“I need you to take me over to Charlie’s house,” David said from the top of the stairs.
It was 7:30pm and the stunning Mrs. Clark and I had settled into a movie in our sweats.
“It’s late Mister,” I commented. “Why do you need to do that?”
“Because I need to wish him a Happy Birthday.”
Sherry and I looked at each other.
“He had a party,” David continued. “And I wasn’t invited.”
Not only was he left off the guest list, he was the only one of his group of friends who wasn’t there.
He found out because a friend from school was online with him over the Xbox playing a game, while talking about the party he had just left. Our hearts sank. David started to cry. He wanted me to take him to Charlie’s to make sure his friend hadn’t forgotten about him. For many possible reasons, David had fallen off the radar with his friends. But this seemed different. Impolite. Especially since the rest of his crew was there. These were kids he hung out with at school. We didn’t know how to react, other than to say we understood how it felt.
And that was really true.
Both Sherry and I had experienced this growing up. Being 11 is hard, because friendships seems to be in ebb and flow. I had just made friends in sixth grade and became better established in the school dynamic, only to have that security torn away by a move to junior high for seventh grade. I hated the next two years. Groups formed. I wasn’t in them. Because I was presumably odd, those groups weren’t open to me. I was socially awkward, which made matters worse. These were the loneliest years of my time in school. To hear David’s story that night brought all of the bad feelings back.
I think the worst thing is that the situation was unexpected.
David didn’t know it was Charlie’s birthday. Then, suddenly, he knew in the wrong way and at the wrong time. I know the feeling, like a blow to the head. The routine is quickly derailed, and the predictable is replaced by the sad curiosity of “What did I do?”
Even now I’m blind-sided by this feeling.
The other day I made a congratulations comment on a friend’s FB post, which described how the friend had gone through a tough time in starting a company and struggling through a dark time during the early days. Part of my comment was about a picture I had seen of the person during that time, displaying an act I thought was inspiring; the photo’s subject seemed to portray how a person can be in hard times but still have a good attitude about the world around them. I even mentioned how the image had stuck with me all these years, and that the person had really done well for themselves.
The reply from the friend was both unexpected and awkward.
Without acknowledging my comment with a thank you or kind greeting, the friend publicly criticized an apparent mistaken impression over the picture I had seen – indicating that it was nothing more than assistance in friend’s ad campaign. And that was it. No “I see how that might have been taken that way,” or “Thanks very much.” Maybe the comments needed emoticons. Maybe the friend was having a bad morning. Either way I was stunned and knocked off guard. This was the third time I felt this way after leaving a comment for the person; after the first two times I tried tailoring my interactions to match what I saw as a unique dynamic. Third time has changed that. Now I think I might have been wrong about what I thought was friendship. I initially apologized in a follow-up comment, for getting the impression wrong, but eventually went in to the post and deleted my comments completely. Clearly, whatever I wrote didn’t sit well; it was better to just make it go away. And clearly, the friendship I thought existed wasn’t as strong as I thought it was. Public criticism wasn’t necessary. I was embarrassed and humiliated by the whole thing.
Much in the same way that David was by finding out online that he hadn’t been invited to a birthday party.
Both Sherry and I assured David that we understood the situation fully, and didn’t think it was fair for him to be left out. We are helping him to understand how to “on the radar” and how to extend himself with friends. They are tough lessons for a boy who likes having things done in a certain way, and someone who needs help understanding the notion of “taking one for the team” when his friends want to do an activity he doesn’t. Part of me wishes I would have been able to take him over the Charlie’s that night, not because I wanted him to confront but just to say Happy Birthday and move on.
Hopefully he and I can both learn some good lessons about unexpected discoveries.