This week for Remember the Time, tell us about a rivalry you’ve fostered. Sibling, cousin, friend, or even team, what is something that made you compete? Just make sure that you are pulling from events that happened in your past rather than something that happened, oh, I dunno, last week. Just a friendly reminder that RTT is all about nostalgia. ;D
When I was in seventh grade, a new girl – NM – came to our school.
She became my friend during my middle school days, eventually joining my clique which was comprised primarily of girls who preferred weaving friendship bracelets to smoking cigarettes in the woods after school. She was extremely smart and full of interesting tidbits like the story of Dr. Pepper. She was a minister’s kid, but she and her family never flagrantly discussed their faith. Later on, I put together that she was Episcopalian, which was as foreign to my vocally-Protestant upbringing as Zoroastrianism. She wore hand-me-down clothes, ate foods that were uncool like cheesecake made from tofu, and told you upfront when she didn’t agree with something you said. One time I asked her for a pad at school when I randomly got my period, and she gave me this bizarrely huge generic brand maxi pad that could probably soak up an entire sink of water.
At first, her independent streak left me uneasy and I tried to find a reason to dislike her, but I soon learned that the things that made NM different were the very things that made her a strong, solid person who deserved the kind of respect that isn’t ordinarily handed out to people who aren’t even old enough to drive.
I’ve mentioned before how seemingly random details from our pasts push their way forward in our minds and just stay. One such memory for me was when in high school, one of our mutual friends casually remarked one day,
Everyone always talks about how they don’t care what other people think about them. They are all lying. We all care too much. The only person I know who really doesn’t care is NM.
And it was true. Her words went straight to my core and have stayed because back then I placed a dangerously high premium on the thoughts others had about me, and the idea that there were people among us who actually felt comfortable in their own skin was almost unfathomable. As a preteen, I was tremendously insecure. I still am.
However, I never felt a rivalry with NM because I knew her too well. She was my friend during those scary middle school years, and her own self-security talked me down from comparing myself to her. Competing with her would be like competing with the Dalai Lama.
Instead, out of my own insecurities, I created a rivalry where one never actually existed between myself and some other arbitrarily-chosen girl in my grade. I picked a girl who – at least on the surface – was the complete opposite of me. AT was a cheerleader, she had a boyfriend who she was rumored to have actually kissed, she was pretty in a Barbieish way. Her tragic flaw was that she had an air of superiority about her that I absolutely hated because I didn’t know from whence it came.
I didn’t know where it came from because we never even spoke to one another. Not ever.
Well, except that once.
In the sixth grade, AT and I showed up at school one day wearing the exact same multicolored striped top from the Gap, and I liked the way it looked on her better than how it looked on me. She was trying to destroy my life by being slightly less pudgy than me. She passed me in the hall and said, “Nice shirt.”
She was clearly making fun of me. I mean, clearly.
I told my mom about how much I disliked AT. She was totally stuck up and horrible and blonde and blagh. I omitted the detail that this person had never, ever done anything to me much less said anything substantive to me. Since I didn’t give her the full (literally uneventful) story, my mom assured me that AT was probably insecure and that she was taking it out on me. Having convinced my mom that the charade was real, I began to really believe it myself. AT was just a stuck-up cheerleader who was jealous of me because she was unhappy with whatever she already had. It sounded so good.
I think about that a lot now, especially since I have a daughter of my own. It sometimes makes me want to wretch when I think about how I demonized this other person I didn’t even know when I was a kid. What saddens me even more is when I realize that I still do it. I get jealous of people who seem to have everything that I don’t and who are flourishing (whatever that means) just to stick it to me. I catch myself believing that they are the ones who are insecure and broken, not me. Pinning my own shortcomings on someone else is always easier than being accountable and being better.
I’m grateful, though, that in my memory, I always seem to couple NM and AT. Even though I haven’t spoken to NM in nearly fifteen years, I think of her when that not-so-middle-school tendency towards jealousy flares up. Not only can she tell you the meaning of the word “anhedonic” without even consulting a dictionary, but she can help you remember to be a better person by just accepting yourself and all the things that make you wonderfully you.
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