You’re probably wondering how Carlie had become so important to me so quickly. Quite simply, just like I’d done with P, I’d instantly made Carlie into my savior, my world.
Before Carlie and I had become friends, I’d always liked her—even envied her. We hadn’t gone to the same school until this year, but we had been in the same Sunday School class—and our parents were friends so we saw each other occasionally at family social events. We were always friendly—but not quite friends.
Carlie was cute and bubbly and fun and wasn’t afraid to say whatever she was thinking. And she had a real talent for talking to boys. I watched and wondered: How I could become more like her?
In contrast, I was an introvert who, most of the time, felt too self-conscious to speak at all. One-on-one and in small groups with people I knew, I was fine, but groups and people I didn’t know were something entirely different. No matter how funny the comment in my head was, I could never say it out loud.
Doing presentations in class made me feel naked and exposed. When we did school plays, I opted for to work on scenery.
It was so bad that once, when I’d been with a group of girls at a party where we met boys from another school, the boys thought I was mute.
I really wanted to participate in group social situations, but I just didn’t feel like I had anything to say that anyone would want to listen to.
Carlie was exactly the opposite. I remember watching Carlie in action at Sunday school and wishing I could flirt the way she did. No one would have ever mistaken Carlie for mute. I knew I couldn’t be her so I wanted the next best thing, to be her friend.
It’s interesting how Compare and Judge work. Sometimes when we see someone who possesses all of the qualities we want but lack, we feel competitive, jealous and hateful. This is how I felt about most of the cheerleaders and other popular girls at school.
But at other times, like with Carlie, our reaction is to develop admiration and reverence for that person—as though if we got close enough, some of those desired attributes might transfer to us by osmosis. It is like the way people talk about the famous people they have met. Or when women sleep with rock stars. As though notoriety and specialness can be transmitted like flu germs.
There were several girls I felt this sort of awe for, and Carlie was fairly high on my list. I wanted to get closer to her, to bridge the gap between friendly and friends—but I didn’t know how.
Then in late August of that year, right before we were going to start attending high school, Carlie and I spent a week together at Jewish teen camp in New York. I’d been to camp the summer before but this was Carlie’s first year.
Camp was an interesting place, attended by about 150 kids from Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and North Carolina. Most of the kids, like me, used camp as an alternative reality—a place where, for that one week and on a few weekend retreats during the school year, those of us who didn’t fit in socially at school could feel like we belonged.
I think it was because camp was largely a cheerleader and football player-free zone, but at camp, I had friends and was liked. I still felt awkward and lonely at times, but far less awkward than I did at school.
Against all odds, I seemed to fit in. I felt like I had been miraculously transformed into someone else. Or been teleported to a parallel universe.
At camp, Carlie and I were in the same circle of friends. She started talking to me more. We laughed and gossiped and confided in each other about our crushes. We ate together, goofed off together and worried what to wear together. It was as though somehow camp were magical and Carlie too saw me entirely differently than the kids at school saw me.
Every minute with Carlie was fun. Her attention made me feel special, important and loved.
Inside, I believed that Carlie’s friendship was the magic potion I’d been wishing for. Perhaps it was too many Disney movies—or maybe it’s just the way teenaged girls’ minds think—but at fifteen I was looking for an easy fix. I was sure that there was one right thing I needed to do and that if I figured out what it was, everything would change and I’d live happily ever after.
I believed that being in the vicinity of Carlie’s bubbly confidence would be like a wave of a Fairy Godmother’s wand.
For a while, it was exactly like that. With Carlie, I felt comfortable being even the silliest version of myself.
For instance, early in the camp week, Carlie had told me that when she’d first heard the song “More Than A Woman” by the BeeGees, she’d thought they were singing “Bald Headed Woman.”
By mid-week we’d created new lyrics to the song together.
“Girl I know your head so well, I see it almost everywhere…I’ll even shave my own head too, just trying to keep a hold on you.”
By the end of the week, Carlie had me, the backstage girl, singing in front of everyone at camp.
It was like an out-of-body experience. I felt different and free and happier than I could remember feeling ever before. Camp Lisa was optimistic, brave and fun. I liked this girl so much better than I liked regular Lisa.
And what made things even better was that this year, I’d be bringing Camp Lisa home with me. Carlie would be with me at school. I thought that with Carlie at my side high school was going to be great. There would be parties and sleepovers—and maybe even dates.
When we got home and school started everything was exactly the way I’d hoped. We talked on the phone in the evening. Sat together at football games. Went out for pizza on Saturday nights.
And when Carlie asked me to join her as part of the King’s Court at our school Fall Festival, I donned a court jester costume without hesitation.
Carlie’s confidence and spirit were big and bright. I felt that just being her friend made me a more vivacious, interesting person. I’m not sure how it appeared to my classmates, but I felt as though I really had evolved into a better, more likable version of myself.
With Carlie, every day was fun. I felt good about myself. Got a boyfriend. Felt pretty. Looked forward to gymnastics season. But life isn’t a fairy tale and there are no easy or permanent solutions to any problem—especially not when you’re depending on something outside of yourself to do all the work.
Then, it all crumbled as quickly as it had fallen into place…
And when it did, I found myself under the bookcase.