Expectations

EA long time ago, I knew a girl who was eccentric. Her name was Jan. As with most eccentrics, she always did her own thing, and it started early. When she was 10 and I was eight, she got her ear pierced. Yeah, just one. Often other girls would look at her one earring and their faces would get screwed up before they asked horrified, “Why did you only get one ear pieced?!” To which Jan would deadpan reply, “Arr.” Sometimes she would flick her earlobe as she said it.

Being her close friend, I also asked her about it and if it had hurt so much she couldn’t do the other one. I hadn’t been around at the time it was pierced, but in those days, it was usually a barbaric procedure performed by another kid with a needle, a cork, a piece of ice and maybe some rubbing alcohol if there happened to be some in the house. Despite the presence of the ice, girls usually whimpered quite a bit when the needle went in. I doubt Jan whimpered. That wasn’t her style. She told me she always wanted just one ear pierced because deep down she was a pirate and didn’t want anyone to forget it. I never did.

On some vague level, I understood she was wise beyond her age. I’m not sure exactly what brought about this wisdom. It doesn’t appear to be her parents. They were very close friends of my parents, and great as they were, there never seemed to be anything about them that stood out as exceptionally wise. Jan was simply an anomaly among her peers. She was funny and original and had an innate understanding of people. She also didn’t suffer fools, and fools to her were the people who lived their lives at the whim of others, at the tyranny of societal pressure. None for Jan thanks, and she often used her tongue as a humorous sword to fend it off and which often made those on the receiving end a joke. In particular were the attacks from other females who could not stand that she was her own person. And because she was completely unruffled by what others thought, she was a threat to them. But I never once saw her cry or whine about it. She just seemed to accept there were foolish people in the world who would go along with others and obliterate who they were.

But something finally broke Jan. Something happened, and I’m not sure what. Maybe society’s pressure finally taking its toll? Could be. I’ve speculated a lot over the years. Whatever it was, it put her normally sunny self into despair, because three weeks before her 18th birthday, she killed herself. And everyone was shocked. Her parents never got over it. And I still grieve it and most of all on her birthday, which is today.

It’s like I’m stuck in a time warp, and I keep wanting her story to change. But it can’t. It never will, and I hate it. She was the person who brought light into a room and made people see things about it they never had. What more could she have done?

One of these days I may consign her to the past, but for now, I write about her every year on this day, which is also the day I started this crazy place as a sort of backhanded tribute to her. She would have loved it and goaded me out of any bouts of circumspection, which I’ve had all day today and almost didn’t post. It seemed embarrassing to think I’ve done this for four years. Then I thought of Jan, and here I am.

20 Comments

  1. I’m crying. Please keep posting the pieces you’re not sure of. Let us all be your Jan now.

  2. Beautiful….

  3. This post is a wonderful tribute to your friend. I wish I had a friend like her.

  4. Like armiitagebesotted I’m crying but I’m crying in part because I understand what it’s like to be the person who doesn’t want to (or maybe even can’t) live according to others’ expectations. It’s particularly hard of course as a teenager but even for adults it’s a struggle to explain when perhaps you *don’t* want to be a homeowner or get married or have children or have a religion or would trade in a steady income in a dull job to feed the spirit inside you. Because of my background I know a fair number of people who fit one or more of the above categories, and even in “free” countries people don’t always cut them a lot of slack. The difference between them and your friend is that somehow they found a way to survive. It grieves me more than I can say that she didn’t.

  5. On another note, I’d like to say that although there is a lot of talk these days about women attacking women, 90% of the supportive relationships I’ve ever had in my life have been with women. Occasionally men try, but most of them either don’t want to be bothered with someone else’s problems (particularly a woman’s) or actively support the status quo.
    When I was a teenager, it was just as likely to be boys that mocked and harassed teenaged girls who didn’t fit the norm, especially physically. I suspect that was true before my time and I know it still is now.
    I also couldn’t quote a statistic but based various things I’ve read, it’s just as (if not more) likely to be males that are bullying a woman or girl to her death. Rape isn’t always physical, although sometimes the physical act is only the beginning. Fortunately, there’s a certain amount of awareness these days and some great souls are stepping up to try and help.

