Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Summer I Was Invisible by Jody Casella

When I was fourteen my best friend--I'll call her Annie--was everything I longed to be. Beautiful. Confident. Funny. She had a wide smile that showed all her teeth, a real smile that conveyed her happiness and feelings about herself and her life.

Contrast that with how I saw myself: Gawky. Plain. Awkward. Insecure. I didn't know how to smile like Annie did. Most of the time, I didn't bother.

I actually had some good reasons for not smiling, but not many people around me (including Annie) knew that. And I tried not to think about those things too specifically. My life was the way it was, and I was acutely aware that I could not change it.

Something I began noticing the summer I was fourteen was how other people began noticing Annie.

We'd be out walking or riding our bikes or browsing in the mall or swimming at the local pool, and boys would stare, older teens would whistle. Sometimes grown men would call out Hey baby!  

Annie would blush and smile that smile, and we'd continue walking or biking or browsing or swimming.

It bothered me, for a variety of reasons--those whistles and hoots. I was a budding feminist and it seemed wrong to me that boys--men!--felt entitled to express that kind of admiration so blatantly.

But when I expressed these concerns with Annie, she smiled. She didn't mind guys ogling her. She kinda liked the attention, liked knowing people thought she was attractive.

It was impossible for me to understand. Annie probably didn't understand me either.

I was so uncomfortable with myself back then. Walking in a pretty girl's shadow confirmed what I felt about myself: I was not worth looking at. I was invisible.

At the end of the summer Annie came along on a camping vacation with my family. Oh, the boy in the camper next door was soooo cute. Annie and I watched him through the window of our pup tent and plotted different ways of introducing ourselves. We roped my little brother into paving the way for a meeting. The boy (let's call him Peter) turned out to be cool and eager to hang around with us.

The first night we got together, I watched Peter stare at Annie. I watched Annie joke and smile back. After a few hours of fun flirty banter, Peter asked us if we wanted to go for a walk.

Annie jumped right up, then she looked over at me. "You're coming too, right, Jody?" she asked.

"No," I said, without even thinking about it. It was clear the Peter and Annie liked each other, that they really didn't want me tagging along. Yeah. Whatever. I sighed, as I watched them walk off together.

They were inseparable the rest of the week.

When school started in the fall, even though Peter lived several towns away, he and Annie fell into a serious romance that lasted for most of high school. I ended up being pretty good friends with Peter, and years later when he and Annie broke up, he swung by my house once to say hi.

I don't know what made me ask him. It just blurted out, this thing I'd always wondered: "What did you think of us--of me and Annie--that first time we all met at the campground?"

Peter shrugged. He laughed. He scratched his chin.

"You know what?" he said finally. "When I first saw you two, that first night, I couldn't tell you apart. Isn't that funny?"

There is more to this story and a million ways I could tell it. But I will stop at this part--the part where I learned that how I viewed myself was not necessarily how other people viewed me.


And if I was invisible, it was only because I had chosen to believe it.

7 comments:

  1. Wow! What an amazing lesson and sweet story. Beautifully told. Miss you, dear friend. xox

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  2. Sometimes we erase ourselves before anyone else can do it ...

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  3. Would that we could share this life lesson with all those teens who feel the same way you did back then. Personal comfort is such an elusive, but wonderful gift. I certainly felt like a fish out of water at that stage in life.

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  4. This really resonated with me, Jody. Thank you for this beautiful share.

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  5. Wow. Thanks for sharing this story :)

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