On Saturday, I had a Zoom call with an old friend from elementary school. We discussed business briefly and then we got personal. We brought back so many good old memories. Out of all the female friends I had, she was my closest. I met her through our ESL class when I was in sixth grade and she was in fifth.
Our friendship kicked up a notch when we went to junior high together. We didn’t hang out much but we spent hours and hours on the phone. On heavy snow days when schools closed, I was stuck in the little apartment and bored out of my mind. Our phone conversations kept me alive. She was usually the one who made the call because her parents were very strict. They didn’t want any boy calling their home. There were days I waited by the phone and hoped to hear her voice.
If someone were willing to spend that much time talking to me, even when her parents didn’t allow her to, there must be something special. Then I started to wonder if our connection could move beyond the friend zone. The more I thought about it, I started to develop a crush on her. It was not just any ordinary crush I had in the past up to that point. I fell for her voice and her academic-driven. She was a straight A’s student throughout junior high. Even though I couldn’t catch her level of achievement, I made it to the honor roll. I was proud to have my name listed underneath hers on the school’s bulletin board.
When I finally worked up the courage to confess to her over the phone, she turned me down gently. We remained friends, but the rejection stung. I was too embarrassed to face her. When I moved to high school, we drifted further apart. I started hanging out with the new high school friends. I blended in well with other Vietnamese students in the Oriental Club (an unfortunate name). The Vietnamese boys bonded over cars, girls, and gambling. We started to cut school more regularly.
We met up every morning in the school cafeteria for breakfast. We hated the food they served; therefore, we decided to cut school and raced each other at 90 to 100 miles per hour on the freeway to Chinatown in Philly for dim sum. Then there were days we just cut school and played Tiếng Lên (a four-player card game) for a buck or two at a friend’s house. We chose his house because both of his parents weren’t home and they lived a block from our school.
Needless to say my grades were slipping. I went from A’s and B’s to C’s, D’s, and F’s. My senior year was the worst. I failed AP calculus, chemistry, and social study. Somehow I had enough credits to graduate. I was also fortunate that La Salle University had already accepted me early into my senior year.
In retrospect, my poor mother shed so many tears during my high school years. I am so sorry, mama. I was heading in the wrong direction. I spent more time partying than schooling. Fortunately, two incidents had turned me around. I dated the wrong girl. She cheated on me and broke my heart. One of my close friends, whose house we used to gamble in, died from drowning. We were on the same boat.
In our recent conversation, my friend pointed out that she was disappointed to see the change in me in high school. Somehow we had a few classes together, but we were not connected like we used to in junior high. Maybe my mind was somewhere else.
One incident broke our friendship. The day before our chemistry final exam, we studied together at her house until the wee hours. She explained all the formulas to me, but I kept yawning. I was exhausted and sleepy. I tried my best, but I had no clue what she was talking about. We took the final exam the next day. She aced it and I failed. She felt bad for me, but I expected it.
Several days later, we met up in the Oriental Club. One of my best friends who she also knew from junior high and I were making jokes. I can’t recall the exact context, but I was sarcastically referring her as “con quỷ,” which meant “a witch” and not “a bitch.” The next day, her boyfriend at the time who was also one of my friends in the club confronted me. He told me that I called his girlfriend a bitch because I was jealous that she scored higher than me on the chemistry final exam.
I was shocked. I explained to him that I did not call her “a bitch” and saying that I was jealous of her for doing well on the final exam was absurd. She was doing me a favor to help me get a better test score. I should have thanked her instead of being jealous of her. If there was any jealousy, I should have been jealous of him instead because he won her heart. That seemed to get the message across. We were cool about it.
I wanted to reach out to her to apologize. It was a misunderstanding and I made a bad joke. I shouldn’t have called her “a witch” for whatever reason I could not recall. I was disappointed that she didn’t come to me about it. We could have addressed it directly through our friendship. When she hinted at the incident in our recent conversation, I knew immediately what she was talking about. I explained the misunderstanding and I apologized. I hope we’re on good terms now.
She is happily married with a child and, as I had predicted, very successful. I am also content with my own family. She had confessed that she had a crush on me as well in those junior-high years, but there was a third party involved, which I had no clue until now. Twenty-some years later is a bit too late. I suppose everything happened for a reason. I just hope that we can rekindle our friendship after all.