The Vanquishing of Teen Demons

I used to know a girl in high school who appeared so confident, except for one thing. She had a funny, little nervous laugh that would always give her away. When she said something she wasn’t sure of, her hands would fly up to her mouth, and then that little laugh would escape. It was deep, belly kind of laugh, delivered with a snicker that would shake her whole body. The two of us used to be friends, sort of. We traveled in the same circles, but I think the two of us had an unspoken understanding to keep each other at arm’s length, or we both lacked the familiarity with ourselves that kept us from the disclosure with another that makes people true friends.
I almost admired her. In my eyes, she had all the things that teens deem important; great hair, great clothes and a very close female friend, at a time when I hated my own orange colored hair that my father refused to let me have cut, coiffed, colored or relaxed on a regular basis, and Daddy-chosen clothes that never seemed quite “high school.”
        Before Facebook, I was not really in touch with anyone from back in the day. I have since moved repeatedly from region to region. Since I don’t get back to New York much, I rarely even run into anyone I knew from my teen years. But two years ago, I attended a conference in washington, DC, and I saw this same girl, now obviously a woman. I spotted her just as she stepped onto the up escalator. I was about the head down at the same time. My heart skipped a beat. I couldn’t believe I was going to actually run into someone who knew me then. I liked me better now; I was successful and semi-famous, had great hair, was reasonably in shape and had a fabulous outfit chosen by my favorite stylist (my sister). I had every intention of speaking to her. Instead, I watched her step approach mine, and then, it passed, close enough for us to touch each other. I said nothing and she looked straight ahead. I couldn’t tell if she hadn’t seen me, or chose to ignore me, but neither one of us turned around to exchange the “Oh, My God!” that I’d imagined.
A year passed and it was a new summer. I was vacationing with my family on our favorite island, when to my surprise, there she was again, alone, or so it seemed. I was surrounded by friends, and once again she had that stoic, straight ahead stare that let her not acknowledge me in my great shoes, great hair and great friends. I couldn’t stand it, so the next night, when we all gathered at the traditional spot, I went over and I talked to her.
I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt. There was a chance that she did not remember me at all, so I reminded her, and of course she remembered, but there was no way she could do the stare now. She had to talk. And when she did, her hands flew up to her mouth and she did that quirky, nervous, laugh, exactly the same way she used to back when doves cried. Except for a few lines on her hands, I could have exchanged the picture in my head with the one in front of me.
We spoke for a few minutes. She still lived in the same neighborhood, in the same city, and really hadn’t changed that much at all. In my head, I’d changed a lot, but had I really? My outside was different, of course, but was the inside? I wasn’t sure.
I thought a minute. There was a time when I might have been intimidated, but no so much now. I realized that there was a reason that the two of us weren’t close friends then, and those reasons probably hadn’t changed much. I’d grown up and moved on and high school was so far behind me that it was blurry in my memory. A series of failures and successes had led me to explore things about myself that had forced me to grow, kicking and screaming sometimes, but grow nonetheless. I might not have liked myself so much then, but I certainly did now. It was clear then that had no reason to make peace with the demons of my past. I’d already done it. As this thought budded and bloomed in my head, I smiled at the woman, shook her hand and wished her the best.


Juan G said…
Wow, it's amazing when we realize that we've grown and some from our past remain as they were. Brava, good for you.

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