I had a conversation with Harrison tonight that broke my heart.

He elected to ride with me as we drove to dinner. I asked him about school. We chatted about classes and reading, and then I asked him about his friends. He explained to me that the other kids wouldn’t let him play with them: the boys didn’t want him in their groups, and neither did the girls. It was obviously something that makes him sad. It made me sad. (And I’m not even his parent!)

We tried to talk about what it’s like to not belong, but the concepts I wanted to share were too abstract for me to express to a seven-year-old, and the ideas he wanted to convey came out in first-grade-speak, a language with which I have difficulty.

We talked about his reading group instead. Harrison loves to read, but he doesn’t really like his reading group because the other members are all girls.

“Girls are okay,” I told him.

“I know,” he said, “but they always talk about girlie things, and they don’t like me to talk with them.” He paused. “Besides, we mostly just talk about reading.”

I didn’t know what to say. I tried to tell him to be patient, to be nice to kids so that they might be nice to him, but even as I said it I knew it was dumb advice. Worthless. Impractical. I asked if he gets to play with any of his church friends. Some play with him, some don’t. Harrison is a sensitive boy, and I can tell all of this is weighing heavy on his mind.

And here’s the thing, here’s the reason this makes me so sad: I was Harrison. I was that kid. I can remember experiencing the same fear, the same sense of not belonging, even in first grade. (Especially in first grade.) I found refuge in books and comics. Eventually I met other kids who seemed to feel the same way I did, but it took a while, and in the meantime I felt alone. I tried hard — too hard — to make friends, to get other kids to like me. Eventually I just gave up. Is this something that every kid feels? I don’t know. It never seemed that way to me; it always seemed the other kids had lots of friends.

As I’d hoped, Hank’s parents seem to be aware of the situation. At dinner, Jeremy asked him about school, about his friends. “How’s that new kid, Joey?” Jeremy said. “Is he still your bud?”

“Yeah,” said Harrison. “He saved me from Brandon the other day.” He launched into a long and detailed (but very bewildering because it was in first-grade-speak) description, replete with wild gesticulations, of how Brandon had been chasing him, but Joey had stepped in to save the day.

Ah, Harrison, how much you remind me of me. Hang in there, my little friend.

(Also at dinner, Harrison — eavesdropping — asked, “What’s divorce?” “I’ll explain it later,” said Jeremy. “Explain it now,” said Harrison, and so Jeremy tried. “It’s when two people decide that they don’t want to be married anymore. It’s very sad.” Harrison nodded: “It does sound sad.”)

5 Replies to “A Rock, An Island”

  1. JiggaDigga says:

    Great reading, keep up the great posts.
    Peace, JiggaDigga

  2. Rich R says:

    I don’t know if every kid feels that way, but I did. I wasn’t always on the absolute outside, but never part of the popular crowd.

    I’ve always felt kind of awkward around people I don’t know well. I’ve discussed this with Karen several times. It’s a problem I have and feel she doesn’t. She tells me she feels the same way I do, but has learned to just push past that feeling and gain confidence. She’s learned to be a better listener.

    I’m still not convinced. Unfortunately, I feel like I’m missing the script. I don’t have any idea what my next line is. This tends to lead to more awkwardness.

  3. Lynn says:

    Poor Harrison, I feel his pain. When I first moved to Canby my 3rd grade class had a program whereby you earned points and put chips on a board when you did well. It was a piece of plywood with a bunch of nails on it and when I hung a chip on my row and turned to leave, my long hair got caught and pulled it over. The chips went flying. Even the teacher was mad at me. There was only one girl who would play with me on the playground and she moved!

    It’s like you said, JD, it will change and it will get better. But, it sure seems like an eternity. Hang in there, Harrison!

  4. Amy Jo says:

    Growing up is hard. Whenever I think the pressures of being an adult suck I think back to the hard moments of childhood and thank whatever gods or goddesses may be out there that I made it through those rough years at least somewhat intact. I always had friends but they could be cruel and turn on me at a moments notice, for things I didn’t know I weren’t cool or things I had no control over. This worsened when I hit puberty. I matured early so I was subjected to ridicule by the time I was 9 or 10. Having breasts and getting curves at that age wasn’t cool then. Maybe it is now? Young girls today seem to want to look like adults by the time they reach that age. Ick–I still wore JUMPERS or at least wantd to at that age!

    The only moments I’ve been violent toward another person occured between the ages of 10 and 12, both with friends. I slapped a long-time friend in the face on the playground, splitting her lip, because she made fun of my bootie. In middle school, I grabbed another so-called friend by the shoulders and shoved her into a wall for gesturing about my breasts. Luckily, the school administrators and our parents were cool about it. I wouldn’t wear a t-shirt, at least one not covered by a baggy sweatshirt or loose-fitting button down, until I reached college. I learned to hide my assets as a way to protect myself.

    Luckily, during this time I had the friendship of a cousin a year and a half younger than me. She lived “just around the hill” and we spent hours upon hours of our childhood together. We enjoyed the same games, playing outdoors, reading, etc. We shared a large imaginary world. We had a lot of freedom and playtime, gifts from caring parents. Together we didn’t seem to care if it was uncool to read “James and the Giant Peach” aloud or save our pennies for a raft so that we could traverse the irrigation ditches surrounding our dairy farm, pretending to be National Geographic explorers.

    I was also very lucky to meet two of my closest friends in late high school. I still count them among my friends and consider them two of the most special people in the world. They helped me learn to make friends with the right people and to accept myself for who I am. Today, I always feel proud when I think about my friends and who they are. They are special, interesting, passionate and compassionate, and darn smart people who are doing good work. And, they never tease me for having a big bootie or bust. That doesn’t seem to matter much to them.

  5. serenity says:

    My niece is kind of lived isolated in my home.
    We live in a not-very-good neighbourhood. She likes to talk a lot and come to like herself a lot because we love her. She’s seven. We (the family) lived together, there are 7 of us. We told her whatever happen, whatever she become of, it is okay. She loves school, trained to be on her own, but other girls seem to look up to her. One day this very intimidating boy come up to her and ask her to give up her lunch money. She didn’t give it. He’s about to hit her, when she decided to duck and rolled down his pants.
    It was hillarious, all of us were laughing.

    I don’t know why I’m telling this. Ha ha

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