High School Can Be So Rough, Can Be So Mean, Hold Onto, Onto Your Innocence, Stand Your Ground When Everybody's Givin' In
I have never thought of myself as a mentor. I have enough trouble keeping my life sorted that I don't need the worry of being someone's role model. Like that famous philosopher once said, I can only be responsible for what I do and not what everybody I know does. I try to lead a good life and follow God's example, but I've never thought of myself as someone especially worthy of emulation.
However, with all this speculating about what life is going to be like with a little Breanne or little Greg in the house, I've sort of re-examined my life and attempted to search for instances where I was a good teacher for someone. Hell's bells, it was very slim pickings, indeed. I've decided I've lead a life full of going against the grain, openly disobeying figures of authority, and out and out being horridly wicked and worthy of punishment. This doesn't necessarily mean I regret any of my choices. What it does mean is that the only thing I have to give a person who wanted to follow in my footsteps is the best of luck. It may have worked out for me, but I know very easily it could have gone all so wrong. Time and time again, I look back on my life and come up short of a full bushel of shining and bright moments to pass along to someone who looked up to me. If anything, a lot of my life could be used as a primer for what not to do when presented with a certain situation.
I did have one exemplary moment, though.
"She didn't, mother... Did she?" I asked at the dinner table with my parents.
"God's honest truth, honey. I don't know what your cousin was thinking in the least. Why, it's got your aunt all befuddled."
I took another bite of dinner, looking incredulous at the facts presented to me. In the course of one afternoon, my cousin Katie, my dear nine-year-old cousin Katie, had sneaked off school after second period, proceeded to try and walk home, and then hid from her parents when they went searching for her. It was unbelieveable and shocking. She'd always been one of the good ones in the family. Aside from Shelly, who was practically a saint, Katie could always be counted on being mindful of her elders, being polite and well-mannered, and, well, having more sense than to run away from school. This didn't sound like her at all.
Quite frankly, it sounded like something I would do.
"What's she doing with Katie?"
"Nothing right now. It isn't like she has a lot of experience punishing Katie--not for anything serious, anyway. That was her on the phone earlier. She was asking for my advice."
"Because you're stricter than her?"
My mother gave me a confused look, which prompted my daddy to laugh. She shook her head and sighed, indicating the answer should have been obvious.
"No, because I've had experience dealing with a willful child."
"Oh," I said. "I'm supposing that would be me."
Again, my daddy laughed.
At the time I thought it was slightly unfair that she even bring up my past record. I thought of myself as some type of prisoner and wondered if those records shouldn't be sealed now, seeing as I was on the path to being reformed. Didn't I just have a heart-to-heart with my mother about how I was old enough to make my own decisions? Didn't she just re-affirm that I was as mature as she'd ever seen me and how she trusted me more now than she'd ever had? Where did all that talk go? But now I see it was kind of like how my daddy says, "Walking through your life is like walking through snow. You can always look back and see where you've been." My mother wasn't saying anything particularly nasty about me, she was merely pointing out that, while I had had a record of getting into trouble, she had been building up a record of having to deal with a hellion like me.
"Actually, that's what I wanted to talk to you about, Breanne. I'd suggested that we might drop you by their way so you can talk to Katie for your aunt."
"Why in gracious Providence would I ever want to do that?"
"She looks up to you. She'll listen to you."
I pause a second and then nodded my head in recognition.
"Besides, you know your aunt. Katie can't take anything your aunt or your uncle says seriously. Mike and Ryan got away with everything and Katie, if she had half a mind for it, could probably get away with the same.
"I just thought it might do her more good hearing advice from you than from me."
"Maybe. It'd kind of be how they send ex-junkies into classes to illustrate to them the pitfalls of drugs."
"Exactly, honey. So you'll do it?"
I put down my utensils and looked my mother in the eyes.
She was serious about this whole intervention thing. I thought to myself that I had misjudged her opinion of me. Never before had she trusted me enough to give advice to anyone. Before then I always had the impression she thought everything out of my mouth was utter folly. I mean--I've written countless poems about how inconsequential she made me feel growing up and a lot of it stemmed from the fact that I never felt I had a voice. That dinner was the first time I understood that, even though my mother didn't always show it right away, she'd been listening to me all along.
I made up my mind to do it.
