I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll never been apart of the “in crowd”. I’ll never be the girl who’s able to pack a house full of friends for a party or throw an elaborate
Avon party buzzing with interesting people. My phone doesn’t ring off the hook with requests to hang out and my day-to-day routine couldn’t be any more systematic. I get up at the crack of dawn, walk my dog Sophie, prepare my breakfast, head to work and at the end of the day, I head home in preparation for the next day. In all actuality, nothing ever changes.
I used to watch the popular television show “Girlfriends” and wonder “When will I have that?” And by “that”, of course, I mean the “cool” factor. When will I have three girlfriends to hang out with who I’ll tell all my problems to and shop uncontrollably with? I like to shop. I like to talk and I definitely like to be liked. But, as I’ve figured out, liking to be liked doesn’t guarantee a spot in the cool hall of fame.
At 26, I think I’m finally okay with not being cool. But believe me, it hasn’t been an easy journey to the acceptance of my lameness. I don’t think anyone is ever prepared, mentally, to accept not being cool. We’re bred that way. In elementary school, the popular kids are awarded plaques and stylish pencils for being “Terrific Kids”, while middle school has the ever-so-popular “buddy pictures”, where you can either be confirmed or denied of your popularity with others. And don’t even let me get started on high school, with its student boards, powder puff games and- lest we forget- the superlatives. It’s no wonder everyone is determined to be cool.
So, when I headed to college at Florida A&M University, and majored in education, I was sure that my “it” factor would kick in as soon as I stepped foot on the campus. After all, they say that when you come to college you can become whoever it is that you want to be. Well, how is it that I got stuck with plain Jane me? The same me who stuck to herself, did boring cross-word puzzles and wore hand-me-down clothes. For 4 years I made a handful of friends- mainly through class-related group projects- and stayed away from any and all large crowds. After graduation I headed to Kansas for a job at an upscale private school. I told myself that I needed the change. Florida hadn’t been my “thing”, but maybe Kansas would be. A year into my job, and still friendless, I made a jump to a school in Washington D.C.- where I knew I’d make friends that looked and thought like me- which left me more miserable than before. The teachers at my new school already had their cliques and they weren’t looking for a newbie to tag-a-long. I recalled sitting in the teachers’ lounge, with my Stouffer’s microwave lunch, pretending to read through an old Ebony Magazine while I eavesdropped on a conversation that a group of the teachers were having. I listened closely, hoping that something- anything- would give me an excuse to join their conversation. I leaned forward, as I heard one of the teachers mention my Alma Mater, and quickly felt my chair giving way. Just as quickly as a light at the end of the tunnel appeared, it was smack dab on the middle of the linoleum floor with marinara sauce oozing all over it. I watched in horror as the other retreated from the lounge, only to have their laughter echo throughout the hallways. That was my breaking point.
As usual, I jumped ship and took another teaching job back in my college town, Tallahassee, Florida. By now, my hopes of finding the perfect “Joan”, “Mya”, “Toni” or “Lynn” are diminishing right before my eyes.
I’ve been at Leon High school, for close to 6 months and already I can feel the itch to continue searching for my inner coolness. I know it’s out there and, just like the perfect man, I’ve got to search for it.
As I said before, I’ve embraced not being cool; but that doesn’t mean I like it.
“Mrs. Armstrong, can I get the bathroom pass? I’ve gotta go bad.” One of my over-the-top students, Lamont, said as he held himself with one hand and fanned his face with the other one.
“A brothers’ gonna burst and that’ll be on you.” He said as the rest of the class laughed.
With the exception of my lessons, I rarely held any conversations with my students; but even I had to admit that Lamont was the school’s class clown.
Modestly smiling, I reached in my wooden desk and handed him the bathroom pass and told him to be back in 5 minutes.
Just like the rest of the people I’d ever tried to be friends with; my students hardly ever paid me any attention. It was almost as if I was invincible and was only good for was shelling out assignments and, on occasion, telling them to calm down. But this class was my favorite because it was the last one of the day. It wasn’t like I had anything important to do- just return some Christmas gifts at the mall and then go home and clean up- but anything was better than being confined in a room full of people who didn’t even know you existed.
With less than 5 minutes left before the end-of-the-day bell rang, I let the kids hang out on the front steps of the school, in preparation of being released. Even that act of slight bribery, to get them to like me a little bit, got me nowhere. No one thanked me, no one said how “cool” I was for letting them out a little early and no one even acknowledged that I had done a good thing for them. So typical, I thought to myself as I grabbed my things and followed the last kid out of the room towards the steps.
