Siege Diaries 7/14/2021

Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt: Am I becoming more humble or less humble?

“Those who pick things up quickly are notorious for skipping the basic lessons and ignoring the fundamentals.”

I have always said that the more you know, the more you know how little you know. I am definitely not the person I was when I graduated high school or even university, when I was pretty sure I was the one of the smartest people I’d ever meet. I learned better over the years, but I also learned how much more rewarding it is to be in the company of people who challenge my preconceptions and push me to be better. I’ve always had amazing friends. But these days, they’re amazing in many different ways, and I am better for it.

I wonder if you still remember?

I found my 5th and 6th grade teacher today. She’s 84 now, which means she was in her early 40s when she was my teacher. She was by far my favourite elementary school teacher. My class in the 5th and 6th grades was a 4th/5th/6th grade split, using the informal format. We didn’t have assigned desks. Instead, we had a room with a common area, including the famous loft, and lots of different sections for different activities. After a rough start in the third grade, I had begun to find my footing and friends in the 4th and thrived in the 5th and 6th. In that final year, my best friend was a girl named Amelia. And I remember that year in a haze of perfection. I was on a rather different path those last couple years of elementary school. While I was smart enough, what I really wanted to be is one of those athletic, popular girls. I went to basketball camp and played in the intramural league. Amelia was a gymnast. I really wanted to be one, too, and even took a year of “acro” class at my ballet studio (which, as I found out later, was not the same as gymnastics at all.). But I wasn’t any good at it.

Amelia and I, as I remember, were besties. We went trick-or-treating together. I had sleepovers at her house, where I first encountered cable TV. There are pictures of us at sixth grade camp, having a great time. All of the girls in the sixth grade in that class were friends, insulated somewhat from the “mean girls” who had teased me in the third grade.

I assumed this would continue when we went to junior high. In fact, I decided not to attend the other junior high, where I could have continued in the informal program (and, as it turns out, participate in the better orchestra program) but I did not want to leave my hard-won friend. And it is clear, looking back, that I saw myself rather differently entering the seventh grade. I remember seriously contemplating not entering the accelerated math program because I was afraid I would not fit in with my friends—or rather, my best friend—who hadn’t gotten in. I tried out for volleyball (which I did not make) and played basketball (which everyone made—but I rode the bench).

And then, one day in the fall—I think it was in October and November—I waited for Amelia at her locker, like I always did, for lunch, and she broke up with me. She told me she didn’t want to eat lunch with me any more. We really didn’t share any classes (having been put in different “houses” at school) so lunch was the only real time we hung out. I came to understand that we were not package deal. She had found other friends, and I was not acceptable.

I would speak with her again only once more—at the end of the year, when I somehow managed to ask her to sign my yearbook. And then she left my life almost entirely.

I struggled once again—but it would result in a reassessment of my identity. I was not one of those athletic girls at all. My people were the brains and, later, the musicians. I was a nerd. It was a difficult year. I spent significant time in that seventh grade year eating alone, going to mixers and social nights alone, and being bullied and teased by both girls and boys. I got a really bad perm. I was socially awkward, all of a sudden. I dreamt of being one of the stars on the basketball team, but I scored a single point during the entire season. I tried to use makeup and failed. I got my period awkwardly. By the end of the year, however, and going into the eighth grade, I had reconnected with one of my other friends from elementary school, another of the “smart kids.” I found others like me, and by the time I left for high school, I was increasingly confident in my new identity as a straight-A student.

My high school was huge. All I remember about my former friend is that she made the varsity cheer squad for basketball our senior year and she had been accepted to Miami University. Other than that, nothing. We not only never talked again, our paths never even really crossed.

When I found my teacher today, I thought of her, and decided to Google her name. I found her, living in the same house where we had sleepovers. I even recognized the telephone number (I had, after all, once known it by heart). She’s listed as “retired,” and apparently has an associate’s degree—which means that the Miami thing may not have worked out.

For the first time ever, I found myself wondering whether she remembers me—more out of curiosity than anything. I’ve never in my life consciously dropped a friend (there have been many I’ve drifted apart from, usually because of simply being in different places and doing different things). I wonder what her life has been like. I wonder why she’s living in the same house her parents still live in—perhaps she is a caregiver? I wonder if she married or had kids.

And I also remember that before the break, she was my friend. My life would have likely been very different had that friendship been sustained. But for the fifth and sixth grade, she will always be who she was then. Time has healed some of the hurt, and made me realize we really weren’t meant to be besties as we grew into adulthood. Sometimes it takes a painful episode to make these truths manifest. But I would not be who I am now without that fork in the world, where, with just a few words, someone passed out of my life forever.

Embroidery no. 3 is done (although I may have some fill-in work tomorrow.). I also had a meeting regarding the Trillium Herald office and started in on the semi-annual DSCH Journal proofreading. Tomorrow, I’ll finish off a Toastmasters path with a speech.