    We’ll never know what caused your friend to end her life, but I think this is a wonderful tribute to her.

  6. So fabulous that you have her memory to inspire you. Who really knows what is going on in someone else’s soul? It’s a blessing that you saw her worth and learned from her, and keep her alive in your memory. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Thank you for sharing your friend Jan with us. You painted a beautiful picture of her before our eyes. As Marie Astra said, you keep her alive in your memory, and we are blessed by her too.

  8. Thank you all for listening to that. As I said in another comment thread, this topis is about as depressing as I’m going to get.

    Cill, I hope my piece didn’t sound like I was trying to say girls are primarily the bullies. That is not what I was trying to convey nor what I think at all. I think it’s equal. Maybe not every person receives it equally from both sexes, but I do believe it’s equal. I think one reason statistics don’t reflect that accurately is because, as you said, all bullying is not physical and the type of bullying females usually participate in doesn’t tend to be physical and therefore is usually not illegal which is often not reflected in statistics.

    For a good part of my life, I was not keen on groups of women.It had a lot to do with what I saw growing up. The viciousness girls can exhibit is unlike anything I have ever seen with boys. I’ve witnessed it with my daughters’ peer groups as well. I have three daughters, so I’ve gotten to see this a lot. And the thing I’ve noticed is that girls who do not want to easily lie down for the boys are ostracized quite a bit. My two older daughters were called lesbian many times as a way of trying to shame them. Thankfully, they were not shamed by that that. They laughed at that the people who said things like that and it went a long way toward making those who did it feel like a fool. Since no one likes to feel like a fool, it usually stopped the behavior when it was happening.

    Mostly, my girls and I spent a lot of time talking about these things as they were growing up so they had a way to frame it and not have a chip on their shoulders. Their father also spent lots of time in the conversation as well. One of the things we told them that my husband and I believe has helped them not be so affected by ugly words is a very simple truth and one I live by and it’s served me well. People who are mean are unhappy people and what they say is a result of that and not really about who I am. As my two older girls have gone into the world and into a place that is no cake walk, I think they’ve done well. I hope that’s the case no matter where they find themselves.

    And since this is such a long comment, I’ll say something about my son as well. He has a reading disability. He was mortified someone would find out he could not read. I cannot tell you the lengths he went to ensure no one found out. This is a common story for a dyslexic. They are clever at hiding what is going on and their ability to compensate becomes enormous. My son’s ability to listen to long lectures and remember almost everything said is testament to that. But before his dyslexia had a benefit, he called himself stupid and really thought he was stupid. He instinctively knew that other kids would ostracize him if they found out, and they did. This went on for years when he was a child. We had to talk this through a lot! He finally did stop putting himself down and realized he was not stupid, but I know he still carries scars from the things that were said about and to him. Thankfully, he’s taken those things, and to his credit does not have a chip on his shoulder. but he is very sensitive to the struggle of others. I think one day this will make him a fine teacher. Whatever else it means I don’t know, but I think the adversity he suffered will turn out for the best.

    As to Jan, her parents were going through an ugly divorce at the time she committed suicide. They had also moved away to another state, and I don’t know how many friends Jan had, so I’ve often wondered if she just had no one to talk through her difficulties.

  9. Thank you for your response. When I mentioned the idea that girls bully girls I was responding to something that I have heard rather too often lately. (There’s also the whole problem of the bullies claiming to be bullied themselves, but that’s another rant).
    I have talked this over a lot with my friends over the years. I know that men seem to have had huge success in hiding their own backbiting and non-physical bullying from women, which perhaps is why I respond so strongly to statements that ‘it’s a girl thing’. Most men gossip and name-call, but just not where women hear it and then they deny it happens. Most girls or women tend to do it very openly and sometimes in front of men.
    As you said, bullies are unhappy people. So are people who put others down, except that the source of their unhappiness is usually feelings of envy or inadequacy.