I love my cousin. I love her like she was my own sister. I honestly don't know what I'd do if I were to ever lose. She's been a part of my daily life since I can remember. Shelly and I may have been closer friends in the beginning, but I've been friends with Katie a lot longer. People always say that being an only child makes a person spoiled and gives them a sense of entitlement. I don't know if all that's true. All I can tell you is that what it does is make you feel lonely. Incredibly lonely. Try as I might to fill it up with people from school, people from church, and people I've met elsewhere, I never felt like I had that one person I could come to in my family before Katie. Torry was my deepest confidant, but, through it all, she never really felt like blook. Patrick's like my older brother, but he too, at best, feels like a brother that moved out of the house before I really got to know him. Katie, of anyone, feels like my sister. We grew up in around the same neighborhood. I saw her just as much as I saw Torry or Shelly. What's more I'd always had this protective streak about her in much the same vein Shelly once had a protective streak over me. Katie will always be in my heart.
Katie will always be somewhat dense too.
She's intelligent and all, but sometimes getting her on the same train of thought as myself is like trying to herd seahorses.
"Well, your first mistake, sugar, was not picking out a destination beforehand. Wandering aimlessly through the streets isn't much of a plan."
"I wasn't planning this, Breanne."
"That much is obvious, darling."
I patted her on the head as if she were a dog. I had decided to approach the situation with as much levity and humor as possible. My mother had probably expected me to come in with fire and brimstone, spinning tales of how scared I had felt all those times I had run away. She probably wanted me to recount the time I had almost been stolen away by some creep a few years back. But my intention wasn't to put the fear of God into her. Besides, hearing my mother warn me of all the dangers of striking off on my own hadn't dissuaded me. I had the same feeling that it wouldn't do much good for Katie either. No, having something scare you to death is the only way you'll ever learn that with every decision you have to factor in the risks involved. My intention was to show her that I supported her choices and that I wasn't going to mother her into being safer. Nope, I wanted to show her I was her friend so I was going to do what all friends do. I was going to mock her tirelessly for her ineptitude.
She swatted my hand away.
"Katie, I was an old pro at this by the time I was your age."
"It sounds like you were proud."
"Not proud, just aware that I had a talent for it."
"A talent for running away?"
"Strange as that may sound, yeah. Do you think I should write a book about my experiences?" I joked with her.
We laid down on our backs on her bed. Staring at the ceiling with her, moonlight filtering through her curtains, I realized that this was the first time I'd ever tried explaining to her about my leaving home all those times. Before, with her, she had had to get all her information from her parents or, worse yet, from my parents. She'd never heard it directly from me. I told Torry a bit about why while it was happening. I even opened up to Shelly a time or two, but I had never told Katie any of it.
I guess I've never really been comfortable explaining myself to anyone. Eeyore is the first real person who got me to spill all my secrets. It wasn't out of shame or anger that I didn't say much about what I'd done. It was more that I've always been a live-for-the-moment type of person. My daddy likens my personality to an "any-bullride-you-can-walk-away-from" personality. I'd run away, but I'd survived each time. What more did I need to say about it? I guess I've never really understood all those people who have battled back disease and then gone on to tell everybody in earshot how excruciating the experience was and how wonderful it feels to have beaten it. I've always been more of one to look forward to every day after the ordeal. I can't really see myself dwelling on the sadness in my life. That's why it's always been one of my unintentional secrets, this running away business. It's one of my quirks. Again, I can only be Breanne--no more, no less.
"Did you ever get scared?"
"Me? Never," I lied. I wasn't about to start crushing her perfect image of me.
"I was scared."
"And you haven't even hit high school yet. Lord help us all once you reach the big kids."
But I felt it in the way she laid on her bed. I don't know exactly what caused her to decide to ditch school. She hadn't opened up to me about the exact nature of her problems, but I could tell there was a story behind it. There always is. Something told me this wasn't the first day she had decided to run away.
The parallels were staggering. I had been around nine or ten when I first started acting out, started leaving home without permission. Those first few times were mostly about getting away from my mother yelling all the time. I'd leave for a half hour or an hour. My mother would be all worried and instruct me never to do it again. The funny thing is she would never yell at me. She'd be so glad to have me home, I'd still be punished, but the yelling would stop. I didn't care so much about the groundings and the no allowances. Those I could handle. What I couldn't take was the being yelled at part and being told I couldn't yell back. It was really hypocritical the way my mother would say yelling wasn't a lady-like way to act, but then yell herself. I remembered, though. There I'd be, doing my damndest to plead my case (as much as a nine-year-old's vocabulary would allow me to plead my case), and she'd be doing nothing but shouting over me. It wasn't fair. I would even throw in some "please, thank you's" like she had taught me, but those never did the trick either. The only thing that got her to cease was my running away.
After that, it became a reflex. I'd get in trouble, they'd hem and haw, and then I'd come back. It really started seeming like it wasn't a big deal.
