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I have no friends today. Nobody smiles at me when I pass them in the school hallways, nobody says hi to me, and nobody ever waves at me except when I wave to them first. It has been a year since I’ve moved here to Tennessee, but sadly, I still have not made any friends. I do not have anyone to turn to when I am upset or confused; I don’t have any shoulder to cry on or a helping hand when I need a lift. I always feel so alone at school, but of course I wish it wasn’t that way. I wish I didn’t have to force the fake smiles that I somehow produce at school, and I wish I didn’t have to pretend like everything was okay.
All the time, Mom expresses to me how many friends and how much enthusiasm my brother has. It’s painful when she does because I know that in reality she’s asking, “Why can’t you be more like him? Why aren’t you like Jeremy – happy and smiling all the time? Why are you always so moody, shy and quiet?”
More than always, I wish I was like Jeremy, too. He’s everything – popular, well-known, and well-loved. Everybody knows him, and there’s not a single person who dislikes him. His energy every day is like that of a bumblebee’s; there is never a single moment when he shows that he is unhappy. So when I see my mother’s bright face towards him and her dismayed face towards me, I ask the same exact questions to myself. Why couldn’t I be more like him?
You see, there are times when I try so hard to become a true member of the school. There are times when I go out of my own way to help someone out just so that I’ll be remembered as helpful and caring. And then there are times when I feel like I’m invisible and no matter how hard I try, I will never be seen or heard at all.
I would do anything to be like one of them. I would do anything to feel like I actually have a good group of friends instead of feeling like I have to shove myself in their faces to be noticed. And I know that sometimes I don’t try my hardest to be a part of the group, but I can only keep up at this for so long. Making an effort to become friends with the other girls is exhausting, and often I am left struggling not to drown in the ocean, anyway. There are so many times when I wonder how Jeremy does it so easily.
I just don’t understand why it’s taking me so long to fit in. I don’t understand why I still get the feeling that I’m not there. There have been too many times when I’ve tried extra hard to make conversation with them and failed. There have been too many times when I’ve struggled not to cry in school because of my lack of social skills. There have been too many times when I’ve stopped and wondered what my life would be like right now had I begun school here in kindergarten, like everyone else. Would I have friends and be a part of a group, or would things still be the same, as they are now? Would I be talked to first, instead of it being the other way around?
I have no friends today, and no matter how hard I try, I don’t think I ever will at this school in Tennessee.
“You read my diary?” I screamed at Jeremy. “I can’t believe you would do that!”
My brother was now looking at me in a different way than he normally did. His narrower eyes told me he was confused, and possibly even surprised. The way his eyes flitted like a dragonfly around the room showed that he felt uncomfortable. “Is that really how you feel about moving here?” he asked quietly.
I groaned as I suddenly realized that there were so many things that Jeremy shouldn’t have read – the part about Mom, and especially the part about what I thought of him.
“You had no right to take and read my personal stuff!” I shrieked, ignoring his question. Tears streamed down my cheeks like a waterfall. Once they’d started, I couldn’t get them to stop. “Why would you do that to me?”
“I didn’t mean to make you upset,” he told me quietly, suddenly fascinated by the mark on the wall. “I was just worried about you.”
“Worried about me?” I screeched, gaping at him. I couldn’t help but let out a strangled sob. “You can’t tell Mom.”
Spinning on my heel, I started to head back to my room so that I could scream in my pillow. But in seconds, my older brother’s hands were grasping my shoulders and I was being pulled back.
“Listen to me, Kimberly,” Jeremy said softly.
I struggled and yelled for him to let me go, but when he didn’t I finally gave up and decided that it was futile to even thing about trying to escape him at all. After forcing myself to calm down, I took a deep breath and turned back to him. “What?” I said, exasperated.
“All you have to do is take the step forward by yourself,” he told me gently. I stared up into his eyes – the eyes of my father – and saw the same familiar green color. His mouth took the shape of Dad’s, and so did his nose. For a second, I was speechless as the only thing I could think of was my father. The golden chain, carrying a piece of my heart and tucked underneath my shirt, seemed to burn on my chest like fire.
