There are those among us who forgive and forget. And then there are those of us who ride a grudge like it’s an Olympic bobsled on the world’s longest track.
When I was in Grade Two, there was this girl-- we’ll call her Jenny--who invited me over to play. This was a big deal because, as any schoolyard monitor operating in the Northern Interior in the mid-seventies can attest, I was not a popular child. There is something about a girl who looks like a boy, wears mismatched footwear, mumbles to herself, and spends hours alone in the swamp out behind the school equipped with nothing more than a book, a mason jar, and a butterfly net, that brings out the intolerance in other children.
It was therefore big news when Jenny invited me over to play at her house. My mother was, although she tried to hide it, excited. I could tell because although she didn’t believe in policing my clothing choices, she actually cautioned me against wearing the orange pantsuit with the white cats on it. Usually she was all for me expressing myself through fashion. This was part of the same impulse that led her and my uncles to teach me to perform Broadway show tunes at top volume while dancing on kitchen tables, another crowd pleaser that got me banished to Loserland the instant I hit Kindergarten.
“Honey, that one’s got quite a few cigarette burns on it. Maybe you should wear your suspender pants.”
But I was not deterred. My orange pantsuit with the giant orange buttons placed at interesting intervals was my lucky outfit. True, it was studded with black-edged holes where my grandma had dropped her cigarette on it (repeatedly) while sewing back on some of the orange buttons. At one time the buttons had been located near exits and entrances, but after Grandma’s reattachment surgery, the buttons studded the pantsuit in a marvelously haphazard fashion. Grandma’s sewing technique was, like Grandma herself after a few Bloody Marys, quite unusual.
So the orange pantsuit (matching orange turtleneck underneath) and I headed off for a day of socializing. Jenny’s house was okay, although it had that other-people’s-food smell, and her mother seemed a bit stern, and Jenny’s friendliness had a cracked quality, like a twig being asked to bend too far. But I was in no position to be fussy.
An interesting thing about Jenny was that she and her mother had exactly the same haircut. Where mine was boyish (my mother insisted on calling it pixie-ish) Jenny’s was downright mannish. She was not a lighthearted child. It must have weighed heavily on her to know that she was next in line in our class for sacrificial goat status. And unlike me, Jenny didn’t have any imaginative pursuits to keep her company. Unless, of course, she spent her time imagining the slow suffocation of the tiny things trapped under the plastic her mother left on all their furniture.
Jenny’s house contained a total of two books: a Reader’s Digest beside the toilet and a bible (in a plastic cover) on the unused coffee table in the unused living room.
We started out awkwardly, having little to say to one another. But as conversations in those days had a way of doing, ours turned to the topic of sparkles and soon became animated.
Sparkles were all the rage in Lake Kathlyn Elementary that year. Like stickers before them, sparkles were hoarded, bartered, and used as status symbols to lord over other kids. The metallic bits came in a variety of colours and nothing, but nothing, spruced up a glue drawing like a few sparkles. But ours was not a free market sparkle system. Only the popular kids were allowed to use or own sparkles. Them and the teacher.
Jenny and I got to talking and found we had something in common. We both really wanted to get into the sparkle market. Not to become major players or anything. We just wanted a few bottles’ worth to trade amongst ourselves, sprinkle in our hair, and accent our toilet paper roll art. But what we were actually doing was hatching treason. Illicit sparkle use was nothing short of that capital offence: copying. And we both knew what we were proposing to do was copy the popular kids. God, we were daring. Everyone knew that copying could get you killed. Unless you happened to be part of the core team, like Tracy Kempenar or Tanya Edgemont, who could happily mimic one another’s hair, clothing, gestures, until the two of them became like a Doublemint commercial sprung to life. The copying we were proposing was the bad kind, when a person lower in the social hierarchy tried to use the mannerisms or craft supplies of her betters. Then you were in for it.
We started quietly, Jenny and I. We spoke in hushed tones of the sparkles we’d seen. But before long we’d agreed that the whole damn sparkle system was corrupt. And we weren’t going to take it anymore!
Next stop: the craft store, where we spent every penny we had on tiny jars of sparkles.
What followed was nothing less than a sparkle orgy. We sparkled the crap out of everything in sight. Ourselves, our glue drawings, everything within reach, glittered. And we knew what it was to be free! When it was time for me to go home we agreed that our debauch would remain our little secret, and I left with the warm feeling that even though Jenny didn’t have many books at her house, I’d still made a friend.
So you can imagine my surprise Monday morning to find out it had all been a setup. Jenny told everyone what we had done and she blamed it all on me. She told them that it was my idea to buy sparkles. She told them that it was my idea to copy them. She stood with Tracy and Tanya and the other popular kids and repeated the defiant words I’d spoken in strictest confidence, and made fun of my lucky orange jumpsuit, and pushed me even further into the pariah pit.
The confusion and the betrayal were hard to bear. Jenny, that bitch, used me to get over.
Obviously, I’ve never forgotten the early betrayal. And while I wish I could tell you Jenny ended up being terribly injured in a craft supply accident, I doubt it’s true. We didn’t stay in touch. For all I know, she’s currently running a Fortune 500 company. Me, I have a sign on my bobsled that reads: I stop for sparkles. And I do.