Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My Friend Fred

Long ago and far away, I once had a friend, a pretty good friend, that I will call Fred. Her name was not really Fred. She was a girl after all, but if I call her Fred, even if you know her, you won’t know that this blog is about her.

Fred was a very cool person in many ways. She had traveled all over the world and she spoke a whole bunch of languages. She had lots of interesting jobs, lots of interesting adventures, and lots of long, curly hair. She was smart and pretty and could be pretty funny when she let her guard down. She had a lot of acquaintances, but, I realize now, few real friends. And despite what seemed from the outside to be a pretty good life, she was often unhappy. When I knew her, years ago, I wondered, sometimes with compassion, sometimes with frustration, why she wasn’t happy more of the time. Like I said, from my perspective as a not-so-uninvolved observer, her life had all the things I though necessary to be good. And I just didn’t understand.

But I am older now, and, as I often joke, possess the venerable wisdom that comes with age. Actually, I am not that old or that wise, and certainly not venerable. But time and distance has given me a perspective that I was both too far away from and too close to see back than. Fred was unhappy because she was not able to really trust anyone in her life, and, perhaps even more important, Fred did not trust herself. She did not trust her own inherent worth, and so her days were full of posturing to prove herself worthy. She did not trust those around her to accept her or love her unconditionally. She did not trust the people in her life to tell her the truth, even those most of us did tell her the truth most of the time. Or at least we tried to.

When I think back to those young adult, first time living independently times, I feel sad for Fred. She missed out on so much because she wasn’t able to trust. Although I don’t think that she was ever actively dishonest, I don’t think that she was often truly honest, either with herself or with other people. She would not read stories or any fiction that would not have been on Oprah’s book list if Oprah’s book list had existed back then, because she did not want to appear frivolous. When we went out to dinner, she often did not order the food that she really wanted, because she thought that there were foods that she was supposed to want. She bought glasses with plain glass lenses, because she thought that they would make her look smarter. And, like I said, she was pretty smart. Through it all, though, the thing that I remember most, is that she hardly ever smiled. Or laughed.

As for myself, in addition to not being all that old or wise or venerable, I, too sometimes pretend. I pretend to be smarter than I sometimes think I am by randomly filling in the squares in Sudoku puzzles, really fast, so that anyone watching will think, “Wow. Look at her. She must be really, really smart.” In reality, I know that most likely, no one even notices, and if they do, their overwhelming state of awe is probably quite fleeting. I often don’t get what I really want in restaurants, but that is only because these days, all I ever really want to eat is sushi, and the other members of my family don’t share my passion/obsession for avocado and raw tuna.

So I truly admit that I am not paradigm of virtue. I do worry about what other people think of me. I do want people to like me and sometimes choose to say or do things that I think will make them like me more. I do sometimes hesitate to let my true self show, especially when I am just getting to know people. I sometimes feel shy and insecure, just like I imagine almost everyone else sometimes feels, even though I try to hide it. So maybe, the thing that most separates me from Fred, is that I smile and laugh a lot more often than she did. Even if a lot of the time, I am really laughing at myself.

So these days, when I think of Fred, I have to remind myself that just like I have reinvented myself over the past several decades, she likely has, too. I googled her once, just to see what I could find, and in the picture that popped up, she looked happy. And old. And I hope that she is. Happy, I mean. I hope that she has learned some of the things that I have learned. I hope that she reads whatever she wants and orders whatever she wants and has friends who truly love her. I hope that she has learned to trust herself and other people. But mostly, I hope that she is happy and living the life that she wants to live. I hope that her dreams are coming true.


  1. Beth, I really like what you said here about the benefit of age. I'm reminded of the saying, "Youth is wasted on the young." (Shaw, I think?) But I've decided that it all plays out as it should, and had I known back then all I know now, I doubt I would have been able to implement it...or rather live what I knew intellectually. Life was just too new, I guess.

    Like you, I know I still don't follow my heart all the time, but for the most part I do. I have care-taking issues so my bad decisions usually involve trying to make someone feel better. Recent developments have shown me that's not always the best choice for me OR them.

    I think the best thing we have going for us, (and from what I see here you have it in spades), is awareness. We know what makes us happy, but we also understand why we can't always make the choices that bring happiness in the predictable way. We may not get it right all the time, but hey, life is more about balance than perfection, I think.

    I hope you keep writing!

    P.S. OK, I'm older than you, but probably not wiser. I'll be 50 this year:)

  2. Oh! I should have said Michelle DUNN.

    Good Lord, I'm losing it....