Robert James, My Friend

Robert James, My Friend

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Robert James, My Friend


Robert James was missing his two front teeth. Robert James smelled really bad. Robert James came to school with chicken pox. Robert James did not have any friends. Robert James taught me things I could not believe. Robert James was my friend.

I first met Robert when I was in eighth grade. We sat next to each other on the first day of Mrs. Miller's algebra class. He smelled really bad that day, by the looks of it he had not showered in a few weeks. Initially I was quite appalled by this odor, and this gave me a bad first impression of him. Robert was always nice to me though.

Robert was not a very popular kid. He would have been placed in the "skanks" group, the group of kids who did not shower and came from lower income families. He moved to Goshen the summer before his eighth grade year, and he did not know anyone. He was made fun of on a daily basis, not only by the "preps," but by the "skanks" as well. It did not seem as if Robert had much going for him in his life.

I was a very timid child in middle school. I had friends and people to associate with, but I was not very out going or overly talkative. I had a hard time talking to people I didn't know, and people like Robert intimidated me. This is why when I was assigned to be his math partner I was quite scared.

In the first week of school Mrs. Miller assigned everyone in the class a math partner, someone who we would spend the semester working on in-class assignments. When I found out that I would be working with Robert all semester I did not know what to think. I was not particularly skilled in algebra, and I assumed that Robert would not be smart either. This was the first thing way that Robert proved me wrong.

I think that Robert knew that I was scared of him. The first time we had to work together, he was overwhelmingly nice to me. He asked me all kinds of questions about myself, and helped me to relax. I nearly forgot who I was talking with, and opened up to him.

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Together we spend that math period talking to one another about any subject not dealing with algebra. We got so involved in our conversations that we did not hear the teacher's assignment, and by the time we realized it class was over. Mrs. Miller was upset with us, and she gave us an extra assignment and told us it was due the next day. I was worried because I knew I would have trouble doing the additional assignment on my own. Robert asked if I wanted to meet him at the library that evening to work on the assignment, and though I was reluctant to be seen in public with him I thought it was the best thing for me.

I met him that evening at the public library, and it was here that he displayed an un-real math ability. It seemed as if he was at a high school math level, completely above and beyond anything I was even near. He was able to explain the math to me better than any teacher I had ever had, and the whole time I could not even comprehend the fact that he, Robert Cornish, was teaching me this. We studied for nearly two hours that night, and when we were done I left with the best understanding of math I had ever felt.After that night I found respect for Robert. I no longer saw him as the smelly guy who was missing his two front teeth. I saw him as someone who was genuinely a nice person. I began to get angry when I saw him getting continually harassed during lunch time.

I remember a particular incident in the school cafeteria that gave me chills. I saw him sitting across the cafeteria all alone, minding his own business. A guy named Joe Charles, who always got kicks out of picking on people, came up and had a seat with Robert. I knew that this was trouble for Robert, but before I could even go and do anything about it Joe had taken Roberts milk and poured it all over Roberts head and threw his tray on the floor. Joe walked away laughing, and Robert just sat at his table all alone, looking quite helpless.

To make matters worse, the lunch monitor came over to Robert, and instead of helping him out began to yell at him. He was calling Robert names, and went and got a mop and made Robert clean up the mess, the whole time not even listening to Robert explain his side of the story.

I went over to him to see if he was ok and if there was anything I could do, and amazingly Robert started to laugh. He seemed to find humor in this horrible situation, a humor I did not understand. I could not understand how he could find humor in a situation like that, I would have been furious at both Joe and the lunch monitor.

Robert explained to me that the things he had gone through in his life did not even compare to things as simple as spilled milk. Robert told me that as a child he was beaten on a daily basis by his father. He told me that his mother ran away with another man when Robert was only six, and that his dad went to jail a year later.

The new family Robert lived with was even worse. He stayed with his aunt, and here he hardly ever got fed. She had six other children, and Robert would get whatever food was left over, which often was nothing. Robert had to sleep on the floor, with a old blanket that the family dog always urinated on.

Robert explained to me that since he moved to Goshen the previous summer his troubles no longer followed him. For the first time in his life, he did not have to worry about hiding from a father who would beat him, or worry about whether he would eat that night. He lived with a relative of his mothers, and here, though not in the most ideal living situations, Robert felt safe.

Robert told me that he was so used to having bigger problems to worry about than being made fun of that when he was picked on it hardly mattered. Sure it bugged him, but he said that the feeling of not having to live like he was did would always prevail over these now mediocre problems.

I could not relate to any of the situations he explained to me, but I completely understood what he was saying to me. In a very strange way Robert taught me to be laid back and enjoy life. I gained a new perspective on life, and I had Robert to thank for that.

After eighth grade Robert and I attended different high schools. I have not seen Robert since eighth grade, and have no idea where or what he is doing. But I have a feeling that he is enjoying life, and knowing that the world which scared him will never scare him again.
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