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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Unapologetically Connie

Growing up, I was a misfit. I didn't know that until about junior high, when fitting in became important. My neighborhood had a group of girls, each of us very different, but like most of us back then, geography more than common interest determined our friendships. The kids in the neighborhood, our gang, were our best friends.

The Goonies (Image from Screenrant.com)
 
Even among this close-knit group, with whom I spent some of my best times--and my worst--I never quite knew where, how, or if I belonged. I'd never be as pretty as Katie, no matter how hard I tried to imitate her dress, make-up, and hair. I'd never be as athletic as Theresa, no matter how hard I tried at softball and basketball. I'd never be a wild-child like Sue, no matter how much I drank or smoked. And I'd never be as comfortable in my own skin as Connie--even when, or especially when, I tried to imitate her.

Like most teen girls, our group formed and reformed in varying combinations and subsets, infighting, backstabbing, and declaring new and different best friends every few weeks. Despite all our girl-drama, we remained friends, even when we migrated to new groups of friends at school, found boyfriends, and pursued other interests. Through it all, I still didn't know where I belonged.

All during high school, I was rather protean, donning different personas based on who I was with, trying to figure out which one fit: the princess, the bad-ass, the brainiac, the All-American...I liked all of those roles, but knew they were just that, roles; costumes. Underneath, I was still the misfit. I knew I must belong somewhere, but it wasn't in any of those high school stereotypes.

The Breakfast Club (Image from Mentalfloss.com)

Somewhere along the line, Connie and I became best-friends. By college, we were inseparable. She knew my quirks and shortcomings and accepted them, and me, as I was, with no judgment. She remained my best friend, the person I turned to and knew I could rely on, through high school, college, grad school, a number of moves, and a failed marriage. Eventually, through jobs, marriages, and relocations, we lost touch. We'd visit each other's parents and pass friendly "hellos" through them, exchange Christmas cards, and that was it. I made new friends--based on shared interests and passions, not just geography, and didn't see Connie for years. They grew into decades.

But then I found Facebook. Connie and rediscovered each other, and after about twenty-years of not seeing each other, we made plans and got together. I was nervous, didn't know what to expect. What could we possibly talk about after all that time? What would we have in common any more?

We saw each other and it was like we'd never been apart. We had our own lives, had gone our own ways, and had different experiences, but our shared past gave us solid common ground from where to pick up and move forward. And we did. Connie made it easy because once again, as always, Connie was Connie and she didn't care about the differences that had separated us over the years. I was who I was, quirks and all, and that was fine by her. She hadn't changed a bit.



We've all seen people from our pasts and said, "You haven't changed a bit," when really they have. Physically, of course, we've all changed, and when we say it about someone's appearance we mean, "I can still recognize you under the gray hair/wrinkles/extra pounds." But the lives we've lived have changed us at the heart of who we were and are, our identities. The wild-child has become a respectable, hard-working member of the community, the beauty queen has a work-a-day life and family and bills to pay, the jock is no longer able to get by based on his performance in Saturday's game. Growing up has made us all more similar than different and the old labels no longer apply.

It took me longer than most, but I eventually found out who I am under all the acts and costumes. I learned to be myself and to be happy with that self.

I've been thinking a lot about Connie recently, as she and her husband go through some challenges. For all these years, I think I've taken for granted how very special she is. Reconnecting with her, I see that she really hasn't changed. What hasn't changed about her? Her basic "Connie-ness" that made her so special. Connie has always been her own person, marching to her own drummer, not giving a damn if someone else didn't like the beat. A talented athlete, she partied and smoked and hung out with both crowds. A good enough student, she passed her classes without putting in much effort, and didn't feel out of place with the either the brainiacs or the slackers. She didn't fit in perfectly with any group, but had friends in every group. I think that's because she doesn't see our differences as something that separates us, but as something that makes us all interesting. She knew what she liked and didn't, acted according to who she was, and felt no need to hide that. She swears like a sailor, drinks like a fish, smokes like a chimney. She can identify where someone is from by their accent within the first ten words out of their mouth. She can listen and hear beneath the words, and truly hear, but not judge, just understand. Connie has always known who she is and has always been unapologetically herself and is happy to let everyone else be exactly who they are.

As kids, I didn't always appreciate that about her. Thus, our frequent falling-outs throughout high school. Seeing Connie now is like a trip back in time in the Delorean, right back to how she was in our teens and twenties. She continues to be true to herself, 100% unapologetically Connie. Now that I know who I am and can be myself, I understand how hard that is, especially for teenagers and young adults. I'm in awe of the strength and courage it takes to do that, and in awe of Connie for having always had that strength and courage.

The "Back to the Future" Delorean.
(Image from ComicBook.com)



(Image from Funniestmemes.com)
Do any of you out there know someone who has always known exactly who they are and always behaved according to the dictates of that, rather than what others expected? Or are any of you that person? Or, are you like me--a (very) late bloomer? Let us know in the comments below.

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