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Books: Friends Forever
Daichka Danastor
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All names have been changed.

“Oh my God, you guys, that girl is such a slut,” said Adina.

“I know, right?” said Felicia.

Everyone in the hallway at school was hyper because it was the period right after lunch. The teachers were herding the students to class, the principal’s voice was like a whistle blowing in my ears, and the three big mouths—Adina, Zoë, and Felicia—were once again giving their opinions on somebody else’s business.

“You don’t even know her. How come you’re calling her a slut?” I said.

“Oh shut your trap, what else can you call a girl who sleeps with every guy she meets?” asked Zoë. “A whore? A bitch? A skank? Which do you prefer?”

This was the kind of talk I heard every day at the time. I was hanging around with girls whose behavior made me sick to my stomach. I felt their cruelty especially because I knew what it was like to be the target of such mean comments.

A Lost Ant

In fact, these girls were some of the first “friends” I ever had. Growing up, I always felt like I didn’t belong anywhere in this world; I was quiet and didn’t have any friends. I never felt as pretty or intelligent as other girls, and a lot of people took advantage of my shyness and insecurities. I met a lot of girls who hated me and wanted to fight me, and a lot of boys who made fun of me. I never stood up for myself because I thought they were right about me.

The teasing and bullying only got worse as I got older. It made me feel so helpless and small, like a lost ant. I would run home after school to my mother, my eyes filled with tears, complaining about the kids who kept on bothering me at school.

When I thought I’d made friends with someone, they’d wind up mistreating me. They’d borrow my lunch money and never give it back, or tell me to do their homework and curse at me when I refused. At one point I thought I’d made friends with a group of girls, but they constantly insulted me about the way I dressed.

Despite all this, I felt I had no one to turn to because no one else in the school talked to me. And I never talked to anyone myself, because I was so afraid of saying something stupid.

Friends or Enemies?

One day I decided I was tired of being a coward. I could just walk up and speak to Adina, I told myself. She was in my class and I’d spoken to her before about homework assignments. My hands started to sweat and it felt like someone had put a chain around my legs to keep me from walking forward.

But I managed to go up to her and say, “Hi Adina, can I sit next to you at lunch today? I’m always bored where I sit. I want to sit next to someone who’s fun.”

“Sure, I’ll see you downstairs in the cafeteria. I sit in the fourth row in the middle,” she said.

I nodded, feeling relieved. She had smiled at me in a genuine way, like no one had smiled at me before.

I started to sit next to Adina and her friends Felicia and Zoë at lunch, and sometimes talked to them in the hallways before class. But I soon found that being friends with them made me feel uncomfortable and strange. There never seemed to be a time when they weren’t talking about boys, sex, and girls they hated—even though they usually didn’t know the girls they were talking about at all.

Used and Accused

Little by little I got more annoyed with their drama and gossip. But I kept hanging out with them because they were vicious to other people, not me. I should have known that if they could so easily badmouth people they knew nothing about, there was no reason why they wouldn’t also stab me in the back.

I found that out the hard way. One day, two angry girls came up to me at school, screaming that I had spread rumors about them. My body froze with fear; I was confused and didn’t know what they were talking about.

image by Winnie Liang

“If you can’t shut your trap, stupid (beep), I will shut it for you,” said one of the girls. “If you want a beat-up that bad, I will give it to you.”

I pleaded with them to tell me who told them I was spreading rumors. They answered, “Your own friends Adina, Felicia, and Zoë snitched on you.”

This was my last straw with these girls. I felt clueless, used, and accused, like I was getting blamed for a crime I didn’t commit and the true criminals were getting away. It was so painful to be betrayed this way that I felt like I never wanted to have friends again. I stopped talking to those girls in the halls and sitting with them at lunch.

Escape to the Library

Now that I was on my own in the cafeteria, I noticed how much the place was like a zoo. The boys were running around like monkeys who’d just escaped from a cage, and the girls looked like sneaky little cats as they whispered things into each other’s ears, laughed, and screamed.

