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Bright Red Snow Pants MAG
Brrring! The recess bell was quickly drowned out by the sound of eager eight-year-olds trying to put away books, push in chairs, and be the line leader simultaneously. It was early December, and more importantly, the first real snowfall of the year. This wasn't a flurry or a light dusting; it was snowball and snowman material. As I looked over at my new friend Lauren, I noticed she was moving slower than the rest of our third-grade class. The line leader took us out to our cubbies, where the majority of the class worked harder to put on their snow gear than they had worked in school all day. As I pulled on the second leg of my snow pants, I saw Lauren's platform sneaker-clad foot.
“Oh, hey, did you forget your snow stuff at home?” I asked. Lauren cringed.
“'Cause I'm pretty sure the nurse keeps extra stuff,” I continued.
“I didn't forget it, I just didn't bring it.” She let the last words linger, dropping a hint that I couldn't pick up.
“But you aren't allowed to go off the blacktop without pants, boots, and a coat, remember?” I stopped zipping my coat. This was my new best friend, so I could sacrifice one day in the snow to play on the blacktop with her. I decided that Lauren probably forgot to bring her snow clothes back to her mom's house the night before, but didn't want to admit she was still adjusting to her new living arrangements.
“Lydia, aren't you a little old to be playing in the snow?” Her look was sharp, one I hadn't seen before. I fumbled to find words and take off my jacket all at once. Was she right?
“I mean, do you really think boys want to talk to girls who are rolling around in the snow? Play four-square today. If you want to go back to the kindergarteners tomorrow, fine.” Lauren flipped her perfectly combed blonde hair to accentuate her point, and I quickly tried to tame mine, which was nothing more than a static mess under my pom-pom hat.
Until third grade, my best friend had been a boy. Now I had Lauren, and I apparently had a lot of learning to do about how girls act, and how they don't. I didn't know that you have to talk to your best friend on the phone five times a day, carry her laundry basket up the stairs if she's tired, and sit together – alone – every day at lunch. I blamed my ignorance on the fact that I was a late bloomer in the girl world, and considered myself lucky to have someone to bring me up to speed.
A few weeks before Halloween in sixth grade, Lauren informed me that my neighborhood was boring with its small houses, and none of the sixth-grade boys would be there. Madison Drive was home to all the big houses with the best candy, and if we were going trick-or-treating, that was where we would do it. My parents weren't happy about my decision to break our chicken-finger dinner tradition, but I explained what Lauren had said about our neighborhood and that what I was doing was normal for a girl my age. They weren't as convinced as I was.
As dusk approached on October 31st, Lauren, Zoe, and I dressed in identical witch costumes. The only difference was that my tights were green striped, Lauren's red, and Zoe's orange. Lauren chose who wore which. Zoe was an old neighborhood friend of mine whom Lauren had decided to take under her wing, and Zoe brought me a certain ease that I couldn't identify. We were adjusting our obnoxiously tall and feathered witch hats when Lauren ordered, “Okay, stand in a row.” She planted herself in the middle of her vanity mirror and beckoned us to either side.
“Okay. We're in matching costumes, but we aren't all the same, obviously. So if one of us had to be the pretty witch, which one of us would it be?”
“I think we are all pretty.” I tried to take the easy way out. Lauren cocked her head and stared harder.
“True, we are. But we can't all be the same witch. So, Zoe, you would be the skinny, pretty witch ….” As soon as the words left her mouth, Zoe's eyes fell away from the mirror. Zoe was naturally slim, and a late bloomer as a result. I knew that Zoe was self-conscious about it, but instead of coming to her defense, I stood in silence.
“And Lydia, you can be the busty, pretty witch.” As I processed her words, something that dangerously resembled satisfaction spread across her face. Given the label Lauren had assigned to Zoe, it was painfully obvious what she meant by mine.
“So … you mean the fat pretty witch?” The words came out, but they wavered as my face turned scarlet beneath the glitter and blush.
“I didn't say that.”
“But that's what you meant?”
“Look, Lydia, I didn't say fat, you did. But you don't have to look that way if you don't want to. Okay, so I'll be the blonde, pretty witch. This wasn't fun like I thought it'd be. Let's go.” I lingered in front of the mirror. I couldn't move. In that moment I decided that maybe Lauren's words weren't mean, they were true. That was the last time for a long time I didn't hear them every day in my head.
High school for me was just like it was for every other girl with a best friend. I went to football games until Lauren got bored and wanted to leave, and sat where she wanted to sit. I went to parties when Lauren approved of who was there, and had girls' nights in when she didn't. I waved to the people Lauren deemed acceptable, and bowed my head when I would pass an old friend in the hallway with whom my communication had been cut off. There were the expected catfights, of course, when she would trick me into saying something bad about a friend and then tell her, or when she kissed my ex-boyfriend whom she knew I still had feelings for. We were inseparable, and when we were separated, she always knew where I was and who I was with. We lived our two lives woven as one.
Senior year, my mom and I decided to go cross-country skiing on New Year's Day. The friction of my skis on the blinding snow was white noise in the background of our conversation and laughter, and the air was cold. As I glided through the wilderness, I felt something I could hardly recognize: relief. I didn't know where it came from or what it meant until we were back at the car, where my cell phone – with five missed calls from Lauren – was waiting for me. The pit in my stomach returned to its rightful place, the same place it planted itself in third grade. That calm feeling was ripped away, and I felt the bars come back down over me.
“Ugh! I hate her.” I startled myself when I realized I had said that out loud. My mom and I exchanged a look that opened a door to possibilities. What if I didn't return these calls? What if I chose whom I sat with at lunch tomorrow? What if I took control of something that had been out of control for too long? As I let my phone fall out of my hand, a switch turned on for me that would never turn off. That was the last day Lauren was a part of my life.
Every time that I feel my cell phone buzzing from my pocket, that pit in my stomach shrinks smaller as I answer to find a greeting rather than an order. My friendship that I thought was routine and natural was controlling and manipulative, but an eight-year-old has a harder time seeing that than an eighteen-year-old. It took me ten years to get the courage to escape the prison I had so willingly entered. Now, I buy coffee where I think the best lattes are, wear the jeans I think are cute, and spend my free time with the people I choose. And on the first snowman-material snowfall of the year, I wear my bright red snow pants and roll around in the snow.