On Saturday, Haley and I went to the mall. We had some returns and exchanges to do, and managed to find some excellent bargains—she swapped her too-small slippers for some that fit and she liked better anyway. She used the money from returning two shirts she didn't like (I’d bought them before I’d been informed that the Limited 2 is way too babyish for her now) to buy one pair of shoes she loves. She even had enough extra to pick up a few things at her new favorite store, Deb. Excellent bargains for me especially, because all of that exchanging meant I was out only about eleven bucks and came home with a happier daughter.
While she was trying on her perfect new shoes, I tried on a pair of boots. When I saw them on the shelf, I had a little heart flutter, and the palpitations weren't because of the giant 60% off sign. They were black, about mid-calf height, and laced up all the way, with a tough shape. "I don't have anything to wear with those," I kept telling myself, "why would I buy them?" But I tried them on anyway; I couldn't talk myself out of it. As I was tying them, I realized that I loved them immediately because my teenage self would have loved them. I would have worn them with black tights, and a short black skirt, and the black suede jacket with fringe I wish my pre-Kendell boyfriend would've let me keep. They’d’ve made me feel tough, like I could take on the world. Like no one could hurt me because, hello: look at my footwear. No one who wears these boots could be vulnerable. I would have loved those boots when I was 17.
At 36, though, I’d just look silly.
Plus they were too big for my calves.
I didn’t buy them, but the boots were a sort of answer to a question my psyche’s been picking at. About a month ago, Haley made a Facebook page for me. And then, a few days later, I started getting friend requests from people I knew in high school. When those names started popping up in my inbox, along with the innocuous title "friend request," a strange slurry of emotion rose up in my throat. There were requests from a few people I knew, and was sort-of friends with, in elementary school. Requests trickled in from people who were my friends in middle school and then, abruptly, simply weren’t. (I have a theory that the movie Cujo, which I rented for my 12th birthday party, is to blame for the abruptness. It was a Beta copy, after all.) Some from people who wouldn’t have said hello to me in the halls at high school. Why were they putting me on their friends list? Was it some sort of trick? Would they think I was pathetic if I accepted their request?
I mentioned this to my sister on Christmas and she said something important. "You have to remember that people change, Amy." Have I changed? Not enough to trust them. I mean, I still accepted them as my Facebook friends. Curiosity over how people turned out trumps distrust. But even stranger were the friend requests that come from people I was friends with in high school, only things turned out badly. Accepting those people’s friend requests, and emailing with them a little bit, brought my question to mind: what part of me is still that high-school girl who desperately wants to belong somewhere but simply doesn’t? She is still in me, I’m certain, influencing things. I still probably make some decisions from that part of myself. I still wish I had that certain thing that most people have. Call it normalness, or social skills, or popularity even. Connecting with old high school acquaintances has reminded me that I’ve not ever been that person who is essential to things, the one that no one forgets. The one everyone wants to be friends with.
But I didn’t buy the boots.
And, leaving the mall, I felt a curious sort of happiness. I don’t have to buy the boots I loved when I was seventeen. I am more than that desperately-wanting-to-be-loved sixteen-year-old. I have changed, too. I’ve learned that people are going to hurt me, no matter what sort of armor I wear (be it all black clothes and tough boots or the more subtle toughening of my heart). I’m starting to learn how to deal with that fact, and what to do with the hurt, and even how to not let it make me bitter. Just starting. And maybe the changes haven’t drawn me any closer to being that person, the necessary person, but I have, somewhere in the years, made peace with the idea that I won’t ever be her. It is enough to be necessary to the handful of people I am necessary to. I can’t say that I don’t still have my dark and twisty teenage self still here, influencing me. In all honesty, I think that part of myself has a strength I need, despite the damage she also holds. I don’t want her to go away completely. The change, though, is that I’ve been able to become more than she was. Not in money, or worldly success, or even in the amount of friends I have—not in the way you desire to change when you’re a teenager. But there’s got to be some value in starting to make peace with who I am, stripped of everything worldly.
Good to know I don’t need the boots like I used to.