Popped Like a Zit

My name is Robbie, I am fourteen years old, and yes—I am a dork. But before you jump to any conclusions, I want to set the facts straight. I am not your stereotypical dork. I don’t wear glasses, I don’t play the tuba, and my face is not covered with pimples. Really, I’m just a normal kid. I’m an average height, an average weight, and I’m decent at sports. I wouldn’t call myself a male model, but I don’t think I’m exactly an eyesore either. Yet somehow, because of some unnamed quality, or some obscure feature, I have been categorized at the absolute bottom of the food chain. My mom calls it jealousy—the other kids are jealous of my good looks, my charm, and my intelligence. My dad tells me to grow up, and never misses an opportunity to remind me of all the people who have “real problems.”
I, however, with my first-rate intelligence, can figure out that what my mom says isn’t true. As for my dad, I know he is right, but I still can’t help feeling sorry for myself sometimes. I can’t help feeling that no one should ever have to go through what I do daily, especially when I did nothing to deserve it. For years, my one comfort in my life was my best friend—okay, my only friend, Eddie. Eddie was a skinny little kid, who never quite filled out his clothes. Eddie too, had done nothing to deserve his place at the bottom of the food chain, right alongside me. We were both baffled by it, but we were baffled together, and our friendship was the one thing we both really enjoyed. We were inseparable for years, and now it’s over. Just like that, popped like a zit.
It all began at the end of the summer before eighth grade, right when school was starting. It was that time of year when life was still a confused mix of the end of summer and the beginning of school. That summer, Eddie had been away at camp, so I had not seen him for quite some time. It was our first day back at school, and when I saw Eddie, I was shocked. I felt like someone just ran 9000 volts through me. He was barely recognizable. He had grown what seemed to be a foot, and he was no longer skinny, but muscular. His messy brown hair was a few inches longer. Apparently, puberty had done him a favor, a favor I was still waiting for. I was not the only one who was surprised to see him. When he first walked in, heads turned.
Despite all of this, he still seemed like the same old Eddie to me. The beginning of the year started off totally normally. That, however, didn’t last long. One of the most popular girls in the school, Serena, had apparently started to take an interest in Eddy. This of course resulted in instant fame for him. Suddenly, the most popular kids in the class adored that skinny little loser. I was happy for him. Of course I was jealous, but I was happy for him. I watched him over the next few weeks. I watched him slowly moving farther and farther up the food chain, and farther and farther away from me. At first, he tried to include me in his popular group—he really did make an effort. But slowly, as we became more and more different, that effort dwindled. When other kids made fun of me, he started making less and less of an effort to stick up for me. He gradually moved farther and farther away from me at lunch. We started spending less and less time together. It reached a point where we were practically strangers. He had replaced me with his popular friends.
The last straw in our friendship was right after winter break. I had spent my winter break holed up at home. Eddie had spent his winter break skiing in Colorado. It was not the kind of winter you see in movies with big snowflakes and white treetops. It was the kind of winter where you spend your time indoors. Although there had been a few brief periods of snow, they were constantly interrupted by rain, and the result was a wet, muddy pudding that was about a foot deep.
When I arrived back at school, things were the same as they had been for quite some time. The other kids picked on me, and Eddie made a few meager attempts to stick up for me. Then lunchtime came around, and Eddie would sit at his usual three tables away from me. I sat by myself. Then we would have recess, and I would be picked last during football. After recess we had science class. I walked into the classroom, pulled out one of the uncomfortable, brown stools from underneath the table, and laid my books down on the grey countertop.
“Class,” Mr. Milburn cleared his throat. “Today, I have some very exciting news. Because we have finally concluded our study of electricity and magnetism, we will be starting the annual eighth grade electric carnival. You must make a game or activity that uses electricity. You may work in groups of two, three, or four. You have two weeks.”
The faces of everyone in the class lit up. Everybody was excitedly whispering to each other, already making plans and choosing partners.
“I hate to rain on everyone’s parade,” Mr. Milburn smiled, “But the project will count as ten percent of your grade. You have the rest of the period today to begin preparing your project.”
I went over to Eddie at his table, and in a last effort to save our friendship, I asked him if he wanted to be my partner.
“Sure, it’s going to be so much fun!” Eddie said, doing his best to fake enthusiasm.
“I know,” I responded with as much excitement as I could force into my voice.
And so we set to work on our project. It was no easy task, especially when it was one to be completed in two weeks. I sat down next to him, and we got to work on planning our project. We were planning to make a game in which there was a metal loop around a chord, and you had to carry the loop from one side of the cord to the other without letting it actually touch the chord. If it did, a buzzer would go off, indicating that you had failed.
After school, I went over to his house so we could start building the project. Together we spent hours planning, designing, and building. I was overjoyed. It seemed like there was that still that last little sparkle of hope for our friendship. However, it was a very small spark, and there was still distance between us. But it was a start, and that’s what mattered.
The whole week went by as a blur. Eddie and I were spending more and more time together. We were starting to make dumb jokes and to laugh again, just like old times. I could not have been happier.
After school on Friday afternoon, I met up with Eddie because we were planning to work on our project. He did not seem as cheerful as he had been for the past few days. I could tell something was wrong.
“Robbie, I really don’t know how to tell you this…” Eddie said nervously.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“I don’Some other kids asked me to join their science group, I just couldn’t say no, and…”
“It’s cool,” I interrupted, trying my best to stay calm.
I had no interest in hearing the rest of his explanation. I said bye and rushed home. I could not believe that Eddie had done this to me. I was devastated. When I got home, I went into my room and cried.
I knew that Eddie and I had grown apart; it didn’t take a genius to figure it out. But now he had crossed the line. I could handle him sitting three lunch tables away from me. I could handle him hanging out with other kids. What he had done now, however, I could not handle. He had given me hope, and he had taken it away just as easily. Maybe he felt bad, maybe he didn’t; I didn’t care. Our friendship was over. I knew that now I was completely alone. I had no one. I knew that I had done nothing to deserve it. I knew that it was horrible what he had done to me. I hated him for it. I hated everyone. I hated everything. I knew that from there my life would only get worse.
Once my capacity for self-pity had run dry, some practical problems began to arise in my mind. Standing out among these issues was how I would do my science project—a project the teacher had specifically said was a group project. Then I got an idea. I remembered a boy named Stanley in my class was still looking for a partner. It was amazing how little I had ever noticed Stanley. He was just one of those kids, a little bit like wallpaper. He was always there, but you just never really noticed him. He was very quiet.
I looked through my phone directory, and gave him a call.
“Hello?” he said as if it were a question. Getting a call from one of his classmates was clearly a rare experience for him.
“Hey Stan, its Robbie, I was wondering if you wanted to do your science project with me?” I said politely.
“I thought you were doing it with Eddie,” he remarked.
“Yeah, well, so did I,” I said bitterly, making it clear I would not explain any further.
“Uhhhhh… Sounds good,” he said. “Wanna come over tomorrow so we can get started?”
“Sure,” I said.
“See you tomorrow then.”
“See you then,” I said, and then I hung up the phone.