    There’s a very interesting bit in ‘About A Son’, the documentary on Kurt Cobain where he talks about having a gay friend, and the effect of the relationship on his life as a teen. It’s very interesting because he says that when others in the school said that he was gay merely because of this friendship, he embraced the label. (He remarked in the interview that the fact that he himself wasn’t really attracted to other men wasn’t an issue for him in accepting the label. Unfortunately the label had negative feedback for him with other high school boys, but that’s another issue).
    I’m glad your daughters were mature and secure enough and educated enough to realize that ‘lesbian’ isn’t an insult.

  10. Just to reiterate, I don’t know that I’ve ever thought of bullying as “a girl thing.” I’ve just witnessed more bullying by girls than by boys. My experiences with boys and men have been pretty positive, but I realize that is just my experience and not an indicator of the norm.

  11. Beautifully written, thank you for creating a picture of Jan for us. You may wish to turn back time but she lives through your memories.

  12. I understand you completely, and I never felt that *you* were saying it’s a ‘girl thing’.And I want to say that I am not trying to be contrary or argumentative. It’s just that I feel protective of other women because of stuff that is being said elsewhere, and not by you.

    My experiences with men have mostly been positive, but I realize that I am one of the lucky ones. Maybe this is because of the segment of the male population I’ve hung out with. I’ve spent a lot of time with guys because my interests have been those which are traditionally those of male geeks and nerds. We were all outcasts or social pariahs together.

  13. Thank you, Claudia. She’s been a great inspiration to me. Maybe that’s why I don’t let it go. :)

    Cill,

    We’re totally on the same page. My mother was in a “man’s profession,” so that was my role model. I started off in a “man’s profession,” and apparently, the statistics say I still am. o_O. As a child, I never was into girlie things and spent most of my time in the garage with my dad repairing cars or running wiring in the house or laying tile or any number of things that girls did not do traditionally. Ironically, my daughters are much more girlie. Maybe it was rebellion? :D

  14. Thanks for sharing this story. It breaks my heart, but I think it’s really important for people to share stories like this. It’s important to respect people, regardless of who they are of if they are different from us.

  15. So sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. I lost a friend who suicided when I was 21 & she was 24. Despite having unipolar depression (I barely understood what that meant at the time) I naively believed her assurances that she would never commit suicide. The experience made me much more sensitive to other people’s situations and hopefully less judgemental. Thank you for writing about this – my friend died 21 years ago, and I’m encouraged by your example that it is never too late to talk or write about it.

  16. My profession isn’t even traditionally ‘masculine’ :-D although it’s sure no ‘woman’s profession’ to outsiders. (This is ironic since the majority of students are female and have been for a while).
    I’m sure your daughters are all rebelling by being extra girly. One of my aunts is an academic and her daughters have rebelled by being extra stupid. :-I

  17. Damn! Posted before I was finished.

    Most children seem to rebel somehow, no matter how great their parents are. You are lucky that your daughters are just super-girly. :-)

  18. I am indeed glad!

    Believe it or not, bar tending in NYC has done a lot to show my daughters the cause and effect of stupid decisions people can make. Much more than us telling them. They have seen some pretty devastating things first hand. Quite an education. Thankfully, they have not been hardened by what they’ve seen, which to me is quite a feat.

  19. You’re right, Ashley. Bringing these things into the light is the key. Hopefully before a person passes the point of no return.

    asteraurora, I’m sorry to hear about your friend! And absolutely it should always be taken seriously. I don’t think there is a one size fits all demeanor for someone about to commit suicide, but Ive known of several cases where people who spent time talking about it were inuring themselves to the idea and eventually were able to do it to themselves. It pains me to even think that someone could actually do that to themselves. But when things get bad enough and people lose perspective, it gets easier to consider. This loss of perspective is one of the biggest facilitators to suicide. People tend to close in on themselves and distance themselves emotionally from others before they do the deed. Sometimes that’s subtle, but it seems to often be part of the behavior leading up to the event. This loss of perspective is also a major contributor to severe depression most commonly made manifest in people when they go to bed, pull the covers over their heads to shut out everything in the world including their intimates.

  20. You are a really good storyteller. Yes this post was sad but in no way was it depressing like you’ve previously suggested. Jan sounded right up my street and I’d have loved to have known her from the way you describe her.
    I’m sorry about what happened to her but I’m glad you write about your friend and I hope you continue to do so. Thank you for sharing


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