I don’t remember my first day in Junior High. I don’t remember what I wore. I don’t remember what my notebook looked like. I don’t remember what my class schedule was. I’m not sure I could even remember all of my teachers. But I have a clear memory of my first Friday in Junior High.
It was break time, and everyone was standing around talking about what had happened during last night’s football game. I was on the football team myself, but I wan’t a very good player. Also on the team were friends of mine. These were people who I had played sandlot football with since I could remember. We had been to each others’ birthday parties and sleepovers for years and years.
I wasn’t a starter that Thursday night. In fact, I’m not sure whether I played at all that night, though most of my friends did. There was also another player on our team – a new guy, who was really large. Our game was about to end in a scoreless tie, when the new guy had broken a long touchdown run. It was something like 40 yards.
I was walking out of our school building to a central, outdoor break area. And the first thing I remember seeing is this new guy – the one who had broken the touchdown run – sitting on a picnic table bench, facing outward, arms sprawled across the table. He was surrounded. I mean surrounded by girls. Some of them talking, some just listening – all of them seemingly enthralled by his tales of gridiron adventure from the previous evening.
I thought that was kind-of strange. None of the girls had ever seemed interested in our sandlot games in sixth grade. But it was not until I went over to talk to my old sandlot football friends that I had the experience that changed my world.
They were standing in a circle, talking about the game, of course. All of them starters. Every play was being recounted, perhaps even slightly exaggerated, in vivid detail. The excited conversation went on and on. I tried to listen, tried to push my way into the circle to talk to my friends, but no one was making eye contact with me. No one was directing any comments my way. No one seemed to even know I was there.
Then I made a mistake: I broke a rule that I didn’t yet know existed. I assumed that I was welcome in this conversation, and said something. I don’t even remember what it was. Probably something stupid. All I remember is that I was ignored – completely ignored by these same people who had been a part of my life for the last seven years.
I was welcome, of course, to stand on the outside of their circle, to laugh at their jokes, listening attentively with an admiring grin on my face. But participation within that circle had suddenly and abruptly become something that was plainly unwanted. My role, now, was to stand at an appropriate distance – within a second, outer circle – and admire what was happing in the first circle.
Some of the harshest rules in life are never written, and seldom spoken. And it was on that day that I had my abrupt initiation into the world of unspoken rules.
(More to come)