Monday, January 14, 2008

The Grass Is Always Greener

I've been composing this post in my head for some time, so it wasn't exactly inspired by Cali's post, but it is a companion piece of sorts.

I've always suffered from a near-constant anxiety, and my near-constant fear that I'm just not as good as everyone else.

When I was growing up one of my best and closet friends was G. Our moms and his dad all went to college together and we were born two months apart. There are charming pictures of his mom and my mom holding both of us, and pushing us in huge British-looking prams. We didn't live in the same state until we were ten but even so, we saw each other frequently and our families were so close that I used to forget whether or not we were related. His younger sister R. is a year older than mine and we were a foursome. We made cassettes telling silly jokes (then we got older, and they became dirty jokes), which I still have. We had sleepovers with the four of us in their finished basement, or our attic, and played Blob, a game in which we put our sleeping bags over our heads and crashed into each other.

When we got to middle school age, and more dramatically high school, it became clear to me that G. was Cool. I am not Cool, and I have never been friends, before or since, with anyone who was. (All of my friends are cool, thank you very much; anyone who has ever been to high school can suss out what I mean by Cool.) But because G. and I didn't go to school together -- even when my family moved to his state, our towns were a good 45 minutes apart -- we could bridge the gap. I basked in the glory of his stories and marvelled that he could still be my friend.

We took two trips to visit colleges together, one to the University of Chic.ago, chaperoned by my mom, since my family lived in that city 'til I was four and she had people to visit. We took some nostalgic pictures of the two of us on colorful playground equipment, echoing photos taken of us preschoolers, and wrote notes to each other while we sat in on classes.

Then we took a trip on our own to Small College (it's where we both ended up going, along with Mean Mama). For once in our relationship I had the advantage -- I knew a student at Small College, thanks to my summer-trip-to-Israel program, and arranged overnight hosts for both of us. (You can do that through the admissions office, of course, but knowing someone is definitely Cooler.) That evening we hung out with my Small College acquaintance, and some of his friends, and someone handed out some beers. I think we played "I Never." It was fun.

Weeks or months later, I overheard G. describing that evening to someone else. And in his version, we had attended a college party, and traded sparkling witticisms with upperclassmen. Everything he said was true, but somehow in his words it all took on a sheen that it didn't in my own mind, that honestly, it hadn't in the moment.

And with that overheard conversation I realized how much of Cool is all about spin. That the stories G. had told me, that I had hung on and envied, might have been events that, in the living, were as ordinary as our night at Small ordinary as a great deal of my own life.

I can't say it's a lesson that I've always been smart enough to keep with me.

The story of G.'s and my relationship is also the story of my own struggles with insecurity. I thought it was delightful when we both decided to attend Small College, a perfect idea for us to finally go to school together. In fact it was the end of our friendship. Very shortly after we started school, G. just stopped interacting with me. I cannot impress upon you enough how small this school is, how hard is to avoid someone, but he managed. It wasn't just that we moved in different circles, although we certainly did. He just cut me out of his life.

Today I have absolutely no idea where he lives (California maybe? I'd have to ask my mom), or what he is doing. And for years and years that pained me so much, I certainly wouldn't have been able to write about it as I am doing now. I sent him emails periodically, asked his mom (who is still like my second mom, that relationship has not frayed) for his mailing address, but he never responded to me. R. (his younger sister) and I have had sporadic interactions over the years, and I've always tried to maintain our contact; she always drops the ball.

When my mom had breast cancer, she encouraged me to get in touch with G. and R. because, she said, she knew they knew about her illness, and it must be upsetting to them; I should really reach out to them (you can see I come by my self-esteem issues honestly). I told her that if indeed they did know that their old friends' mother had been diagnosed with cancer, they could damn well reach out to me and my sister. She conceded the point.