It was a beautiful day outside too. I watched as my students chatted on their cell phones, talked to each other and listened to their MP3 players. When I was in school, CD players were hot, we weren’t allowed cell phones and to be caught with a pager was a serious offense. Now, though, it seems like technology runs our school more than we do. Myspace and Facebook have got to be the biggest distractions I’ve ever seen and how could I forget text messaging. Whatever happened to face-to-face interaction? If we keep this up, we won’t need social interaction, the way we did in the past, all we’ll need is a keyboard and a screen.
A lot had changed since I’d been in high school, I thought, as I watched a cute girl named Kiara talking closely to Lamont.
I’d noticed Kiara before; she was a quiet girl that, unless you directly talked to her, barely spoke a word. She had transferred to the school a few weeks after I’d arrived and Lamont, who was a cute-but troublesome-kid himself, took to her immediately. She had perfectly clear butterscotch colored skin and squeezable chubby cheeks.
Kiara was a well put together girl. She never wore raggedy clothes, her hair was always neat and presentable and her vocabulary-when she did talk- was pretty impressive. But despite how smart she seemed, I could see the desperation in her eyes as she talked to Lamont and gently stroked his hand. I’d seen that look before, only it was as I was looking in the mirror. Kiara had come to the school one way and was slowly losing that uniqueness, as she clung to the hope that the other kids would befriend her. I’d walked into the main hallway restroom, during lunch one afternoon, and found Kiara eating her lunch by herself. We didn’t even speak or acknowledge the fact that she was eating her meal by herself and in a bathroom. I guess I should’ve said something but, I did what I do best and kept to myself.
From my observation, Lamont had been the only one who had actively made an effort to be Kiara’s friend; and as I caught myself staring at the twosome, the school bell rang and everyone scattered like cockroaches discovered in a dark room.
Remembering that I hadn’t locked my classroom door, I hurried back into the brick building and reached into my purse for the keys. As I struggled to find the correct one, I heard a pair of heels clicking towards me.
“Elise; hey, girl, how are you?” I heard a raspy voice say as I hunched over in front of the door.
Turning to look, I could’ve dropped everything I was holding as I caught a glimpse of Tamia Sanders, the psychology teacher that had to have been the most popular thing walking the hallways of the school. Tamia was one of those people that always had a flock of people surrounding her and hanging onto her every word. She just seemed to have it like that.
She wasn’t overly pretty or anything, but she just had that “it” factor that made people want to be around her. I even had to admit it; I’d made a few conversations starters with her- in hopes that we could be girlfriends that chatted before school or maybe during lunch- but it went nowhere. Before today, I didn’t think Tamia knew my first name. I felt just like I did in high school when the head cheerleader, or school whore- who was just as popular but in different circles- spoke to me. My hands grew clammy, my mouth dry and I couldn’t figure out what to say.
Trying to sound cool, I swallowed a huge dry lump in my throat and plastered a smile on my face as I turned to face the teachers’ version of the prom queen.
“Hey, what’s up?” I heard myself say, sounding totally out of character. I wanted to scream “Hey, Tamia! Do you want to go to Macy’s and catch a sale or hang out and talk about our relationship problems?” But I knew that would be too strong.
Tamia fidgeted with something behind her back before pulling it out for me to see. It was a big ring of keys, which I recognized as the after-school detention lock-up keys.
“I was supposed to watch the after-school detention kids and, girl, I forgot all about my Maltese’s grooming appointment. You wouldn’t mind doing it for me, would you?” She asked sweetly.
Now I see how men get caught up in doing ridiculous things all for the sake of a woman.
My face was hot, my head was starting to hurt and- worst of all- I was taking the keys from her before my mouth could say no.
“Sure, girl, I didn’t have anything else to do.” I lied, knowing I had a ton of things to return to the mall. True, Tamia had never even acknowledged me fully before that day, but maybe she was seeing something in me.
Tamia blew out air and held her hand to her chest as she laughed.
“Girl, you saved my ass. I probably would’ve gone crazy if I had to watch those kids for another hour.” She said laughing.
I could tell that she saw the hesitation in my eyes, as I realized how long I would have to stay after school, and so- just like clock-work- she went in for the kill; hitting me where I was weakest: a possible friendship.
“So, what are you doing this weekend, girl?” She said as she leaned against one of the lockers and tilted her head towards me.
I watched as her perfectly cut hair swung with her motion and I took a deep breath and smiled as I answered.
“I don’t know, I was thinking about going to the Jill Scott concert at the civic center, what about you?”