All the same, everyone looked like they were having fun. Part of me wanted them to include me, because I felt so lonely. But deep down I knew the cafeteria could never be the right place for someone like me, who loved peace and quiet.

I’d been to the library with one of my classes, and even though it was full of students at the time, I knew it would be a calmer place to be. I thought to myself, “Why go to a place that’s like a zoo or a street market?” I decided to go to the library during my next free period.

The Weary Blues

When I did, I picked out a poetry book by Langston Hughes, The Weary Blues. The title alone captured my heart. It was the first time I’d read any poems by Hughes and I thought this man was a genius. One sentence after another was marvelous, evoking in my head a powerful image that made me look at life in a way I had never looked at it before. Poetry felt like a mysterious language that I wanted to learn myself.

The title poem, “The Weary Blues,” had the greatest impact on me: “I got the weary blues / And can’t be satisfied / I ain’t happy no more / And I wish that I had died.” These lines made me feel I wasn’t alone: There was someone else going through pain just like me, and this gave me hope.

I also loved the lines, “The stars went out and so did the moon / The singer stopped playing and went to bed / While the weary blues echoed through his head / He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.” Reading lines I loved reassured me that no matter how high the mountains may be, it’s worth being patient to find out what’s waiting on the other side. In my case, poetry felt like the reward waiting for me on the other side of my loneliness and sadness. I began to value life more than I did before. I wanted to keep seeking this light that I seemed to find only through words in a book.

My Own World

As I began to discover the library, I felt like a little girl seeing the sea for the first time. It was like stepping into an ocean full of knowledge, creativity, and passion, a paradise that had been there all along. I wanted to hug all these books because they were so beautiful. My heart melted with joy and I knew I was welcomed.

I dedicated myself to reading books and learning to be inspired by the authors’ words. More and more, I found knowledge, support, acceptance, love, and understanding in books, especially poetry books. Stories and poems were like a warm arm wrapped around me when I felt lonely. Unlike many humans I’ve met in this world, poetry never hated or judged me.

I know that it’s people who write books, so it may seem strange to say I prefer books to people. But when I’m reading, it feels as if the writer’s spirit is much more powerful than if the author and I were having a face-to-face conversation. I think Langston Hughes’ words on paper are more valuable than anything he might have said to me verbally.

After reading a lot of poetry and stories from the library, I decided to try writing more. I taught myself to write in different genres. Writing fictional stories, screenplays, memoirs, and poetry affected me even more than reading, because I was able to express all my emotions in a way that I couldn’t elsewhere. Writing gave me my own little world where I felt free to do and say whatever I wanted.

Stronger and Happier

Of course, reading and writing don’t give me all the things that I could get from an actual friendship. But discovering the library actually helped me move closer to friendship, too. After years trying to find the perfect friend, once I was no longer desperate for one, I actually made a few—people who have shown me kindness and care. I can be myself around them most of the time, because I feel loved and welcomed.

There’s still a part of me that feels like my friendships are just a phase, and one day all of my friends will be gone. I’ve learned to be wary because so many people I’ve been close to have hurt me or made me cry. Even little things, like people responding rudely to something I say, can hurt a lot. So I’m realizing that I can give a lot to a friend, but if I do I should expect care, love, and respect in return.

Even though I’m sensitive and may not look strong on the outside, I am the biggest person inside that I have ever been. Feeling betrayed and unloved has made me self-reliant; I’ve learned that I need to find my own happiness, and through books, I’ve done that. Since discovering the library I’ve become a stronger person who likes friends, but doesn’t need to have them.

Someday, I hope I’ll be able to trust friends fully and not worry so much about getting hurt. But no matter what friends I make in the future, books will still be part of me. They’ve given me so much comfort and I’m so grateful for them. If it wasn’t for books, I think I wouldn’t have survived my loneliness.

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(NYC-2010-02-10)

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