Marge: Am I cool, kids?
Bart and Lisa: No.
Marge: Good. I’m glad. And that’s what makes me cool—not caring, right?
Bart and Lisa: No.
Marge: Well, how the hell do you be cool? I feel like we’ve tried everything here.
Homer: Wait, Marge. Maybe if you’re truly cool, you don’t need to be told you’re cool.
Bart: Well, sure you do.
Lisa: How else would you know?
This weekend, my brother got married. A lot, lot, lot of things happened that were so heartwarming and wonderful and full of love they would make you want to throw up a little bit. I’ll spare you most of the details.
One thing happened that has really kept me thinking and was so unexpected and awesome at the same time. I’ve really been in a funk lately, for a lot of reasons, and my self-esteem is in a really crappy place like it hasn’t been since high school/college (my first couple years of college were kind of a dark time). I had an amazing but extremely challenging first year as a mom and am finally getting back on my feet, but my new-mom lifestyle has left me careerless, frazzled, and with a completely changed body and a few extra pounds. In May, we were overjoyed to discover that my daughter was going to be a big sister, until our first ultrasound showed radio silence where we should have seen the frantic pattering of a 7-week old heart. I was realistic about the miscarriage, and rather than throwing me into a dark spiral, I simply felt rather deflated and worn out. To add insult to injury, my weight, which had already started plumping with happy baby bloat, kept right on climbing – apparently often your body takes awhile to get the memo that it doesn’t have an extra mouth to feed anymore, because hormones are awesome and why wouldn’t a sad, tired woman want to get fatter? Plus, finding a dress for your brother’s wedding that doesn’t make you look like a blimp in pictures is so boring when you’re thin.
After ordering and sending back two expensive dresses, I dragged my sister on a desperate shopping trip to the local mall a week before the wedding. Ten minutes and $20 later, I had an adorable dress I totally felt cute in. My mom, sister and I spent a blessedly child-free couple of hours getting manis and pedis. I found a streak-free self tanner that gave me a beachy glow. I paid $80 to a woman who turned my request for an understated updo (“I’m not a bridesmaid, I just want my hair to look nice all night”) into an intricate mass of swoops and curls held in by 67 hairpins (I counted the next day). I waltzed back in the hotel room and proudly showed my husband, who tactfully asked, “Do YOU like it?” Except it’s not really very tactful because your wife can read you like a book and knows you’re trying to be tactful and that you hate it and now feels like June Cleaver instead of Audrey Hepburn.
So off we go to the wedding. Where I get to sit next to my cousin Madelyn. Who is so awesome and young and cool and works for Harvey Weinstein and is one of the most intelligent young women I know. She also looks like this:
Yeah, I felt awesome.
Except really, I did feel awesome, because, you know, the love and the wine were flowing, and you can’t not have fun at a Taylor wedding. It’s pretty much impossible.
Another girl there was feeling awesome, and it showed. She was one of the first ones out on the dance floor, and she had clearly drunk the Taylor Love-Fun Kool-Aid. (That sounds like I’m trying to say she was drunk, but I’m totally not. She was really just having fun.) She was glowing and shimmying and rocking a bring yellow mini that skimmed her body and flattered her short, curvy figure (“It’s a sheath!!” she shouted over the music when my sister complimented it. “It hides everything!!!” Shimmy shimmy shimmy.) She had the exact sleek, sophisticated updo I wanted when I walked into the salon that morning. She was like a younger, more fun, glowing version of me. I totally creeped on her FB page and stole a picture of her from that night:
She came up to me later in the night. “Peggy!!” she shouted gleefully. “Do you know who I am?”
Of course I knew who Sam Stuart was. She’s married to one of my brother’s friends and was a year behind me in school. She was the younger, cooler, prettier version of me. I bet a lot of you had a Sam Stuart. You knew them from around. Your brother was on sports teams with her brother. She did a lot of the same activities as you, only she did them better and prettier and cooler than you. You wanted to hate her but you couldn’t because instead you just wanted to be her. She had to come up to you because you weren’t going to go up to her because you were sure she didn’t remember you.