“I don’t know, probably nothing.” She replied as she inspected her perfectly manicured nails.
Tamia was one of those women that just seemed to have it all. A banging wardrobe, fly shoes, perfect nails and pedicures and- I’m guessing- a pretty sexy piece of eye candy at her disposal. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion as I envisioned myself wearing the designer duds, haircut and perfume that Tamia sported. What would I do with the popularity and notoriety that Tamia had right at her fingertips?
I shook my head as the silence between us became deafening, and I struggled to think of something to say to keep her majesty around, if only for a few more seconds.
“Well, hey, if you want to come with me to the concert I’m sure I could round up another ticket. I’ve got the hookup on tickets.” I said getting excited about the prospect of Tamia Sanders hanging out with me. In all actuality, I didn’t have the hookup. I had extra money and was willing to pay for her ticket to the concert. Having the hookup just had a cooler ring to it.
Tamia opened her mouth and struggled to find something to say.
“You know what? I just remembered that my girlfriends did buy me a ticket to the concert. I don’t know how I forgot that.” She said as she lightly tapped her forehead and giggled nervously.
I could feel the burn in my throat as embarrassment rushed over my body. This time, when I tried to swallow the dry lump in my throat, I was met with pain. I couldn’t swallow my pride that was on the verge of causing a flood of tears.
I turned my back to Tamia and pretended that I was still trying to lock up my classroom and said, over my shoulder, “I guess I’ll see you there.”
Tamia didn’t hang around at all after rejecting my offer; she bolted towards the front door of the school, probably towards her stupid Maltese.
“Just put the keys in my box when you’re done.” She said before she disappeared into the beautiful day.
Just like that I’d sacrificed my things to do, for a shot at being Tamia’s friend; she’d played me hook, line and sinker.
I made my way towards the detention room and took my seat as the rest of the students lingered in.
To me, detention wasn’t anything more than a place to sleep or- if the student happened to be studious- a place to finish up homework. I wasn’t about to be strict in a place where I didn’t have to be.
I flipped through an Essence magazine, hoping that maybe they’d have an article on how to make friends or how to get over being rejected by a potential friend; but I got nothing.
After close to an hour of silence, I let the kids out early, made my way to my Honda Accord and checked my watch. I still had time to get to the mall and back to my house in time to make Dr. Phil.
I walked into Macy’s with my two bags full of items to return and headed straight to customer service.
“How are you today, madam?” An older woman asked as I sat the bags up on the counter and smiled back. Regardless of the type of day that I was having, I couldn’t knowingly be rude to anyone.
“I’m doing okay, how about you?” I asked as she began going through my bags of things.
“Oh, I can’t complain; even if I did, no one would listen.” She said as she cackled and pulled item by item out and scanned them into the cash register.
“I hear that.” I smiled as I picked up a little trinket that sat next to the register and examined it.
“You know, you look just like someone I know.” The woman said as she folded one of the shirts and placed it in a pile.
“Is that right?” I said smiling widely. “Whoever they are, I hope they’re pretty.”
“She is; it’s my granddaughter. She’s younger than you though, I’m sure. She’s only 15.” She said proudly as she closed her eyes and placed her wrinkled hand over her chest.
I nodded my head and smiled with envy as the grandmother told me all about her granddaughter, Chantal.
“I swear you two could be twins.” She said as she finished going through my items.
“What school does she attend? I teach at Leon.” I said happy for the conversation.
“She goes to FAMU high and she loves that school.” She smiled before locking her eyes with mine. “You know, you’re doing a great thing by being a teacher.” She said.
“I’d like to think so. Thank you.”
“Did you go to FAMU?” She inquired as she started looking for the paperwork for me to fill out for my returns.
“Actually I did. I graduated about 3 years ago.” I replied, feeling proud of my alma mater.
“Alright, go Rattlers!” She laughed as she sat some white forms in front of me.
“Just fill these out and ring this bell when you’re finished and we’ll get you all taken care of.” She said as she disappeared towards a rack of clothes in the juniors department.
I bent over the counter and started filling out my name, address, phone number and other contact information, when I heard- what sounded like- an aggressive tussle around the corner.
Before I could turn to find out what was happening I saw my cashier friend, a young white gentleman with a buzz cut, and a chubby, round face that was so familiar to me I couldn’t resist calling out her name.
With her hands behind her back and shame spread all over her face, I looked in Kiara’s face and shook my head. By now, I knew what this meant; it was clear as day. The white guy had Kiara by one of her elbows and was escorting her to the back room of customer service. In his other hand was a few items, which I assumed she’d tried to steal, crumpled up into a ball.
