“Who am I?” is the question I ask myself nearly every day as I get on the bus to high school in a city 45 minutes away by bus.
“Why am I here? What am I doing?”
I look at the questions that our teacher gives us–questions on basic things about ourselves. This is freshman year. You know no one, and you are no one.
I look at the first question: What is your name?
So far, so good.
What is your favorite color?
This is hard.
What is your favorite sport?
How do others describe you?
How would I know?
How do you describe yourself?
Uh… That’s what I want to know.
You see, I’m not like most of the other teenage kids. I don’t have a lot of friends. I didn’t come from some major prep school. I didn’t come from a super gangster school where fights were everywhere (as my friend described it). I didn’t even go to a well-known private school. I came from a private school–next to a public school–where my classmates and I were laughed at and made fun of us as we walked over there to take a friendly group picture. We stood in silence, taking their blows as we slowly died of shame and embarrassment inside.
When we took the long walk to our school, we talked about their ridiculing statements about us as some sort of compensation–just talking about how bad we felt and how shameful it was for them to talk like that in our presence.
My school has always had a negative connotation of negative schools.
I came from one. I stayed in one for pre-k and kindergarten before transferring. I never thought that way. I stuck out when we discussed our views of public schools. They talked about how mean the kids were, how vile and snobbish the kids were, how the teachers didn’t even pay attention to them, how terrible and pitiful it was for anyone to be in a public school.
I know not every school is the same, and not every public school is like that. I remained silent.
Being the odd one out, I’ve never had a favorite color–ever. I don’t even think I have a good concept of color. Our art teacher said to color Mona Lisa’s hair whatever we want, and what do I do–I color it purple, while others color her hair black or brown or to the weirdest, blonde. So… there I am in an art class, coloring hair purple.
And… sports? I barely knew what one was. Private schools, to the contrary, are not always rich and bathing in money. No. My school was running out of money when the first female principal of the school stepped up–when I was in kindergarten. I transferred to a school while it was slowly amassing fame and popularity (for their famous education) and gaining money while secretly recovering from financial problems.
My point? PE was trash. Seriously–and I’m even sugarcoating it. We played sports, but we never learned how to play it. The coach thought we knew. We played with hula hoops. We played a weak version of dodgeball and some extreme form of soccer. But trust me, in any sport, there is always that random group that doesn’t want to play because they don’t feel like it, and they end up becoming some anchor weighing their other team members down, the team hated by the other teams who really want to play, and/or the team everyone ignores and plays through for an easy win.
I don’t have a favorite sport because the sports I played… didn’t even feel like sports at all.
And how do others describe me? I don’t have a lot of real… “friends”. Ever since third grade, I was always depressed with the idea that I was stuck in a private school, separated from my friends in my public school–now the “old school”. And worse? My best friend–my neighbor’s grandson–left since his parents finally got on their feet and got a house.
One sentence penetrated my mind and kept me going through the rest of that school year and past middle school: “I don’t need friends.”
And it worked.
I was still happy, though made fun of every now and then, sometimes even laughed at. As the quiet kid, I was picked on a lot since I wouldn’t tell a soul about it. As one of three Asians in the grade, I was spotted out easily. It was a terrible combination (of course until I got some respect that I was extremely smart, a somewhat fast runner, somehow good with dodgeball, considered nice, and had some sense of humor).
I didn’t need friends…
But someone needed me.
Let’s call her Anna. She was the grade’s (and possibly the school’s) bully and a freak. She ate chicken legs to the marrow. She chased boys relentlessly in some game. She scared many kids and was disliked by several teachers, although they never admitted it.
But for some odd reason in third grade, she offered to be my friend, and I accepted. I didn’t care if she was some rabid dog chasing after me. She was cool. She was nice. She introduced me to new people. I liked her. I didn’t understand what people thought was wrong with her.
Then it happened.
She broke her arm. I left her–by accident. I didn’t see her one day in recess. For a month, all we’d been doing was rolling a ball on the bench because of that broken arm, but she was gone.
I made a new friend–completely by accident, really… M.
I didn’t know if what I was doing was right out wrong. Anna had been my friend in the time I needed one most–the time I realized friends are valuable. Because of her, I no longer felt like I could live the life of the lone wolf.
And I abandoned her.
At the end of recess, I found Anna at the bench, rolling a ball with her one good arm. Out of pity and regret, I tried bringing M. and Anna together, but eventually, after making new friends, Anna left me, and I didn’t care. She had someone, and I had a new best friend.
But then I realized she was clingy, and she never left me alone. She bragged of her art skills and accused me of jealousy of her art skills. Naturally, anyone would be upset when you’re accused of such a thing, but if you were me, you would be enraged but conceal those feelings. I taught her most of what she knew! I told her I didn’t care about art–that it was useless to me.
This was true. Art was just a hobby and occasionally used in assignments–not a joyful thing and not a competition.
She scoffed, telling me that she knows I’m jealous.
The nerve! It was me who supported her in her artistic accomplishments. It was me who taught her my style in art–my one and only honor besides the many books of knowledge in my brain. It was me who applauded even the worse paintings, and it was meto whom she asked of the corrections needed in her art.
And now she accused me of jealousy. Is this a friend?
I told her I hated art. It made me stay up at night just to finish the final details. It made me hate myself more and more because I never thought it perfect. I wanted to give it up, but I continued in my artistic pursuits for her, just so she could have a buddy who knew about art and a teacher to teach her.
“I know you’re jealous of me.”
Yeah right. Earlier in school, she thought Anna was jealous of her. To tell you the truth, of the people to be jealous about in school, M. was not the top of anyone’s list of jealousy.
But she has always remained oblivious to it. She was also ignorant of the kindness in the worst of people.
“I’m not,” I said. “I never liked art anyway. It’s just a way to illustrate my stories–that’s the only reason I learned and the only reason I do it.”
Taken aback by my remark, she questions, “Really?”
“Yes, I’m not–”
“R–Rocky, don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone you’re jealous.”
What is friendship?
I was almost glad she moved.
Here I am now, a freshman who has yet to answer that question. Never did I know in the future, I would lose more friends.
So… who am I?
I have yet to answer that question as well.