was very shy at the time, and his reaction led me to believe I had said something wrong. Almost in sync with my silent pleas for the activity to be over, my teacher ended the discussion. I sighed in relief and relaxed my rigid body. His behavior completely bewildered me, but I could not be bothered to ponder his behavior. I was simply happy to finish our conversation, or at least, I thought it was finished. My teacher shifted gears, beginning to assign us to our seats for the quarter. I took a seat at the group my teacher assigned me to, and began to unpack my things. It was only moments after that the boy from earlier was suddenly standing in front of me. I yelped and dropped one of my pencil cases in surprise. At that point, I was mentally screaming at myself as crayons scattered the carpet below me.
“What are you doing?” I had inquired.
He pointed beside me, “I sit here.” It was the first time I had heard his voice. He spoke in a flat tone, his face displaying very little emotion.
“Oh, I see. I’m sorry.” I began to pick up the crayons that spilled, and he picked up the crayons that rolled under his desk. He handed me the crayons without a word. I gingerly took them from him, “Thank you.” He responded with an abrupt nod. I placed them back in the pencil case and continued unpacking. Once I had finished putting my things in the proper place, I pulled out a book from my desk. It was one from the Percy Jackson series. I had been invested in Greek mythology at the time.
“What are you reading?” I turned to see the boy’s dark eyes staring at me intently. I was startled to hear him speak again.
“Percy Jackson,” I responded, almost reluctantly. I was afraid, you could say, of him judging me. Afraid of him deeming me a nerd like every other student I came across.
To my surprise, however, he smiled for the first time, “Really? I love that series!”
My mouth open slightly in shock. The statue-of-a-student who had been so cryptic before was suddenly unveiled to be invested in the same things as me. I started to consider the thought that perhaps we were more alike than we were different. For the rest of that day, I spoke to him in class about my favorite parts of the story and my opinions on the series. The boy was rather peculiar to say the very least, but nothing initially set off any red flags in my head. He loved Greek mythology and educated me all about snakes, as well as the one time he got in trouble for attempting to bring a snake to class at his previous school. Aside from his little gimmicks and quirks, I soon learn he had outbursts and created scenes, preaching about his interests almost religiously. Needless to say, it was much different from the quiet boy I had met on that first day. Oddly enough, despite my frequent attempts to avoid him outside of the classroom, he would always wind up beside me. He would be next to me at lunch digging through my lunch box, or next to me on the playground trying to read my books and ask me hundreds of questions about them. At first, I was irritated. Myself, being a loner for so long, was simply not used to such company.
As time went on, however, I grew to welcome his company, and even looked forward to talking to him. I would make the effort to find him outside of class and spend time with him. I knew that among others, we were viewed as dorks, but I didn’t really mind. I became much more outspoken as I learned that having a friend was a bad thing. We did not share all the same interests, but he respected my interests and I respected his, and we supported each other’s. He was unusual, but he was the only one who could make me smile for months. That was until a new girl transferred into my class and had taken his seat beside mine. I told him it was not a big deal, and that we could still talk outside of class. The new girl and I hit it off instantly as we watched similar shows and listened to similar music. It felt almost instantaneous that we exchanged phone numbers, calling one another outside of school. As I spent more time with my new partner, I spent less time with that boy I had met. It was obvious from the start they did not get along and were jealous of one another. He disliked her from their first meeting, and she had disliked him after he continuously treated her rudely. I tried on several occasions to have them befriend each other, but each attempt failed. Instead, I hung out with the girl more and more, and my number of friends started to grow.
Another day of him harassing my new friend went by, and it was another day of me embarrassedly giving an excuse for his behavior. I expected it to blow over, but instead, the girl had asked me, “Why do you even hang out with him? He’s weird.” I stared at her, preparing some sort of comeback, but paused myself. Why do I hang out with him? I thought about our friendship, and the more I thought, the more I began to question his behavior and my personal emotions. The more I thought about it, the more uncomfortable I became. I could overlook his odd and peculiar actions at time. However, his violent behaviorisms and the way he treated my other friends so negatively didn’t sit with me very well. I struggled to grasp the rein and control my emotions. I cared about him a lot, but there were many things he did that made me upset. It was not until he began yelling at me that my frustration with him ended. I stood up and told him, “We’re leaving.” I had left him alone at the lunch table, guiding my friends elsewhere to finish lunch. The weeks following, my friends would coax me about how I made the right decision. He had approached me several times to talk, but I completely ignored him. I would act like he was not there, or that I did not hear him. I was so cruel to him after all that time, but I was so confused as well. I’ll never forget his last words to me. I was with my friends on the courtyard during our recess break, preparing to head inside for our next class.
He had approached me begging me to talk. I met eyes with him in a feeling of anger, but I froze as I had realized he was crying. He asked in a quiet voice, “Why do you treat me like I’m a disease?”
I stared at him in surprise, not knowing what to say. It was over such a short time period and yet so much had happened to me. I struggled as I felt my mouth open, but no words came out. I realized I certainly could have handled the situation better, but being the naïve nine year-old that I was, I didn’t try to. I shut my mouth in silence, averting my eyes from him. He did not await a response from me. Instead, he stormed off back towards the school. I had watched him stalk off, and I did not do anything to stop him. I made my choice. I just wish I had made the right one.
My friends that I decided to choose over him eventually began to tease me. I thought I’d get along better with the group of girls with similar interests, but they turned on me themselves. I was picked on for reading or for the way I dressed myself. I soon found myself alone again, having to suffer the consequences of my actions. It pains me to think about; knowing I left my friend with no explanation. Knowing I had the opportunity to make amends to our relationship, but I chose not to. Knowing I let one of my only true friends that liked me for me walk right out the door, and knowing I did nothing to stop it. I knew that he would have understand why I felt uncomfortable with him and even stop doing the things he did if I just communicated with him. Yet for some reason, I expected him to figure that out on his own. If I had only known how important he was to me at the time. It was after that experience that I had learned to value those around you and be able to recognize those who truly care about you. I learned the importance of communication, and telling others how you feel. If you only live in the moment, it is all to easy to let it slip your mind. If you do not learn to value those you love, you’ll learn to the hard way: only after they’re gone.