The security guy and Kiara whizzed by me and, for the life of me, I couldn’t take my eyes off of my student.
“You know that young lady?” My cashier friend asked me as she watched me stare at Kiara’s journey to the room with the glass walls.
“Yeah…uh…well, she’s one of my students.” I said not taking my eyes off of Kiara.
The woman shook her head and pursed her lips together tightly
“I don’t understand how those children can come in this store and steal what they know doesn’t belong to them.” She said taking a deep breath before returning her glare to the papers in front of me.
“You done with those, honey?” She asked pointing to the papers.
“Uh, yeah.” I finally responded as I pushed them towards her. “What’s going to happen to her?” I found myself asking, just as Kiara looked over her shoulder towards me.
Fear and pity were all I could see as I studied her face.
“Well, we’ll probably have to send her to the juvenile center and once they assess how much she tried to steal, that will determine the charges she receives.”
“Charges?” I said loudly as the woman raised an eyebrow towards me.
“Yes, charges. You know, it is still illegal to steal things.” She said matter-of-factly.
“But she’s just a kid.” I said feeling myself getting riled up
“She still broke the law; I can’t do anything about that.” The cashier said as she typed something into the cash register.
“But what if it was your granddaughter and…” I started.
“My granddaughter would never do something like this.” She shot back, damn near burning a hole through my head.
I dropped my head and paced in front of the counter with my hands over my head, wondering what I could do to reverse the situation. I knew what Kiara had done was wrong; if anyone knew I did, but she was still a kid and had made a mistake.
The woman quickly finished processing my returns and turned to face me with a wad of cash in her hands, along with my return receipt.
“Here you go. Have a good day.” She said shortly.
I reached to take the money and grasped her hand tightly. Up until that moment, I hadn’t cared to know the woman’s name; but my gut was pulling me to do something; I had to start somewhere.
“I’m sorry, what’s your name?” I asked as she eyed my hand closely and slowly pulled it away.
“Glenda.” She said as she shoved both of her hands into her pockets and stared back, defiantly at me.
“I’m Elise; it’s nice to meet you.” I said calmly, hoping I could reel her sensitive side back in.
“Okay…” Glenda trailed off.
“Now a few minutes ago you told me I was doing a great thing by being a teacher; that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I’ve gone from school to school for years to find a way to make a difference. Now I realize it was all so that I could be here, right now, to help Kiara out of her own way.” I said swallowing. “We’ve all made mistakes, right?”
“Yeah, but none of mine have been illegal.” Glenda said quickly.
“And she’s wrong for that, but if she makes one mistake and we throw her to the wolves- instead of taking the time to tell her what she did wrong- then I think we’re doing her a disservice.” I countered.
“How do we even know this is her first time being in trouble?”
“She’s a good kid, Glenda. I wouldn’t vouch for just anyone. But, when I look at her I see…well, I see myself.” I said dropping my head and sucking my teeth.
“And if it’s wrong for me to want to save her, before she embarks on years and years of struggling to find her way, then I guess I’m wrong.” I said. “And if your granddaughter did make a mistake, you’d want someone to be at bat for her- regardless of the mistake, right?”
Glenda stared at me a few minutes before turning and walking off. I was sure that she was walking off to roll her eyes, or cackle with the rest of the customer service workers about how weird I was, but a few minutes after she abruptly left she and Kiara stood before me in an awkward silence.
“I don’t want to see you back in here stealing things. Ms. Elise is going to take you home.” I heard Glenda say sympathetically as she slightly pushed Kiara towards me.
Both of us looked like we were shocked at the outcome, and as we headed towards the exit, Kiara turned back to Glenda and lowly thanked her.
“Where do you live?” I asked as I started my car and stared over at Kiara, who had her head bowed.
“My dad lives in Quincy.”
“Quincy?” I asked, realizing that Kiara lived on the outskirts of Tallahassee.
“How do you go to Leon, living all the way out in Quincy?”
“We use my aunt’s address so I can go to a better school.” She replied, keeping her eyes on her chubby hands. “That was the school my mom went to.”
“Do you live with your dad and mom?”
“Just my dad and nana.” She said keeping her eyes down.
“Where’s your mom?”
“She died when I was a baby.”
After that, the silence in the car could’ve been cut with a knife, but I wasn’t about to let Kiara off the hook the easily. She had some explaining to do and, most of all; she had some realizing to do. I knew she wasn’t a stupid girl, her test scores were always the highest in the class and she was definitely one of the smartest students I’d ever taught.
