By Ernesto Pineda, 16, Animo Film & Theatre Arts Charter HS
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Ernesto’s favorite things to do when he’s by himself are reading, listening to classical music and playing the computer game Guild Wars.

Being around people has always been hard for me. In middle school I liked going to the library and reading at lunch. Or I would wait outside of the school building for the bell to ring to go to class. I’d lean against the wall looking down, thinking about homework that I should have done.

I’ve always been this way. My dad is a controlling person so whenever I was helping him fix the car and I would screw up on accident, he’d say, “You’re not doing it right.” If I dropped the milk, he would get mad and hit me on the arm, which wasn’t painful but made me feel useless. It made me think I wasn’t good enough for anyone.

When I started elementary school I stayed away from the other kids because I thought they wouldn’t like me or might yell at me too. I wanted friends but I was too shy so I kept to myself. One day in fourth grade I was walking around school and saw a group of kids sitting on the ground with a bottle in the middle. A boy asked me if I wanted to play. I was curious about what kind of game they were playing, and kind of surprised he asked me to join. But the girls said no, giggled, and before I could sit down they all left without giving me another thought.

Going into John Adams Middle School, the only thing I had on my mind was getting through school. I didn’t want to meet people. I believed I didn’t need friendship. If anyone tried to talk to me I believed they just wanted to be the polite person and didn’t mean it. When I was alone during lunch people would ask me, “Do you have any friends?” If I were by myself after class they’d ask, “Are you OK?” I didn’t like those questions because they were implying that there was something wrong with me because I didn’t like being around people. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me; I just wanted to be alone.

Everyone had gotten used to my silent treatment until I went to math tutoring (I didn’t do well in the first quarter) and met Odridge. His first words to me were something simple like, “Do you have a pencil?” or “I guess you’re stuck in this class too?” At first I thought, “Why is he talking to me?” But I started getting used to talking to Odrigde. We’d sit next to each other and write notes about videos games or the math homework or make jokes.

My first group of friends

In seventh grade, Odridge left the school and I was going to end up alone again. I decided to try to get to know his friends, Brian, Wayne and Jesus. I thought they might be as friendly as Odridge.

It was hard to get to know them because I didn’t know how to talk to people. I’d get my lunch and go outside, sit down at their table with them and start eating. It was nice to be with people I knew, even though I didn’t talk much.

We’d sometimes go to a corner near the main building. I’d lean against the fence a little bit apart from them and listen to their conversations. I’d leave after I finished eating and go to the library, where I would read until the bell rang. I liked the solitude from all the noise outside of the library—people talking and yelling too much.

There was often part of me that wanted to be alone because there is always that person in the group who you get into fights with. Jesus was that person. He was a jerk. He would bother me about things like my weight. I usually just ignored him, but one day as I was heading toward the locker room Jesus was behind me and said “move.” I turned around and told him to be quiet. He pushed me and I pushed him back and we got into a fight. I had his head under my arm and he was hitting my stomach and then a classmate stopped us. We didn’t want to get caught so we stopped.

After the fight I was angry. At first I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I stopped hanging out with them and I would sit alone at lunch. But Brain and Wayne were friends and I didn’t want to stop being their friend, so then I talked to only Brian and Wayne. Eventually Jesus and I got over the fight. But I didn’t trust him, even though I had decided to sit at their table again.

After our graduation ceremony I knew I wouldn’t see them again because we were heading to different high schools. I asked for Wayne’s e-mail because part of me wanted to stay in touch but I lost it so I lost contact with them. I wasn’t sure how it was going to be in high school. I didn’t know what kind of people I would meet and if they’d be friendly.

I wasn’t the only one who shied away from people

Illustration by Raymond Carrillo, 18, Polytechnic HS (2008 graduate)

One day that summer I was watching Adult Swim on Cartoon Network and I caught the end of an anime that I thought had a catchy name, Neon Genesis Evangelion. I didn’t think much of it until the Anime Network showed an ad for a remastered version and it seemed interesting. It was about a teenager named Shinji (SHIN-gee). He was a loner. He didn’t have any friends and avoided people. I looked for it on the Internet. I spent two days watching all 24 episodes and the alternate ending on Google Video.

