We were in the sixth grade and we would not actually meet for another year. It was lunch time. At the school that we both attended, everyone had lunch at the same time. And you ate your lunch in the cafeteria and then were able to mill around out back on the black top or in the [unused] yard. She was in one group and I was in the other. For whatever reason, I was alone. I had friends – I had a group of four that I would spend all my time with. We were inseparable when we were in school. The rest of the time, we shot off into two separate groups. There was myself and the girl who lived next door to me and then the other two who lived closer to each other. I don’t remember how the four of us became friends, but I do remember that day when I first met my soul mate. The four of us were fighting because, you know, that’s what pre-pubescent girls do, I guess. And I was by myself and doing my haughty best not to be upset that no one would talk to me. And there she was, running around with her friends from her group.
They were all laughing together while she, literally, ran around the tallest one in the group. And I remember seeing her and thinking, I would never want a friend like that. What an embarrassment!
I was already beginning to think of myself as better than everyone else while systematically being ostracized by other people my age. I liked to read – dork. I was rather introverted – nerd. I did well in school – geek. I had all of these aspects to my personality that I was doing my utmost best in ignoring or attempting to keep hidden from the other kids my age. But I’ve always been an old soul. What the other kids found fun and exciting didn’t really interest me, even the stuff my friends and I were supposed to be bonding over. The books they read were years behind me. The music they listened to was stupid or vulgar. The clothes and make up was beyond me. I wasn’t any of the things that I was supposed to be in order to be a popular girl, so I was isolated and alone by everyone making fun of me. I can remember a kid that I’m relatively nice to currently (twenty years later) used to make fun of me because my last name sounded an awful lot like barrel and the girls who were my “friends” laughing along with all the other kids in the class.
Here’s the thing: I was basing everything off of thought processes that wouldn’t become solidified for another ten to fifteen years. I was thinking of things not as the eleven-year-old I was supposed to be emulating, but the young adult I was going to be. I’ve mentioned before, in various arenas, that I strongly suspect that I am “an old soul.” Other aspects to my life molded me into the haughty isolationist I still am to this day: the death of my father, for example. But I’ve come back and back to this moment when I first met my soul mate. And in each instance, I can’t help but think that it was some stray thought that ran into my head based on a previous life, or something along those lines. What I saw as childish and immature was fun to all of the other people around her and to the friends she had made before we knew one another. I tend to think of this moment as a kind of disconnect: I was living my life, but I was really going through the motions until the interests I held would become more socially acceptable.
So meanwhile, I began to pull away drastically from everyone around me. Sure, I had friends. I mentioned the three girls who were my friends. One of whom lived right next door. We had been friendly since I moved in and she was okay. She wasn’t as smart as the other two girls we met that first day in middle school, so she didn’t get to be a part of the “advanced group” that we were. We didn’t have classes together and we saw each other in passing. But, we were still friendly and I would like to think that she would have stuck up for me with all the other kids, including the two other friends of ours, making fun of me. But I know better. She was just as obsessed with image as the girl next to her. I was too weird because I was friendly with everyone in the beginning, which was wrong (apparently). There were no cliques in elementary school: how was I supposed to know some people would be my friends and others weren’t? And then, to top it all off, my interests were so far above my age bracket that I had to dumb myself down to have conversations with the kids I went to school with every day.
So, while I was watching that soul mate of mine be an “embarrassment” that day in the courtyard, what I was really secretly thinking in my subconscious was that there was someone I wanted to know. What was her secret? How could she be having fun in such a hellhole? How could she have things in common with the people beside her? And what was that made it okay for her to go yelling and screaming, running and cavorting with her friends? How could I do that? My initial thoughts regarding her were based on jealousy and nothing more. I was being an asshat because I was angry and upset and disillusioned and disconnected. This, I think, more than anything is why she is my soul mate. She is the half of me that I want to be. Whether I am the half that she wants to be remains to be seen…
We never spoke on that day or any of the subsequent days. I forgot about her. How’s that for a memorable “I met my soul mate” story? I literally forgot about her.
Life was difficult enough without thinking about what it was that I lacked and she didn’t seem to. I spent the rest of that year slowly but surely bottling up. I’ve thought about that, the bottling up part, and I really think that the reason has more to do with disconnect than anything else. I’ve looked back the years immediately preceding the sixth grade and the changes that overtook me during that year. My mom would tell anyone that listens that the changes were because of “hormones.” We can’t quite discount the change a girl goes through when she gets her first period, I guess, but I have to say that I’ve always been different, just a little, in a way. I’ve always felt far older than my years and maybe the growing up part stems from having a father die of “the gay disease” only a few years before the triple cocktail came out and would have prolonged his life (maybe). We can’t discount any of that, but you know, I still think the big issue was more disconnect due to age from my soul versus from my physical trappings.
The next year, the soul mate and I got saddled up together anyway because that’s how fate works.
I know now that the initial meeting was a kind of test. I failed that test, I think. The test was initially supposed to be whether or not I took the bait and met her then and there. I didn’t. I stayed in my snide corner and thought snide thoughts instead of moving forward. So the timeline, I think, of what was supposed to happen ended up being pushed back.
We were tossed together anyway in the seventh grade by being put in the same team and then put in the same group* within that team. We were both incredibly intelligent, I suppose, which is how we ended up together in the same grouping at least. The reason we became friends was because she was outgoing and friendly and I was lonely and morose. Whatever friends I had made the previous year were separated from me in some context or another. The friend I had because we lived next door to each other was place in another team in the school and she stopped associating with me almost entirely. She had found other girls like her and while I try not to feel like it was because I was white and she was Hispanic, so our tastes differed drastically due to cultural differences, I strongly suspect this was the case. The other two girls I was friendly with in the sixth grade were also a part of our “intellectually superior” group but they became popular. We were distanced entirely by their desire to fit in with the cool kids club. And I was not interested.
*A quick note regarding team. I don’t know how anyone else’s middle schools are set up, but each grade is carefully sifted into teams. There are teams of ninety to over a hundred kids sorted together. They are then sorted, further, into groups based on academic sophistication.
Some days, I wonder if I wasn’t interested in the cool stuff is because I’m just wired differently or if it was because of who the soul mate was going to be to me later. In any case, we ended up becoming fast friends.
I honestly don’t remember much of that year together. There were so many things that we had in common, it was ridiculous. We both had little brothers that were in the same age group. We both had fathers who had abandoned us (though her situation was much more painful than mine). We both had single mothers who worked their fingers to the bone to provide. And in some weird way, we both looked alike. We both had long brown hair. We both had buck teeth. Our faces were shaped similarly. We broke out at the same time. It’s not surprising, at all, that periods synced up pretty quickly, either.
It was like, we had found one another after being separated for so long. But the thing is that as a twelve-year-old, you don’t see it that way. There is no way to adequately describe a bond you develop at such a young age other than “friends.” That’s all it was to us. We were friends. We were close to each other. We would talk on the phone all the time. And we would chat to each other in school together. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t popular anymore because I had a friend – I had her. Sure, I was nice to her two friends, but they weren’t her. It was this other person, this soul mate of mine, which really made me want to go to school. I wasn’t in love with her, but it was like by being near her, I could get through the next day the day after that and the day after that.
So, it just figured that she would go to a different school in the eighth grade.