It is hard for me to believe that G. is not a part of my life today. But I've stopped blaming myself. I don't know why he seems to need to cut me out of his life, but I don't think it really has so much to do with me. I don't think that he's a happy person. He was someone who always needed to be popular and important, and that didn't work out for him at Small College. Though he hung out with more popular (and Cool) people than I did, I was more of a household name around campus than he was (starting organizations, winning awards, starting trouble...) and I don't think he liked that. I'm not totally sure what all he did after college, but I know he dabbled in both journalism and the law, endeavours in which plenty of Small College alum have gained fame (including some of his friends). Knowing G. as I do, I can't imagine that sits well with him. He has always had a girlfriend, I mean always, since we were about eleven; but according to my mom (via his mom) he hasn't had a relationship in some time. A part of me will always miss G. But I wouldn't want to be him.

I still struggle with anxiety about whether I'm doing my life right. I look at people around me with flashier lives and think, that's the way to do it right (you play the guitar on the MTV...). Every few months I get the alumni magazine from Small College and Co groans as I curl up on the couch and beat my breast because I have not won a Nobel Prize or saved a small country or ended urban poverty or published a book.

But sometimes you find out those fancier lives aren't all they're cracked up to be. That the glamour and the bluster hides a weak foundation. I'm a 7th grade teacher living in 800 square feet. But I live with a family I built and that I adore; here in the city I joyfully came home to; and our foundation is strong. I know it's strong because the F train rolls by every so often. Sometimes we hear it, but sometimes, we don't even notice.

I have everything I want. I really do.


jay said...

What a great, honest post. I think you are definitely Cooler than G.

Melody said...

Everything you want, and that was a beautiful post. Perhaps a book IS germinating in there.

fostermama said...

omg, I SO know what you mean. Once in a while I am posessed of the impulse to google a childhood friend. Inevitably, it turns out they are doing something cool. Like, that I think is cool. One choreographs and performs original dance. One is an environmental scientist doing field research. There are others. Certainly much more focused and successful at *something* than I can put my finger on for myself.

SO hard not to compare myself unfavorably.

But yeah, being happy with your life (even if everything isn't perfect) is worth so much. There's no uniform bar of achievement that we're all stretching for that some people reach and others don't. That's certainly what I'd want to teach Squeak, so I'd do well to remember it myself.

It sounds like you're mostly coming to peace with a lot of painful experiences in the past around this. Good for you.

Melissa said...

Thanks for sharing your story. I'm guilty too of looking at others and noticing the things I don't have. Your post reminded me to focus on all the wonderful things I do!

Jude said...

This is a beautiful post. And beautifully written, too.

Most Likely to Succeed, Class of 1993
Married Twice, Divorced Once, Currently Unemployed, Infertile Mama

steinbockfrau said...

what a beautiful post, Lo.
I can't imagine that G was ever really cooler than you. It's all about the spin...

B said...

Trust me, you're WAY cooler with this group of cool kids than he would ever be. The best part, though? Nobody here needs to tell you that. You already know.

Mo said...

Ditto, ditto, ditto. I LOVED this post. Poor G sounds sad. You are doing fantastic. Your Small College sounds like mine. Stop reading those darn news things they send with all the advanced degrees and publications! (although, I've actually read some good stories about friends of mine, so it's not all fake stuff).

judy said...

Wow...that made me cry. There is so much more I could say, but for now I hope a sincere "thank you" will suffice.

oneofhismoms said...

You've just inspired me to write in to my alumni rag about my family. They really are my crowning glory.

Happiness is way cooler than spin.

Lo said...

Thanks for the comments, folks. It really, really, really does my heart good to put this stuff out there and get these responses.

I admit that I consider myself a writer -- less than some in the blogosphere, more than others. I may use this space to explore some more such ideas.

tui said...

Hey, just found your blog as my wife and I are ttc so we've been checking them all out.

Just wanted to say that this is an excellent post - I think most people can probably relate to it in some way or another - I know I did.

In my experience, happiness is incredibly underestimated when it comes to comparing yourself to old classmates, but it should be top of the list!