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Hot, moist, air whirled around me. A multitude of food scents mingled together in a repulsive way. If I closed my eyes I would think I was walking around China Town on a muggy New York night, but there I stood in the cafeteria of my middle school. Like all middle schools it was filled with kids chattering, unappetizing foods and hair net donned cafeteria ladies.
As I hesitated in the entrance, I could feel the blood rapidly flowing throughout my body. My armpits were soggy despite the extra shower fresh scented Secret I applied that morning. I had that overwhelming feeling of apprehension just like when the nurse is holding the flu shot inches from my arm.
Although today was different, the feeling was much the same. I was about to walk into the cafeteria and sit at a brand new lunch table – a premeditated, much anticipated move with the sole intent of changing my friends.
I was going to walk right past my closest friends, the girls I had eaten lunch with for the past 6 years, and nonchalantly sit down at a different table, with different people. But different was exactly what I needed.
Although switching tables doesn’t seem monumental in 7th grade tables practically defined your social status. Almost everyone had a table. Besides for the rare social chameleon most people chose one and stayed there; switching was unheard of.
Looking back there were a lot of the other four-legged blocks in my life. My first table (the hospital table) was shiny silver. Next there was my changing, mini art, rainbow Lego, round preschool, airplane, restaurant, kitchen tables. Each table and chairs created a temporary community. So when I left my table, I left so much more.
But something had begun to change within me. My friends were an old pair of sneakers one size too small. The fit was too snug and my big toes were grazing the front. I had outgrown them. I needed to be re-measured.
I no longer enjoyed the friends I had. I no longer found them to be interesting or genuine. They were only good for a fun time at each other’s expense. Each day someone was angry at someone else.
Also, we didn’t like the same things. While they obsessed over gymnastics and cheerleading competitions, I cared about school. However, they seemed more concerned with the daily drama of the Kardashians and the Bachelorette than with the big math test next period.
Not to sound like a complete nerd but I needed people to have intellectual conversations with, about things that mattered. It wasn’t about “being smart’ or getting good grades in school” but more about friends who weren’t all the same, who could offer different perspectives on things.
Instead of robotically walking to the same table, I strutted across the cafeteria and never looked back.
I want to say it all worked out perfectly, that it was the best thing I ever did, but it wasn’t all-perfect,
I majorly screwed up.
Yes, for lack of a better word I screwed up. I didn’t just gain a new group of friends; I lost a bunch of old ones. I thought to build a new bridge you had to burn the old one. But now when I awkwardly smile at my old friends in the hallway I know it didn’t have to be this way. I don’t have to choose one table. I can have them all –or so I’d like to think.
I’d also like to say since then I’ve grown or changed or something optimistic but I would be lying. I still, as much as I try not to, make enemies in the process of making friends. But I’m working on it.
I know in the future I will need to kick some people out of my life but for now I need to stop pushing people away. If I ever find my sneakers feeling snug again I won’t throw them away. No matter how ratty or uncomfortable they become I will keep them in my closet. I’m not the only one who changes; one day they could be comfy again.