3: Moving into Friendship

3: Moving into Friendship

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

Moving into Friendship

Strangers are just friends waiting to happen.

~Rod McKuen

My world was in a constant state of change and I was having trouble keeping up. Life with Mom, Dad, and my sister, Linda, had always been comfortably predictable. My grades were good, and Linda and I got along fairly well. We played together and fought together, the way sisters do. As the older one, I was used to being told to set an example, which wasn’t too difficult, since Linda was only two years younger, and she usually wanted to do anything I did, anyway. Life was pretty good.

Then the changes started coming.

First, Mom sat us down, a very serious look on her face. She said she had something very important to tell us. Soon, we were going to have a new little sister or brother. “A baby?” I thought. Instead of being the older of two girls, I would now be the oldest of three. Well, okay, this sounded like it wouldn’t be too bad. After all, I already had experience in the big sister department. The baby was born that June, and I was thrilled that it was a girl—I didn’t know anything about little boys. During the following year, I settled into the role of being big sis to my new baby sister.

Then came another family meeting with some additional news that would change my world even further. We were moving. Our new home would be across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, in another borough of New York City. We were leaving the only home I had ever known. Even worse, it would occur right before the beginning of sixth grade. Not only would I not be able to graduate elementary school with my friends, but I would have to start middle school with a class full of kids who had known each other, and bonded, since kindergarten. Where would that leave me?

I spent the summer adjusting to a new neighborhood, literally being the new kid on the block. Making friends didn’t come easily to me, and it didn’t help being the eldest child of immigrant parents. I was different, and different is the last thing any middle schooler wants to be. The fear of starting a new school hung over me like a black cloud, tainting each summer day.

The first day of school arrived way too quickly. I entered my new classroom trying very hard not to appear as scared as I felt, but it wasn’t easy. Twenty-eight faces turned to look up at me as I followed the Assistant Principal into the room. They all looked so cool, and some of the girls even wore make-up. How would I ever fit in? I was out of touch in every way possible. I wasn’t allowed to wear make-up or nail polish. I wore leotards instead of stockings, and much of my wardrobe was handmade, sewn by my mother and grandmother.

Mr. Bernstein welcomed me to the class and introduced me to the other students. He directed me to an empty desk in the back of the room, next to another girl. Her name was Janet and she was assigned to be my buddy for the day. I slowly walked across the room while twenty-eight pairs of eyes stared at me as I took my seat.

There wasn’t time for conversation before Mr. Bernstein began to rapidly detail the requirements for our class. I wrote as fast as possible, stealing occasional peeks at my seatmate. What was she like? Was she part of the in crowd? Did she resent being saddled with the new girl? I would find out the answers soon enough, during lunch period.

We walked to the cafeteria, sat together, and opened our lunch bags. Between bites of our sandwiches, we began to ask each other questions. Her responses were not at all what I expected. Sisters? We both had two, although I was the oldest and she was the youngest. Home? It turned out that we lived about a fifteen-minute walk apart. Upbringing? Her parents were as strict as mine: no make-up, nail polish, or stockings, and she also suffered similar early curfews and bedtimes.

The smiles on both our faces broadened with each new exchange. On this first day in a new school, I still didn’t know if the in crowd would accept me. I did know, however, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it was going to be a good year after all.

It has now been over thirty-five years. A lot has happened in both of our lives: graduations, college, marriages, divorce, and children. I’ve since moved more than one thousand miles away. But the friendship that began that first day of middle school is still going strong.

~Ava Pennington

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