I was so hungry I could’ve eaten the beans from my bean bag chair. Instead, I opted for two plates of spaghetti and a bowl of Lucky Charms.

“How was the first day of school, Sweetheart?” my father asked.

“It wasn’t the first day, Dad,” I huffed. “It was like day 160.”

To help me adjust to a new town and school my senior year of high school, my parents decided to move me at the end of my junior year. So I could make “new friends.”

“How was your first day of school?” he rephrased.

“It was fine,” I said, crunching on my cereal. “I have a teacher named Ms. Waldo for Biology. She’s great – except she introduced me as being from East Texas where there’s a big problem with pigs breeding with feral hogs.”

As a preacher’s kid, I knew the dance. Moving every 5-7 years was typical. But now, not only was I a normal insecure 16-year-old, I was coming from a school with a class of 200 into a class of 600. That first week I was so concentrated on not getting lost I didn’t have time to worry about making “new friends.”

I did have time to worry about the lunch room though.

Dad puckered his brow as I poured my second bowl of cereal. “Didn’t you get enough to eat at school?”

I knew my parents struggled over the decision to move and I didn’t want to make them feel guilty.

“The food is great, but there’s just no atmosphere,” I said, leaning my elbows on the table.

The truth was very different.

“This seat’s taken.” … “You can’t sit here.” … “All the good seats are taken.”

While you might recognize this from Forrest Gump, I’m pretty sure the writer drew his inspiration from my first week in the Denton High cafeteria.

On Monday, every table of girls I approached informed me that all the seats at their table were “taken.” Tuesday it was the same scene. Wednesday too.

Sure, there were a few tables of boys that offered me a spot, but even at 16, I was smart enough to realize that was not the way to start.

Which meant three things: Me. A Snickers bar. And a stall in the girls’ bathroom.

But by Thursday I was plain mad. I refused to eat one more lunch surrounded by dirty toilets. So I faced the lunchroom and surveyed the sea of round tables, looking for the kids who picked their nose in class.

“Hi, I’ve got new-kid disease but I need a spot at a girl table,” I said to a boy with a mop of ginger hair that couldn’t be logically parted. “Can you show me the table where the popular girls sit?”

“The most popular girls?” he asked, setting down his slice of greasy pizza.

“Yes, the most popular girls. Where do they sit?”

Every head at the table turned towards the middle of the cafeteria. “They’re right there,” he said, pointing to a table of particularly pretty girls.

“Thank you.” I took a deep breath and marched towards the most coveted cafeteria real estate.

There was one empty chair.

I sat down confidently while the girls twittered about homework, parties, and a sweater that would soon be on sale. They stopped and stared at me in disbelief.

“Hi,” I said to the girl next to me.

“That seat’s taken,” she answered, as she waved her fork in the air.

I looked at my chair on the left side, then to the right. “Yes, seems you’re right.”

Another joined in. “It’s just we don’t like to be crowded, that’s all. It’s nothing personal,” she said. The other girls started to giggle nervously.

I felt as if all of my senses had gotten sharper since I had nothing to lose.

“Oh, I understand,” I bubbled. “I’ll just take this seat for a few days.” I pointed to the table of good-looking jocks that lobbed pieces of food at one another. “That table over there already offered me a spot if I can’t find a seat at a girl table.”

The girls drew back suddenly. They dared not drive me away now – not if my only other option was the table of potential Homecoming Kings.

When the bell rang I picked up my tray. “See you tomorrow,” I said. Then I walked away with my shoulders back, ignoring the fragments of stinging conversations happening all around me.

The next day lunch was about the same. As it was the next Monday and Tuesday.

But on Wednesday things changed. Someone complimented my oversized blazer, which led to a conversation about my style icon – Denise Huxtable.

On Thursday, they didn’t flinch when I told them 2001: A Space Odyssey was my favorite movie.

On Friday, I was invited to Chili’s after the baseball game.

And the rest is history.

Twenty-plus years later I still see a lot of them. Drinks are poured, stories are told, photos are taken, Facebook is updated. We shake our heads in disbelief when we remember how hard we thought life was back then – a time when our moms still made us dinner each night and we had part-time jobs at the GAP.

But it’s not about how often we get together or how many times we text. It’s about loving each other and supporting each other no matter what. I’m grateful for that.

And boy am I glad they didn’t call my bluff.

Because the table of potential Homecoming Kings? Well, they didn’t actually invite me to sit with them either.

Maddox and Micah,

I hope you can take a few things from this post.

Just like me and Forest Gump, there will be times in your life when begin the slow and terrifying search for a place to sit. As you hear the cruel word “taken” again and again, you’ll continue to walk, wondering if there will ever be a place for you. Trust me: There will be! You may have to try, and try, and try again, but before you know it, you’ll find your place. In fact, you’ll find that many of the best things in life come from bad beginnings.

Take ownership of your life. Maybe it’s setting your tray down at a scary table. Maybe it’s saying “No,” when you need to be strong. Maybe it’s saying, “Yes,” when you get an opportunity to practice a passion or be with someone you love. I don’t know what it is, but I do know that if you don’t, you’ll never know how to fail with grace or appreciate great achievement.

Most importantly, remember that everyone needs a safe place to sit. Everyone needs a place where they’re welcomed, and invited – especially if they’re struggling to keep their balance. If you see someone looking for a seat, make me proud and say, “You can sit here if you want.”

Finally, don’t believe them when people say, “All the good seats are taken.” Because the best seats are just a little harder to find.

Love,

Mom

Denton High