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.


Free to Be You and Me
November 19, 2007, 8:01 am
Filed under: cliques, friendship, high school, musicals, popular crowd, yearbook

By Giedra Campbell
Age eight to present

In fourth grade I started going to a small magnet school. That first year it was easy to be friends with all the girls in my class—there were only seven of us, and eighteen boys. We seven hung fairly closely together, in part because of the efforts of Ms. Shainey, our teacher, who arranged special activities with the girls so we wouldn’t be overwhelmed by all those boys. She told us that women could be anything they wanted, and used us to help teach diversity workshops. She’d have us act out scenes from a record called Free to be You and Me to teach about prejudice and stereotypes. In my scene, my friend Amanda and I pretended to be babies, and to be confused about who was a girl and who was a boy (“You’re bald, so you must be a boy”). Our scene showed how you shouldn’t make assumptions about someone based on looks, nor limit someone based on their sex.

Come fifth grade, the number of girls in the class rocketed up to fourteen, and that’s when cliques started forming. Two of the new girls and five of the fourth grade group formed a group they called the Super Seven. I don’t know that they ever actively shunned me, but for whatever reason, I was not part of their group. They gathered on the parallel bars, separate and superior. Meanwhile over at the jungle gym, four of the new girls and I became the Fabulous Five. We modeled the name on the Super Seven, but we didn’t really know what our club was supposed to do.

Probably the Super Seven didn’t know either, but it seemed like the Super Seven was about boys and clothes. Those girls were the ones who were “going with” boys (and kissing! on the obstacle course!) or at least excited about the possibility. We Fabulous Five were uncomfortable with that idea. The only thing I remember from our club was talking about was how horrendous it would be to get your period, and to therefore have to carry a purse. We’d then scan the playground looking for purses so we could gossip about their owners, even as we’d just admitted that such attention would be awful.

There were three other girls in the class, too. I am embarrassed to confess that we called them the Terrible Three. Not only is it not alliterative, but I can’t think of a single terrible thing about them. They just happened to be the most different. Valentina, who had been in fourth grade with the rest of us, was the youngest in the class by over a year and had the longest hair in school. Shaleena was the only black girl in the whole program, and had a British accent. And she wore a bra. Because she needed to. And she carried a purse. And the last girl, Phillipa, well, I can’t even identify a difference in her case. She was the tallest girl in the class, but were we really that shallow? (In hindsight I see that all three also had unusual names, but by that criterion, clearly I should have been in their group!)

The groups did not stay the same for long—I don’t even remember how long those “clubs” lasted, but certainly there was shuffling of alliances all throughout sixth grade and junior high. By the time we got to high school, my best friends were Kara, a fellow Fabulous Fiver, and Shelley and Amanda—two of the Super Sevens. Throughout junior high we had cemented our friendships mostly through our time in choir and drama together, making up silly dances for talent shows and musicals, and skipping through the halls of our junior high singing “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” and “Born Free!” at the top of our lungs.

In ninth grade, we made new friends, but also stayed close to one another. Or so I thought. Until I read what Amanda wrote in my yearbook:

“..…I’m glad that us four got to be good friends last year and this year. But understand that I changed a lot, and by the end of the summer I’ll need some constant and reliable friends. I just don’t like singing in the hallway and dancing. I dunno, it’s fun at someone’s house but otherwise it’s embarrassing—pretty soon it’ll hit you and you’ll die! Sorry—this sounds so degrading, but the truth is you’re such good friends. Anyway, loosen up and learn to party…..”

And just like that, Amanda and I were never friends again. I don’t think she meant to hurt my feelings; she was only being honest. Though the words stung, she couldn’t help it that the goofy antics of a big ole drama geek made her uncomfortable. But her discomfort with me was no different from the discomfort I felt about her world of popular kids. I know I felt just as negatively about her group as she felt about mine.

By the end of high school, Shelley and Valentina were among my closest friends—never mind our having been in three separate cliques in fifth grade. The glue that held us together was in fact our shared experiences since fourth grade, and of course the fact that we all still thought singing in public was amusing.

As for Amanda? She died in a car accident, less than a month after we graduated. I was traveling at the time. When I returned, my mother gave me a newspaper containing the story, and I sat on the floor in my room reading it over and over again. The article told how Amanda had come in from riding her skateboard, had donned something for going out, and had parted from her dad for the last time, saying in her hip way, “Later days, Dad.” (The article’s next line? “There would be none.”) The article spoke of the career in architecture that was not to be, and of Amanda’s many, many friends. They made her sound so full of potential, so bright, so friendly, so loved.

I had mixed feelings. I didn’t know how to mourn someone who was apparently too cool for me, even if she had once been a friend.

Twenty years later, I believe that Amanda was all of the things the article said she was. Of course she probably would have changed her major and career when she got to college, but she probably was a wonderful friend to her friends at the time and she had a promising future. And I also believe that she would have matured out of the cliquish place she was in in high school that led her to drop me as a friend—and even to tell me so in writing!

Nowadays, I have friends who were part of the popular crowd at their high school—people I know I would have avoided at the time. I bet Amanda would by now have made friends with some drama people. These days, she might have even been okay with watching me stand in public somewhere and belt out “…and you and me are free to be, you and me.” I’d like to think so, anyway, because if no one appreciates differences, then there really is no point to being free to be YOU and to be ME.