Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I would have given anything to be like...

When I was a teen, I met a girl who changed my life.

*Holly* (not her actual name, of course) was blond, tall, and had the classic beauty of a young Meryl Streep. She moved to town when I was about fourteen (which is part of the reason that Kirsten Hubbard's Like Mandarin is having such a profound effect on me as I read it), and started hanging out with my friends. I felt honored that she wanted to be friends with me, super-dork zit-face. But she always told me how pretty I was, and how I should take more care with my looks. (Cuz that's what true friends do, right? Riiiiight.)

One by one, *Holly* alienated my old friends, but I didn't notice. All I saw was how she helped me with my hair and makeup and how we swapped clothes, and eventually, we were each other's best friends forever. And practically each other's ONLY friends. Still, I would've given ANYTHING to be more like her—including my old friends, who by this time, had no interest in either of us.

So I started wearing skimpier clothes (this was the early-mid nineties, and you can imagine how many crop-tops I had, but hey, I had like a four-pack back then, so my bod looked GOOD!), I started going to the mall more often—with *Holly*, of course—and I started to flirt with boys. Not any boys from my school, since they all knew the old me, but boys from other schools. Now I was the new and improved me, smoking Marlboro Lights at the Speedway and getting felt up in the parking lot. Sounds so glamorous, right? Yeah, but there was always this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I was a fake, or that I wasn't as good or as pretty as *Holly*.

In the short, sweet summers, we went swimming in our teeny bikinis to attract the attention of *Bill*, the guy *Holly* had always had a crush on. *Bill* was our school's stud-muffin extraordinaire, but the kind of guy who you couldn't hate for it, since he was so genuinely nice to everyone. He was my sister's first, I think, and she always said how gentle he was (no matter that I never wanted to hear it, blech!) *Bill* became like a trophy for *Holly*, a trophy she never won in high school.

Eventually *Holly* went to vocational school while I had to stay at my old school, and I missed her at first. But slowly, we stopped talking. She made new friends—so much for forever. By the time I was fifteen, I'd started hanging out with the other freaks (who weren't packed off to vocational) at my (ridiculously tiny) school. I'd figured out a little more about who I really was (though I still loved my cropped tops (what? It was the nineties!)), and what I wanted out of life. I'd started writing, I was painting and drawing pretty regularly, and I realized that—for the first time in my life—I LIKED myself. I made plans for college, for art school, for the future.

*Holly* came back into my life sporadically after that, befriending me again, and started dating my boyfriend's best friend. After only a few months of this tenuous renewal of our friendship, we got in a huge fight. Honestly, I don't even remember what the specifics were, but I do remember her being much more overbearing than before. Or maybe I was just less of a pushover, less of a non-entity, and no longer her little shadow. She seemed like a completely different person to me, too, less confident, less beautiful, and less... cogent. My dad (social worker and supper-table psychiatrist) always called her my "little Borderline friend". Not a lot of tact, my daddy.

It wasn't pretty, our bff breakup, despite the best efforts of my boyfriend's sister to get us back together—she invited *Holly* to my seventeenth birthday party in secret, which caused a lot of hysterical screaming and even more crying. I didn't talk to *Holly* at all after that. I felt like she was trying to take my friends away from me—get them on her side—and I wanted to keep my distance.

(Do you believe this is an actual book? Cute, non?)

Anyway, years later, I heard she'd gone to a small tech college, the same college that *Bill* the stud-muffin went to, and accused him of raping her. I didn't know what to think... but I felt more sympathetic toward *Bill* than her. *Bill* and I even caught up over the winter break of my Freshman year of college, and he told me that they'd been dating for months, she seemed completely normal, and then, BAM! she took a wrong turn that led to crazy-town. And ya know what? I believed him. Over a girl who had claimed to be my bestest friend. Because over the years I'd seen more of her than I ever cared to, and I knew exactly what she was capable of. And I kicked myself for ever wanting to be like her, instead of myself.

Okay, if you've read this far, I'm not writing this to show how I was right and she was wrong, or that she was a horrible friend, because none of that matters. What matters is that I stopped thinking that I would have given anything (friends, dreams) to be taller, blond, and beautiful. I grew to know myself, to love myself, and that never would have happened if all I wanted was to be more like her.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is, looking up to someone who is worthy of your devotion is the best feeling in the world. I look up to my mother, my sister, my co-workers in this way. They deserve my respect. The girl who used to be Meryl Streep? Not so much. I'd been picturing her finally making a home with the husband I heard she'd married, and the kid I'd heard she'd had. I felt ashamed for our bad blood in the past, and I wished her well. I WANTED to respect her, and the life she'd settled into.

Then I heard she was living in some crap-hole outside Watertown, New York, divorced, fighting to keep custody of her son, and not even her little brother (the source of this juicy gossip) thought she was a good enough mother to vouch for. *Holly* apparently had it out for his fiancée, too, and had drunkenly told the poor girl—while they were out camping, so she couldn't get away from *Holly* if she tried—what a slut she was. Her brother's fiancée ran off, *Holly* tried to follow her (to keep taunting, to apologize, who knows), but was too drunk, tripped and smashed her face on the hood of a car, and had to be taken the ER, and then an emergency dentist to get some new teeth.

