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.


Immigrant Kids

by Wynn Putnam
Age seven at the time

When I was almost eight years old, my family emigrated from Holland to Ontario, Canada. We spoke only Dutch, so when we went to school in Ontario, the teacher put my twin sister, me, and my two older sisters all in grade one. Once we learned how to speak English they would reevaluate us to see if my twin and I should really be in Grade three, and my older sisters in Grades four and six.

This was a one-room school house so we felt awkward and big sitting in the grade one row while kids our own size sat on the other side of the room and at the back. When the older, bigger kids would point and snicker at us we did not know what they were saying so we smiled at them. We wanted to learn to speak English, and be able to join in with their fun and sit with them.

This was a country schoolhouse, so everyone brought their lunch. At noon we followed the other Grade Ones, got our lunch bags from the hall, and started to eat. But one day when we went to get our lunch bags, a couple of the bigger kids went in front of us and grabbed them. They looked in our bags, ate what they liked, then tossed the bags into the garbage.

My sister and I went back to the classroom and tried to communicate to the teacher that these kids had taken our lunch. We could not say what had happened, and she thought that we did not have a lunch that day. Apparently a kid at the back said that we had already eaten our lunch and some other kids laughed. We started to point at the kids who had taken our lunch and made gestures with our hands, when the teacher took an apple out of her own bag and started to cut it in half. We shook our heads and started to cry. All of a sudden a few of the younger children came over to our desk and gave us some of their lunch, a cookie, an orange — I can’t remember exactly, but they wanted to share. We stopped crying, smiled, and told each other in Dutch that the foods we were now being given were delicious, even better than what had been in our lunch bag. We communicated our thanks to these kids by smiling and making gestures of what we were trying to say.

For the next while we put our lunch bags in our desks, because it took quite a bit more time before we could speak English well enough to tattle on the few kids who tormented us because we spoke a different language. Most kids in the class tried to help us belong, even when they could see how big we looked in the grade one row, and that we talked in a strange language.

Smiling faces are the same in every language, and it’s easy to communicate with other kids that way and join in their fun. Kids like to sit with you when your face shows a friendly smile — even if you cannot speak their language, they understand.

The Pencil Box

by Suzanne Maclyn
Age seven at the time

In second grade, I was the new kid, again. My family moved ten times by the time I was twelve years old. I went to so many different schools that while eventually being “the new kid” became normal for me, it was never easy. Every time I started a new school, I had no friends, and I didn’t know the rules. Sometimes I cried because I did things wrong—or at least the wrong way for each new school.

Going to a new school usually meant that I had learned different things than the kids at my new school. In second grade, I knew how to read and spell better than the kids in my new class. Because of this, my teacher would have me tutor the other kids, most of whom did not speak English at home. We always had a spelling test on Mondays. If kids missed spelling tests because they were absent, she had me give them the make up spelling tests during lunch and recess. That was okay by me since I had no one to play with at recess anyhow. If there were no tests to give, I would pick up all the trash in our classroom. Sometimes I helped the teacher correct papers.

I was only seven years old, but I was tutoring classmates and giving them spelling tests, which in hindsight is just weird. The kids in class sure thought it was, and they were not nice to me at all.

One day I brought a new pencil box to school. I had decorated it by writing, “I love Jesus” and drawing special Christian fishes on it. I really liked going to church on Sundays, and thought that my pencil box was pretty. I was sad when the kids in class started to make fun of my pencil box, pointing at it, and singing in a teasing way, “She loves Haysoos!”

Haysoos was a boy in our class, but I didn’t really know him. His friend Raul yelled across the class and told me that Haysoos didn’t like me. I was angry at the way everyone was laughing at me, and I told him that I didn’t like Haysoos either!! I finally said that I hated Haysoos, even though I had no reason to hate him. Raul pointed at my pencil box and told me that I loved Haysoos. I was confused and told him that I hated Haysoos. I could not figure out why he kept pointing at me and laughing. Haysoos was mad and he was making mean faces at me.

I wanted to stay in the classroom during lunch, but the teacher needed to lock up the classroom, so I had to go outside. On the playground, the boys started running around me in circles singing, “You love Haysoos! You love Haysoos!”

I was getting so mad! I didn’t even really know Haysoos! Why were they saying this? I was screaming at them, telling them I didn’t even like Haysoos! When we went back to class, Raul came over to me and showed me on my pencil box where I wrote “I love Jesus.”

When Raul read it to me, he said, “You wrote it right here: See? I love Haysoos.”

I argued with him, “That says, I love Jesus!”

Raul retorted, “That is Haysoos! You spell Haysoos J-E-S-U-S!”

Now Raul was trying to give me a spelling lesson. But I still did not understand how J-E-S-U-S could be pronounced “Haysoos,” so I just kept fighting with him even though it only made me cry. Finally other students in the class told me that in Spanish, the name Jesus is pronounced “Haysoos.” I didn’t know what to do. I was very surprised, and finally understood why they were making fun of me, but it only made me mad at myself. I felt stupid.

When school finished that day, Raul and some other boys followed me and teased me even more. I was so aggravated,that I threw my pencil box into the trashcan. I wanted to show them that I didn’t love Haysoos.

I was very sad when I got home. All I could do was cry when I thought of my pretty decorated pencil box in the trash. I kept thinking of how happy I was when I first brought my pencil box to school, and how sad I was when I found out Haysoos’s name was spelled the same way as Jesus’. I was angry that the kids at school were having fun teasing me, too.

I thought that if I threw my pencil box into the trash, Raul and his friends would stop taunting me. Well, they kept harassing me anyway. But I wasn’t the only person that they picked on. They were mean to a lot of kids, and even to each other sometimes. I learned to stay away from them whenever I could. Plus I was just waiting. Waiting until my family had to move again. Then I could go to a new school.