Okay, so where was I? Oh yeah, my very painful first…
Wow… I can’t believe how long it’s been… At least 50 years! Still, I remember it like it was yesterday. I was so timid and shy back then that just the thought of being alone was enough to bring me to tears, so you can imagine how frightened I was at the thought of making the bold move I had been contemplating.
I was still such a child in every sense of the word; and I felt like I was being forced into adulthood before I was ready. Having come from such a large family, there was always someone around to make me feel safe. But not one familiar soul was anywhere near to comfort or protect me on that chilly day back in the fall of 1965.
There I sat in a room filled with complete strangers wondering if I’d make it through the morning without crying. My memory of that day is so vivid that I can still smell the nostalgic scent of musty books and wax crayons whenever the memory resurfaces. It’s an oddly comforting scent that clings to the air like a child clinging to its mother’s bosom… Heck, it still clings to my olfactory nerves after all these years! And though those little trappings of books and crayons were hardly noticeable, they were as much a part of the décor as the antiquated furnishings… including the old desk that cradled me while providing no comfort whatsoever.
As I sat in that cold, musty room with not a friend in the world, I realized I had no choice but to grow up… and grow up fast. Time had slowed to a crawl since my early morning arrival and it felt like I had been there for an eternity. But the clock on the wall told a different story. It had only been a few hours. I didn’t really notice the clock until a loud bell rang out and turned my attention to it. That’s when I saw the little hand jump to attention and salute the 3 while the taller hand stood firm and proudly saluted the 12.
I wasn’t yet sure what any of that meant, but I knew my long-awaited moment had finally arrived… my now-or-never moment when I would do the unthinkable.
At the first sound of the bell, the entire room came alive and I could no longer hear my rambling thoughts over the shuffling of shoes and the chorus of laughter that suddenly filled the room. All the unexpected commotion made my heart race with fear; and my frantic search for words was fruitless. I had to trust my tongue to improvise without any help from my brain. And I had no idea if my mouth would cooperate to allow as much as a croak to escape my dry throat.
First times are always frightening, but even more so when you fear rejection as much as I did. And I knew if I allowed myself to think about what was about to go down, fear would paralyze me; so I pushed my thoughts as deeply into my stomach as they would go.
Then grabbing my jacket from my lap, I rose from my seat and tried to steady my wobbly knees. I soon noticed two lines forming on either side of the room… one on the left and the other on the right. I wondered if the separate lines served a particular purpose but being distracted by my mind’s chatter made it impossible to hear the instructions being yelled from the lone voice of authority attempting to direct the traffic.
I couldn’t worry about that, though. It was best to take advantage of my momentary wave of confidence, so I made my way over to the only line I could choose if I expected to execute my plan.
As I inched closer our eyes met, causing me to trip over my untied shoelace. That little mishap queued my lips to snatch the reins and, without missing a beat, my tongue delivered the exact words I had been silently practicing throughout the day…
“Will you be my friend?” I asked Sheila.
Sheila was the tall, chocolate lanky girl who smiled and waved when the teacher first introduced me to the class that morning. I’m sure that’s what drew me to her. And standing there in line next to her, she seemed drawn to me as well.
She wasn’t shy or timid like I was and she started talking right away…
“Do you live on my street?” she asked.
I had no idea where either of us lived so I responded with a shoulder shrug and a crinkled brow. I also had no idea I was standing in the wrong line. Turns out I got in line with the students who would be escorted onto the playground at the back of Marxhausen Elementary School when I should have been in line with the students who would be escorted to the front entrance leading to Cadillac Street.
But I was a frightened little girl who was all too happy to be standing in line with my newfound friend. It was my first day in a new school and everything was strange and confusing. But once Sheila had agreed to be my friend, I no longer felt alone; and in that moment that’s all that mattered.
Once we were released into the wild where schoolhouse rules ceased to exist, there were children of all sizes running in every direction on the playground. Most scattered off to catch up with an older brother or sister who was impatiently waiting in the distance.
Sheila let go of my hand, waved goodbye, and headed in the direction of her house without me. Left standing by myself on unfamiliar ground, I suddenly realized I didn’t know where I was. And since I had gotten in the wrong line in class, I ended up being shuffled out the door that pointed me away from the street my house was on; and I had no idea how to find my way home.
When my mother walked my siblings and me to school that morning and dropped us off, she gave specific instructions on where she would collect us when school let out; but from where I stood on the playground, nothing looked familiar. I was nowhere near the gate mom had pointed out in her instructions and my sisters and brother were nowhere in sight.
I don’t know how much time elapsed before mom eventually found me crying my little heart out that afternoon. But time is a funny thing and mom was a chronic worrier, so it’s possible she lost two years off her life that day worrying about me. Life, too, is funny because although I was found on the playground that afternoon, I remained lost in life’s jungle for the next 30 years.
As frightening as that experience was for me, I will always cherish the memory because it was a pivotal day for me… It was the day I made my very first friend. I had decided to do it and I did it!
And although I didn’t see it at the time and failed to heed the lesson for many years, I did eventually learn that hooking up with the wrong people could lead you down the wrong path in life. That’s why it’s so important to choose your friends wisely. It’s not that Sheila was a bad person; but she certainly wasn’t the best choice for a friend that day.
I choose friends differently now that I’m older and wiser; and it goes without saying that I no longer ask for friendships like an innocent little seven year old. I now let my intuition guide me to like-minded people and I follow one simple rule: If I don’t fit in, I don’t try to get in.
In the past, I’ve made many poor judgments when it came to who I should and should not trust, but today I am fortunate to have finally found a few trustworthy friends.