As I write this, it’s Saturday evening — my first Saturday evening, in fact, of my summer holidays. In some people’s eyes, I am now officially in Year 11, the year of my GCSEs, turning 16, and leaving home for college. But this summer, I just want to relax, and be myself: no stress, no lies, no crap — just me. I have some exciting stuff coming up in the next 6 weeks, which I’ll definitely be posting more about as we head into august.
For me, this week has been incredible. However, from an outsider’s perspective, I should have had one of the most awful weeks of my year: I’ve had stress relating to in-school support regarding my blindness, which resulted in an emergency review of support, and, as of now, no set-in-stone support plan for my next (and final) year of secondary education. Nevertheless, I’ve actually had one of my best weeks, for one simple reason.
I learnt to have friends.
I’ve never been especially terrible at making friends: sure, I’m shy and quiet sometimes, but I wouldn’t say that anyone would point me out as someone who struggled to make friends, nor would they point me out as someone who was unnaturally good at doing so. What I am quite bad at, however, is recognising that I have friends — real friends. It’s strange, because over the last year or two especially, so many people — so many of my friends — hae been there for me, to support and advise me, but also to smile and laugh with me, and to be part of those memories — the best type. This is particularly true of my school friends: I feel like this year, I’ve finally settled in my school, surrounded by a small but amazing group of friends who have meant the absolute world to me.
Even so, I can never help but wonder whether my friends are, well, my friends. I think most people with what is known as a ‘visible disability’ know the feeling that I have so much of the time: it’s a constant questioning, unsure of the amount of pity in a friendship. Are they my friend, or do they just feel sorry for me, because I’m blind?
On Monday, I was going to London to meet a friend off a train; we were going out for the day with some more of our friends on Tuesday, so she was staying at my house on Monday night to make the morning a little easier on us both. I decided to head into London straight after school; otherwise, I doubted I’d make it to my friend’s platform on-time.
As I was describing this to one of my school friends, he surprised me — it’s not easily done.
“Do you want me to come with you?”
This confused me — a lot. Had he just offered to spend time with me, to come with me into London during his free-time, for no other reason — for no other person — besides me? Because I’m L, and I’m appalling at face-to-face conversation, I tried to assure him that I’d be fine: after all, I didn’t want him to waste his free-time, and no one honestly wants to spend time with me. About 10 mins later, whilst texting each other from our respective form rooms, we asked again, and I accepted — of course I wanted him to com with me. I just didn’t want to be that needy-blind-friend, and I told him as much.
So, off to London we went — the whole round trip took around 3 hours, and I’ve never smiled so much, or laughed so hard on the trube. Believe me, his sense of direction was just fantastic, by which I mean non-existent (his words, not mine). We got asked our ages by a nice-but-a-bit-on-the-creepy-side WH Smith worker, offered (and consequently given) free cans of Coke 0 by street-traders (who I was convinced were secretly dishing out drugs), and confused ourselves when the unnecessarily-complex platform-numbering system of London King’s Cross railway station.
What was more surprising was his second offer, made on mur journey home (accompanied by my frined-from-the-train). He offered to get up at 4:20am on Wednesday morning (as I already was), to aain accompany me into London to drop my friend off before ww returned to school. I tried to convince him thatit wasn’t worth it: I didn’t want to get him up early, disturb him, or force him to spend more time mith me than he had to — i’m really not that great a person. Still, he persisted, and I agreed to him coming with us — again, I weally wanted him to, but just didn’t know how to say yes.
And, again, it was amazing — we laughed and smiled and were genuinely really happy. We got lost and confused in the Starbucks queueing system, ran through a ticket gate because there had been a staff call for the British transport Police to come to the ticket line to deal with severll unruly men, and did our best to fit in on the tube, doing our best miserable faces and reading important-looking documents (The guardian being my publication of choice). I thanked him repeatedly because that’s what I do, and he told me that it was what friends are for.
That’s when I realised: I’ve learnt to have friends. I’ve learnt what it is to feel supported, and to understand that people care, and don’t just stick by your side because you’re blind, or visibly disabled in some way. He’s my friend because he likes to spend time with me, as I do him, and that means the absolute world to me. There is no deception, no lies, no behind-my-back faces and “yeah, he’s so annoying” — none of that. He is my friend, and I’ve never known something, or appreciated something, more in my life.