“Kim, listen to me. You just have to know what you want, and then get it. Quit worrying about what will happen next.” Jeremy’s passionate eyes bore into my soul, and the locket seemed to burn even more as I was constantly reminded of my father.
“But they seem to hate me,” I whispered. Another tear slipped down my cheek, eagerly dripping down onto the floor. “They all do. Why would they tell me that they were busy Friday doing homework, and then all go out to eat together? How can I not worry about what will happen? What if I mess up? It could ruin everything.”
“Do you think Peter would have invited me to anything, after just a couple of months? It doesn’t happen just like that,” he says. I’d never seen him so sincere. “It’s not as simple as learning the alphabet, Kimberly. Friendship doesn’t just happen. You’re not trying hard enough, but I know you can do it. You have to gain confidence. You can’t just sit back and wait for it to happen, because it won’t. You have to take the step first. They can’t do that for you.”
Jeremy was normally nice to me, but he’d never been this considerate before. I was awestruck at how much of a good brother he was to me, and wanted to hang my head in shame when I thought about how all I did was idolize him and envy him in my diary entries.
Even more dispirited and ashamed of myself, I nodded silently and he let go of my shoulders, stepping back into his room. When he reappeared, the diary was in his hands. I blushed as I took it back from him and retreated back to my own room, contemplating everything he’d just told me.
After a few minutes of lying on my bed without a purpose, I stood up and decided to take a walk outside to clear my mind. There was a special place that I always liked to go to in the woods beyond our backyard: a small pond with many beautiful floating flowers and butterflies. There was an obvious path to it, but I liked to think of it as my secret hide-out where I could be alone.
As I took in the fresh air that smelt like flourishing flowers, pollen and tree leaves, a smile formed on my face as I allowed myself to put aside everything that had just happened. This place was my relief and a chance to take a deep breath before I had to go back out into the real world again to worry about having friends.
A butterfly fluttered in my direction and landed on my shoulder. As if perplexed, it studied my bright blue shirt, and I realized with a laugh that it was attracted to the color. If only life were simple as a butterfly’s; you wouldn’t have to worry about making new friends, nor would you have to struggle with the death of a father. You would have no intense pain, hurt or sorrow inside of you; only the fact that you had a single job to complete throughout your whole life. Once you’d fulfilled it, your life would be complete.
With a sigh, I took my shoes off, sat next to the pond and dangled my toes in the water. The dirt felt soft and moist in my fingers, and as I sat there in silence I could feel relaxation gratefully spreading through my body.
Something twinkled out of the corner of my eye, and I turned to see a glimmer of a spider web, supported by two neighboring branches and covered with tiny droplets of water. It was a wondrous sight, woven together with perfection and precision. The slight tremor, caused by the light breeze, passed through the web, reminding me of strumming a guitar.
In a flash, the spider scrambled out to the center of the web, probably expecting a bug to have caught inside. It took a moment for it to realize that it had only been the wind, and disappointed, the elegant black spider returned to its earlier position in the corner, waiting for prey to come flying into the trap.
Another small wisp of wind shook the spider’s work of art, and once again the insect crawled out to the center of the web, looking for a fly. Again there was no prize, and for the second time the spider retreated back to the corner of the web.
I watched as the process happened several times more. In amazement, I marveled over the fact that the spider never gave up or lost perseverance to find food. It always came out if the web shook, though it probably knew well enough by now that it was just the wind.
My fingers reached to the locket hanging around my neck. I opened it and smiled back at my dad. It was almost as if he were saying, You can do this, my little pumpkin. It’s what he always used to tell me when I was little, if I had doubt about anything. In fact, they were his very last words to me. I’d been worrying about a math test, and he had comforted me easily. “You can do this, my little pumpkin,” he’d told me with a smile, just hours before the car crash.
Closing the locket again, I took a deep breath and stood up, starting to head back to the house. I would make the effort, no matter what the costs or results were in the end. I would do it for my father.
When I looked back one last time to glance at the spider, I saw that not one but two flies had flown through the web. Smiling to myself, I vowed to never give up until I’d caught my own flies, just like that spider had.