Sixth grade: A New Hope
After the long and winding road that the elementary years were, I looked forward to middle school being a complete different experience, a transformation. I thought deeply about what I thought this “transformation” was, and could not figure out if I was speaking about transforming my physical self, or my attitude towards people around me. I knew I couldn’t pretend to be careless and outspoken only to go back to being polite and quiet an hour later. So the summer before the next three years of public school began, I was determined to go on a “diet.” As a former child of bullying, based off my physical appearance, I wanted this diet to be the door to a new beginning. But who was I kidding? The summer before middle school began, I did nothing but celebrate the fact that the coming school year would not be in the same building for another six years, with the same people.
The first day of middle school was an uncomfortable disaster that spread throughout the first few weeks. I loved food, but lunch time was my least favorite part of the day. Students did not sit at a designated table together by class anymore. It was now a natural selection contest. Everyone had somewhere to go: Good looking kids, band students, troublemakers, athletic children, people who wore black from head to toe- everybody. I fit nowhere.
I would constantly find myself arriving at the cafetorium and looking around for someone to eat with, or at least sit with for the next forty minutes. It was a Friday, when I found a booth next to a window, behind the table where lunch ladies took their break. I sat down and began eating as quickly as possible, to avoid troublemakers pestering me, calling me “Lunch Lady” for sitting at that table. As I indulged into my macaroni, suddenly a tall white boy made his way and sat down in front of me. I immediately stood up and almost ran in fear of him approaching me only to tease me. He opened his mouth and said to me, “Wait! Where are you going? Why are you leaving?” I really hadn’t communicated with anyone other than teachers and janitors that first week, much less any peers, and very much less a boy.
I turned and looked at him as he sat down right where I was. “Wow! Am I really that ugly? Is it okay if I sit here because I’m already sitting down?” I didn’t know how to respond, so I stayed quiet hoping he would just go away but also hoping he would stay. He kept on talking, “I’m David.” I nodded in understanding. “What do they call you?” he asked. It took me a while to process the question. I thought of all the little names my mother called me by. I thought of all the names mean kids used to call me by. I then thought of the name I had been given at birth. “My name is Daphne Vaughn,” I answered with a monotone voice as if I had been programmed to speak like that. “Cool! Do people call you dee-dee?” he asked. “My name is Daphne Vaughn,” I said again, restating my answer.
He kept on talking, and as freaked out as I was at everything that was happening that had never happened to me, I couldn’t help but notice the way this boy looked. He had a perfectly parted blond mane with dark roots peaking from where his hair began. Dark-thick eyebrows, blue eyes and long eyelashes. He had two overbites like my cousin Louis. The color of his skin reminded me of a bright sunshine, he was like no one I had ever seen. After analyzing him for what seemed a long time, I looked away almost immediately. However long it was that I had stared at him, his features became a part of my memory forever. “Ugh. All week I’ve been jumping from table to table, you know, just to test out the people around here. But I think I’m gonna stay here.” I had someone to eat with now. I had a friend.
As the school year proceeded, it became a daily routine to grab our food and begin looking for each other to sit and eat and talk as much as we possibly could before the 40 minutes were up. I loved watching as others stared at two very different people coming together. His favorite color was baby blue but he didn’t have to tell me but I knew because he tried to wear it as much as he could. Mine was pink, but most of the time the colors of the hand-me-down clothes I wore were already predetermined for me. For the most part of lunch time he would talk to me about people from his class he didn’t like. “Becky told me that she was going out Ricky. I had to pretend like I believed her, I mean…c’mon! Her? No way.” I didn’t know how to jump in to continue with the conversation so I would ask him things about him instead. “How tall is your dad?” “Hmm…I don’t know. As tall as that restroom door I guess.” He told me about his father moving the family from San Diego, California to Texas because his grandfather was sick and wanted to be with him. The more he would open up to her during conversations, the more I learned to do it myself. Not just with him but with others as well.
Even though it was now 2005 and the NSYNC era was pretty much over, we both had an affinity with the boy band and conversations about their favorite songs would usually end up in friendly fights over Justin.
Him: “Bye bye bye!” Their best song, easily!
Me: The song is okay, but I like the video better.
Him: Hmm… I hope you’re not saying that because of my husband?!
Me: Oh…you mean MY husband Justin? Yes!
We talked movies, and he was shocked when I told him that I had never watched a movie in a movie theater. He tried to relate and said he had, but preferred watching them on TV because they had commercial breaks and he could go to the restroom without missing out on anything. We talked of what we hoped to become when we got older. “I want to be a dentist.” I said. He looked at me with a funny face, “A dentist? EW. I…” He paused for a long while, gazing at his chocolate milk, “I want to go to the moon. I want to live there and never come back down. I bet it’s quiet,” he said with hope and illusion in his voice. As we got to know each other more over lunch meals, he told me how his mother had died when he was in first grade and how it was only his older sister and his father left of what was once a perfect family portrait. As much as I wanted to, I could not relate to him in that sense, because my family was complete. He was the youngest child in his family and I was the oldest, but somehow we found a kind of balance to be the siblings we wish we could have been to one another. Even though we were both completely different people, we found common ground in being outsiders.
