Can I Sit with You?

Calling for Friends

Kari Dahlen
Age 12 at the time

The summer before the seventh grade, I received an unexpected phone call.

“Kari! It is Trisha! You remember me, right?”

The voice was friendly but the name was not familiar. I probably uttered a noncommittal, “Um… hi!”

“You mean you don’t remember me?” she asked, her voice a bit sharper. She didn’t wait for an answer, “We were, like, best friends in the third grade.” Her voice sweetened, “You remember… right?”

I refused to say “yes.” My best friend in the second grade had taught me not to lie. And in the third grade she told me music was of the Devil and as third-graders we had to be “mature.” Of course, we also had the Crazy Club in the third grade, and that wasn’t particularly “mature,” nor was being crazy particularly God-approved. I didn’t remember a “Trisha” in that mix.

I couldn’t say “yes,” but I also didn’t want to admit not remembering her if she could be a potential friend.

That best friend from the second grade moved on to a Christian junior high while I went through several public junior high rites-of-passage such as having a seagull take a shit on my head during lunch, being accused of stuffing my bra, and having my locker broken into: the shelves my dad had built for me were doused with graffiti and the cheerful pink striped wrapping paper I used as wallpaper now had, “Kari is a Pig-Nose” written between the lines.

(The Pig-Nose thing was pretty unoriginal, but that didn’t stop me from crying when a group of teenagers with their noses taped up high entered the frozen yogurt place where I worked a few years later. They specifically asked for me to serve their yogurt.)

In the sixth grade I ate lunch with a Chinese woman who wore her old school uniform, a shy Polish immigrant, a girl whose mullet stuck up in the front revealing heavy forehead acne, and a fickle, spacey seventh-grader who repeated the seventh grade. Eventually, Mullet Girl decided she was too cool for me, so I stuck with the folks who didn’t speak English.

If “Trisha” was real, maybe I would have a shot at a friend who was cooler than those others.

“Um, well, we must have been in different classes,” I finally said to the voice on the phone.

“Nope!” Again, the voice was super-cheery and expectant. “Look… I am moving back into the area, and I wanted to see if you would show me around.”

“Um, sure!” Finally I could answer in the affirmative. I could be bouncy, helpful, and friendly.

“Why don’t you meet me on the steps on the first day of school!”

“Sure, absolutely!”

“You better remember me by then,” she cautioned, and then laughed, “Bye!” Was that a giggle and snort I heard in the background?

I was skeptical and worried. If “Trisha” was pretty, she’d be snapped up by the “popular kids.” And if she wasn’t… well, then she’d be yet another person that I ate with because nobody else would.

The first day of seventh grade, I waited on the steps close to the location where eight months later I would overhear the football team telling their coach that if I made cheerleader they would all quit the team. I had made finals; they were panicking. I didn’t make cheerleader.

I waited for Trisha.

And waited.

Perhaps there were giggles. Perhaps there were people hiding alongside a building, peeking out. But I didn’t notice them.

After the second bell, I ran to class. Of course I was late, but I hadn’t wanted to miss a potential friend. I didn’t want her to think I had stood her up.

That evening, she called, “Um, sorry. I couldn’t make it this morning.”

I promised to wait for her again the next morning.

Of course, nobody came.

The call that evening was, “Where were you? I waited for you!”

I knew she hadn’t arrived, had she?

I half-apologized, half-accused, “Well, sorry if you are real, but if you aren’t, stop bugging me.” I hung up without waiting for her response.

Fed up with public school life, I ended up at a private high school. But “Trisha” hadn’t forgotten me the way I had apparently forgotten her. That familiar voice phoned me shortly after my sixteenth birthday to inform me of a new dating service in the area. She didn’t identify herself as “Trisha,” but I am pretty sure it was the same person.

“No thanks, I have a boyfriend,” I shrugged.

The shock in her voice was noticeable, “Well keep us in mind for when he dumps you!” I heard plenty of snickers in the background.

Two years later, the phone rang. “We are from the premier dance academy in the country. We saw your most recent performance and are interested in having you apply to our school. To where should we send the admissions materials?”

