All of the talk I’ve done lately about starting new classes and trying to make friends got me wondering…how did I make friends back when I was in school the first time around? And the honest answer is, I usually wait for friends to come to me. But if no one else out there is searching for a new friend, then this might not be the best tactic….
When I was a freshman at Florida State, I felt INTENSELY homesick for the first month or so of college. I remember when I first arrived, my parents bought me all kinds of nifty furniture and gadgets for my new dorm room, and they helped me move everything in and get it settled. They took a look around the finished space, shrugged their shoulders, and said, “Well, I guess we’ll be leaving now.” I gripped my mom’s arm and cried, “What?! You’re just going to leave me here?” like it had only just occurred to me. And I actually did that horrible trick where I let my parents drive off and make their way down the interstate, and then I called my Dad on his cell phone, crying, and asked if they could please turn around and come back. And they did.
But then they left FOR REAL. And it was up to me to socialize and make friends with new people, because I didn’t know ANYONE on campus. So naturally, I put on my headphones and sat down to watch movie after movie on my laptop. *SIGH*
Potential friends came by the room to chat. Mostly they were there to see my roommate, who was much better at the whole friend-making thing than I was. Generally, I would say, “Oh…she’s not here,” and they would say, “Well, I’ll just come by later, then.” But sometimes, they would say, “Well, I’ll just wait here for awhile,” and they would plop down on my bed (MY bed!) and start making small talk with me, and I was forced to put my movie on pause and put my headphones away. It’s a little ridiculous that I didn’t start making friends until they physically barged into my room and camped out on my bed, but that’s the truth of it.
I remember one Saturday night–one of the first Saturdays that I spent on campus–my entire dorm seemed to be evacuated. Everyone was out partying it up apparently, and there I was alone in my dorm room, watching movies on the laptop. (Again? On a Saturday night? How lame!) All of the sudden, there was a polite knock on the door and I looked through the peephole to see a girl nervously standing outside in her pajamas and slippers. I opened the door, and she asked if she could come in, awkwardly explaining that her roommate and the roommate’s boyfriend were having a huge fight in her room across the hall, and she wanted to give them some space. “Oh man…that IS awkward,” I said. “Were you going to sleep? You’re in your pajamas and everything!”
“No,” she said. “I wasn’t sleeping yet or anything. I was just sitting in my bed, watching a movie…” And I instantly knew that I had found a kindred spirit. We are still friends today. 🙂
Years before all of that, when I was sixteen, my parents enrolled me in a driver’s education course at the local public school one summer. I attended a very small (only 200 students!) private high school, and it was my first venture into an institution where the students weren’t all rich white kids wearing nicely ironed uniforms. Normally, my mom or my dad would drop me off and pick me up from school, but I had to ride a bus to the public school, so I was feeling COMPLETELY out of my comfort zone. I took great care to examine my bus slip and make sure that I was getting onto the correct bus each day, but the group of students on the bus seemed to change every time I got on board. I was completely baffled about why my bus always seemed to have different riders. One day I stepped onto my assigned bus and everyone (including the bus driver!) seemed to only know how to speak Spanish. Another time, I stepped onto the bus and realized that I was the only white girl on a bus full of black kids. I timidly looked for a seat, but I couldn’t find one. The bus driver turned around and screamed at me to “SIT DOWN!!!” and as soon as I was seated, she peeled out of the parking lot with squealing tires and cranked up a rap station on the radio FULL BLAST. All of the kids on the bus got up and started dancing and raving as if they were in a club! All I could do was shrink back into my seat and try to go unnoticed for the duration of the ride.
On one particular day, I found an unexpected friend on my bus. I was timidly making my way through the aisle, again, with the bus driver glaring at me in her rear view window, yelling for me to sit down. The problem was, there were no available seats. Every seat had either two students sitting there already, or a student with a bag sitting next to them. I approached a seat occupied by a student and a backpack and politely said, “Excuse me. Would you mind moving your bag so that I can sit down?” The student didn’t even glance my way or acknowledge that I had spoken. I moved on to the next seat. “Excuse me…is this seat taken? Would you mind if I sat here?” Again, no response. Out of nowhere, a savior appeared behind me. “You’re being too nice,” she advised. “This is how you get a seat on the bus. Watch me.” I stepped aside so that I could observe. “HEY IDIOT! Move your $h*t!!!” She proceeded to grab the student’s backpack and carelessly throw it onto the floor. I waited for some sort of altercation to occur, but nothing happened. The student merely rolled his eyes and grabbed his bag from the floor. My savior stepped aside. “There’s your seat,” she said, smiling. I took it, gratefully. She took her seat as well, and the bus driver pulled out of the parking lot.
“What are you doing on this bus, anyway?” she asked me, as we made our way down the road.
“This is my assigned bus,” I said, showing her my bus ticket.
She raised an eyebrow. “Pssssh…..You actually go by that paper?” She grabbed it from my hand and tossed over her shoulder. “You know, all of the white kids ride bus 232. You should just get on that one next time. Are you new around here or something?”
“Yeah,” I admitted. “I don’t go to public school. I feel kind of out-of-place.”
“Well, you don’t have to feel that way anymore. I’ll show you around. I’m Ashley, by the way,” she said.
“I’m Rachel,” I said, shaking her hand formally. She looked at me weird when I did that. But it didn’t matter. I had never been so grateful to make a friend.