"High school is kind of scary, isn't it?"
"It ain't no picnic, sugar."
I couldn't figure it out. Four years ago, my biggest problem was my mother and I ran away because home wasn't looking so good. For me, school was like a refuge from the storm. I had friends in school, I had lovable teachers in school, what's more, I was kind of the center of attention in school. I could be as insouciant and bratty as I wanted at school and the rest of my class loved it. They would praise me to the high heavens as if I were The Hen of the henhouse. I could do no wrong there.
To me, it sounded like home for my cousin Katie was the refuge and school was the storm. It didn't make sense to me. But we all have our lots in life and this was Katie's.
I decided on a new tact.
"I'm only joking, Katie. I love being at school. All my friends are there, I can feel myself getting smarter everyday there, and it's just plain fun."
"I don't know. I hate school so far. I just want to stay home."
"Well, you can't do that."
I wanted to believe that Katie was just like me. She was every bit friendly as I was. She smiled like everything was wonderful all the time. She knew all the right things to say. I wanted to believe that she was like a miniature version of me.
But she wasn't.
The truth was Katie, when she wasn't around family, was slightly shy and awkward.
"Is that why you walked home today so early? Because you wanted to go home, darling?"
"Well, that's just silly. You should have walked over to my school. We could have spent the day together."
She laughed. I continued.
"Next time, you want to go home from school, Miss Katie, promise me something."
"Just promise me you'll take to me first. Who knows? I might come with you."
She laughed again.
I couldn't picture my cousin of the million teeth and radiant smile ever being down on herself. But, then again, I wasn't with her every minute of the day. I didn't know how well she was adjusting to school and to being exposed to something new everyday. I didn't know if she was able to handle it on her own. I'd hate to think of someone in my family as being weak. Katie did fit the bill, though. There was a reason why I always thought I had to look after her. Maybe that was why, because she lacked a certain fire I always took for granted was in everyone I knew.
"Can I try to guess why you ran away?"
"I guess, but you'll never understand why."
"Fifteen bucks and a shoeshine says I do."
"It's because everyone thinks you're so pretty and they hound you all day wanting to be near you, right?"
She tried not laughing, but she was having a hard time of it. So I pushed her over the edge by tickling her a little.
"That's it, isn't it? My cousin the beauty queen. Should I start calling you Miss Mini-Macon? Would you like that?"
The way I saw it all she needed was some confidence in herself. She needed someone to tell her that she had positive attributes that made her worthwhile to be around. Vanity isn't the most cherished trait to fan, but I knew it would have an immediate effect on Katie. I needed something she could believe. I knew it would be far easier to convince her she was pretty than intelligent or charming. Those qualities I would build up later. As my daddy always says, "When you're building a sand castle, you've got to gather the dirt first before sculpting." Katie needed something she could arm herself with tomorrow so she wouldn't be tempted to come walking home to mommy again. She needed to have the boost to get her through the day.
She shook her to deny my allegations vehemently.
I started noticing her twirling her hair anyway, though.
"I'll tell you a secret, Katie. If I had been half as pretty at your age, I don't think I would have ever ran away at all. Unfortunately, I wasn't as blessed as you were and I think that's what made life so hard for me, you know? You're really lucky."
"Sure. Just think, if you're this gorgeous now, imagine how popular you're going to be in high school. You'll be making everyone envious."
She laughed one last time and I knew I had hooked her. The next day she'd walk into class all puffed-up and assured. She'd walk into class knowing she had something over the rest of her classmates, something they couldn't dare take away from her. She had the praise of somebody she admired a great deal. It wouldn't matter so much what they thought of her as long as she could hold it in her heart that I was proud of her.
My mother's mistake hadn't been in trying to get me to become wonderful. That's a noble goal, to be sure. No, my mother's mistake was not thinking I was already some kind of wonderful already like I thought of Katie.
That's when I discovered the difference between being somebody's role model and being somebody's mother. It was the one time I could honestly say I did a good thing for someone who admired me and the one time I made a conscious effort to set a good example. I'm not a mentor... yet. But for that one day I felt what it was like to help somebody who didn't know better along their path to becoming a better and more well-rounded person. To this day when I look at Katie, I can't help but think I assisted in making her who she is today.
And I'm proud of her because of that little piece of me, that confidence, she always carries around with her.
"I love you, Katie. There's no reason for you to get heart trying to come home from school by yourself."
"Besides, everyone in this family knows I'm the one who runs away..." I said as I was leaving her room that night. She looked up at me, wondering what I was going to say.
"...and no one likes a copycat," I said laughing as I left.