Look for part 1 here
…I thought, well, maybe I could work with this. ‘Home’ is a relative word, right?
At least I was feeling that upbeat about it until after I had sat with a forced smile through my first two class periods on Monday and I met that Freshman. My first day of school in America was an experience that is impossible to describe, but I’ll try my best. Maybe it was the fight in the hall or the first time someone asked me if I liked fortune cookies. Or maybe the hardest part was sitting alone at a desk, unsure, and unknown, wondering how long it would be before I could stop making small talk and laugh a real laugh with a real friend.
But because I hate to dwell on things that bring one down, I’ll tell you that the best part of that morning was meeting people who genuinely cared. In each room circumstances and my hungry eyes located a few students who gave me reassuring smiles, a few who stayed with me for the second minute and said “You’re from China? I think that’s really cool.” From a few people, that was a sincere statement, beautiful in its simplicity and cherished in its reception. When the first girl said that to me, a wad of feelings loosened themselves in my gut and rose to press gently in my head. The only one I could pull from the tangled mess was gratitude—tentative, wistful, dependent gratitude.
The girl’s name was Sharon. I told her “thanks,” and as I spoke back I knew three things:
One, that I would always, always welcome future new kids with all the strength and love that I had in me;
Two, that I would push my body and my brain until every last smile and piece of shallow conversation had left me, that I would make connections and small talk also with all the strength and love I had in me;
Three, that if I stepped out onto the slippery wet floor of relationships and worked to gain new friends in this frightening new place, there I would find what “home” was.
As an overseas kid, I know what a real friend is. The relationship formed between the two of you is made by each taking a reckless step of faith to trust. We settle and move again across the world so fast that we have to have the confidence to make friends when we know our time together will be shorter than a celebrity dating relationship. So we make the friends and we leave them, but connections are wrought between us that are never broken and span oceans and cultures. They are small, taut strings that stretch across the globe and are more than just video chat calls and tweets—they hold you together when you need it most.
I knew I was in trouble if I wanted to find friends like that in a sleepy American high school in the suburbs. But by third period I was also really, really determined.
As I remembered all this and felt the emotional pressure again in the practice room, I was seized with a mad impulse and said “Wait, David.”
He came back, possibly surprised that I’d remembered his name when he told it to me.
“Hi,” I said. “I’m Kathryn. You’re in ninth grade, right?”
“Yeah,” he said cheerily.
“Awesome,” I said. “Can you write? Because I’m thinking that I do need to write some songs and they are going to have words.” He sat down eagerly and I thought aloud. “Music can express what someone is feeling, and so can words. Words are probably really important, actually…and wow, do I have a lot of expressing to do.”
He wasn’t really listening, but he started in on playing something. It was upbeat. Words are first steps, I thought. First steps toward friends, and first steps toward a new home.