By Ryan Nishikawa
I’ve recently been dealing with some heartbreaking news. Thomas, my adorable little brother, no longer has any friends. No one in his new class has reached out to support him. The people who used to call themselves his friends have abandoned him.
Before I say more about Thomas’ difficulty with making and keeping friends, I want to say something about him as a person. Thomas is different from most kids. He’s smart and kind and compassionate. But he also has social difficulties other kids don’t. You’ve probably had experiences and confrontations with people like him.
Imagine the kid from your class who talked in a way that was difficult for you to understand. That kid who could become so emotional at the strangest things, the slightest things. That is my little brother. Though it’s challenging for him, he tries incredibly hard to be sociable. But when he tries to be sociable, people label him as “weird” or “creepy.”
My family hoped that Thomas would grow out of these problems. We all hoped he would find friends who could see past his differences. But it didn’t work out the way we’d hoped. Most people establish friendships for selfish reasons. This isn’t necessarily anyone’s fault. I’m not blaming anyone. I doubt most people take the time to ask themselves whether the friendships they have are selfish or unselfish. But the kids in my little brother’s class have decided a friendship with him would only drag them down.
I think I see the reason for this. Thomas only has the ability to think about himself when he has an interaction. He has a difficult time understanding another person’s perspective. When you talk with him, it can feel like he’s trying to dominate every aspect of the conversation. He has a hard time hearing another person’s opinions. And most people don’t want to take the time to hear what the “weird kid in the class” has to say. This is a shame because Thomas really has a lot of entertaining and educational things to share.
The reason I’m writing this essay is because Thomas recently had an emotional breakdown when he realized he had no friends. Everyone in my family tried to comfort him. My Mom, my Dad, my sister all tried to talk to him, but it was no use. Although Thomas and I have difficulties communicating, I decided to try to speak to him.
When Thomas told me about his problems I burst into tears. It wasn’t only because of Thomas’ problems with friendships, I began to cry because I realized I knew exactly what he was feeling. And I knew what he was feeling because I have a lot of the same problems that Thomas has.
I used to be that “weird kid” in class who no one took the time to understand. I used to be the kid who could become emotional about the strangest things. When I tried to be sociable, other people would call me “creepy.” I was terrible at carrying on conversations. I was overly sensitive. I dragged my friends down. And then most of the people I knew stopped being my friends.
I went through periods where it felt like nobody cared about what happened to me. I would fall down and no one would help me up. I would cry and no one would turn to look. All the days I hurt it felt like no one in the world wanted to help me.
I cried for Thomas because I understand how it feels to be “unwanted” by the majority of our society. I understand how it feels to stand in a room filled with people and no one wants to waste their time talking with you.
Here is what I said to Thomas: I told him that I am just like he is. People like us have to work harder at friendships than we’re comfortable with. We have to be stronger and more resilient. No one is going to give us anything. No one is going to seek out our friendship. No one is going to take the extra effort to understand kids like us. That effort will have to be ours. This is what I wanted him to understand.
Now here is what’s important. Thomas, if you’re reading this, I’m going to tell you the most important thing. You are not alone. There are people out there, people you haven’t met yet, and they are waiting to become your friends. There are people out there who will have the patience to accept you. I promise. You are a great person. Sometimes you don’t know how to express your greatness, but someday soon you will learn how.
Someday soon you will stand in the sun with people you love and who truly, genuinely love you back. I know all of these things are true because it happened for me. I worked hard to change myself into a person who could listen as well as speak. Eventually I began to make friends again. Sometimes all of this effort is really tough. Sometimes you are going to want to give up. But never let go of an opportunity to have friends. And remember that it is the quality of friendships that matters and not the quantity.
Now to those of you out there who aren’t my little brother, and happen to be reading this, please give him a hug. Try to give him your patience and compassion and understanding. He needs someone other than me to tell him that everything will be fine. He needs people outside his family to see his greatness and his genius.
I know that, if given the chance, Thomas will be five times more successful in this world than I will be. I believe that without a doubt. Tell him that he is not alone and never will be, because he needs that more than anything else.
— Ryan Nishikawa is a sophomore at Davis High School. His brother Thomas is a fourth-grader at Birch Lane Elementary School.