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I returned to graduate school in 2011 after six years out of school, and I was surprised that the most difficult part of school was not in returning to the routine of doing homework assignments and sitting for hour and a half lectures, but was in making friends and trying to fit into the school environment. I had expected it to be easy to find people with whom I could have easy, meaningful, and engaging, conversations from the start, but was instead met with a group of people, who, while friendly, didn’t seem to provide me with the engaging and connecting relationships in as quick as timeframe as I would like. Perhaps my expectations were too high and my frame of comparison was skewed as I had found it relatively easy to “connect” and develop good friendships with people quite quickly through work, volunteering, and even twitter. Looking back on my initial struggles last year, I could say that a wide variety of reasons contributed to the difficulties, but I would say one of the biggest drivers was that something uniquely about the school environment that makes the process an uphill climb. In “The Heart of Darkness “, Kevin is also facing the same problems that I did – trying to find a group and to fit into the social matrix of school, and while he is in junior high and I am in grad school, the problems are the same; school seems to promote cliques and people grouping according to similar social currency rather than more open and diverse friendships that are easier to make in the “real” world.
For Kevin, though he has Paul, he notices, during the time before homeroom, when who you hung out with during that period say a lot about you, that he and Paul didn’t really have anyone to hang out with and usually ended up just walking around the school pretending to find a group. What is worse for Kevin is seeing that Winnie is now part of a group of her own now that she is dating a seventh grader. Though Winnie comes over to talk to Kevin and Paul and be friendly, still smarting over Winnie “rejecting” him at the dance, Kevin is cold towards her. I have commented earlier that there are things about Winne I don’t understand Kevin likes for a girlfriend (which will come out in subsequent episodes) but I do think that Kevin has a hard time accepting the qualities that make Winnie a good friend when he is unable to be in a romantic relationship with her.
Feeling rejected and socially anxious causes Kevin to inadvertently befriend the school ‘bad boy’ Gary. The initial conversation begins when the kids are taking a test and Gary asks Paul for the test responses. Paul refuses, but when Gary asks Kevin, Kevin, doesn’t know why, but starts giving him the response. The three end up in detention after the teacher hear them talking, and Kevin becomes more interested in Gary when Gary forges Mrs. Arnold’s signature on the slip regarding the detention. The next day, Gary asks Paul and Kevin if they want to camp out in the woods, and Paul and Kevin agree. Kevin is able to convince his mother to go by saying he will be in the backyard. Paul and Kevin go to the woods excited and bring food with them, but find out that Gary has other plans in mind by bringing alcohol and cigarettes. Kevin and Paul are initially shocked, but end up trying a cigarette and beer, respectively. Kevin and Paul are having a great time and Kevin’s worries about his social situation are far behind him, but while Paul is getting drunk and Kevin is enjoying his cigarette, Gary suggests they go to sewer to look at the pipes. While there, Paul and Kevin are initially curious about the stories Gary tells about where the pipes lead, but when Gary starts talking about a dead man in the pipe and making noises to spook them out, Kevin and Paul get angry, and fed up, leave Gary and go back to Kevin’s. Gary tries to apologize but the two have left. Adult Kevin narrates that when he looks back that he feels sorry for Gary because he, like Kevin and Paul, just wanted to make friends, but Kevin was unable to recognize that desire in others even though he recognized it in himself.
In the end, Kevin doesn’t get a new friend, or new group, but ends up learning to accept the friendships he has and that is underneath his nose, just as I did. In my search for getting the ideal conversations through looking through the lens of my past friendships, I overlooked that I enjoyed spending time with the team I was assigned my group projects and shared loads of laughter with them. I became friends with them without even realizing it and in a different way than I anticipated. Kevin ended up enjoying his time with Paul, at the end of the episode. Paul and Kevin are playing cards in the front of the house when Winnie stops by. She’s hesitant at first to talk to them since Kevin and Paul had cooly brushed her the day before in the hallway. She asks them if anything is wrong and they pretend nothing was the problem, but as she walks away, they call her back, asking why she is wearing glasses and not contacts. She doesn’t like glasses, but Kevin and Paul, half jokingly and probably half truthfully, say that they like her better with glasses and they are talking again. Kevin was able to revive his friendship with Winnie when he was able to find the thing that reminded him of his bond before – Winnie used to wear glasses when the two were growing up-and look at her outside of her changed social status. Which is what friendship should be about- embracing the similarities and accepting our differences.