I arrived at Stanley’s house around noon. I rang the doorbell, and his mother opened the door. She was a chubby, cheerful looking woman with a kind face.
“Nice to meet you Robbie,” she smiled.
“Nice to meet you too,” I responded.
Then I walked through the door. What I saw was a messy little house with grey walls and only a few rooms. I said hi, and then we got to work. Stanley showed me into his room. It looked like it had been hit by a tornado. The blue rug was cluttered with dirty clothes, video games, and even a half open pizza box with a decaying slice of pizza inside it. I thought about all the times I had spent at Eddie’s house, and it made me sad to think about his room, with its bright lights, green walls, and dark blue floor.
At first, I tried being nice to Stanley, but I quickly became impatient. I thought back to all the fun times I had had over at Eddie’s house, and every little thing Stanley did was a disappointment when compared to Eddie. Like Eddie, he had shaggy brown hair. The similarities stopped there. Stanley was a little bit chubby and if anything, his clothes seemed a bit on the small side. Everything he did annoyed me. The way he walked, the way he held a pencil, and especially the annoying way in which he brushed dandruff out of his hair every few minutes. I found him unbearably irritating, and I did not make my best effort to hide it.
In addition to all of that, our project was a complete disaster. My original project was at Eddie’s house, so we were forced to start from scratch. Stanley and I had envisioned a game in which you had to try and knock down some clowns with a ball. If our project was successful, when the clowns were knocked down, a buzzer would go off, and a whole array of multi-colored Christmas lights would light up. We worked tirelessly for hours to perfect this image. By the end of the afternoon, what we had was a disaster. It was a tangled mess of wires and batteries, and we did not have long to fix it.
We spent the next few days working on the project, desperately trying to make it have any resemblance to something worth presenting. Because we were spending so much time together, naturally I started to learn a little about his life. I learned that he lived with just his sister, his mother, and his goldfish. I learned that he liked to play soccer, and to my horror, I learned believe it or not, he played the tuba. Our project was slowly starting to become something to be proud of.
Friday came, and it was time for us to present our projects to both the class and the class parents. Eddie’s group went first. His big, flashy, half store-bought project was very impressive, and when he had finished presenting, he and his group got loud applause. Next came Stanley and I. Although our project was not as big or cool as Eddie’s, we had worked hard on it, and when we presented it, we did it with pride. After we presented, we received applause, though not like the applause Eddie had gotten. I could tell from Mr. Milburn’s face that he liked it.
I looked at Eddie, sitting with his group at one of the tables, but my eyes did not linger. I turned my eyes to Stanley, and he smiled.
I smiled back at him. Maybe that annoying, chubby, tuba playing-kid wasn’t quite so bad.

Ian Leifer, Age 13, Grade 8, Trinity School, Gold Key

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