In one episode, the other characters said Shinji was afraid of getting hurt and explained the “hedgehog dilemma,” which means that when hedgehogs get close to each other, they hurt each other because of their spikes so they separate. It made sense. I was like Shinji. I ran away from people because I was afraid of being hurt. It showed me that I wasn’t the only one with this problem.

In the end, Shinji realizes he can get to know people and even if they hurt him, he can still be happy because there are other people who are going to be there for him. I had always thought I could make it through life without getting to know people and it would be fine. But watching the anime made me realize that I could open up.

High school was a fresh start. I decided to try to hang out with people, to not hide who I was and not let people put me down because I’m different. I figured, “If this doesn’t work out I can go back to the way I was.”

On my first day at Animo Film & Theatre Arts Charter High School it was strange being around all these faces I had never seen before. I waited by myself near the wall while everyone was in groups trying to make new friends or saying hi to old ones. I decided that I would at least try to say hello to someone. I looked at the person in front of me and thought, “Let’s try this.” I finally stopped myself from looking away and said “hi.” He said “hello” back. But after that I didn’t know what to say. We stopped talking and then a minute later I tried again and asked, “What school did you come from?” He responded but then I dropped it because I didn’t know anything about his school. Trying to make friends was a stupid idea. It didn’t feel right. I didn’t try for the rest of the day. I wasn’t even sure I wanted friends.

I had been pushing people away from me for so long that I didn’t know how to make friends. But after a while I started to talk to people more. My school had activities in which you had to say your name and something about yourself. Through those activities, I started to get to know the other students and it was easier to talk to them. I have also gotten to know some students because my school is small so I see them a lot.

I was accepted for who I am

A month later I started being friends with Juan. I met him in homeroom when I moved to a table next to him. I don’t remember how we started talking but when I started a weird conversation he would continue it with me and he didn’t freak out like other people. I thought, “Wow, he is weird just like me.” We started getting into deeper conversations. We talked about all kinds of things, like what we thought of manga or what movies we wanted to watch. I asked Juan how to beat  parts of Halo. We liked talking about things that people don’t normally talk about, like how we believe that some cartoons may have subliminal messages. It was easy to talk to him because we had so much in common and we accepted each other.

During summer school we met Emmanuel and the three of us started to hang out. Emmanuel and I talked about manga and anime a lot, like if Eva Unit 01 from Evangelion would be able to defeat Guyver from the anime Guyver. I’d say, “Guyver has a Megasmasher (a weapon that blows up everything in its path).” He’d say, “Eva has the power to use the AT Field (a shield).” Then there’d be a long conversation about who could beat the other and eventually we’d agree on how the fight would end. I had made friends who I could trust and felt comfortable talking to.

Now I have friends. There are about 10 of us in the group. My closest friends are Emmanuel and Juan. Emmanuel tells me about anime shows to watch and we play the card game Magic before school. Juan is the crazy friend. He comes up with weird ideas, like how lighting steel wool can look like a firecracker. We sometimes are able to make fun of each other. I’m short and overweight so they tease me. I know they don’t mean it and aren’t trying to hurt me. I make fun of them too.

I never thought I could meet people who were nice, but I have. I’ve realized I need to give people a chance so I can get to know them and see if they’re cool.

Having friends makes me feel better. There are more people who understand me than I thought there could be. I don’t feel as alone as I used to. But it’s still not easy being around people. When I have a bad day I don’t talk to anyone. And I like being alone more than being with people because when I’m alone I don’t have to impress anyone and I can think to myself.

I’ve made friends but at lunch after I’ve talked with them, I walk around the school. This lets me have space for myself. Whether I decide to be with people or be alone, either way I’m happy. I still feel like a loner even though I have friends. I don’t see what’s wrong with being alone.

If you liked this story …

Click here to read Paul’s story about overcoming and also accepting his shyness. (January – February 2007)