Sunday, August 4, 2019

Be Someone's Charis Key

After a night of barely sleeping at all, I opened my bedroom door to find an Us Weekly and a note from my older sister, Heather, laying on the hallway floor.  “Take this magazine with you so if you don’t have anyone to sit with at lunch, you still have something to do.”  Good thinking! The perfect way to seem completely unbothered by my lack of friends. Just flip through that magazine confidently and everything will be fine. Yep…it will all be fine.

I’m happy to report that I ended up not needing that magazine…but let’s back it up a bit.

It was the first day of my Freshman year of high school and not only was I brand new to the school and district and didn’t know a soul, it was also my first time venturing out of my tiny bubble of a life.  You see, I spent K-8 going to a traditional school.  It wasn’t a neighborhood school, you had to test into it.  Families drove from all over the valley (making socialization outside of school seldom and difficult) to go there and the same families attended year after year.  Very few people left and very few new people came in.  It was small, tight knit, and extremely rigid. 

No makeup or nail polish allowed, no shorts, shirts had to be tucked in and a belt had to be worn at all times….just the tip of the dress code iceberg really.  On top of that the workload was heavy and advanced.  Incredibly different from your average neighborhood school.

I’m anxiety ridden by nature as it is, so throw me into a completely unknown place without knowing a soul along with the impending culture shock was more than I could handle.  I had been anxious for over a month leading up to this day.

At first it did help being able to put on eyeliner and cheap Cover Girl foundation (that was waaaaay too light might I add) and by golly I even wore my shirt OUTSIDE my pants and there was no belt in sight (gasp!)  I felt like kind of a badass for about 10 minutes…..that was until I showed up to the bus stop and the girls were all wearing the teeniest jean skirts I’d ever seen and some of the boys had pencils going through their gauged ears. I quickly remembered that I was a sheltered square….just wearing nail polish.

I sat alone on the bus ride and when I got to campus, I had no idea what to do with myself.  The only thing I could think of was to start heading toward the vicinity of my first hour class.  I made my way across campus and through the crowds of kids comparing their schedules, talking about their summers, and laughing obnoxiously loud as 14-year old’s do. 

I found a cinder block column near the front office and perched myself against it. I of course felt like everyone knew I was alone, at the same time trying to convince myself that probably nobody noticed.  They were too busy with their friends to notice the chubby loner in head to toe (and back!) pink. (Pink shirt, pink backpack, pink Jansport to be exact).  But I was right….somebody did notice.

A short blonde-haired girl leaned back from her circle of friends with a wave and said “Hey! Hey…do you want to come over here?”
Like a scene out of a movie I turned my head for a split second only to realize that the only thing behind me was the cinder block column, followed by a pointer finger to the chest and the awkward mouthing of the word… "ME??”

“Yea! Come over!”

So, I went over.  Her name was Charis, Charis Key. The circle of friends was all from her prior elementary school and for a few minutes I just smiled and laughed as I listened to stories about their lives, I knew nothing about.  I still felt awkward and out of place but was just happy to “be” somewhere “with” people.  Charis asked me what my schedule was like and as I rattled it off, she said “Hey, I think you have first hour with HER!!” as she pointed to one of her friends.  Sure enough, we had first hour PE together.

When the bell rang said friend of Charis and I walked to class together.  We ended up sitting next to each other that first day and then together began talking to new people.  It’s not like she and I knew ANYTHING about each other at all, but I don’t think anyone can argue that it’s so much easier walking into something new with someone at your side whether you met them 5 years or 5 minutes ago.

Skipping over a few classes, lunch time rolled around.  Ugggh!  The bell rang and everyone began swarming.  Our school was brand new and not even finished being built yet, so we didn’t have a cafeteria.  Everything was sold from carts and the only places to sit were a few scarce picnic tables and some planter walls which all were occupied by the time I made it out to the courtyard.

Crap! How was I going to read my magazine all nonchalant like now??  Maybe there was a wall I could lean against.  Will I just have to plop down somewhere on the burning August concrete?  I scanned the area for a place to flip through my magazine. As I was scanning I made eye contact with another girl from that circle of friends earlier this morning.  I didn’t want to seem too eager as she and I really had not even spoken to each other, she was merely a familiar face.  Luckily, she made her way over to me!  I was relieved.  And in that moment, it also dawned on me that while she knew waaay more people in this school than I did as a whole, in this place and time she was just as unsure and seemingly alone as me.  Together we found more people and I was able to leave that Us Weekly zipped up in that pink backpack of mine.

The kindness of Charis didn’t stop there.  When she found out I didn’t have a locker, she generously offered to share hers with me.  I was ridiculously excited over this.  Lockers weren’t a part of MY real life!  They were for 80s teen movies and Lizzie McGuire.  The bottom half became mine and I proudly displayed my little pink magnetic mirror and I Love Lucy heart cut out.  Dreams do come true people!

Charis in front of "our" locker.  Peep the mirror and I Love Lucy heart

Moral of the story here….you never know what a small gesture of kindness can mean to a person.  I don’t think she ever realized what an impact it had on me and how it made my transition into a new a scary experience so much easier.  Being kind to someone doesn’t even have to mean committing to being their lifelong best friend.  She and I ran in the same circle until she ended up moving out of state the following year, but we were never “besties.” We now have the typical relationship of classmates nearing their 30s…..we are friends on Facebook and I enjoy reading the occasional funny quips she shares about her kids but that’s about the extent of it.  But that is besides the point. Close relationship or not she will go down in the history book of my life as a kind and genuine soul who I will never forget.  I vaguely remember telling her this story maybe 5 years ago or so through the comments of a Facebook post.  She had no idea; she didn’t even remember any of this.  To me, that’s a good sign.  She wasn’t doing it for a pat on the back or to be remembered….it just came naturally to her to include someone who she could tell needed it at the time.

I think of this every year as back to school time approaches.  Let’s encourage our kids to be kind and aware of those around us.  To say hello, give a smile, and be inclusive.  And let us as adults also remember that this isn’t limited to kids on the first day of school. But that life for adults is hard and scary too sometimes and a small kind gesture can mean the world to someone.

Be someone’s Charis Key.