Some part of me deflated when I heard this news. THIS was the girl I'd emulated for years? The girl I wanted to be like? This drunk with the broken teeth? This bad mother? I was stunned. But at the same time, glad that I somehow wound up in such a different place in life. Would I be the same person if I'd never had her in my life? Probably not, so I'd never change a thing. But if I could have told my teen self one thing, it's this:

Be yourself. 

So now I'm sharing this with the rest of y'all, in the hopes that you've found or will find real role models, women and men worthy of your admiration. Memories of my friendship with *Holly* are so closely linked to my feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem, it's hard not to sound bitter, so I apologize for that. I was originally going to write about how I wanted to travel the globe collecting valuable artifacts like Indiana Jones because they "should be in a museum". But I never wanted to be like him as much as I longed to be like *Holly*. I wanted to write something that came from the heart. Apparently, my heart is a dark, bitter place.

On a cheerier note, be sure to hit up as many blog posts with this theme, comment on them, and you'll be in the running for some awesome Like Mandarin prizes. See details at Kirsten's blog. Lastly, check out Like Mandarin. Reading it is like time-travel... I'm transported back to age fourteen. And sometimes, yes, sometimes, I want to be like Mandarin. ;)


Sara McClung ♥ said...

Wow--that's a really touching /crazy/omg story. I think we were all kind of... swindled (prob not the best word choice, but whatev)... into looking up to someone who didn't really deserve it. When we're young, it has so much to do with the people who act like they're sure of themselves. Confidence. For those of us who didn't have it, those who did shone like gold. Even if they didn't really measure up on the inside.

PS I saw Rosemary speak at the con I went to last weekend. She was freaking AWESOME :) You have a fabulous agent! (Not that you weren't already aware of that!)

Candice said...

That was a very engrossing story. I think it takes a lot to share such a life-altering experience,so thank you. I wish so many teenage girls could read what you wrote and realize what you realized in the end. Be yourself, because you are perfect as you! It makes me wonder if *Holly* ever knew who she really was. Probably not, or she would have been happier.

Elana Johnson said...

Wow, this is an emotional post. It's wonderful and real and perfect. I love the advice to be yourself.

Cynthia Lee said...

I loved this. Thank you for posting it.

L.T. Elliot said...

I think this is possibly one of the most stirring posts I've read in this non-blog-fest. I'm so glad for you that you became the kind of person you can admire and were able to see that being you was the right person all along. God bless.

Tere Kirkland said...

Thanks, y'all.

Reading Like Mandarin really put me in touch with the conflicting emotions of jealousy and desire that I experienced during my friendship with *Holly*, so I'm glad this post doesn't come across as self-indulgent drivel.

I was reading Like Mandarin on my lunch earlier (I'm almost done!) and almost started crying. Kirsten has written an amazing, emotional book that I hope teens can appreciate as well as we all can with our collective years of hindsight. ;)

Krispy said...

Thanks for sharing this, and yeah the post was long but I was totally sucked in. :)

I've read a few posts on this theme that are great because they point out deserving "Mandarins", but I think it's also important to have posts like yours. Because seriously, at that age, we're mostly looking to our peers for role models, and sometimes those role models are all dazzle and no substance. So yeah, thanks again.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

I've definitely been there. Sometimes there's a certain appeal to a person because they seem to have it all: confidence, looks, talent, charm--when they pay attention to you, you can't help but feel flattered. And when they actively seek you out, a part of you might wonder why, but you're so dang flattered, feeling so special, that you let down your guard, trusting and hopeful. Perhaps you don't stop to think that they see you as moldable, someone to be used for their own gain. It's crushing to find out that they latched on to you because they ultimately saw you as weaker, not because they saw you in the same way you saw them. Talk about destroying what little self-confidence you might've had before. Then even after you figure it out, I think a person can become a habit that's hard to break, so you let them in your life over and over--also perhaps due to persistent insecurities and need for some kind of affirmation.

But I'm glad you finally broke the habit and found yourself in the process. This is a difficult thing to do, and sometimes it feels like I'm still seeking myself. Sometimes I still feel vulnerable and insecure, wishing to be like someone else. But maybe it's an ongoing thing? Not sure. Maybe we constantly have to remind ourselves of our self-worth.

Thank you for sharing your story, Tere. I could relate so well to it.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

What a powerful story! Thank you so much for sharing it. I don't think I ever had a person (besides my mom) that I looked up to - I had more idealized heroes that I wanted to be like. Perhaps it was part of being on the "outside looking in" for a while as a kid, and learning early on that I would be marching to my own drummer. But there were other people along the way that heavily influenced me, so I can understand still feeling those feelings, even after so much time.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Wow, I'm stunned. Someone else had a similar post this morning, but this one had an even greater emotional punch. I can't believe all the problems she caused you and her family. Obviously she's crying for help and just doesn't know it.

Julie Musil said...

Wow, you brought so much emotion to this post, and it's no wonder you're a writer! When my sons are envious of someone at school, I try to gently remind them that all these dynamics will change, and the kids with the underwear hanging from the tops of their pants will not always rule the universe they're in. Be yourself is great advice, as well as listen to your gut.