Can I Sit with You?

Will You Go Out With Me?

by Sarah Dopp
Eleven years old at the time

His name was Stephen Lawful, and he was the only boy in the fifth grade who was taller than me. His best friend was Joey Marcus — the shortest kid in the class.

Stephen looked like a teacher. He had perfect hair, parted on the left side and swept over his forehead with gel so that it never moved. He wore a long, tan trench coat and carried one of those big black umbrellas that you only see at golf courses. He talked with a lisp, and he used big words that I’d never heard before, but he always said “please” and “thank you,” even to the janitors. When he and Joey walked next to each — like they did every recess — the other kids laughed behind their backs about how silly they looked with their two-foot height difference. But they were best friends anyway.

Stephen and I (and Joey, too) were Smart Kids, and in our school, that wasn’t really a good thing. They put us in small classes, always with the same other Smart Kids, and they kept us away from the rest of the fifth grade. They called us the “best and the brightest,” and they were proud of us. Unfortunately, all that meant to us was that there were 200 other fifth graders who wanted to beat us all up.

The Smart Kids always sat together at lunch, even though it was embarrassing. Stephen being six feet tall, Joey being four feet tall, me being lanky and gawky with big glasses and clothes my mother picked out for me — we all just kind of looked like a circus. The rest of the Smart Kids were weird, too. To pass the time, we picked on each other. We were good at making each other feel worse.

But Stephen was always nice to me, and he made me feel like a real person. I started to think about him a lot –- like more than I thought about my other friends. I thought about him on the bus, and in class, and during dinner, and before I went to sleep. He was so tall. So nice. So sweet. So cute.
And I wondered if maybe he thought about me a lot, too.

I didn’t tell anyone about how much I liked him. I knew they’d laugh at me. Everyone thought Stephen was way too weird, and I wanted them to think I was cool.

A few weeks went by, though, and I realized I couldn’t stop thinking about him. It made me nervous. I felt like I needed him. I was writing his name on my notebooks and staring at him whenever I saw him and — omigod I had such a massive crush on Stephen that it was starting to eat up my insides and turn my brain to mush.

Finally, I confessed the crush to a few of my friends at a sleepover. They giggled and teased me a little, but they saw that I was serious and they agreed that Stephen was nice. We all decided that I needed to ask him out.

So I ripped out a piece of notebook paper and wrote him a letter in my neatest, prettiest handwriting with a pink pen:

Dear Stephen,

Will you go out with me?



I was so nervous when I wrote the word “Love” that I almost spelled it wrong.

I folded the letter up into a square and wrote “To: Stephen, From: Sarah” on the front.

I gave it to him on Monday morning, when we were all outside before the bell rang. My hands were shaking and my friends were staring at me and all I could manage to say to him was, “Here.”

I didn’t pay attention to any of my morning classes. All I could do was stare at the clock.

At lunchtime, there were a bunch of people sitting in between Stephen and me. Everyone knew about the letter, and he still hadn’t answered me. Our faces were both bright red.

I poked Jen, who was sitting next to me, and asked her to ask Derek to ask Joey to ask Stephen if he read the note. Five minutes and lots of whispering and giggling later, Jen turned to me and said, “Yeah, he’s read it.”

I sat there for another five minutes, not really sure what to do. Finally, I poked Jen again and asked her to ask Derek to ask Joey to ask Stephen if he had an answer. There was a lot more shuffling, whispering, giggling, and talking. Ten minutes passed and no one was talking loud enough for me to understand. My chest was tight, my knee was bouncing uncontrollably, and I couldn’t eat my spaghetti.

Finally, after forever, Jen turned to me and said, “He says he doesn’t think of you that way. He says he thinks of you as a sister.”

I was quiet for a minute. “So, um, is that a no?” I asked.

Jen turned around and whispered some more. It took another five minutes. Lunch was almost over and people were starting to dump out their trays. My heart was aching and I was trying not to cry.

“Yeah,” she finally said. “That’s a no.”

It took me a month of avoidance and frustration and fantasies and anger and crying before I could hang out with Stephen again. All through middle school, and even all through the beginning of high school, I still liked him. I still wished we could be boyfriend and girlfriend. He was still the nicest guy I knew. But he never opened up to the idea. Eventually, I moved to another town and didn’t have to look at him anymore.

When I was twenty-one, exactly ten years after I wrote him that letter, I had lunch with Derek from middle school. We were talking about our lives and the people we knew, and I asked what everyone was up to these days. He started listing them off. “Jen’s a marine biologist in Florida. Joey went to Harvard for Engineering and he’s working on his Master’s now.”

“What about Stephen?” I asked.

