I’m a difficult person. Introverted, hyperactive, pedantic, anxious, and chronically ill, I’m neither easily likeable nor particularly dependable. Chances are, I’m that kid in class or at a party who makes you grit your teeth and roll your eyes in irritation—a relentless know-it-all who doesn’t know when to shut up. Social anxiety and ADHD ensure that I’m usually off-balance in social situations, and my conversation topics of choice tend to be more scholastic than casual. That’s not to say I have no good qualities—I’m open-minded, loyal, and fiercely protective—but it can be challenging to be my friend, especially if you aren’t equally nerdy.
After taking a year off of school to recover from a traumatic brain injury, I switched schools for my junior year. Nearly an hour away from my house, I knew absolutely no one at the new school. I was uncertain about the return of my intellectual abilities after my head trauma, so I decided to take regular physics instead of honors. Though it turned out to be a mistake academically (physics is actually the one science I’m skilled in, and I was mostly bored), I can’t regret taking that class—it’s where I met Munkhjin.
Munkhjin did not like me at first. My interest in the subject and general desire for knowledge meant I constantly asked questions that made the concepts we were learning more complicated, and my incessant Hermione-Granger-ing did nothing to endear me to my classmates. Eventually, through a mutual friend, we ended up sitting at the same lab table, and she gradually warmed up to me. We were on amicable terms by the end of junior year, but not close.
Then, senior year, we both ended up in a special magnet program for digital photography; though we initially stuck together from familiarity, we quickly became fast friends, bonding over photo excursions. We spent countless hours positioning lights and playing with props, exploring the surrounding areas, and peering over each other’s shoulders making edits. It easily could have been a school-friendship like any other—you see each other in class, and when class is over, you go your separate ways—but then she did something that changed the way I saw myself forever.
As I said before, my know-it-all-ness makes me a hard person to get along with. I know it, accept it, and don’t really expect others to ignore it. So, when Munkhjin relayed a story to me about our mutual friend bashing me at lunch, calling me “pretentious,” it stung, but I was prepared to accept it. But Munkhjin? She was furious. She ranted and raved about the unfairness of it, saying it wasn’t my fault that I was smart, or that I liked school, or didn’t know how to talk to people. To her, it was so obvious and simple, an innocuous occurrence, but to me, it felt like absolution.
For all the years of adults praising my intellect, I’d never had a peer tell me that it was okay to be me—that loving knowledge didn’t make me a bad person, that I shouldn’t have to watch what I say to avoid being labeled strange or condescending, that I could have real friends, true friends who weren’t like me. In that moment, I realized that Munkhjin may well be the best friend I’ve ever had.
I’ve had friends in the past who were willing to overlook it, of course, as well as friends who were similarly bookish, but she was neither of those. (To be clear, that’s not to say that she isn’t smart. She is, much more than she gives herself credit for.) But for the first time in my life, someone was looking at me and all of my flaws and saying that they cared about me for and with them, not in spite of them. Something changed for me that day—I didn’t know that I’d been waiting my whole life for acceptance until I had it.