Quiet the Trees
The Flower and the WallI used to be that girl. That girl that everyone talked about but not on purpose. The one who everyone knew but no one really talked to. The smart one who everyone thought was dumb. Was there ever really a girl like that? I suppose there wasn't, but if there were it would have been me. It was me.
Maybe it is wishful thinking to say that people noticed me, but I swear they did. It was like I sat in the back of the room, but everyone knew I was there. That was how I saw it. And still no one talked to me or made the attempt to. They noticed me, but didn't care that I was there.
I was an outcast purely because I wasn't in the crowd. I sat slightly to the side and all of a sudden I was 'other'. The sad part is that I had no excuse to stand to the side and let everyone else take the spotlight. I had led a sheltered life when it all started, which I suppose was around the time that I met Stephanie. She was my first encounter with the real world.
We met the first week of my sophomore year. When she was beautiful, her hair was long and fair and her eyes were happy, I remember that about her, but she was only my friend after.
It was a sad thing, I hear. Stephanie was the daughter of a rich man. Nobody knew what he did, but they knew he was rich. In reality they only knew that Stephanie had a pool in her basement, however in the suburbs this was the definition of rich.
In grade school she was popular, and just that was enough for me to ignore her. I ignored many people, which may have been why I didn't know until much later. Stephanie's dad died in the summer of eighth grade. It was a plane crash when he was flying to Hawaii to meet his mistress. Of coarse as kids no one knew he was taking his mistress on vacation, everyone thought he was going to come home after a business trip. Stephanie told me later the real story. I suppose that was the only reason I ever trusted her, but that isn't the point.
That wasn't the sad part either. She had never really loved her father like she did her mom. Her mom was crushed after what happened, and even more crushed by the news of the hooker in Hawaii. No one at school knew what had happened to Stephanie between eighth grade and high school, but she had changed quite a bit. Her normally rosy and proper face turned red and tired. She dropped her grades and saw her friends less often.
I was too busy with my own troubles, but apparently it was a pretty big bit of gossip. Stephanie never told me, but I could guess pretty confidently when I saw how she acted at home that her mother had dropped out when her father died. That much was obvious. But it wasn't just like loosing both of her parents with one accident. It was like being sent away to an evil stepmother too. Her mom was a new person, bitter with hate and anger. I couldn't help but feel bad for Stephanie, but at the same time she did it partly to herself.
As soon as things went down hill for her at home she dropped her life at school as well. Starting freshman year her grades slowly descended and her social image plummeted. She was isolating herself. And by the end of freshman year everyone had decided to accept that their one time popular idol was now certifiably insane.
I know she wasn't really insane, just damaged, but she dealt with the pains in her life by acting out against herself instead of others. I don't think her peers understood this, or else they wouldn't have thought she was crazy, maybe a bit weird though. She stopped using makeup first. And then it progressed to wearing ugly clothes. The worst she ever did was cut her pretty flowing hair up to her chin, but the effect was as desired: complete self-destruction. She was an outcast, and I suspect that that was what she wanted.
We met in study hall. I hated study hall and she hated everything, so I suppose we both were forced together as we desperately shied away from the other more extroverted peers in our class. By the end of the first week of school we were sitting pushed up against each other in the farthest corner of the little class. By the end of the second week we actually exchanged a few sentences every now and again.
I never would have said that Stephanie and I were very good friends; she was too damaged to ever really have a good friend. But I think we could have been if she would have been in a better place. She was getting better too.
Every now and then she would say something so sensitive that I thought she was going to try and hug me. I had social issues too, so I was terrified that this was the case, but I would have let her embrace me if it would help to dig her out of that trench. More so I wanted to be the one to help her out of it. I always had the habit to want to play the hero, and she really seemed to get better when we were friends. At first we would just meet at the mall or the park to just talk. Then we would meet at the library sometimes too and I would help her with her schoolwork.
I didn't realize then how revolutionary it was for the both of us to engage in our friendship. I was shy. More shy than I should have been. This was definitely the reason that people noticed me but never talked to me; because they had no expectation that I would talk back anymore. It did hurt, quite a lot really, to be left in the back when I knew that I could thrive in the front with the crowd, but I was petrified of people. I had a deep and stinging fear of making a fool of myself, and thus I isolated myself so not to make any impression.
Keep in mind that this was only the case with people that I knew. Strangers were fair game to me. They were an untapped resource for acquaintances that I always put all of my strength into looting. I never did a very good job unless the expectations were set very low, which I suppose is how Stephanie and I hit it off.
She wasn't looking for an acquaintance, and if she was she could have gotten any target that she put in her sight. Maybe the whole scandal in the summer of eighth grade put a handicap on her mental capacities, but it didn't put anything on her charm. Stephanie was like a flower glued to the wall: she was beautiful and blooming, but not quite as magical as it was when it was free. She isolated herself, as I said, and she was never interested in becoming the popular girl she could have been after what happened.
I think that everyone needs someone though, and that is why she opened up at least as much as she did to me. Sure I could have taken it badly that I was the one she turned to when she wanted the bare minimum of friends, but I was just grateful to have a friend at all. And I liked Stephanie. It may have seemed like she completely collapsed after the accident, but I realized that I had never known anyone so strong as her. She would never let herself completely disappear; believe it or not she was always fighting back.