“Oh, he ran off to LA with his boyfriend and no one’s heard from him for awhile.”

“His boyfriend?” I asked incredulously.

“Yeah,” he said. “He’s gay. Wait. You didn’t know that?”

Can You Read With Us in Seattle?
March 26, 2008, 7:22 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

You all know that Can I Sit With You? is going live at Seattle’s Annex Theatre on Friday, April 25th, at 8 PM.

You know that we’ve got a stellar lineup:

But did you know that we’re also going to include a new story and author? Here’s the deal if you think that author should be you:

We’re taking the contest route.

Send us your story, ASAP. We’ll start posting stories on Monday, March 31st, and will post the final story on Friday, April 11th. Voting (on this site) will run from April 11th through Wednesday, April 16th. If your story wins, you’ll get to join us on stage in Seattle!

If you’re serious about sending us a story, don’t forget to read our submission guidelines. If you need a refresher on what Can I Sit With You? is all about, read our mission statement. Basically, if you think your story of schoolyard social trauma or triumph could inspire current school kids and entertain an audience, Can I Sit With You? is the place for you.

Apologies, we cannot pay for travel or provide Seattle lodgings. But we will be able to provide you with media exposure, and will include your story in the second edition of Can I Sit With You?, to be published in October 2008.

(And don’t give us any crap about crazy deadlines, because this is exactly how we collected the stories in our book. Heh.)

No-Win Scenario
March 19, 2008, 10:32 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

A. A. Matin
10 yrs old at the time

Gym Class. Most people’s memories seem to revolve around dodgeball. While I have been hit with and pelted many a classmate with those red rubber balls, my most vivid memory is of another game: Capture the Flag.

In the fifth grade there was about fifty of us and the gym teacher set up the game on a huge soccer field. In order to compensate for the size of the field, both teams had three flags. Early in the class my friend Pasquale and I decided to run across together and capture one flag and then throw it back and forth to each other as we ran back.

We made a break for it. I snagged the flag and turned around. I looked over to Pasquale who was running with me. Then I looked ahead and saw a straight shot back to our side. I didn’t even think about tossing it. I just booked as fast as I could and we made it back. I apologized to Pasquale for not throwing it to him. He didn’t care because we got the flag and were not tagged.

Later on someone got the idea for a bunch of people to run over at once and have an ambush with the hopes that one person could break through. I didn’t think it was a good plan — but went with it. They were prepared and set up their defense to ambush the crowd and captured us all.

The “holding pen” was a pole on the edge of the playing field. And we were allowed to string ourselves together by holding hands to form a chain. So many of us were caught that we almost extended all the way onto our half of the field. Then one of our team mates could safely tag the person at the end and free us all. Some guys took their shirts off so that they and the next person in line could hold onto each end to make the chain longer.

I refused to take my shirt off. I was very skinny and very self-conscious about my body. I did not feel comfortable and knew I would be picked on and ridiculed. But it did not matter. My entire team turned against me for refusing to take off my shirt.

Everyone was upset and saying that I was not a team player and refusing to help. The fact that I had captured a flag was inconsequential to them.

I didn’t want to get insulted for being skinny. Instead I got insulted for not being a helpful team player by taking my shirt off. Most would call that a “no-win” scenario. But this is not the case. No one else was able to capture any flags. We won the game. And it was all because of me. It may have been lost on them — but I still remember it 25 years later.

A Teacher’s Kindness
March 12, 2008, 9:05 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

by Kafte
17 years old at the time

I was an average student who enjoyed school most of the time, except for my problem of “shyness”. What brought about my being shy I still don’t really know, but in those special years at school, it was a thorn in my side and certainly kept me from fully expressing myself, as so many others did so very well.

We were blessed by a most gifted teacher in Grade 12, and it wasn’t until that year that I felt a teacher’s kindness in understanding and trying to lift me up.

One instance of her unique way of communicating with me was when she abruptly said “all right class, put everything away and write a 3000 word essay, you have half an hour.” Well, I knew this particular essay was an important one, but my head wouldn’t cooperate for a few minutes. Luckily I enjoyed fantasy books, so when I looked at the blackboard (Colin usually wiped it clean for the teacher, but it was still a chalky mess) I saw interesting formations and I had my story. Something about a moon-faced man with a scimitar of a grin, inviting me to enter and join him in an adventure. Sister gave me an A (unheard of for me) and we began a dialogue of little written notes in my Composition book.

