13: When I Was Twelve

13: When I Was Twelve

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

When I Was Twelve

A man cannot free himself from the past more easily than he can from his own body.

~André Maurois

I was twelve years old and in the seventh grade. The school itself was a modest light brown building with no distinguishing features except for the awkward sculpture protruding from the front. The sculpture looked like a heap of twisted metal—nothing special.

Every day I would wander the sterile white halls lined with brownish-yellow lockers, wondering where I fit in. Even at the age of twelve, cliques had begun to form. There were the wealthy girls who dressed in Abercrombie & Fitch and carried Prada bags. There were the Jocks, who played sports on weekends and considered themselves too good to associate with non-Jocks. The different cliques usually never mixed. In a school of predominantly white students, I didn’t fit in anywhere. I was one of about four Asian students, so I ended up hanging out with the other minorities and the people who were considered “losers.” With them, I felt a small sense of belonging.

During almost every lunch period, I would play a card game called Magic: The Gathering with my friends. I first learned it back in the fifth grade. When all of the students were herded out to the schoolyard for recess, my four friends and I sat at the off-white, garbage-littered lunch table, each with our own deck of about sixty cards. We would take turns drawing a card from the top of our decks and “attacking” with it. One by one, my other friends usually lost until only I and one other Chinese kid, Evan, remained. Evan was short and chubby and always wore grey sweaters and beige khaki pants. He was the kid who would come over to you during lunch and ask for your Tater Tots. No matter how many times we played, I was never able to beat him.

Evan was a good student and he knew it. He would also make sure that you knew it. He constantly talked about high school-level classes he was taking and would always be the first to answer a question with a long-winded response. Even when we played cards, he was the best and he knew it. When he beat us, he did so with a smug look on his face. Then he’d always explain the flaws in our decks like a professor lecturing his students. It was like he knew everything and we knew nothing. But it didn’t matter because he was my friend—or so I thought.

I was too naïve, too trusting, and too open. I set myself up for disappointment. Because I considered Evan to be one of my closest friends, I often followed him around and talked to him about everything: video games, homework, baseball, anything that came to mind. I felt that since we were both Chinese, we could somehow relate to each other.

One afternoon, I was walking with Evan down the science wing on the second floor. I was my usual talkative self—I rambled on with no end in sight and Evan walked silently in front of me. As we turned a corner right outside the plant-growing room, Evan turned to me and said the ten words that I can still hear clearly in my head today. “Why are you talking to me? I’m not your friend.” Those were the exact words he said to me that day. I stood there dumbfounded. It was as if I had just been told that one of my relatives had died. I was completely devastated. He kept walking and never looked back. I ran off to my next class with tears welling in my eyes.

We rarely spoke to each other after that. I escaped into a shell, like a turtle, to hide from the world. For the rest of my time in middle school, I didn’t allow myself to get close to anyone. I pushed away most of my other friends for fear of being hurt again. I avoided unnecessary conversations. The rest of my middle school days went by in a blur.

It wasn’t until high school that I was able to poke my head out of my shell and begin trusting people again. But even today, I am still cautious in choosing who I open up to. It takes me a very long time to warm up to someone.

I was twelve then. I was too trusting and I took what Evan said personally. Maybe he was having a bad day or maybe I was talking too much. In my view, the circumstances are a moot point. What he said to me that day changed the course of my life. But if it were not for that incident, I wouldn’t have had to make new friends in high school and I wouldn’t have met the people who are my best friends today.

I understand that, in middle school, we were all young. We were all trying to find our place in life. I have been able to forgive all the people who bullied me, but for some reason I can’t seem to forgive Evan. Those words that day hurt me more than anything any other school bully said or did. I want to believe that one day I will be mature enough to forgive Evan too. But right now I am not mature. I am still that twelve-year-old boy running down the hall with tears welling in his eyes.

~Kevin Chu

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