Once, we went to the park because both Stephanie and I loved to ride bikes. The paths can get pretty rough, especially when they turn into the woods and the ground is plagued with roots and stones. She was behind me and the whole while it was quiet but not awkward; we were both comfortable with silence then. The trees were just sprouting their leaves and there was only the smallest trace of crisp winter air. I took in all of the sights around me all at once because springtime is such a sensory overload. The brook running parallel to the path, the birds flipping through trees, the kids in the field behind us. And the sound of scraping tires. I stopped suddenly and looked behind me just in time to watch as I was trampled by the blue blur that was Stephanie watching the trees as I had been.
"Ah!" it was a comical scene, straight from a cartoon. And as soon as we untangled our bikes and I was satisfied that there were no broken bones there started the most remarkable sound. It was laughter, from the both of us. Stephanie lit up when she laughed, I remember that even now. Her eyes would grow twice their size and her face would turn beautiful like it had been in grade school.
Even so there were times when I could see it in her face that she was falling again. The passiveness came back to her eyes and there was nothing left of the bright and beautiful girl who laughed with me in the park. This is why we never could have been good friends. Because as soon as the fun Stephanie left she was replaced by a dark twin who ruined every scrap of the true Stephanie's happiness. I wasn't a strong enough person to be able to deal with that. But Stephanie was strong. She could definitely have dealt with me.
Like I said, I had led a sheltered life until I met Stephanie, but I was still damaged. Maybe I hadn't been so weather beaten and tired as she was, but I had my own problems. Social problems. I was a bad kid, not in the acting out type of way, but in the way that I never acted like a kid like everyone else did. I saw the immature habits of my peers from elementary age and I hated them for being so juvenile, but also, more than anything, I envied them. I wanted to take part in their care free games and repetitive jokes, but I didn't know how.
My social skills back then were pitiful and as I grew they only became worse. My peers never could understand why I didn't talk to them or play with them unless they actively insisted that I play with them, and truth be told I never understood either. There was never anything wrong with me. I was just shy, so shy that I was nervous just by sitting down where I wasn't absolutely sure I was welcome. And as I got older I became more comfortable in being shy and living inside myself that I turned hopeless.
Just because I was hopeless didn't mean that I was a shell, though. I could see the other kids around me and I knew that they didn't care if I played with them or not. I could feel the eyes on the back of my head as I sat alone at the lunch table day after day and year after year. I resented them for making me the cast out, for not trying harder to break my shell. And because I resented them I didn't very much want to play with them anyway.
I spent a great deal of my childhood in the bathroom stall. I remember every scrape on the door and the exact tapioca shade of maroon that covered the walls. Recess was my least favorite part of the day because I knew that I would have to wander outside alone while the monitors watched me. Then they would report me to the teachers and the teachers would call my parents and my parents would take me to the doctor and I would have to color in a book for an hour while the doctor tried to pull some revelation out of a ten year old on why she didn't play with the other kids. No, I much preferred the bathroom.
When I entered high school I felt like a new person, or at least the same person with the opportunity to be someone new. First of all, there was no recess in high school. Therefore, in high school, I didn't have to play by myself. And in the new and huge school there were so many new people that I didn't know and who didn't know me. Therefore they wouldn't know how I would come across rude if they tried to be friendly to me. All of those new people and classes and colors and smells, high school on my first day of ninth grade seemed like both my personal heaven and the opposite. Because with all of those opportunities to make friends I was conflicted. I didn't know that I really wanted friends.
I had spent the all of my life on my own. I had shaped myself in my head. And if someone were to come in and try to pull me out they wouldn't see something just like themselves, they would see me, with no outside influence other than the torture that I had been put through always sitting by myself. The thing was, I liked myself. I had an exceptional amount of time to think when I was never talking, and I decided that I thought a great deal more interesting things then everyone else. Everything that came out of the mouths of my classmates in high school was exactly what I intellectual had hoped to leave behind in middle school: meaningless. I hated drama and I hated gossip and I hated teenager issues because I knew better than any one else that it didn't matter. There were all of my potential friends in the halls feeling sorry for themselves, but they had no idea what it meant to have it hard. Except maybe for Stephanie.
I did want friends, really. I just wanted the right friends though, the ones who didn't care about gossip and drama and teenager issues. The problem was that unless they grew up in a shell like me, they weren't going to be just like me or think the way I thought. In a way, I had settled for Stephanie too. And while I was grateful that she had given me a chance and had tried just hard enough that I let her in, she was not the ideal friend for me. She was very broken, and so was I. Not in the same way as her, but just as injuring to our friendship.
I had trust issues after a long time of being denied and scolded and misunderstood. In general I knew that I would never be one of my peers, but it still hurt that they never looked at me and thought that I was worth trying to break into. I never realized how it had affected me until the opportunity to meet new people came about and I was terrified that I was intruding upon a life that was perfectly happy without me. That was my main problem: that I didn't want to intrude if I wasn't accepted. I never wanted to intrude at all; I had no confidence or courage.
I also had the distinct impression that something as wrong with me. For the longest time I was told that I needed to be more out going and to speak louder, and I always tried, but I just wasn't able to. It took me a long time to just accept that I was soft spoken in a world where the great majority speak too loud. There was nothing truly wrong with me.
Unless you count in the self-degradation and absence of confidence, I could have been the regular type of shy girl with a little tight knit group of friends.
Stephanie and I were alike in that way: we both had the utter lack of interest in and kindness toward ourselves. This might also be why we never were good for each other like anyone else would have been. Because I could never truly persuade her to stop ruining herself when I was a social leper and probably helped along her cause. And she could never teach me to be friendly when she had spent the last years of her life devoted to isolationism. Together we made quite a lonely team.