Sunday, January 01, 2006

I've been thinking about high school, lately.

More specifically, about its social lessons--so much harder than the academic ones, at least for me--and how far I've really come from them.

Rachel was my purported best friend for about two years, although I don't think we ever much liked each other. I'm not sure how much she liked anyone, actually; she had qualities that attracted me to her (could be amusing, smarter than average, liked a lot of the same things I liked, just shy enough to not be threatening), but warmth wasn't among them. Once, I remember, presents were exchanged--it was one of our birthdays, and/or I was going away on vacation, perhaps--and she said, "Well, I guess I have to give you a hug." And did. There wasn't a whole lot of that, though.

When I say she was amusing, I mean she had a certain...style that felt comfortable to me, and presumably vice-versa. A sardonic turn, a shared roll of the eyes, a half-sided smile. She was self-deprecating, which probably appealed to me. In retrospect, she was just kind of deprecating across the boards. The boy she had a crush on was "the Mosquito" (he had a squinchy face as well as the smoothly muscular build that made her tongue-tied and red-faced). Our dogs were "gross" or "mops" (she preferred her cat). Other peoples' appearance were always fair game. For me, too, of course; playing amateur fashion critic was a fun game, whether flipping through the pages of Cosmo in the library or sitting at Sbarro at the mall, sipping diet Coke. One of her favorite words was "normal," and I went well along with it. Normal was good. Normal was safe. Normal was...normal.

I don't remember her ever being particularly supportive of me, except maybe inside that "normal" frame. My hair could look good today, for example, particularly if I'd let her fuss with it with her "clicker." Beyond that...hard to recall, in fact, now I'm trying. I have a feeling it's because my mind would've been so preoccupied with beating up on and second-guessing myself, anything from her would've probably just slid into the general maelstrom. I know there were a lot of "jokes" that were subtle or not-so-subtle undercuts. More clearly, I remember what she *didn't* do: stand up for me when I was under attack from someone else, ever. (A May afternoon, the two of us having lunch on the steps, in the open sunshine, me in shorts; a boy sitting about ten feet away, nasty, relentless: "Why don't you shave your legs?" Rachel looked down or into the distance. I mumbled something vaguely hostile in his general direction, something about why didn't he use acne cream. Rachel snerked. The boy was unfazed, most likely because he didn't actually hear me. Later, me bitching about it to Rachel, who said, with that little half-smile, "Well, he was just commenting." Then: "Anyway, the hair doesn't show *that* much; you're blonde. Probably just because you were in the sun. I have to shave every day." We moved on to comparing our various flaws and faults. Later that week I bought an electric razor).

At the time, I wasn't really cognizant of the nuances in our relationship, such as they were. I certainly would've had a hard time articulating the way I felt, at fourteen-fifteen-sixteen. Once when we were drifting apart, I remember telling my mother that the friendship "wasn't going anywhere," meaning I suppose that we'd gotten into a rut, that the friendship was still really quite superficial, that I didn't really feel like I could confide in Rachel or trust her. My mother said, "What do you mean? Going, where would it go?"

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