[Another old post that I wrote years ago, but that I revisited this week and still teared up over]
In our house, we have a “Hall of Shame”. It’s basically like a hall of photos, but it is extremely shameful. Why? Because we were some awkward-looking children. Well, at least I was. Braces, glasses, chubby cheeks, kinky hair… You name it. That was me.
If you add to all the outward awkwardness the fact that I was also extremely nerdy, carried home library piles that weighed more than I did, and had a framed autograph of Julie Andrews sitting on my dresser, you can probably guess why I didn’t have very many friends. Friends are kind of hard to come by when you’re a five-foot-five fourth grader who thought Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” was basically the greatest movie ever.
Looking back now, it’s easy to feel sorry for my genetically challenged preteen self. Because even though I thought I was the coolest thing ever, no one else really did. But I never felt bad for myself at all in my pre-middle school years. I knew I wasn’t the prettiest or smartest or funniest person ever, but I was happy. Part of this was probably due to the fact that Anne Shirley and Jo March are the two best friends a girl could ask for, but part of it I also attribute to a very sweet young lady, who is probably the nicest person I ever met.
Her name was Nicole. And she was—brace yourselves—a college student. That’s right. In the eyes of a fourth grader, she seemed like the coolest eighteen-year-old to walk the planet.
I grew up going to church with Nicole, and I always admired her and enjoyed spending time with her. I remember that she had some back surgery done when she was sixteen and my mom took me to visit her in the hospital. I read to her from one of my favorite books, and she didn’t seem to mind talking with me. Shortly after that, my family moved a few hours away and I entered into my full-blown awkward phase. One evening, after a pretty rough day, my dad made a casual suggestion. “Why don’t you write a letter to that girl Nicole?” he said. “I think she just started college a few months ago. I bet she would like to get a letter and make things a little less lonely there. I can ask her parents for her address.” He did, and I wrote a letter and sent it. I don’t remember what I said exactly, but I’m sure it was along the lines of “Oh please, oh please, be my pen-pal! Please, please, please!”
And this is where Nicole officially became the nicest, coolest person ever, in my eyes. Why? Because she wrote me back. Not just one or two letters, either, but for almost two years Nicole faithfully wrote me every week. Nice, long letters—sometimes three or four pages long—filled with interesting things that I would want to hear about. She talked about what she was learning in school, and what movies she was watching, and about her friends’ weddings. She sent me pictures of her school and her parents, and copies of drawings she had made. Basically, she clued me in on the all-so-amazing-and-cool life of a nineteen-year-old college girl. And she made me feel like I was interesting, too.
One of the last times I ever saw Nicole was when I was ten years old. My family was going through a bit of a hard time because we were selling the book fair business, but she offered to hang out with me for a day. She took me to the big mall an hour away from my house and shopped with me all day. We saw a movie, ate soft pretzels, and she asked me about my life. She was twenty years old. I was ten. And yet, she made me feel like the coolest person ever. She didn’t care about being seen with me in public, or what might happen if one of her friends caught us hanging out together. She bought me a purse from Limited Too (yes, I was that lame!) for my birthday and I wore it all day long. It was the best day of my life, up to that point.
That was a long time ago. After that day, we wrote and emailed for a while. But things fizzled out eventually. I grew up and became interested in other things, and she moved on with her busy life. To tell the truth, I kind of forgot about the whole thing.
Until recently. Until just yesterday, when I was standing by my mom at some random yard sale while we perused old boxes for cool used junk. Then I saw a little girl, probably seven or eight years old. She was sitting at a little table with a small stash of nail polish cluttering the surface. A homemade sign on the side of the table read:Painted Nails. $1 a Hand. By the looks of it, she wasn’t getting much business. And, I mean, that was kind of to be expected. Two dollars for a nail job by a third grader is a bit of a rip off. But, for some reason, I paid to get my nails done. I forked over two dollars (which, by the way, was more money than probably anything else the family was selling), and she painted my nails “ballet pink”. We chatted a little about nails while she carefully painted my fingers, then I thanked her for the wonderful job and left. But, before I stepped out the driveway, her mom pulled me aside and said, “Thank you. You have no idea how much that means to her. You’re the only person who did that all morning.”
But you know what? I did sort of know how much it meant to her. Because I remember being eight. And wanting to be old and cool and have more than two dollars in my pocket. I remember wanting someone to listen to me and think that I was as important and interesting as they were. And Nicole did that for me. And I think, in a small way, I returned the favor by taking a few minutes to show interest in the little girl with the nail polish stand.
Nicole will probably never know that I still have all of her letters because she’ll probably never know that they meant that much to me. But they did. She gave me confidence when I might have been easily crushed by peer pressure. She encouraged me when I might have felt depressed or lonely. It wasn’t that big of a deal. All she did was write a few letters from time to time. But, over the years, all those words added up to a thick bundle of encouragement and friendship that I still keep in a box in my room. Taking the time to write and show interest was honestly the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me.
And all I can hope is that, one day, I’ll be able to show the same support to someone else, and help encourage them, too.