unpopular

unpopularOur relationship started during the spring of 2009. I’d just moved into my home a few days before, and had gone into the garage to get something, when I accidentally locked myself out of the house. Which wouldn’t have been so bad, but for the fact that I was in my underwear. And also, by the way, it was just that time of day when the entire neighbourhood was either leaving for work, or walking their children to school. The walk of shame which ensued as I sneaked out of my garage, around to the front of my house wrapped in cardboard looked a lot like those cartoons where the drunk man returns home with a barrel on, held up with suspenders.

I had almost made it. Almost. And then heard a little voice ask, “Is that your underwear, or a bathing suit?”

She was standing on the sidewalk, awkward and slightly bossy, hand on her hip, sizing up my ummm cardboard box.

A few weeks later, she was back to tell me that my grass was too long (she’s given up on me with regard to that information). She was there as I attempted to balance my coffee in one hand as I repacked garbage that was spewed out along the sidewalk by raccoons. “You should get a better garbage can,” was her observation. “This wouldn’t have happened if you did.”

Over the years, she’s been there like the Jiminy Cricket of my life, showing up out of nowhere with after-the-fact wisdom, or random assessments of my state of affairs. She was once on my back deck, trying on a pair of shoes I’d left out there. She drew a monkey face with the words “wash me?” on the back of my car. She gave me tips on riding back when I’d bike to work, and during the year I dated the muscle man, she’d park her bike out front, watching him work out.

Generally speaking, I think she finds me lacking. But Halloween, 2010, when she saw me leave my house dressed as Wonder Woman seemed to bring me a newfound respect in her eyes. Like—I can’t get garbage day right, or remember to wear clothes when locking myself out, and certainly, I don’t cut the grass to her liking (or at all) but that Wonder Woman costume got me some street cred with her.

At Christmas, she came along with her little sister and over charged me for shovelling my front step. Earlier this spring, she and her little sister needed some help crossing the street, and she looked almost proud of me for stepping in. We also had a great discussion about underwear—this time, hiding her money in the band of her underoos.

Periodically, I hear her talking about me as she walks by on her way to school. She doesn’t often have a companion along—she’s just talking to me, or about me, even though I’m not there.

While our world is full of teenaged boys, that one little girl is kind of an outdoor member of our family.

This morning, as I was leaving the house, she was suddenly there, again. Our conversation went as follows:

Jiminy Cricket Girl: Your braids are crooked.
Me: I know.
Girl: Did you do them yourself?
Me: Yep.
Girl: Are you gonna leave them like that?
Me: Yep. I don’t mind.
Girl: Are you popular?
Me: I don’t think so. Not too much so, anyhow. But I have good friends.
Girl: If you’re not popular, you don’t have to care about them being crooked.
Me: Even if I WAS popular, I wouldn’t care.
Girl: *sizes me up* THAT’S why you’re not.
Me: Are you popular?
Girl: Nah. I don’t even BRUSH my hair. Popular is for boring people.

And she biked away.

I went on to the mall, where I was looking for some kind of end of summer sale wherein I could find a long, long skirt. I’ve got rehearsal three days of week for Blithe Spirit, and since my character wears a flowing sort of costume, I wanted to find something similar for practices. Truthfully, the only flowy long skirt I have is all zebra-striped and I know my fellow cast mates will tease me when I show up in it (come see the play this fall. You’ll see why). But then I got to the mall and I remembered how much I love both that zebra skirt and my fellow cast mates, and so instead, I just wandered around looking for long skirts for fun.

In my travels, I ended up in line between three girls who are probably just a year or so older than my front-yard-cricket. They were buying a few things with debit cards and gift cards. Except one. She was slightly smaller than her two friends. A bit more awkward with preteen graces, she looked worried. Her eyes never left the floor. She was like a semi-colon between two very independent clauses. Her friends, loud and glossed and comfortable in their shiny hair and madeup faces talked over her. She tried to keep up. She tried to be cool and fun and settled.

But then, one of them kind of shoved her forward in line, and she dropped her money. Most of it was change, which then spilled onto the floor.
She was mortified. I was sad for her, and wished she would look up so that I could wink at her, or roll my eyes. She knelt down, painfully embarrassed and just… lonesome. One of her friends stooped for a minute and picked up a few items, but then just got up and walked away, following the leader of the pack.

I stood there unsure of whether or not to help her pick things up.
I stood there remembering every awkward moment I’ve ever spent—from girlhood to womanhood—curled up on my knees, picking up my dignity along with my loose change.

She got up, gathered those nickels and dimes and then spilled them onto the counter, $14.65 of pride and loneliness and soured hope lined up for a shirt she’ll wear in an attempt to forget that investing in popularity carries with it the same amount of safety and stability as investing one’s life’s savings on the stock market. Highs and highs and devastating losses.

I wanted to buy her that shirt.
I wanted to take her aside and tell her that she should stop straightening her hair.

I wanted to watch her let that change fall, look at her friends with their crisp 20s and their gift cards and debit cards of security and say “Yeah, I’m out…” and walk away.

I went on, saddened, and had lost my desire for any new skirt. Sales didn’t matter. The coolness of the Mall was lost on me, because the burning of my cheeks, the sadness of another weighed me down.

I stopped in the washroom on my way out of the mall. And there it was again. Again, three friends. This time, one held up her cell phone to the third, injured bird of a friend. “How about this one?” she said, condescendingly.
The poor little bird said, “Please, stop. Please don’t post them anywhere. They’re awful…” as with a tsunami of nastiness, the second girl said “oh, oooops, too late”.

And a sad little girl met my eyes in the mirror, her face wilting because of some moment of insecurity and vulnerability was shared, rather than protected.

It was all I could do to mind my own business.
To not enter into Bitch Mode and say something like … well, it’s best I don’t let myself get too fired up. I thought about making my son show up at the Mall and sweep her up into an afternoon Mallmance (he’s quite handsome). I thought of using my words in protective ways.

Instead, I just said “I have always found that the best kind of girls are the ones who are confident enough to post ugly pictures.”

Which maybe didn’t have as much power, what with my crooked braids and my Tuesday yoga pant/flipflop/failed Flashdance shirt.

But it mattered to me that it was said, and I like to think that when the humiliation that will come from all the “likes” and comments she’ll see on Facebook fades, she will hear my voice among the tapes playing in her mind. That somehow, the volume of “loser” will be outweighed by the knowledge that someone understands.

Later, I left the mall and came down town, where I’m sitting now with some of the coolest, unpopular people I know. Well, maybe not Nick. He’s pretty fancy.

And I’ve got all these words inside me. Words that I want to tell girls. Things like
• Let your hair get messy
• Who cares if your underwear are showing (but don’t be that girl with the whale tail. That girl isn’t you.)
• Don’t look at your reflection in store windows as you walk along, because if you’re alive and you’re being you —you look perfect.
• If you plead with your friends, with tears in your eyes, not to do something and they still do it, they are not your friends. They don’t deserve to be your, or anyone’s friends, and honey, no ugly picture of you will match them for straight ugliness
• If you drop your change all over the floor, and your friends don’t stop to help you, and stand there with you laughing with you about it, drop them

And lastly, the advice I got from a nine-year-old Jiminy Cricket this morning:

Popular is for boring people.

© 2013 juliet dewal

3 thoughts on “unpopular

  1. Beautiful! I’m glad you said something in the bathroom.. I’m saying a prayer for that girl.. Actually all of those girls right now.

  2. Pingback: just monday… | juliet dewal

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