I believe in loyalty. I had an outcast friend in the fifth grade by the name of Mike. He was subject to ridicule and insults on a daily basis. Its strange how in the fifth grade there are standards for “socially awkward” and “cool”, and there is always one kid that doesn’t get it.
My friend was one of many kids in his family, and he got by on “hand-me-downs”. Often, his used clothes had holes in them, and were so filthy that only a fifth grader could see past them and point out that Mikes teeth were yellow and his hair looked like it was cut at home.
He used to tell me about his little brothers and their favorite TV show, Scooby doo. I liked my friend, but it bothered me that our classmates refused to eat lunch with us. They treated me decently, but they made it clear by their insults that they didn’t like Mike. Apparently his impression of Scooby doo did not meet the fifth grade standard of “cool”. These playground miscreants often made fun of my friend while in my presence, and I never stood up for him. I soon found myself becoming accepted because of my silence.
I remember there was a time I could have been loyal to my friend, but I wasn’t. Mike and I walked out of the classroom and he asked, “Do you want to play four-square?” I was about to answer when my new friends came up behind us and invited me to play with them. They gave Mike some dirty looks and Mike looked confused; he assumed that I wouldn’t leave him. I told him I would see him later and I left my friend standing there alone. He called back to me, but I ignored him. I saw he was hurt, but I sought the approval of my new friends. I will never forget that look he gave me; the look of betrayal and disloyalty.
I don’t know what happened to Mike after that.
The friendships I made in the fifth grade didn’t survive high school. My new friends weren’t loyal to each other or me, and the group divided. We frequently saw each other in the halls but pretend that we didn’t know each other.
To most children, loyalty is something that must be learned through trial and error. On school playgrounds, children are susceptible to life changing experiences. The adage, “kids can be cruel,” is a true principle and is made manifest on the playground. It’s where I had my first encounter with the meaning of loyalty and it’s opposite. After years of sorting this experience, I know that it’s where I learned loyalty.
I have often regretted the day I was disloyal, and I wish I could have a “do-over,” but that time is lost and can’t be repeated. Still, I have learned wisdom in my failure. Now I practice loyalty by standing up for my real friends and the occasional social outcast.
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