Let’s be honest: Middle school sucks. For everyone. For me, middle school was hell, because I had severe acne, was already 5’8″, a little more than 100 pounds, and had just recently started with the whole orthodontia business. I was a lanky, pimply, metal mouthed mess. I didn’t make friends easily, and I wasn’t part of the “cool” group. (I know, shocking!) I was picked on, teased, and endlessly made fun of. There’s a special place in a burning circle of hell for the bullies that rise out of middle school.
Being a “new kid” in middle school has got to be even worse. (I wouldn’t know, because my parents still live in the house we moved into a few weeks before my first birthday) But I can only imagine: If I was in hell, a new kid must be in the 7th circle.
But let this Lord of the Flies/Children of the Corn setting be the backdrop for our scene:
It was late fall, nearly winter, my sixth grade year, and a new girl showed up in my homeroom class. The entire class had all made cliques already, and the outcasts had found solace in our awkwardness, so this new girl was a stranger. She had red curly hair, and freckles, and wore a purple coat. No one spoke to her. She was an alien, an unknown outsider.
I observed her from afar for a week or so, and quickly realized that this girl in the purple coat happened to walk the same way as I did, towards home, after school. She turned before I did, but was along the straightaway with me for quite a few blocks. After another week or so of strictly watching her, I approached her with caution, and with 6th grade eloquence said, “Hey, we walk the same way home.”
Her eyes darted around, to make sure I wasn’t approaching with anything more sinister than that to say. After a few seconds, she kind of laughed, and said, “Oh.”
‘Shit. I’ve failed.’ my inner monologue started to say, but I attempted a recovery with, “Want to walk together today?”
She looked around again, to make sure this wasn’t a joke, waited a beat, and said, “Ok.”
The date was set. First contact had been made. The girl in the purple coat and I were walking towards home together that afternoon. No turning back now.
We walked towards home that day, and every day that week. I found out her name was Sam. She had a couple of brothers and a sister, and spent every summer at a sleep-away camp that her parents ran. Towards the end of that first week, we laughed easily together, and had navigated each other’s sense of humor.
Friday morning came, and I had admitted to myself that this might be an actual friendship. This girl in the purple coat. So I called her house at 7:00am, before school, to talk to her. One of her older brother’s (he was in High School) answered and the phone (cue the awkward 12 year old girl, boy shyness) and call went something like this:
Sam’s Brother: Hello?
Me: Umm, h-hi, is Sam there?
Me: Oh… Ok… Umm…
SB: Uhhh, hang on. (Passes the phone to Sam’s Mom, and in the background I hear music playing, and people talking and laughing, and general morning commotion)
SM: Hello, this is Sam’s Mom, who’s this?
Me: Umm, hi, this is Angela from Sam’s homeroom. Is she there?
SM: Oh, hi Angela from Sam’s homeroom, Sam told me about you. No, I’m sorry, she left awhile ago to go to an early Orchestra rehearsal at the school.
Me: (starting to sweat, ‘what have I done?!’ I thought to myself, but took a deep breathe, and pressed on) Oh. Well… I was wondering if she could come over to my house today, after school, but…
SM: Sure! Absolutely. Have her call me when she’s ready to come home later today and someone will come get her.
Me: (Stunned.) Ok. Well, thanks!
SM: Sure, nice to talk to you!
Me: Ok, sure, yeah, thanks, bye!
Later, I would learn that because Sam was the third of 4 kids, her parents were anything but helicopter parents. They encouraged all 4 of their kids to Go, Do, See, Live!
Fast forward about an hour, and we’re sitting together in homeroom, I tugged on Sam’s sleeve and said, “Hey. You can come to my house after school today, your Mom said it’s ok.”
Confused, she says, “Cool! I mean, wait, what? My Mom?”
I explained that morning’s phone call, Sam came to my house that night, stayed for dinner, and last fall, she wore a purple dress to Martin’s and my wedding. I’m picking her up from the Amtrak Train this Friday, in Champaign, Illinois for us to spend a weekend together in Martin’s and my new house. Talk about a life-long friend!!