By Isabelle Tee, age 15, New Jersey.

She doesn’t want you to join us,” she said, “you are too loud.”

For most of my elementary school years, I’ve never had an actual friend that I’ve felt comfortable enough to just be myself. Many of the people I’ve talked to were mainly acquaintances so that I didn’t look like a loner. Because when you’re on a field filled with kids who don’t think before they talk, the last thing you want to be is alone.

So I tried to befriend a group of girls that I’ve only distantly known from second grade. Whenever they talked to me, I just nodded. I had no clue what they were actually talking about. During recess, I just follow along and pretend to be the bad guy when we play games. During class, I’m the one giving them answers for worksheets. And during lunch? That’s another story.

My mom packed me fried rice that day, which—in my opinion—was better than the soggy dino nuggets. I sat down at the lunch table with my “friends” and ate my food. One girl starts to sniff the air and looks around. Then she goes, “What’s that smell?” She looks at me. All I could do at that moment was put on a fake smile. How can you be friends with someone who can’t accept who you are?

The following day at recess, I joined the girls at the corner of the field. Only two of the girls were standing there. I asked them what game they were playing, and they awkwardly looked at me back. They told me that the others didn’t want to play with me anymore, apparently, I was too loud for them.

I pleaded with them, promising I wouldn’t scream loudly and lower my voice. They looked at me and told me to wait. One of them ran over to the other girls and whispered something into their ears. When she came back, she allowed me into the group again. I kept my word and didn’t speak much. I didn’t want to go back home crying to my mom again.

I realized then that, from the beginning, they never truly accepted me. They were never true friends.

By Isabelle Tee, age 15, Asian American, New Jersey.

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