Another instance of her kindness was when she read us the poem Chicago by Carl Sandburg, and asked the class, “Now class, what is the Poet actually saying”? Without thinking I half put up my hand (I had situated myself in the center of the middle row so I couldn’t be seen well by the teacher, and felt protected from her scrutiny). So when she noticed my half-hearted hand up, she ignored the flapping hands of her more promising students and quickly said, “Yes, Kathy, give us your opinion.” Well, in a low choking voice (I remember having to force myself to speak up properly, as this shyness manifested itself in total abject fear) I gave her my opinion.

And this is where my teacher won a medal — there was a pregnant silence, then she continued to say something like, “Class, every now and then there is a student who truly understands the deeper message of a poem, and Kathy has grasped the significance of the poet’s strong words in explaining the city that is Chicago.” Well, all my schoolmates made faces at me because of such an accolade, and they couldn’t know how much I would later dissect this day and see it as, perhaps, my only academic achievement in my full 12 years.

Today, as an adult of 67 years, I have overcome my shyness for the most part (there are those that actually think of me as ostentatious), and I have no trouble in expressing myself fully when required, but I will always remember my Grade 12 teacher, for being instrumental in promoting my fuller personality, with humor and kindness.

If I Had Grown Up Online? Reflections on Bullying

By Amy Looper
First published online at the MindOH! Blog
Reprinted with permission from the author

When I first heard about Ryan Halligan, a 13 year old boy who committed suicide a few years ago, I was sad to hear of yet another child taking their life due to bullying. While watching the recent Frontline show “Growing Up Online”, I was particularly struck by new information his parents shared after establishing contact with some of his friends in an effort to get answers to so many unanswered questions about their son’s suicide.

I was completely horrified to hear his parents talk about a web site Ryan had visited that teaches kids the best way for them to commit suicide based on taking a personality test offered there.

A few days after watching the Frontline special I just couldn’t shake this profound sadness out of my head. I had a rush of vivid and unexpected memories about a kid I knew in elementary school back in the 60’s who had repeated first and third grade. Everyone knew who she was and teased her relentlessly calling her stupid, retard, dummy, the usual hurtful stuff some kids will say to those they see as different, or as lower on the proverbial playground food chain. Even more abusive and shocking, some of the teachers chimed in on this ridicule. Calling her out in the classroom with snide comments and making her stand out in the hall. This kid couldn’t catch a break.

She was out for a week one semester because her father had died. Kids and teachers were nice to her for a few days but eventually the usual taunting picked right back up. Then one day while we were at recess, one of the bully boys came over and took the girl’s jump rope and quickly fashioned a hangman’s noose over a tree branch. He grabbed this picked-on girl by the arm, threw the noose around her neck and gave a big tug with all of his weight. Easily twice her size, he jerked her up and she was swinging in a matter of seconds. I mean, being hung right there in front of everyone. Not one kid moved to help. I think we were all stunned.

Grabbing her neck with her hands, choking and struggling to get free, the bell rang to end recess and the bully boy let go of the rope. She fell to the ground. The teacher was coming toward the big tree, but when she saw the girl fall to the ground, the teacher turned around and left her to pick herself up. No one helped her. We all just filed back into class like nothing had happened.

That little girl was me.

What I realized about Ryan Halligan’s suicide was if the bullying I endured as a child was complemented by the resources of a 21st century online world, I too could have easily opted to check out the suicide web site and — even worse — acted on it.

It shook me to my core.

Even though I was very lucky to have loving parents guide me through my trying times as a child and see me into successful adulthood, they still had no idea of the many sad and lonely days I spent because I couldn’t articulate the full extent of what was happening, much less even understand what I needed.

This is why I’ve dedicated the rest of my life’s work to meet kids in their technology-based culture, leveraging technology in every way possible, to create positive content options, a lifeline to life skills for all kids to learn how to confidently navigate the fast paced world and myriad of negative influences they’re faced with daily.

If you’re a parent, teacher or simply care about youth watch Frontline’s “Growing Up Online.” Even though the show could have used more coverage about the positive things happening online for kids, it is still an important eye opener for offline adults.

Can I Sit With You? Live in Seattle

Again, a suspicious lack of posts. Again, a really good reason: We’ve been busy being gobsmacked by Seattle’s Annex Theatre’s generosity: they’re donating their space for a Can I Sit With You? performance on Friday, April 25th, at 8 PM.

You can buy tickets now!

If you didn’t get a chance to see Can I Sit With You? Live in San Francisco, let us assure you that these stories are even more electrifying when performed. And here is who will be performing them in Seattle, so far:
Rumor has it that Jen Myers might be persuaded to read as well. We will also hold a contest for one more writer/reader to appear at CISWY Seattle. Perhaps it’s time to get your story written down and sent in, finally? Details, lots of details, to appear shortly.