Seventh grade went to by like a breeze for me with David by my side. David was a magnet of happiness and energy. He was polite yet always spoke his mind. With time, people began to find David interesting; as interesting as I always had. His personality attracted others to him, without him even trying to be the cool kid. Everybody knew him. Everybody wanted to be friends with him. People now looked for the table where he sat at and made their way over to us. Well, made their way over to him.
We both appreciated and accepted new people that came into our lives and the way our own lives were changing. Due to different courses we took, our lunch times were also different. I ate during Lunch A, he ate during Lunch B. Switching from class to class in the hallways became the place to meet now. Every now and then we made sure to glance at each other, over the crowds of people and smile and wave, just to remind each other we were still there. It became evident that he was no longer the new kid and I became a new person.
I didn’t see much of David the summer before high school but I was aware that he was going back to California to visit family for a while. When he came back, he invited me over to watch TV. “I know I’ve missed you too! Like a bunch! Well…um…do you want to come over and watch a movie on TV? It will be anything we find on a channel.” I felt that maybe he only asked out of guilt for the lack of communication during the final middle school year. I was still happy he asked because it would be the first time I ever made my way past his front door, but I had to say no because my parents never let me go over people’s homes. We talked maybe a couple of times on the phone after that, but I just couldn’t wait to see him in person and maybe eat lunch again, even if it was that first year just like middle school.
High school came around and I felt different. But just as I had seen a change in myself, I also witnessed something different in David. I saw David’s glare slowly dimming that first year of high school. In my eyes, he was always the perfect being that couldn’t be dismantled with words or bad days. Anytime I asked him what was wrong he always replied with, “I’m okay Dee Dee. Don’t worry about me, okay girl?” How could I possibly not? The past three years of my life had been completely turned around thanks to his patience and understanding of the quiet, shy girl I was. I felt indebted to him. One day towards the end of freshmen year he called me on the phone asked to see me in person. His voice had never sounded as serious and manly as it did that day.
We met at Sherwood Park one evening after school. We sat and slowly swung on the swing set made for kids. The sun was setting behind him, and I could just barely see remnants of the blonde that dominated his hair years before. He looked down to the ground, speechless and from that angle, I could still see those physical features that beautifully stood out to me the day we first met. He was becoming a man, but he was still just David to me. Although his skin still shined like the sun, his wondering eyes told me that something deep within him was eating at what was left of the happiness he once owned. I held his hand and he began crying, right there, in front of the world. “I need to tell you something,” he said to me. “I’m, ugh, this is so hard to say. Like, I just can’t. But I want to.” He stopped and got down to his knees just like I do when I pray. “Daphne, I’m gay.” “I know,” she said to him. He laid his head on my bent knees, sobbing, while I hugged him with all the love that I had for him, because he was my friend, the brother I never had, unconditionally.
Although I hoped that his confession to me would bring us closer, it only drew us apart. We talked every once in a while through the phone, but nothing compared to actual face to face conversations like those forty minute ones back in middle school. I repeatedly reminded him that I loved him whenever I had a chance, because I knew he needed that. I didn’t want him to think that anything had changed, because he was still just David to me. Maybe there had been clear signs when we were younger, but I never paid attention to them because nothing set him apart from me or anybody else. I wanted to go back to that time, but those years seemed farther away with each passing day.
Sophomore year of high school seemed like a longer bridge between us. I began taking advanced classes and he seemed much farther away now. One day during lunch time, I saw him eating with the kind of girls that we used to call, “mean girls” because of how popular and well liked they thought they were. I didn’t see it as him becoming one of them, but it seemed like he was looking for a place to belong again. Although he looked much different now, for a moment he looked like the boy from middle school who hopped from table to table looking for a quiet one to sit at.
One day after school I skipped math tutorials to go visit him because I hadn’t seen him in about two weeks. Of all the years I had known him, I had never been to his house. I knocked and his older sister answered the front door. “Yes?” she said. She looked tired and angry. I could have guessed that she was his stepmom from the way she looked, but she looked too much like him. “Is David home?” I asked. “Um, sure”, she said, not really certain she wanted to let me in. I finally walked through that front door of David’s home. Walked through the halls. His house did not have picture frames of family portraits like I did. Only one couch in a large living room. Not much in there but sad baby blue walls. She directed me to his room and let him know from the outside that he had a visitor. It all felt very confidential as if I was walking into an executive’s office or a hospital room. Once the door opened, I found him reading a book. It all seemed staged, prepared as if that is what he did anytime someone came over. Once he saw it was only me, he ran up to me and hugged me as tight as the day he confessed to me his truth. He waited to speak until his sister’s footsteps couldn’t be heard anymore.
