In sixth grade, I was the new kid in town. I didn’t know anybody. And when a girl from my Language Arts class told me I could sit at her lunch table that first day, I couldn’t help doing what every new kid ever has done. I made connections, I observed how people talked and acted…I became a judge. I thought I could tell who everyone was, what they thought and felt, just by looking at them. And so I judged the girl who was sitting at the table when I arrived.
She was short and a tad on the plump side, with a round, childlike face and long brown hair – with straight bangs, which made her look even younger. She had a tiny button of a nose, and pale lips. Her pale, sea-green eyes were focused on her notebook, as though it were the most important thing in the universe, and she was carefully writing in that notebook, taking her time and making sure her letters were perfectly legible. She took such care with her work that it was almost like the world outside those blue-lined pages had ceased to have any meaning or value for her at all – like she would dissolve into that notebook any second, like she would become nothing more than strokes on a page. And I thought as I watched her that she would be perfectly okay with that.
I noticed she used a pencil, always a pencil, in case she made a mistake in her careful writing. She never erased wildly or roughly, but took her time. She would first frown at the offending mark on the page. Then she would flip her pencil upside down as though she was used to this, but disappointed that it had happened again. Her eraser at the ready, she would grip the pencil tightly and gently touch the white to the gray streak and move it ever so slightly, being extremely careful not to erase any letters but the one she had messed up on. Once the mistake had completely vanished from the page, she would flip her pencil right side up again with a satisfied air about her and rewrite the letter, taking even more time than usual as she reformed the letter.
I based my judgement on my own personality; I wrote a lot, too. I figured that this girl was super-smart, top of her class, a real bookworm and maybe even (sometimes) a bit of a teacher’s pet – but not afraid to speak her mind, either. I decided she must be competitive when she wasn’t writing or reading – and I thought she probably did very well in her competitions. I thought she must be steady, easygoing for the most part, but if you messed with her, I figured you might need a shield – or three.
It turned out that she wasn’t really any of those things. She was quiet, shy, not outgoing in the least. If you hurt her feelings, she would sort of shrink in on herself, tune out the world. She was sensitive, people-smart rather than book-smart, and didn’t like Math or Science at all. She didn’t see the point or really understand why it was important. She only spoke to people she’d known for a good, long time, and really didn’t care how she did in class, as long as she passed.
Despite this initial (and completely incorrect) judgment on my part, and our many differences, in personality, writing styles, habits, all of that, Terri and I have been best friends for six years now.