New Friends


By Sean Dietrich

Dear Katrina,
Thanks for the story you sent me. I read it twice because it was so good. I especially liked the part about the magical princess falling in love with the NFL player. Love stories are the best.
From your letter, it sounds like this year has been hard on you. Not only did your parents get divorced, but you’ve relocated to a new state.
You asked me a question:
“I don’t have friends at my new school, how do I get everyone to like me?”
That’s a tough one, Katrina. I don’t really have an answer.
But, judging by your well-written letter, and your three-page story fairytale romance, this is not going to be difficult. You are a very bright ten-year-old with a unique talent.
I know this because in your story you used the word “exquisite” when you described your main character.
Most girls would’ve chosen a different word. They would’ve used the word “beautiful,” or worse: “pretty.” But not you. You went for the gold medal. That shows real smarts.
When I was your age, I also had an unusual talent. I could memorize song lyrics after only hearing a tune once or twice.
My father thought this ability was wonderful. He would turn on a radio, let me listen to a song, then flip it off to see if I could remember the words.
Usually, I could sing almost every verse.
At school, however, I was an outsider. I wasn’t a natural athlete, I wasn’t a good student, I had an overbite, and I was chubby. I didn’t have many friends.
But that all changed one fateful day. Our class had an after-school party. I don’t remember what we were celebrating, but I remember cake.
The kids ate so much sugar it made them insane. Especially George Walborsky. And if you knew George Walborsky, like so many of us did, you knew he got mean when he ate sugar.
Soon, George was using a stapler as a lethal weapon. Benjamin Phillips tried to disable him by dumping a pitcher of Kool-Aid on his head, but this only led to a brawl.
Soon, kids were screaming, the teacher was shouting, the swat team was called, and the U.S. government declared martial law.
Our stressed-out teacher tried to gain control of the classroom by suggesting an impromptu show-and-tell time.
None of the students had prepared to “show” anything. Furthermore, no third-grader should ever be allowed to “tell” a tale by memory. An average eight-year-old can talk for nineteen hours about earthworms.
So the teacher asked me to sing for the class, since I sometimes led the National Anthem at assembly.
This was my big moment. Maybe my peers would finally notice me. I took the stage.
For my first number, I sang Wayne Newton’s “Danke Schoen,” holding a chalkboard eraser for a microphone.
I flipped up the collar on my shirt, I sauntered across the room, winking at my audience.
The class loved it. So I started taking requests.
My second tune was “Copacabana,” which is always a real crowd pleaser. I only knew the first verse, but that was enough to get a decent conga line going.
Next, I sang “Three Times a Lady.” My classmates howled when I took a knee and sang the last chorus directly to the teacher.
I sang “I Got You Babe.” Karen Jensen joined me on stage, singing backup like Cher Bono.
After a few minutes, we had a crowd. Mrs. Daniels’ fourth-grade class had gathered outside our door to see what the commotion was about. Fifth-graders, were lingering nearby. Even the principal was poking his head into our classroom.
Mrs. Reynolds, the school nurse, shouted, “Hey! Do you know ‘I Just Wanna be Your Everything?’”
Did I? I could sing it backwards, standing on my head. My cousin, Amanda, would sing this song at least eighty times per day to a poster of Andy Gibb on her bedroom wall.
I sang everything I knew, including “America the Beautiful,” “Night Fever,” “My Boogie Shoes,” “I Walk the Line,” and “Rhinestone Cowboy.”
When I finished, the class gave me a standing ovation. Then, a frenzied mob lifted me onto their shoulders, and shouted “Hip, hip! Hooray!” Outside on the school lawn were red-white-and-blue fireworks exploding in the sky.
Well, maybe I’m exaggerating about the fireworks.
The truth is, I don’t remember what color they were.
Anyway, the next day at school, I had all sorts of new friends. People actually noticed me, and I felt like less of an outsider for the first time in my life. And I learned a valuable lesson that day.
Be yourself, Katrina, hold nothin back, and the right friends will magically find you. I don’t know how it works, but it does.
Let this world see how unique you are, and let them all know that you’re not just beautiful.
You’re exquisite.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist, and novelist, known for his commentary on life in the American South.


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