In third and fourth grade, I had a best friend. Every recess, we would giggle about the beginnings of crushes, armpit hair, and secrets. Music class was characterized not by learning to play the recorder, but the exchange of glances and whispers. Judgement or impressing my peers had never crossed my mind, as I knew I would have my best friend forever and always.
In fifth grade, my best friend left me.
She switched schools. I looked around and saw 60 other peers who I hardly knew.
How do I talk to someone who knows nothing about me?
I knew how to be in a friendship, but over the years of exclusivity and security, I had forgotten how to initiate one. Fifth grade was characterized originally by loneliness and eventually an abusive friendship. In sixth grade, I exited the abusive friendship and found myself with no one-- nobody to talk to, no one to smile at in class, no one. As the year progressed, I descended into a state of social anxiety and I found myself unable to talk.
Loneliness and isolation turned into depression. When asked to write a poem about a summer day, I wrote about a sunny, warm day mocking my sorrow. I wrote a song with a chorus, “If I die, will they cry?” I made a mask out of shattered mirror, so when I looked at myself in the reflection of the glass, I was broken.
The summer before seventh grade, I Googled “How to make friends” and read the first 14 articles. I put the friend tips into flashcards and studied them each night before bed.
I noticed that when I slouched, there were rolls of fat on my stomach.
In the beginning of seventh grade, I tested out Google’s tips on my classmates and I noticed the nutrition label on the back of food. Every time I talked to someone, I felt a hot rush of fear in my forehead and felt searing judgement, but I had to have strength. “How to appear confident when you feel scared,” I typed into Google. I started estimating how many calories were in my breakfast. One recess, I went into a classroom full of people I had never talked to, playing cards. Fear nipped, but I pushed it down and sat with them. Soon I had developed a group of friends- Emmett, Clarissa, Ruby, Raven, and Abby to spend recess with. I ate one piece of toast for breakfast rather than two. I was changed- people liked the confident me! I made people happy! Soon, the feigned confidence became natural. I reduced my lunch to a 90 calorie greek yogurt. Although I was content with my current friends, I eyed a different group, the cool girls. I would not have truly shaken off my soiled sixth grade clothing until I was in that group. I reduced my calorie intake further. I approached this group of girls, wearing my new confidence, and struck up a conversation. I only ate salad for dinner. They seemed genuinely interested in me, and invited me to spend time with them. I pinched my belly, searching for any remaining fat. Casey invited me to her birthday. I didn’t eat cake. She called me a friend. I started skipping lunch altogether. She called me her best friend. I exercised three hours a day. I fainted. I went to the doctor. When I was out from school, my new friends told me they missed me.