Changing schools was not a new event in my life, in fact, it happened so frequently to me I started expecting a reset in my school experience every two or three years. It was usually a mixture of anxiety and excitement, an event of change that had become the norm.
My new 11th-grade classroom was empty when I first arrived, the walls had scrawls and pen marks the previous batch of students left, the blackboard was slightly dented and the room itself had a lingering smell of chalk and old books. Taking my seat in the eerily silent class I felt a pang of uneasiness. It was a foreboding sensation, a feeling I had never felt before, a feeling I should not have dismissed as nerves.
I was and still am a quiet person, but I’ve never found it hard to connect with the people around me. It was a skill I had to pick up when moving constantly, and I was pretty good at finding my place in friend circles. In this classroom, however, I felt like I was navigating through a maze of iron walls. Everyone knew each other from their previous years. It was impossible to hold a conversation for longer than two seconds without a joke from two years ago popping up and or a reference that made no sense becoming the centre of the conversation. I was the new kid in a sea of people that did not care, and I was drowning.
The writing on the chalkboard made no sense to me, it was jumbled, dancing around in an order I could not understand. I stared at the light above the board to calm my tears. It was an isolating feeling. The impatient teacher was glaring at me, he wanted an answer I couldn’t muster up. He sneered out a snide remark in a language I couldn’t understand and everyone silently snicked.
That ridicule was probably my breaking point, my hearing clogged with the sound of my own rapid heartbeat. My legs were losing strength and I was so lightheaded I thought I was going to pass out. I abruptly sat down when he turned back to the board, I couldn’t breathe. I clutched my shaking hands together and sunk into the cold chair. I did not want to cry, not in front of everybody.
It was a light tap on my shoulder that brought me out of my spiralling thoughts. The girl next to me was worriedly looking at me. She inched a little closer and asked simply, “Are you ok?”.
Like a machine, I pulled my face into a forced smile and silently whispered back, ‘I’m fine”. It was the most generic conversation in the book, I doubt she expected me to spill my life’s story, it was probably just a courtesy she wanted to show. This small seemingly insignificant moment in time however remains etched in my brain, in bright vivid detail. It’s like watching a scene from a show, playing out every time I remember or experience a difficult time.
Life wasn’t so hard anymore; I slowly understood the iron walls that blocked me from making a connection were my own. 11th grade still is one of the worst school years for me but eventually, I found friends to lean on and I didn’t feel like every day was a chore.
If you asked me, I still wouldn’t know why such a small conversation affected me so much. It looks so insignificant in the grand scheme of things yet has become a sort of comfort. You never know how much a few compassionate words can change someone’s day. As cliché as the advice is, a small positive word to a random stranger might brighten their day for the better.