This week my nephew told me about a close friend of his that was having tough problems at home. The exact details are unclear, and admittedly I don’t want to write about it too much without putting a young person or his family on the spot. But overall, the police were involved and my nephew told his aunt about the troubles of the young man and thankfully — or so it seems — the young man is getting the care he needs.
Such things are commonplace in a home with turmoil, and friends aren’t always the friends they might seem to be.
I struggled to tell my nephew the right things to do, and I ensured I told him I was proud that he spoke to the authorities when he feared for someone’s safety. To some folks, this isn’t the answer for every situation, and growing up in a tough area, (I literally grew up on Compton Blvd. in California) the police would be the last resort for many people.
All said, this entire situation brought up a lot of memories for me regarding the choices I made as a young person from the ages of about 12 to 17.
When I was in seventh grade, I painfully sought the friendship of anyone I thought was popular. I tried to fit in with all the trends, (at that time it was the Members Only jacket lol) and no matter how terribly someone might treat me, I was much more willing to forgive a terrible acting person if they were popular or rebellious and cool.
I had two friends, Kimbo and Mike, that treated me terribly. But they were extremely rebellious. I followed along.
One of my lifetime’s worst memories — and I REALLY do mean one of my worst, most regrettable behaviors — was when Kimbo drove his bike a bit too close to a little old lady and scared her. She was startled and said something like “Oh my goodness” or something similar and Kimbo began to talk back to her, mocking her with a sarcastic voice.
I am absolutely horrified to admit, I joined in. I can say I was only about 12, or that immature kids do silly things, but I simply can’t. My father taught me better. I can truthfully say it is the only time in my life I acted disrespectfully to an elder person, but it immediately haunted me.
I felt absolutely horrible and to this lady, to who I am sure has long passed away, “I am sorry ma’am. You deserved to be respected and I regret my actions.”
But such a thing was not enough to stop me from hanging out with Kimbo and Mike. They were rebellious and I wanted to be cool. They one time threw unripe walnuts at a dog (I didn’t join them, though I might have laughed) and they bragged about it.
How could someone do that to a sweet little dog? (I’m sorry that happened little pup, I would have petted you.)
So we hung out quite a bit, and they always seemed to push the envelope, they were always telling me about their latest exploits, they supposedly spray painted the “f-word” on some guys truck and got chased - they stayed up all night and of course, I was always invited. Thanks to my Dad, he didn’t let me very often.
They would call me names and make fun of me. Another one of my friends Chicky from my previous neighborhood, said “Yeah Vince we make fun of each other, but it isn’t mean. They are mean to you.” I held onto his thoughts.
One day, I decided to speak up for myself and Mike punched me in the mouth. It cut my lip and it shocked me into reality. I finally decided this “friendship” was not a friendship at all. I didn’t really ever hang out with them again.
A few weeks later, I learned that Mike had challenged a police officer in some way and was shot with a gun. Mike became paralyzed from the waist down and would have to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. I could have easily been there with him. Thankfully I wasn’t.
The quest to be cool and rebellious cost him dearly. Mike would never walk again. I never know whatever happened to Kimbo. Truthfully, it isn’t important to me. Everyone has their journey.
A few years later I went to high school. My birth mother decided I should transfer to a Catholic High School in a rich part of Torrance, California and off I went. I left behind anyone I knew and ended up fairly alone. The school was filled with rich white kids and I stuck out like a sore thumb. My quest to be popular was an impossible goal in this school world.
I had a few friends, but they were the rejects and nerds, as was I. I felt a bit less nerdy than one guy George, so I was often dismissive of him. He was kind, nice and probably would have been there for me in any way I asked, but I didn’t treat him with much if any respect. He deserved much better.
I tried to be cool and sought the approval of others who treated me poorly.
And then I had an assignment to lead a prayer for my religion class - since I was not popular, my partner was another unpopular student named Matt. He was a bit odd but extremely nice. His mom treated me like gold when I went to his house and he was very smart. He treated me with respect and kindness. We decided to do our prayer based on God and the connection to nature.
When it came time to present the prayer to the class, I made a joke about Matt, in hopes of getting a laugh. The class stared at me silently. I don’t think Matt noticed, but maybe he did. All I know is he treated me nice and I made fun of him to people who didn’t really treat me with any respect.
