An Open letter to all the Once a Week Denises

Dear Denise,

This letter may surprise you, but I want to say that from the very depths of the bottom of my heart, it shouldn’t.

When I was in second grade, I had a friend named Denise (that wasn’t really her name, but go with it). She had a wide social circle of friends that liked her for her imagination. Denise liked to play games that I didn’t like, and she liked to make fun of people who couldn’t do cartwheels, and she most of all liked to do so when she pleased.

I was too fat to do cartwheels as a second grader. I had asthma, which was partially real and partially because I have never had any desire to do cartwheels that make me learn unnatural contortions for months when I could just run. But like I said, Denise had a big social circle. She chose friends like I choose candy (still): this one is a nice candy because it is the right kind of chocolate, the right kind of sweet, the right kind of pretty, the right kind in general.

Well, I was born a Watermelon Jolly Rancher, and I’m much happier being not chocolate, not always sweet, not always pretty, and not the right kind whenever the hell I please.

But back to Denise. Denise looked down upon her friends. She chose them because she could bully them. They weren’t all chocolate, they weren’t all correctly pretty, or sweet, or idk–I was lost around this point some 12 years ago, and I still haven’t figured it out.

Denise played a “game”, which was really coercion and bullying. She told us that each of us was special, and because we were each special, we could have one full day of recess that was ours. As a second grader, I was like “Well yeah I’m special. That’s a given. I guess I’ll choose the day right? Okay…how about Tuesday?”

Nah man. My day was Thursday for two hours during the second recess.

As a silly little second grader, I thought I understood Denise’s logic. She wanted to be my friend. She wanted to hang out on Thursdays for two hours during the second recess. Great. But then Denise asked to hang out with me on Wednesday at the first recess. And Thursday on the first recess. And then she just asked to hang out with me whenever she wanted, but never Thursdays for two hours during the second recess.

Being a silly little second grader, I was all like “What is going on Denise??” She wouldn’t answer me, go figure. She said she wanted to be my friend. She said I was special. I wasn’t sure why she had to say that, that part was already established.

But something that wasn’t so established was that I was her new Wednesday first recess friend. And Thursday first recess friend. And always “friend”. Well, being someone’s always friend that really could care less when that might be can get a silly little second grader in trouble. Her other always “friends” decided to teach me a lesson as we got older—they tried to beat the crap out of me. They never anticipated that I was well versed in seeing people beat the crap out of others. They never anticipated (really dumb for the record) that I had a twin sister that was well aware that I was a silly little second grader, and although we were both pretty dumb, she would go to pretty elaborate lengths to protect me if anyone said anything that made me cry. To quote Mean Girls, I have a lot of feelings, and because I hadn’t learned that other people didn’t cry as much as me and weren’t “always” friends, they often leaked out of my face. Go figure.

I didn’t really have friends until 6th grade. I had a best sister though. We got into conflict a lot, as you can imagine, and my teachers were my favorite. I didn’t like to go outside during recess. I didn’t like to have to fight and sit alone and feel bad, because in 5th grade girls didn’t run, and I didn’t have any idea what the hell girls did, because I thought girls were mom’s and stepmoms and teachers, and basically every other woman I had ever seen in my life. I saw them run before. But maybe since I was so special and extra snowflake-y I should be the best girl I could be right? And girls don’t run. Too bad, I really love to run. I ran yesterday for the first time, and guess what?? I’m fast! I run happily with others, 2 girls and a guy friend. And I really love to run.

It’s silly when I think about it. I stopped running and dancing and singing loudly in public because girls don’t do those things, and boys don’t do those things. I love to do those things. They’re great things, you know?

But yeah, back to you, Denise. I am not a specific hours friend. I will ask for your help when I need it, because an always friend doesn’t ask for help on Thursday second recess only. Or Thursday only. Or <insert a time> only. Always friends accept you when you are crying and panicking like the anxiety ridden Haley you are at 3am, and although you don’t always call them because you have learned a lot of self-control about how other friends like to be treated, always friends are going to be concerned at 3am because it’s not a Haley thing to do to wake them up at 3am. It’s a Haley thing to do to panic unconditionally when she’s stressed and can’t run and can’t talk and can’t write and can’t. But you know what? It’s not a Haley thing to do to be a Thursday morning friend. I don’t know how you think that Haley’s would be a Thursday morning friend. Haley’s generally are always friends, they are scared and panic when they can’t be Thursday morning friends, and sometimes they forget the definition of an always friend, but they know it. The Once a Week Denises have a different definition of an always friend, and Haley’s know that that definition never came naturally to even Denise herself.

But yeah, I trust that you know what is best for you. And I know what is best for me. And I will not be a once a week Denise, so help me God, I will not turn into my parents. I will not marry a Once a Week Denise. I will not dance or talk or write or dream about Once a week Denises, let alone dance with them. I will just be a Haley, and that was always what I was happiest with anyways.

Let us play a game. I will be a Haley, and you will be a Denise, and we will be “friends”. I hope so, at least. I don’t want to get beat up any more by your other “friends”, and if I am a friend that never speaks to you or notices you or plays with you, I will be a good “friend”. So yes, Denise. Let’s be “friends”. I’ll happily be your “friend”. And just like a good “friend”, you won’t even notice.


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I am a second-grade teacher and pastor-to-be who loves people. I spend my weekends with friends or wandering the museums of DC alone and with a journal, trying to put words on the places of the soul that still feel wordless. I spent most of my days at school trying to learn patience through my students and running on sheer nerdy passion. I follow Jesus Christ, and savor that as my most important identity--that I am a child of God, as are infinite others, regardless of their other identities. Christ is my one thing.

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