Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Brief History of Things I Have Stolen: Part Three

Part Three: A Picture of that Boy I Loved --- High School

It was my junior year, the year Amy and I had our lockers downstairs by the shop. Every morning we came into the hallway that smelled like a lumberyard, and we'd put our coats and hats and gloves away. We'd grab our books and stuff notebooks into our backpacks. And we'd do this around one of the other J.S. girls, whose locker was in between ours.

It's important to know my history with this J.S. girl, beyond knowing it's possible that I stole her clay castle from middle school art class. This particular J.S. and I had been best friends for years in middle school, probably longer than we should've been.

We lived on the same road and shared a seat on the bus every day. One morning late in our middle school careers, we were gossiping about some people we knew, talking about how we couldn't believe this and we couldn't believe that, and then J.S. looked over at me, smiled, and said, "This is why you and I are best friends."

It was a nice little moment. We didn't use that term out loud all that often, and it was good to hear it. It was confirmation. Validation. It was intoxicating. I walked around all that morning feeling indestructible. After all, I was a girl with a best friend. A very good, smart, funny best friend.

When we sat down for lunch that day, the other girls at our table were doing what girls of that age often do: mapping out the social circles of our school. They wanted to know who was best friends with whom. Each girl took a turn naming her best friend, and we'd all smile, nod, and turn to the next. When it was J.S.'s turn, she put down her sandwich and wiped her hands off the quilted napkin her mother had tucked into her lunch bag.

"I don't really have a best friend," she said. "I'm close friends with a lot of people."

My stomach rolled over. My heart cracked in two. I stared at her, willed her to look at me, but she wouldn't. She stared straight ahead and then picked up her sandwich again.

It was the worst kind of betrayal I'd ever felt. I wanted to march straight into the nurse's office and throw up at her feet--which seemed possible--and demand she call my mother to come get me, just so I didn't have to ride the bus home and face J.S., that traitor.

We weren't friends after that. There was no fight, no drama, no public shaming. There was just a clean, quiet break. I started sitting with other girls on the bus, and I ignored J.S., who got on near the end of our route. She always had to do the long walk of the aisle knowing she would have to find her own seat, that she might end up sitting with the chubby boy who had a crush on her or--worse--elementary schoolers who chattered on the whole time about monkeys! and boogers! and cookies!

Because J.S. and I didn't have a dramatic dissolution of our friendship, we managed to coexist in the same friend circle at school until we graduated. But I never forgot what she did to me. Ever. And when, at the end of our sophomore year, I started hanging around some boys from the school district over, J.S. suddenly wanted to revive our friendship.

On the bus in the mornings, she would hang over the back of the seat in front of me and try to ask me questions about those boys, who she'd met before, too. She was in love with them. Especially one of them--a skinny, long-limbed boy who liked to dance and sing. If she happened to go somewhere over the weekend where one of them was present, she would leap onto the bus Monday morning to hang it over my head.

This distressed me. This distressed Amy. After all, she and I were part of his little band of groupies, and we thought we knew him better than anyone. He didn't have special nicknames for J.S. He didn't go to Homecoming or the February Twirl with her. He didn't invite her to summer parties at his house. He didn't write her poems. He didn't learn the steps from Usher's latest video for her. He did all that for us, so we clearly knew him better. And when she pretended she and he were just so close, it drove us crazy.

And finally, there was this. The last straw. One morning Amy and I walked into our hallway that, and there was J.S. and her yawned-open locker. She was standing in front of it and taping a new picture inside. The picture was of that boy.

"Look what he gave me!" she said as we came over to spin our own combinations and get into our lockers.

"Cute," I said through clenched teeth.

"Yeah," Amy said. "Cute."

After she left, Amy whirled around and stared at me. "Can you believe her?" she asked.

"I hate her," I said, and at that moment I really did. She'd crushed me years before, and I'd never really recovered. And now she was trying to compete with me--and, as it turned out, many other girls--for this boy's heart. I'd had it with being cordial about everything. This was war.

So I did the only thing I could do: I got a better picture of that boy and I stuck it up in my locker. My picture was far superior in that it included both me and the boy, who had his arm around me. We were in the backseat of our friend's sister's car, and we were on our way home from a night of dancing.

Of course J.S. questioned it the day I hung it.

"Where was that taken?" she asked.

"On our way home from Passions," I said. I passed my hand over it, lovingly.

And J.S. frowned. She'd never been to Passions with this boy, that was for sure. She'd never gotten to squeeze in close to him on the drive home. She'd never gotten to feel his hand on the bare skin of her hip. I wanted that to be clear, and the picture made it so.

And maybe that could've been it. Maybe I could've been satisfied with that frown--which clearly signaled my victory--but a few days later, I had the opportunity to make my victory even more stunning when J.S. walked away from her locker toward homeroom, not realizing that when she slammed her door closed, her jacket had gotten caught in it and was sticking out the bottom.

"Oh my God," Amy hissed. She pointed to the jacket. "I bet I can get it open," she said. "We can get the picture!"

Our lockers were in the new wing of the school, and that meant they weren't nearly as sturdy as the ones up in the old hallways. Those ones were steel and strong. These ones were just flimsy. There was a possibility that we could yank it open, even if the lock itself had clicked into place. After all, every day we watched one of the boys in our grade walk up to his locker, place his fist just so, and then slam it against the locker in this one exact spot, and that locker would spring open without him fooling with the combination. These lockers weren't any great example of modern engineering.

"Go see if anyone's coming," Amy said. It was almost time for the first bell to ring, and that meant the hallways were mostly empty. So I ran down to the end of the hall, peered left and right, and then gave her the all-clear. I ran back up the hall and watched as Amy bent, wrapped the edge of the jacket around her hand, and yanked. Nothing. She yanked again. Nothing. She yanked one more time, and the door swung open so hard it crashed into mine.

We just stared. We couldn't believe it. Then we started laughing and screaming and jumping up and down.

I snatched the picture from the locker and slammed it shut before the first bell rang, and Amy and I turned the corner toward homeroom knowing that now there was only one girl in our school who would have a picture of that boy hanging up in her locker--and it would be the right girl. It would be exactly the way it should be.

Of course, a year later we would realize that many girls at the boy's school had a picture of him in their lockers, many girls were wandering around telling people they loved that boy, they loved him so much, and he said he loved them, too. But right then, on the day J.S.'s coat got caught in her locker, we were twelve whole months from figuring out what he'd been up to, what kind of lies he'd been spinning across the school districts, and we felt invincible and righteous. We were absolutely shining in our small victory, which would, in the end, count for exactly nothing.


Kristin said...

I am loving these posts! God I hope you stole a lot of stuff:)

Jess said...

Crap! I have really been thinking about it the last few days, trying to come up with something else really good that I stole over the years--maybe in college?--but I can't really think of anything right now.

I suck, Kristin.

Kristin said...

Well okay I can think of a fix for this - next time you are in MN, we'll steal something. Then you can blog about it and I'll have something to read so I don't have to work. Deal?:)