Me. That’s all I can be. Not to say I haven’t tried being someone else. Someone I consider better than myself. I tried wearing something different, even trying to change my laugh. I tried to change who I am, the essence of my being. I wanted it to just disappear. Start from scratch again. Who was it to decide that I wasn’t right? Who decided that this was what beauty was? That this was what perfect was? I don’t understand how a whole world, every teenager can build that same image in their mind of what they need to be and who other people have to be too. I’m just me and that should be enough but I know it’s not. Harriet and I were talking only the other day and she brought up this question. Why is there always a group of people who think they are bigger and better than everyone else? I see those popular kids like lions. They are like the lions in the jungle, standing proud waiting for everyone to adore them. I’m not going to adore them. I can’t. I see beyond their image, I see behind this wall they hold up. I don’t understand how they can think that they can do no wrong. So many of these people believe that they are complete angels and people idolise this self-loving. Populars believe that when people stare at them, it is because people are impressed by them. They are wrong to assume that, to assume anything really because the truth is, for the most part they are cruel. So called ‘Populars’ have always made people’s lives absolute hell. It has always been that way. It’s like once anyone gets to school they are destined to either fall into the popular group or fall into all the other groups that are fated to be bullied. I can’t say enough how wrong everything is about the idea of Popularity. I don’t look up to these so called popular people and I hope that I am never anything like them.
Clayton and I walked up the steps to the gym where the dance was being held. I noticed everyone around me. Just as much as they were laughing and talking, they were also checking out everyone else out. My heart pounded hard in my chest. I suddenly felt so exposed and so vulnerable. I made a choice, well, actually my aunt did, about my costume. I loved my costume. I was happy. Now I was second guessing it.
“We’re going to have a good night” Clayton said. He must have sensed what I was feeling.
“Yeah, yeah, of course we are” I said as I smiled and tried to forget about all the other people.
“Evie! Clay!” Harriet called out. We both turned around. Harriet looked beautiful. It was this incredible transformation just like Allison’s in the Breakfast Club. Harriet and I immediately hugged.
“You look so great, Harriet” I said.
“Oh, really? Thanks. You guys look awesome” Harriet said as the three of us headed into the school gym.
“Wow…Evelyn, you did all this?” Harriet said.
“Is it okay?’ I asked.
“It’s fantastic. Congrats, Evie. I think tonight is going to be a hit” Clayton replied.
“Thanks” I said as I looked around the room. It felt like I had just stepped into a John Hughes film. I truly was back in the nineteen eighties. Ah-Ha’s hit ‘Take On Me’ started to play loud through the stereo.
“Oh, we so have to dance to this” I laughed as I dragged Harriet and Clay onto the dance floor. For the first time I danced just like I did that night with my aunt to ‘Come on Eileen’ in front of everyone. I felt free. I felt connected to my friends and to the music. I let it all out. I stopped thinking about all the terrible things that had plagued us and just enjoyed being a teenager.
I spotted Zadie in the crowd. She was snuggled up to Christian. She turned around and caught me looking at her. She just stared back at me. Her eyes piercing mine. I thought about our first day back at school, seeing her through the crowd in the cafeteria. I was so happy to see her, now it just hurt. Then I thought things might change when she stood up and started to head in my direction. My hands suddenly became clammy. I tried to take a deep breath. I had no idea what she was going to say. The song ‘Don’t’ Stand So Close To Me’ was playing which made me even more nervous, I would have preferred Billy Joel’s ‘You May Be Right’.
“Hey” Zadie said.
“Hi” I said. The first time in our entire friendship that I actually felt awkward with her.
“Samantha, right? Sixteen candles?” Zadie said as she looked at my costume.
“Right” I said and tried to smile “how are you? How have you been?”
“Fine. Yeah. Good. How about you?” Zadie asked and as I looked into her eyes, I thought about Aunt Rose and what she had told me.
“Okay. Miss my best friend” I said.
“I miss you too” Zadie said.
“God, when I heard that there was a car accident that night, I was so scared that it was you. That was a close call, huh?” I said.
“What?” Zadie said.
“You know Luke and Danielle’s accident” Zadie said.
“Yes, I know the accident you’re referring to, I’m just not sure why you’re bringing it up” Zadie said. I felt my cheeks flush up hot. I realised that I just needed to be a friend. I felt like I had to chance to get her back. I couldn’t risk it again.
“I just…oh, never mind” I said. I realised that I hadn’t offered an apology, but nothing was coming from her end either. Madonna’s ‘Express Yourself’ started to play.
“Oh, this song. Do you remember?” Zadie asked.
“Of course I remember. Let’s do it” I replied.