Sam and I took piano lessons from the same piano teacher, (and I have to take a minute to give a shout out to Paulette. She was like four foot nine and weighed 100 pounds soaking wet, and her hair made up half of that. She was so awesomely Portugese and had a giant photograph of herself as Miss Greater Attleboro in a gilded frame in her living room and I thought she was the most beautiful person ever. She she had the swoopiest, prettiest handwriting and I still try to copy it. I want to be Paulette when I grow up.) So yeah, Sam and I both played piano, and maybe she wasn’t better than I was, but she was at least as good, and she looked better and cooler doing it. Sam was also an actress, and that was a way bigger deal. Acting was my Thing. I loved it. I loved the theater, I loved singing, I loved dancing, and I was going to take Community Theater by storm. I’d gotten a few leading roles in grades 8 and 9, mostly by virtue of the fact that people could hear me. I may not have been a great singer, but I could carry a tune, and I was loud, and people in the back row could hear what I was saying, which is really the most a director of 14-year-olds can ask for. So I got a few parts and peaked in 9th grade. I would have thought I was hot stuff, but every time I turned around (Ok, like 99 percent from my parents) I heard about how Sam was just like me and all into theater and singing and wasn’t it great that she was an actress too? Except no, it wasn’t great, because after a fleeting moment or two in the spotlight I was relegated to chorus roles and Sam kept popping up front and center. She and I went to different schools, so it wasn’t like we were in direct competition or anything, but I felt like she was this shadow over my shoulder doing everything I was doing only more. And she was really pretty and cool and just made me feel even dorkier and more theater nerdy. And I’m not one of those people who says they were dorky in high school when really they were homecoming queen (I’m looking at you, Erica Pelkowski). This is an actual picture of me from high school:
So my point is yeah, I remember you Sam Stuart. But it was the next part that completely threw me for a loop.
“I’m Tim Stuart’s sister!” she continued. “We took piano together with Paulette!” We reminisced for a few minutes and then she told me – How much she loved me dress tonight and saw it from across the room and wanted it. How much she always looked up to me and admired me when we were younger. How she thought I was so pretty and such a good piano player and I was always so cool and she wanted to be like me. How I was so radiant tonight and so beautiful.
Well, heck, Sam Stuart. You’re still one-upping me.
What was I supposed to say to that? “OMG me too! No YOU’RE the best! No YOU are!” That would just make me look even dorkier. So thanked her as effusively and graciously as I could for all her incredibly kind compliments and she shimmied away.
But it stuck with me. I mean, come on, really? Like how did our adolescent selves never get together and be friends? Like all that time I was feeling like crap about myself because that was pretty much my job in high school I was really this awesome person that only Sam Stuart knew about. Which is totally shortchanging my friends, who were amazing and awesome and there for me and love me for who I am and always have, but I wanted someone to think I was awesome not because of who I was but because of who they thought I was, in that totally superficial way teenage girls want. Can I have a time machine and go back and shake my teenage self by the shoulders? Hang in there, Teen Peggy, in a few years you’ll stop putting your hair in hot rollers and Beyonce will invent Bootyliciousness and you’ll discover that hiding your figure under giant sweatshirts isn’t really hiding anything. Stop feeling fat because in 15 years you’re going to actually be fat but you won’t care as much because it means you had one child and lost another and anyway Sam Stuart thinks you look awesome.
What I keep coming back to is that I do kind of have a time machine – I think Dimitri Martin might have been the one who invented it: it only moves forward, and at regular speed. My daughter Klara is in it with me, and she the only chance I have to do it over. I can try. I can tell her how futile comparisons are, how useless it is to hate yourself and what you are and what you’re not. Stop thinking you know what everyone is totally thinking about you right now because you totally don’t. You have no idea. When you find your Sam Stuart, make friends with her, and tell each other how totally awesome you think you are now, and not in seventeen years. She probably won’t listen, (and even if I had a real time machine, my younger self probably wouldn’t listen either). She’ll probably think her mom is just a huge loser and roll her eyes. But she has to listen to me, because Sam Stuart thinks I’m cool.