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Day 5 of my 21 day Writing Challenge

He approached me with a look of recognition in his eye. I didn’t want him to notice me because I was with my boys…new friends that I was glad to have since this was a new school for me. They were not the most popular guys on the yard but they were cool enough that I didn’t want to jeopardize my standing with them by associating with a nerd.

I used to be a nerd but that was in 5th grade. I was in 8th grade now, I had grown up. I had drank a beer, puffed on a joint and organized house parties with my aunt Pam after her mom, my grandmother, left for her overnight work shift at the hospital.

I remembered exactly who he was and for a split second I was excited to see him after so many years. He may have picked up on that when we made eye contact. A split second goes by really fast so I figured I switched my demeanor in time but we humans are wired to pick up on intentions and emotions and a split second is all it takes.

I was quickly assessing the pros and cons of various responses and before I knew it he was tilting his head to the side and squinting his eyes as if to focus. He had his hand out ready to shake mine and he said, “Jerry?” He emphasized the “Jer" and his tone went high on the “ry” as if a huge question mark dangled from his tongue. Then he said, “It’s Jay!”

I couldn’t just not respond although that’s exactly what I wanted to do. As the long pause between him speaking and me disregarding the hand shake became awkward, I had to do something, so I said “Do I know you?” I couldn’t even look him in the eye but I could feel the confusion as he lowered his hand to his side. I heard one of my new found friends say “You know this dude?” I turned and leaned into one of my boys and said “Naw, he must think I’m someone else, let’s roll”

I don’t know how he responded, I didn’t look back. It sounded like he said fongucong kongyong o u. At the time I just wanted to disappear because I knew what I did was ridiculous but it seemed like I was powerless to stop it.

Skip back to 5th grade at Carson Elementary school. It was another new school for me. From kindergarten through 4th grade, we gladly and with much excitement walked two and 1/2 blocks to Hallett Elementary every school day. I had the pleasure of being taught by very capable teachers like Ms. Wilson and Ms. Harris at Hallett.

For reasons that I could not understand and still don’t, all of the kids from my neighborhood were being bused to other schools across town. We got bused to Carson. It was a 20+ minute bus ride and it was a bit of a culture shock.

While I knew some of the guys from my neighborhood that went to Carson, it was not an easy transition for many of us. There were fights between us neighborhood kids and an antagonism existed that if studied by experts, I’m sure would make sociologists scratch their heads.

Jay and I connected at Carson most likely because I was kind of nerdy too. We liked to read, explore ideas and I corrected people on just about everything. I was a middle child and I craved attention and anything that would give me an ounce of it, I doubled down on.

Jay and I were cool. My family has a"secret" language with a few simple rules that allowed us to communicate without others knowing what we were talking about. I taught Jay our language…that’s how cool we were.

I gotta admit it though, he was a school friend. We did not have a phone, he lived on the other side of town, play-dates didn’t exist back then and we only saw each other at school.

Here’s the crazy part about this, I don’t remember any of my cool 8th grade friends’ names. It’s hard for me to even picture them in my mind. I’ll remember Jay forever because he recognized me when I was unable to recognize myself.

Even as adults, we are not immune to making choices to avoid the risk of some kind of pain. For me, as an 8th grader it was the emotional pain of being considered a nerd or a square. What great opportunities might you be passing by for fear of rejection or failure or some other uncomfortable by-product you are imagining?

I’ve looked for Jay right here on FB so that I could apologize. I haven’t found him. He probably doesn’t remember my immaturity as vividly as I do.

Jay if you’re out there reading this brah, it would make my day if you commented below with a simple “Do I know you?”

From L to R: Richard Smith, Gregory Mueller, Andrew Cyrus Jr, Byron Arnold, Jerry L. Burrell, Bryan Keith Brown, Jason Skillern, Eddie Ray Johnson III, Nick Willson
Some of my friends and teammates at Dunk Ninja 2017

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