“David, what’s going on?” I tried hard not to sound like a worried mother, but I couldn’t help it. “You know what’s going on,” he said in an annoyed tone of voice. I stared at him for a long while and he finally opened up. “I told my sister, but she betrayed me. She told my dad and he’s really mad at me Dee Dee. He doesn’t stop screaming at me that he’s disappointed, that I disgust him.” “I’m sorry,” was all I could say. Although I didn’t know exactly what he was going through, the hurt in his eyes shot through me. No, I couldn’t relate, but I saw just how hurt he had been by his own family. It was clear to me that he was ‘grounded’ and that his father had put him away from being seen from the rest of the world. “My dad says that I can only go to school and come back. He won’t let me out anywhere until I “fix myself”.” I didn’t know what to say to that. At that moment, I did not have the answer to anything. All I could do was stare at the book that lay between us on his bed, speechless, like I wished I never would be again.
I saw him the first day of junior year crossing from the boy’s restroom to his first period class. He wore baggy pants, Jordan shoes, and an over sized tee shirt was his style now. From a distance, he was unrecognizable, but I tried hard to find something of the old David in the few seconds that time had allowed me to see my old friend again. A few weeks later, I found time in my busy schedule to call him and see how he was doing. His sister answered the phone as she usually did. “Hello?” “Hello. Is David home by any chance?” She then followed to laugh hysterically at me, as if I had said something funny. “Wow, it has been long since you’ve been around here, hasn’t it?” “I’m sorry. I’m…not really understanding?” “He lives at 108 Honey Street now. Figure it out. It was nice knowing you.” Aside from the many questions that this two minute phone call gave me, the confusion was just unbearable.
It didn’t take me long to make my way to that address and find out just what I had to discover. The home I did not recognize. I knocked four times. There was no answer. Knocked twice and as I turned to walk away from what I thought was a bad joke, someone opened the door. Maria Dorian opened the door. Maria Dorian was known around school as a girl who was composed of bad grades and a bad reputation. She did not know me but I sure knew her. She started at me with a puzzled look, but not as puzzled as I was. “I’m sorry. Um…I am…looking for David Lanier?” “And you are?” “A friend.” “A friend, huh? Hey, they’re looking for you.” I did not know exactly what was going on, but what I did know is that I wanted to throw up. Had David been kicked out from his house by his father? And if he was, why didn’t he come to me instead? He stepped from behind this person. There he was. In the flesh. The boy who grew up and disappeared. He closed the door behind him. “What are you doing here?” he asked. I had the same question in mind. “You’re sister said you live here now? David, what’s going on?” He looked at me with exhaustion and embarrassment. “Things have happened. Things have changed. I’m…I’m with Maria now.” “What?” It seemed to me like he had just spoken gibberish to me. I could not understand and I didn’t want to. “Yes. I have to live up to my actions. I’m a man and I’m with her now. Please leave. Not now Dee Dee. Please.” The tears that I knew he wished he could cry, I cried for him. My disbelief and horror at what he had said to me made me vanish from the scene immediately.
That was the last time David and I spoke to each other or saw each other at that close of a distance.
By the time that graduation came around, David had become pretty much a memory. I do admit to be at fault for not trying harder to get in touch with him, but he never tried either. People, opportunities, jobs, relationships came and went for me. My job moved me six hours away from my hometown, so the chance to start anew somewhere else presented itself and I took it. Ultimately, six years went by and so did the hope of reconnecting with him. I drove by his old home during a visit a month ago. It looked like it had abandoned for some time now. I can only guess that maybe the family went back to California. Nothing special to note it as “David’s home.” Nothing except the one time I had ever been there.
David was a very special person to me. Nothing like him had ever happened to me. I do thank him from the bottom of my heart for sitting down with me at that lunch table that Friday. I thank him for choosing my table to be the one he would sit at. If would have run away from him that day, I would have been running all my life, but I stayed and I wish that he would have stuck around as well.
If someone would have asked me to write about someone great that made an impact in my life a week ago, I promise you I would have procrastinated to do it. Not because of laziness, simply because remembering him clearly would have been hard to do if it would not have been for yesterday. I arrived just yesterday to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. Sherwood Park celebrated the holiday by giving away free pie. I made my way for a free piece on my way home. The park flooded with hundreds of unfamiliar faces. When suddenly, over the many, a man came into my focus. Everyone else blurred out from my vision. Everyone but the man who was once my friend. There he was. I don’t know if alone or with company, but there David was. And I stood on my toes to grab a better glimpse of him. It seemed like a dream but there he was. I looked over all the people, hoping he would look at me and wave over the crowd to remind ourselves that there we were. But I also hoped he wouldn’t. And slowly he blended in with the many, becoming just another stranger.