by Remy R.
I’ll call him Michael, because he reminds me of Michael Cera…a country Michael Cera.
From an isolated town on the Arkansas border, my classmate Michael doesn’t have many friends at our big city school. It’s not that he’s shy, exactly. He’s actually really eager to be one of the guys. “Oh my!” he’ll say, trying to get in on a conversation. “Oh, my!” he’ll keep saying, until someone responds, laughs, or walks away.
Maybe it’s kindness that makes me ask Michael if he’ll be my roommate on our 3-week school trip to Europe, or maybe it’s just wanting it to stop. Social stuff always has come easily to me, so I think I’m more sensitive to that sort of thing than some of my friends. Other things haven’t come as easily, like public speaking, and lacrosse. I’ve worked hard to improve at picking up ground balls on the run, and I want to give Michael the same chance to practice, to come out of his shell, and to help my friends grow as well.
It’s a decent plan, but the reality is annoyed looks, groans, and as the trip goes on, cruel laughter. It starts on the bus from the airport, while we’re playing a card game. My friends on the trip are some of the most competitive people I’ve ever met—a state tennis champion, a guy with a successful band, and a genius with poofy hair and glasses whose girlfriend is a model. The four of us have been close for years, so we’re doing what best friends do: trash-talking, hurling insults, and calling each other filthy names. “Yeah,” Michael joins in, “you are…you are the worst. You should…get the heck out of here!”
Have fun with that, my friends’ smiles say. But I want to gain even more from this trip than sightseeing and taking in the culture of Paris, Rome, and Cinque Terre. I want something my friends will not experience, and that keeps a drive in me.
It keeps me going those first nights in our room, when I rearrange my toiletries a dozen times while making one-sided small talk. It keeps me going when Michael doesn’t leave my side our first day in Paris, walking down the Champs-Elysées while wearing a giant orange rain jacket. (It wasn’t raining.) It keeps me going when Michael drags me out every night after dinner to play Pétanque, a French version of bocce ball.
The guys have been playing bocce ball for years, at the country club or on cruises, but Michael has beginner’s luck. He doesn’t try to mimic the way we shout and holler when we score a point, but just smiles quietly. With every win, he gets a little more comfortable in his own skin.
Soon inside jokes are being passed along among everyone. I can see a sparkle in Michael’s eyes appear, a twinkle of comfort and self-confidence…something that I realize gives me even more satisfaction than the trip of a lifetime.