Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Year of Susan

When I was in junior high there was this girl, I’m going to call her Susan.  She had perfect hair that never seemed out of place.  Her clothes looked as though she went shopping with a list from Seventeen magazine in hand and a magic fairy with a magic wallet big enough to buy whatever she wanted.  She had a seemingly unending supply of friends who followed her down the hall chatting and giggling about what happened over the weekend.   She was on nearly every sports team at school, basket ball, field hockey, track…and she was, of course, great at all of them.

The teachers loved Susan too since she was also smart and always had the right answer.  When we had a class that required an oral report she would stand before us full of confidence.  She came equipped with just the right props for her subject and people always clapped after she was done.  When asked to do a report on someone she admired she chose Madonna and on the day the report was given she came to class dressed as the pop singer.  She stood before us, a perfect head to toe, twelve year old replica of the material girl. 

I on the other hand, was the shy, quiet, broody girl who had moved to town in the middle of seventh grade.  An extrovert who carried the curse of shyness, I sat in the back of the class scribbling down poems and story ideas in a notebook.  I didn’t giggle with friends about my weekend.  Though I had a few somewhat-more-than-acquaintances I spent time with, my weekends were mostly spent alone in libraries browsing among the stacks, or in the woods with a bagged lunch and my sketch book.  The only sport I took part in was cross country running because I didn’t actually have to interact with the other team members.   I did well in school, but any sort of presentation that I did was pretty much directed at the floor instead of my fellow students. 

In short, we couldn’t have been more opposite.  If Susan was a bonfire, I was just a spark that fell onto the pavement, igniting nothing.   She moved through the halls of our junior high with a natural ease that I was not even close to possessing.  In looking back I know that my twelve year insecure self was putting Susan up on an unreachable pedestal, but at that time I was simply in awe of her.  

To try to become her friend never crossed my mind.  Aside from the fact that it was quite likely she was unaware of my existence, it really it wasn’t her friendship I wanted.  No, what I wanted was to be like her.  Not a replica of her, but instead to find out what it was that made her seem so alive.  I thought if I could figure that out, then maybe I could do it too.  Then perhaps I’d be a little less shy; a little more brave. 

Through all of eighth grade I watched her.   It was not a difficult thing to do.  Our school was small and the entire eighth grade class was only about 60 students.  I tried reading the books and magazines I saw her carrying in her bag thinking maybe they held the secret.   I remember that after saving a bit of allowance money I bought a baggy, pale yellow, v-neck sweater that was similar to one she wore and for a brief moment after putting it on I did indeed feel more confident, at least until on the way to school a young man said hello to me in passing and I quickly realized that it would take more than a sweater to conquer my shyness.  So I kept watching and hoping, convinced that my powers of observation would help me to discover the secret of Susan.

I wish I could say that at some point during that year I learned her secret and that I breezed through high school and the rest of my adult life with a confidence that sprouted from the seed of Susan’s secret, but that didn’t happen.  Instead eighth grade came and went, and I was not any closer to making my discovery.  When my freshman year began she was not there and I heard she’d been enrolled in some elite boarding school for the smart and wealthy.  I stumbled through another move, the rest of high school and into adulthood as full of insecurity as I ever was.   I managed to overcome my shyness in my early twenties, but it would be several years before I learned that seemingly obvious lesson that my inner fire had to be self ignited.   

Susan was just one of many people I met in life who I thought carried some secret to happiness.  It is in our nature to want easy answers to such things and there is indeed wisdom to be gained from those who shine so brightly.  Yet, however we might admire them and whatever lessons we may learn from them, we should not become so blinded by their lights that we lose sight of the flame that burns inside of ourselves.   This is a light that can burn as bright as any other, but it is up to each of us kindle it and to seek out the fuel that will keep its glow steady and strong.   


  1. I think is my favorite of the blogs you posted. You were named appropriately -- because you are.

  2. some of us may have trouble seeing you as shy but that speaks to how strong you obviously have become.

  3. Thank you for the comments. I'm very happy when someone enjoys reading the blog. Thank you!