When the leaves start changing colors into golden sunlit orange, and the acorns hit tin patio roofs and make a loud clinking noise, certain memories swirl around my mind. Summer is long forgotten, and backpacks are stuffed heavy with homework. School nights are beckoning the relief of impending Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.
I scroll through my social media newsfeed, and I am reminded of the person I once was. It’s always been hard for me to make friends. I struggled since the first day I walked into a kindergarten classroom.
Thinking back now, I can smell the overwhelming aroma of childhood hanging upon little chairs and large play areas. In my recollection, everything looked gigantic. Walking into that same kindergarten room today, I would be the giant among children. I am the Alice in Wonderland who has drunk the magic potion and grown too large for the house. My legs are sticking out of the windows.
Maybe we are all children in oversized bodies—still yearning to fit in and trying desperately to be accepted by others around us. We want to have friends. I still seek to find kinship; to find my people.
These kind of people laugh at the same dark sense of humor I possess. We hurt with the same offending cruel words. We comfort each other when necessary. These are the people I call friends. In choosing my friends, I don’t limit them to having to be ranked into a certain socioeconomic class or the same religion or race. They only have to be human. They will breathe and bleed, just like me.
It’s been almost 30 years since I made my first friend. We were put together by my choosing; I chose to sit beside him. On the first day of school, our teacher placed students at tables, and this arrangement was made by the color of our shirts. If a shirt had pink and purple intertwined, the student was allowed to select which table they wanted to sit at. The tables were large and round, holding about five or six kids to each octagon shape.
Off to the front of the classroom along the same wall as the door was another table: it was small and rectangular, with only two seats. As students raced to their miniature plastic chairs, I looked down at my shirt, confused. I was wearing a white shirt with a multi-colored jigsaw puzzle pattern. Some of the pieces were colored with red, blue, yellow or orange. I had my choice to sit at whatever table I liked.
I stood there long after most children were seated, uncertain where to sit. Finally, the teacher walked over, and I saw most every child had already picked a seat. I was standing alone in the middle of the room. As an adult, I’m still indecisive, and most days, I still feel like I’m standing alone in the middle of a room.
On this first day in kindergarten, though, my inept decision-making caused me to be the last child to sit down. I didn’t choose one of the large tables with lots of friends. As I scoured the room, I saw one little boy sitting by himself at the lonely little table in the front. I wanted to sit there. I wanted to be at his table.
It was one of my better decisions. We didn’t have to compete with other kids at our table to make friends. The two of us talked and colored and were just two kids playing at our table. We were instant friends.
A few months into kindergarten, I woke up one night covered in puke. I cried out, knowing something was really wrong. I didn’t feel right. I screamed for “Mommy” as children often do in the middle of the night when they’re scared and sick.
My mother called our pediatrician and I was taken immediately to the doctor’s office. But for this illness, the entire trip was different. My mother carried me through the back door. I didn’t get to sit in the waiting room and read my beloved Dr. Seuss books and Highlights magazines. These items were the only reason I almost enjoyed seeing my pediatrician.
Instead, I was placed in a back room surrounded by medical supplies. Cotton balls, long wooden tonsil checkers, bandages and medical tape are not nearly as exciting to look at as a Highlights magazine, but I sat there by myself in my personal kid-quarantine room.
The diagnosis was scarlet fever. I wasn’t allowed to return to school for over a week. Through the bouts of vomiting and high fevers, I worried who was sitting with my friend at our table. I hoped he was OK.
When I returned back to school, my friend had been moved to one of the larger tables and so was I. It was uncomfortable sitting at those big round tables with my peers. I didn’t talk nearly as much to these new kids. I found it hard to make friends. However, I remained friends with the same little boy until our high school years.
Scrolling through friends’ pictures today, I sometimes find myself feeling sad that I don’t have any pictures with large groups of friends–the types of pictures where about 15 people pack around and on top of each other like smiling sardines. If I had a picture of all my friends together, it would be three people, including myself.
Two friends are all I have in life. But, I think back to the little table where I sat with one other child in kindergarten. I remember how great that friendship was compared to the relationships I made at the larger table that year. I’ve decided that I would rather have two friends whom I can actually talk to at an intimate, small and trusted table.
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