Someone Who Made My Life Hell
Let’s call her Claire, in order to protect the not-so-innocent.
Perhaps I had occupied the euphoria that was pre-adolescence until that point or maybe it was because I had attended a small insular private school all of my life, but I was painfully unaware of what other people thought about me until I found Claire.
It was in the 6th grade, my very first year of public school when we met by the bike racks. I was unlocking my bike to go home for the day when a boy behind me made a mean comment about my outfit looking like something his grandmother wore.
Honestly, I didn’t think much of it at first. I heard him, but I guess I didn’t really hear him, you know?
Claire definitely heard him, though. After he left, I got on my bike, and Claire chimed in right beside me. “He’s right, you know.”
“What?” I was startled. “Right about what?”
“Your outfit. It looks like an old person’s outfit. Like a grandma’s outfit.”
“This is what they wore at my other school … it was fine for there …” I slowly pointed out.
Claire sighed and said in a quiet and unassuming way, “That was your other school. This place is different. If you want people to like you here, you’re going to have to wear different clothes.”
It was a profound statement in my sixth grade mind. Acceptance didn’t lie in constancy, it lay in adaptability. In other words, dressing like a grandma was cool with the Baptists, but it was not cool with the public school kids.
So, from that moment on, Claire and I were inseparable. Even though she berated me constantly, often bringing angry and hurt tears to my eyes, I both literally and figuratively clung to Claire. I very much needed her to not only survive but to thrive in public school.
She was my lifesaver in an uncertain ocean of social acceptance.
The sixth grade progressed rather quickly, and while Claire wasn’t able to erase the nerd-inducing effects of seven years of a conservative Baptist private school completely, she, at least, was able to render me socially passable.
I mean, I had friends and people knew me. I’d venture to say a good deal of people even liked me.
So, when Claire accompanied me to junior high, I felt incredibly lucky. I’ll never forget that first day of seventh grade when the handful of friends I had were assigned a different lunch period, and Claire suggested that I eat lunch in the bathroom all by myself so I wouldn’t look like a loser because I didn’t know anyone in the cafeteria.
Claire was an expert at keeping me from looking like a loser.
It was around eighth or ninth grade that Claire truly helped me blossom. There were some boys in my classes who had a habit of picking on people. They rotated victims on a monthly basis and took ridicule to a whole new level. Claire, always at my side, coached me on how I could avoid being victimized by these little punks, and also on how I could ingratiate myself to them.
“Just laugh at everything they say … make sure you give them an audience, then they’ll definitely leave you alone. In fact,” she said, “they might even start terrorizing people in order to entertain you specifically.”
Claire was very tactical by nature.
“I don’t know,” I said slowly, “they’re being really mean to So-and-so … maybe … I should say something … stick up for her maybe?”
“Are you crazy?” Claire whispered. “Don’t you dare. Look. If you want to be cool, if you want to be more than just accepted around here, you can’t upset the people who have power … those guys,” she pointed her thumb behind her discreetly, “are in charge around here. They decide who fits in and who doesn’t. Do not piss them off.”
As usual, she said it in a hushed tone … very quietly … very unassuming.
I listened to Claire. I laughed at the jokes those boys made about other kid’s clothes, their mannerisms, and their general appearance. In fact, every now and then, Claire would inspire me to join them. I always felt bad afterward, but Claire had carried me this far … I wasn’t about to deviate from her proven track record.
Then high school rolled around, and thanks to Claire’s tutelage, I was an expert at figuring out what to do in order to get people to like me and, even better, to get them to be scared of me.
But Claire kept me plenty humble, too.
When I lost the election for student body vice president in the tenth grade after a run off, it was Claire that reminded me that I didn’t know enough non-IB kids to win. When I missed being on the homecoming court by just a few votes, it was Claire that reminded me that I shouldn’t have been on that ballot in the first place since I wasn’t really that popular. When I got third runner up in the school beauty pageant, it was Claire that rolled her eyes and said that third runner up existed strictly to ensure that one less loser would weep about not having won the contest. When I had a falling out with my closest friends my senior year in high school, it was Claire that pointed out all the reasons why I deserved it.
Claire also told me who it was okay to like and who I could not like. She made up rules about who was cool enough to merit conversation and who ranked right beneath a bout with the Black Plague.
People deemed cool enough by Claire received my love, respect and loyalty, everyone else was ridiculed, ignored or used for copying homework.
By the time I started college, Claire had taken the unsure little girl who had eaten her first lunch of seventh grade in the bathroom and turned her into a well-guarded, impenetrable fortress of arrogance … impenetrable, of course, to everyone but Claire.
Because, let’s face it, people, Claire owned me.
I wish I could say that Claire and I parted ways when I left for theater school, but we didn’t. She came with me, and made it her express intent to send me home.
“You absolutely do not belong here,” Claire said. “The kids here have real talent … you’re just articulate. There’s a difference between being well-spoken and being an actual actress.”
Now, see here. Claire had gotten me through just about every rough patch in my social and private life in the last seven years, I wasn’t about to let her stop dictating my life. She was strong when I was weak, brave when I was cowardly … I needed Claire.
Claire knew me better than anyone else, better than my teachers in high school who said I was meant to act, or my friends who thought I was extraordinarily talented and much better than the obviously misguided professor at the theater department who offered me a scholarship.
I had fooled them, but, Claire knew the real me.
So, I listened to Claire, of course, and dropped out of theater school and went to an engineering school. And lived happily ever after.
Somewhere around 19 or 20, Claire was just no longer a part of my life. I don’t know if Tariq scared her off, or whether it was just the simple act of growing apart.
I’d like to think she was devastated by my lack of attention towards her. It’s funny how a smart, handsome and charismatic young man can render even the likes of Claire all but generally useless.
You’d think that since I was so important to Claire, she would have put up a fight. But, really, her passing out of my life was uneventful.
It’s like one morning, I woke up, and … no Claire.
Every now and then, though, Claire calls me. Because our interactions are so few and far in between, though, wow, she comes at me with a vengeance.
She implies that I’m wasting my life staying at home when I should really be doing a PhD or being a CEO. Or she’ll remind me what a huge mistake it was for me to drop out of theater school. And, wow, she really gets on my case about how much weight I’ve gained since having these kids.
So, yes, there was a time when Claire made my life hell. When she shows up now, though, I give her minute to say what she has to say, and, then, I tell her to be on her way.
I’m not a teenager anymore, you know?
I know what I like … I know who is important. Most of all, I like myself well enough that I don’t need anyone’s tutelage in order to survive this life.
So, I don’t need Claire.
I bet you’re dying to meet her, right?
It’s funny, back in the sixth grade, Claire seemed larger than life, and now she just this tiny, little, rather insignificant shadow of her former self.
That little glimmer right behind the left pupil? That’s her.
Faiqa Lives The Cultured Life At www.Native-Born.com