When I was in the fourth grade, I was the kid who was paired with the teacher. I didn’t mind it. I felt a great distance between me and my classmates. I was bigger than most kids and my natural state was quiet. My peers took my silence for snobbery instead of shyness. I was awkward socially and would often embarrass myself in large crowds. I figured out at an early age that it was easier to isolate than try to make friends. I was an avid bookworm and ‘tv addict’ so I pretty much had my choice of fictional worlds. Teachers liked me and so they made fine field trip buddies. It didn’t occur to me until years later that I was also very angry during this time and for a while after.
I wasn’t very aware of my unhappiness until her. She was a quiet girl with an accent. She was small and nice. She wanted to be my friend. She would follow me around the playground. She would try to talk to me and I could tell she admired me. I did not care for her. I never embodied the Groucho Marx quote”I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member” more than I did during my childhood. One day, very publicly, I shunned her. I was a fat angry girl who had already been through two best friends. We didn’t end on bad notes, they both relocated. In any case, I was not auditioning for a third one. I yelled my rejection at her in a way I’ve never been able to since.
I still think about her. I don’t remember her name. I don’t remember her reaction to my dramatics. She sort of just faded into background after that. I wish I could apologize to her. I want to tell her that I was sullen and I hated myself. Her only mistake was trying to befriend me. It took me a quite a few lonely stretches in the following years to learn my lesson from that exchange.
I’m not saying I got this friendship thing even mostly down. There are days when I am still that angry fourth grader who doesn’t understand why someone would befriend her. I have periods of time during which I isolate and I frequently flake on people. There are times when I’m self centered and annoying. I almost dare them to cut me off and prove me right. For the most part, I’ve been lucky. It also helps that most of my friends understand and can relate to my behavior.
I can say that I try harder at friendship now. I try to believe friends when they say they like my company. I’m definitely more of a delight now than I was 20 years ago. I try not to push them away and I apologize when I’ve offended. I make the effort not to consistently flake and am rewarded for it with their company. I have cultivated a pretty decent group of support both locally and in other states (thanks Internet!). I don’t know that I’ve ever believed I would have so many friends but I’m grateful for them.