This was a joke, right? Still, I couldn’t be sure, and I wanted to be polite, even if I had no intention of attending their school. I gave the voice my postal address.

A few minutes later, the phone rang again, “Oh, so sorry…” and then I heard a huge guffaw. The voice composed herself and shushed the peanut gallery, “It turns out that you are not the dancer we are interested in. There are many better than you. Best of luck with your college applications.”

“Actually, I’ve already been admitted to Brown University. But thanks for your well-wishes,” I responded. I knew their call was a joke, but my statement wasn’t a lie.

They called during the holiday break after my first semester of college to taunt me again with the fictional dating service. Fortunately, I was able to respond that their services were not necessary.

The next holiday break, the only calls were from my boyfriend.

I met a real “Trisha” years later. She is a gorgeous, thin, multi-talented woman. But she is also someone with a heart.

Mullet Girl is now quite beautiful and holds degrees in law and genetics. We are long-distance friends via holiday cards with occasional phone calls where I know the voice comes from a real person.

Christian Girl returned to the fold of our Crazy Club and we are now Crazy Mothers together.


Political Ambitions
October 16, 2007, 7:01 am
Filed under: cheerleading, junior high school, peer pressure, student elections, trendy

By Linda Saslow
Junior High

In elementary school and Junior High School, I was never a popular child. I was the smart kid. I was the wise cracker in MGM who everyone resented because academics came easily to me. Perhaps I raised my hand too much. Knowing too many answers was never a character trait that the other children liked. Plus, I was horrible at sports.

In sixth grade –- the year was about 1980 as I recall — I wrote an essay about how I wanted to be the first woman president. This is a reality that seems I will not achieve now that it is 2007, I am 37 and there is a viable female candidate for the top office of the land. The essay was printed in the school yearbook. I got some sort of prize at an assembly. My parents and teachers liked the essay, my peers did not.

In seventh grade, I decided to take the bull by the horns and run for student council. I wanted to be vice president. My father thought this was a grand idea. The problem was that I was not one of the popular children. My mother bought me gingham dresses and I willingly wore them to school. I was still smart, but my friends were few. I was in no way cool. I didn’t have the right clothes and I did not listen to the right music. My hair was hopeless. My mother would only take me to her friend for cuts and she would never do the short fashionable styles I desired.

My father helped me make posters to hang at Goddard Junior High School in Glendora, California. The signs were cute with hand-drawn cartoon characters. I wrote some sort of speech and was incredibly nervous when I had to deliver it to the entire student body at a podium in the gym.

I did not win.

I was bummed about my defeat for a while, but then I realized I was still one of the smart kids, even if I could not win a popularity contest. There were places for me to fit in.

In eighth grade I became the editor of the Junior High newspaper which was still run off on an archaic mimeograph machine. Even a photocopier was too high tech for the newspaper office in 1982. I was a good writer before becoming editor of the paper, but I really started to shine once I had acknowledgement for my work. And, I had a staff and some of the kids were popular and they had to kiss up to me to get their stories printed. This I liked. I had the power that I craved. But I had been appointed by teachers, not put up to a popular vote.

For my 13th birthday my mother let me have a large party in the back yard. It was a co-party with a friend who was a bit more popular, so I had hopes that some of the cool kids would come. My friend’s mom made a cake and my mother bought one of those really long sub sandwiches.

Everyone came. I was amazed. I was suddenly not a pariah. Eighth grade proved to be much better socially for me. I had lunch friends. I was on an AYSO soccer team. I discarded the gingham dresses for jeans and corduroy pants. My mother finally relented to let me pick out my own clothes. I got my ears pierced.

The final insult cam at the end of eighth grade when I decided to try out for cheerleader. I was nervous during the audition and I was not picked to be a freshman cheerleader. It seemed that true popularity would always elude me.

At the end of my thirteenth year I moved to another city. The new city was hours away. I had to find my way in a whole new social environment. I was never especially popular in high school, but I managed to make newspaper editor again and had a small circle of genuine friends.

Having just watched my oldest child wade through Junior High, I became acutely aware again how twelve- and thirteen-year-olds are especially cruel. The competition to be thin, have good hair, and trendy clothes has not changed a bit. I doubt it ever will.