“Really?” Zadie said “wow you have changed”. Zadie and I clutched hands and rushed back onto the dance floor. When we were about thirteen years old we used to play this song on repeat and make up dances to it, we knew all the words. It was our song. It came on just at the right moment. I found myself laughing with her again.
I heard this bang. Gasps. Eventually the crowd scattered. Whitney was lying unconscious on the floor of the school gym. Everything and everyone stopped, including the music. She lay sprawled out. Her skin as pale as snow. Quickly a few teachers, including my cheer coach rushed towards her. Donna came up, standing beside Harriet and I. Everyone was now gathered in a circle just standing there staring at poor Whitney. I was scared that she would wake up before the teachers managed to get out of the building. I would absolute hate to wake up to find myself being scared down by all these people, people who are the most judgment in the world.
“You know, apparently she has an eating disorder. Megan heard her throwing up in the bathroom. Apparently she does it all the time. I beat she hasn’t eaten for days, maybe more to fight into that gorgeous dress. It’s crazy…honestly, she is the most stunning girl. Whitney is perfect. How can she not even see that?” Donna said
“I suppose that’s why it’s a disorder. You girl remember what Ms Fletcher told us in Health class. It distorts the image of yourself until you want to hurt yourself to change it” I said as I glanced at Harriet. She just started back at me, her eyes wide and beginning to glisten with tears.
I turned back to Donna “but that is beside the point. I hope you haven’t been spreading this around. You would hate it if this was you” I said just as I noticed Whitney beginning to sit up. I took a look around the room, everyone eyes were locked on Whitney, the whispering, the gossip. Whitney looked like she was ready to burst into tears.
“No, I haven’t told…that many people. I suppose now with her collapsing at the school dance, she’s tod more people than I could have ever managed” Donna said
“Donna!” I said
“Okay, okay” Donna said and she walked off. I turned back to Harriet.
“An eating disorder, you heard Donna…god, I can’t believe it…” Harriet said
“Alright everyone can you please give her space” Mr Tucker said as he and Mrs Matthews managed to get Whitney to her feet. She looked so fragile and so small. I suppose Whitney always had a fine frame but it wasn’t until now that I realized just how bad it was.
Harriet and I stood in the doorway of Whitney’s hospital room. She was staying overnight for observation. “Hi” I said. I’d never seen Whitney self-conscious until now as she pulled the bed sheets higher up on her body. She always seemed to be so self-confident, so love in herself, I guess know we all know that it wasn’t true at all.
“What are you doing here? What’s going on?” she urged, but her voice was a little shaky. Harriet stepped forward entering the room. “Do I know you?” she asked as she stared down Harriet. Unbelievable, actually it didn’t surprise me but still, they’ve have been attending the same school since they were ten years old.
“I’m Harriet Lowe, I go to your school, and I’m in about four of your classes. We have gym together…Seriously?” Harriet said as Whitney’s look of confusion didn’t falter. Harriet sighed “anyway, um, well, my name is Harriet. I’ve always hated the way that I looked, I’ve always wanted to be different. I hated myself. I was angry at the world for it. I didn’t want to accept that this was it, this was the body that I was given. I would spend hours and hours of my time, trying to dress a different way, do my hair differently, my makeup. And then I realized that all the glamourizing in the world wouldn’t make a difference. It was me. It was my body that made me feel so shy, so afraid of being out there in the world”
“What does this have to do with me?” Whitney asked.
“For the whole of my life I’ve been in awe of you. I’d look to you because you were what I thought was the idea of beauty. You were a poster girl for perfection. You just oozed confidence, happiness. I tried to be like you. I judged myself against you. I thought that if I could just have what you had, my life would be a whole lot different. That maybe things could be better. I sat you on a pedestal way up there in the clouds and it felt like I just didn’t have any ladder to get up there with you. It made me hate myself. I stared hurting myself, damaging myself to get there instead. I thought that if I could just lose some more weight, maybe that would be it. That was the key. I would force myself to vomit, I would feel guilty about any meal that I ate. I was destroying myself” Harriet said.
“I don’t want to hear this” Whitney said.
“Please, just listen to her” I said.
“But then tonight, I saw you on the floor of that gym. I saw you looking so vulnerable. Tonight, I learned that in fact, there isn’t much difference between you and me after all. We are both just girls trying to compete with expectation. We were willing to do everything in our power to get there. We both have our insecurities. We are both hurting. I’m so very sorry that you felt bad enough that you thought that was your only option, your only path…So, I was, um, thinking maybe we could help each other out, that maybe we could try breaking down these walls because in the end, we’re just girls all struggling with something or another” Harriet explained.