Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Not Very Cool

Exhibit A: Yesterday the temperature rose to 100 degrees.  Not very cool.  And the pool had the audacity to close early, right as we arrived, due to threat of thunderstorms.  Millie was on the verge of tears, so we came home and turned on the sprinkler.  The neighbor boys joined in.  Every now and then we did hear some thunder in the distance, but nothing close enough to ruin the fun.  We didn't even get any rain.

eta: I started writing this post last week, so we're down from 100 degrees now.  Phew.  Still, it's hot.  My camera got all foggy when I tried taking it out of the house to get pictures of the girls:

Steamy.  We do have power, though (half the town doesn't), so we're cool enough inside the house.

Anyway, Exhibit B: I recently recalled a moment from my childhood that I have been turning over and around in my head.  We were in the car on the way to the art museum with a woman my mother had met and her daughter - Christina?  Angela?  Becky? - who was about my own age, although it was clear she preferred the company of my older sister.  We sat in a row in the back seat of our Suburban while our mothers chatted up front.  Christina/Angela/Becky was in the middle seat.  She was twisted in such a way as to present to me the back of her shoulder, sharing the occasional comment and conversation with my sister, who sat on the other side.  I was a pretty quiet kid, but at some point it must have occurred to me to say something.  To contribute something witty or goofy or at least sort of relevant to the conversation.  I have no idea what it was I said.  No memory whatsoever.  But Christina/Angela/Becky turned to examine me over that shoulder.  She looked me up and down without smiling and said the words I remember, right down to her tone of voice, flat and bored:

"You're not very cool."

Just like that.  Matter of fact.  She didn't make fun of me.  She didn't offer up any insults by way of explanation as to why I wasn't cool.  Just...discerned that I wasn't and said so.  And then it was the back of her shoulder again and I wanted to disappear.

Did I say I was a pretty quiet kid?  When I was very, very small I didn't say a thing to anyone outside my own family if I could help it.  My sister was bubbly, charming, outgoing.  Grown-ups might very nicely smile and try to engage me in conversation.  My sister would lean over and drape her arm across my shoulders and answer every single question for me.  It was not a situation I resented; in fact, it suited me just fine.  I grew a few years older and was still very shy.  In a group of more than...two...I usually didn't say much of anything.  What I did say I almost always regretted immediately.  Not because I was ever ridiculed for any of it, it was just...it either fell far short of what I'd been hoping to convey (and then why had I bothered?) or it revealed too much of myself (and then I was vulnerable to judgment, to rejection).  Why, oh, why had I ever said such a thing?  To that person?  I could lay awake at night and regret some meaningless combination of words I might have uttered that day for hours before falling asleep.  And the next night too.  And those were things that had not even elicited any kind of response, let alone a negative response.  That is, until Christina/Angela/Becky and those four horrible words.  "You're not very cool."

So, there I was in the back seat of that Suburban, pressed up against the window as close as a kid can be pressed against a window without actually becoming the window, all to shrink a few more inches away from the back of Christina/Angela/Becky's shoulder.  The glass was probably cool against my face, flushed beet red as it was wont to do, so there was that small comfort.  I vowed to myself to just keep my mouth shut for the rest of forever.  The worst had happened and I had learned my lesson.  Irrevocably.  You've had your doubts about speaking to people?  This is why, kid, this is why.  Don't do it again.  You're not very cool.  You go saying things to people, all willy-nilly, and they are going to see it.  And what's worse, they'll call you on it.  Is that what you want?!  Is it?  You're not very cool.

I think my sister might have said something in my defense.  That registers vaguely, although I don't actually recall what she said.  The memory is fuzzy around the edges on both sides.  Just the girl's cold, dismissive expression and that voice and those words are crystal clear.  The rest is like a photograph in which the foreground is out of focus, the background is out of focus, and only the subject is clear and sharp and staring you right in the eyes.

Some years later I'd remember the incident and be indignant and think, not very cool?!  If she could only see me now!  I am So. Super. Cool.  I was, possibly, a little deluded.  Further on, I decided the pronouncement, although not meant in the spirit of a compliment, actually suited me just fine.  Yup, not very cool.  You know, in the way that is secretly sort of cool because of how unique I am, how outside-the-box I am, how beyond-even-caring-what-anyone-else-thinks I am. That's me.  Not very cool, and totally cool with that!  So there!  Lately, though...meh, I think she was right.  Christina/Angela/Becky, I mean.  I wasn't very cool.  I'm still not.  Honestly, I am very ordinary.  In my own special way, of course, as everyone is.  And I certainly don't mean I'm not good enough or that I'm not valuable as a person or anything like that.  But...yeah, I'm not very cool.

I'm not even entirely sure what "cool" is and I never have been sure - maybe that was part of the problem.  But I know I don't identify as such.  And I feel no sense of loss for not identifying (or being identified) as such.  I have nothing to prove.  And, while I don't think not being very cool is a bad thing, I also don't have to twist it around to make not being cool better than being cool to make myself okay with it.  I don't have to pretend that not being cool places me on some plane above those who are.  

And I've been turning this over and around because I'm not sure if there's a lesson there.  I mean, there might be.  I've thought about whether I wish I could tell myself-as-a-kid to feel differently about it, to react differently, to respond in some meaningful way to Christina/Angela/Becky.  I've had a few ideas.  But, in the end, no.  I just think, well, she was right.  So?  Maybe it was not very nice of her to say so in the way she did, but she was right.  I shouldn't have let it bother me then, and at least it doesn't bother me now.  It really doesn't.  But the words remain, so instead of simply not identifying as "cool", I identify as "not very cool."  Stated in negative, rather than in absence.  Does that mean something?  If I've grown past worrying about it, being offended by it, needing to justify it...why do I still cling to those very words?  Something to ponder.

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