Not some of my best behaviors.
Many years later, I went to my 20th high school reunion. I don’t really know why as I didn’t really know anyone, but I did learn a few things. All of those people who I tried so hard to impress, really weren’t worth the agony. I saw George again, and he was a wonderful guy who was glad to see me. I am glad to say, I treated him with kindness and respect. I was glad to see him. He was truly wonderful. I realized a lot of the friends who I thought were nerdy, were actually my true friends. I realized then, true friendship had nothing to do with being cool.
I grieved for the times of friendship I could have had in those years, but cherished the lessons I had learned that night.
There was a person I didn’t see at my high school reunion. I didn’t see Matt. Or maybe he was there and I didn’t recognize him, but I doubt it. He was probably with his family, or friends or something else. I have a feeling it was probably pretty great. I would imagine he is a doctor or lawyer, who can be certain?
But what I thought, perhaps most importantly, was that Matt was most likely involved in life with what was important. He was more interested in living life for himself, rather than being worried about those who didn’t care about him. In other words, Matt was more focused on the important things.
So these lessons I have learned compelled me to write a few reasons why I feel that a nerd could be much more of a friend than the ‘so-called popular kids.’
I have used the term ‘true friend’ as essentially being interchangeable for a ‘nerd,’ simply because such behaviors are often considered to be good-goody behaviors or ‘nerdy.’ But these qualities are where true friends reside. My fellow student Matt would have been an amazing friend, but he was definitely considered one of the school’s biggest nerds, as was I. It is a badge I now wear proudly.
Here are 10 ways a nerd can be a true friend.
A true friend doesn’t cut you down - they offer constructive criticism
I have had friends that ridiculed me, berated me and told me I was essentially worthless, as opposed to offering loving criticism that could help me do better in life.
A true friend doesn’t abandon you when the going gets tough
If you get locked out of your car at 3 am, or break up with a special person and need a shoulder to cry on or if get into trouble and need help you can’t repay, a true friend would be there for you.
A true friend sticks around when the resources run out
If you run out of money, don’t have the latest video game to play or have any food left in the fridge, a true friend would still be there for you.
A true friend applauds your success and is happy for you, not jealous
If you get a promotion, win a long race or get past a milestone into success, a true friend would be happy for you. If you have a story, they don’t always have to top it, they can rejoice in letting you have your moment of glory.
A true friend might make a mistake, but will want to make it right
Any friend can make a mistake as seen above, but if they do, they want to make it right without you asking them to.
A true friend cares about your welfare and state of mind
They care if you are hurting, they care if you feel a struggle, and they want to know about it. If they can, they want to help.
A true friend doesn’t want their friendship to be a strain on your own life
A true friend intuitively knows or at least asks, if they are putting stress on you in various situations. They don’t want to stay over until 3 in the morning if you have to work at 7 am. They don’t want you to pay for dinner every time you go out if you are struggling to pay your bills, they want to share in life’s burdens as well as celebrate the victories.
A true friend understands boundaries
A true friend gets the fact that each of you has their own lives and that though you are sharing a journey, there are still things to discover and explore on our own lives path. As much as things are shared, your own journey is your own and you have a right to venture and explore this on your own agenda.
A true friend wants you to be happy
No matter what that may mean, a true friend wants you to be happy in life, no matter what that might mean within reason. If your true friend understands that his life’s choices aren’t creating a positive space for you, they would understand if you had to venture out into other paths.
A true friend wants the best for you
This is pretty clear, a true friend wants what is best for you, regardless of their own interests.
I dedicate this week’s column to you, Matt. I hope you are well my friend. I sincerely expect you are doing well. Though our time was brief, I have never forgotten you, or your kindness. I also dedicate it to my best friend Dann, who fits all of the above qualities, my nephew Parker for caring about others, and to my wife Delores, my life's best friend and amazing partner.
Me and my buddy Dann from my birthday party many years ago.
Follow fellow Native Nerd, Vincent Schilling associate editor for Indian Country Today at @VinceSchilling - Make sure to use the Hashtag #NativeNerd