Before I started high school, I had this big tight-knit group of really awesome friends. We grew up together, were homeschooled together, spent weeks and months and years together. It seemed like I’d known them forever, and when you’ve known someone forever, everything starts to seem simple and easy. Even the squabbles and the disagreements and the petty jealousies are just so incredibly easy.
You can lie on your back in the grass with your heads together and look at stars—spend your weekends hiking and camping, paddle around in canoes and catch snakes and toads and crawdads, swim in the river, play hide-and-seek in the train yards, sneak out after curfew, eat popsicles on the curb in front of Safeway, build tree forts and sleep out on the trampoline and pick all the worms out of the gutter when it rains and throw them back on the grass. You can understand each other without ever having to say anything.
So, I had all these really awesome friends. Who I’d grown up with. Who I’d known forever.
And then school started and I realized that I had no idea how to make new ones.
This wasn’t a social emergency or anything. Or, it was, but it didn’t feel like one. On the very first day, I was adopted by a group of very nice girls who let me eat lunch with them and always talked to me before school and between classes. Nice girls who gave me fashion tips involving stores I couldn’t afford, and admired my hair, and who put up with me. Because no matter how nice they were, that’s how it always felt—like they were putting up with me.
I knew early on that I wasn’t a good fit. Too detached and too silent, I had no patience for things like stress or homework or senior boys who didn’t know we existed. Sometimes when I was with them, I started to feel like I had no patience for anything.
The last straw came somewhere around mid-January of my sophomore year. We were all sitting at one of the circular cafeteria tables for lunch, and I don’t even know why it was the last straw, just that it was. We were talking about sports and activities, and how you need a well-rounded transcript to impress colleges, and they asked me what extracurriculars I had.
I said soccer, and one of the girls suggested I rethink that, since it only really counted for colleges if you played for your school, and I nodded and said, “I’ll play for school in the spring.”
The look she gave me was tender as she carefully explained that in high school, a lot of people tried out but they didn’t all make the team, and I should probably have at least one choice that was more dependable, like Spanish Club.
And like that, I was done.
It was strange, because nothing about the conversation offended me. I wasn’t hurt or mad or even very surprised. It was just that in that moment, I understood that none of them knew me at all, not even a little, and more than that, even if they did know me, they probably wouldn’t like me that much.
The next day, I sat alone, with my sandwich and my book, and Catherine came and sat down next to me. She asked why I was by myself, if I’d had a fight with the girls I usually hung out with.
I shook my head and said, “I don’t think I belong there.”
And she just shrugged and got out her lunch. “Well, I can’t help with that. They’ve all hated me since eighth grade.”