As we got onto the interstate I looked over at Kiara, who was watching the trees move by, and I cleared my throat, to get her attention.
When she finally looked over at me, it wasn’t long before her head was in her hands and she was weeping loudly.
“What happened? Why were you stealing things?”
Kiara took a moment to think about her answer and, through gasps for air; she tried to explain everything to me.
“I…I’m just tired of them not liking me. They keep saying I’m a goody-two-shoes, just ‘cause I won’t do things that they don’t do.” She said shaking her head and shutting her eyes.
I listened closely, all the while trying to keep my eyes on her and road.
“They have sex. I don’t. They do drugs. I don’t. They steal things. I don’t. So, when Portia Bradley told me that I could hang with her and her girls, I was ready to do whatever to be down.” She said slowing down
“You stole just so a bunch of girls would like you?”
She shook her head silently and continued with her story.
“I was just tired of being different from them. I just wanted them to like me.” She said sounding eerily similar to someone else I knew.
I kept quiet as I thought how strange it was that a 16 year old girl and a 26 year old teacher were experiencing the same emotional roller coasters.
“So, they took me to the mall and we were all in Macy’s and Portia put one thing in her purse and the other girls’ did the same thing. When I got scared, and said I wasn’t doing it, they made fun of me Ms. Washington; so I did what they did, hoping it’d get them to like me.” She said as tears streamed down her cheeks.
“And that’s when you got caught?” I asked curiously.
“No, well, not exactly. I went back, after Portia and the girls had already got on the bus to go home, and I tried to put the things back. That’s when the guy saw me and said he’d caught me stealing.” She said in disbelief. “I did, but I was trying to put it back!” Kiara cried.
I instantaneously knew I was right about Kiara; she was a good kid with the best of intentions but wrong guidance.
“You shouldn’t have to make anyone be your friend.” I said reflecting on my own words.
“I know but…” Kiara said cutting me off.
I put my hand up and let her know I wasn’t finished talking.
“I just want you to listen to me, okay?” I said raising an eyebrow as Kiara nodded her head in agreement.
“When I was 16, I went to juvie.” I said taking a deep breath as I prepared to share a secret with a little girl that I barely knew beyond her test scores and cute face.
Kiara’s eyes widened as she studied my facial features to figure out if I was serious. When I didn’t crack a smile, she sat back in her seat with her mouth open. I was sure she was thinking, “How did my square teacher get in juvie?”
I would’ve been thinking the same exact thing. How did the same teacher who wore loafers and cardigan sweaters happen to be a bad ass in her former life?
“I’ve never really had a lot of friends and I’ve tried so hard to be that girl that has a lot of followers; but that’s just not me.” I said out loud. “But, when I was a junior in high school one of the “cool” senior girls started being really nice to me and I was so excited. I’d go to school everyday hoping that she’d ask me to do something cool with her and when she did, I jumped at the chance. Granted it was just to go to the mall and hang out, but it was something.” I said smiling, as I remembered that day vividly.
“And when we got there it was like she was my best friend. I thought I had finally arrived. I strutted around that mall like I was the queen of it. You couldn’t tell me I wasn’t running things.” I said laughing, as Kiara chuckled a little bit too.
“So when she asked me to hold her backpack, I didn’t think anything of it. We went from store to store and each time we’d leave a store, she’d tell me she needed to get something from her backpack; then give it back to me when she was through. So we went into this record store and when I walked in-with her backpack on my shoulder-the alarms started sounding off and I was looking around confused. Before I could turn around and ask my new “BFF” what was going on, she was bolting out of the mall, leaving me standing in the arms of mall security.”
“Dag, that’s messed up.” Kiara said burrowing her eyebrows “She didn’t even stick around and take the heat with you? But you didn’t steal.”
“But security wasn’t trying to hear that and I ended up have to do community service and pay restitution to all the stores that the girl had stolen from.”
Kiara sat in silence, probably thinking how lucky she was that someone had stepped in and saved her from those same consequences, as she bit her bottom lip while contemplating her next question.
“Did the girl ever apologize?” Kiara asked raising her eyebrows in curiosity.
“You know what? That girl never looked at me again after that day; she had the nerve to blame me for getting caught.” I said as I shook my head.
“That’s messed up.”
“But you know what I realized?” I asked as we pulled off on her exit “I wasn’t that girl that was going to do illegal things for friends.” I said peering over to her as she soaked up what I was telling her.
“Me either, Ms. Washington.”
“Even though I still struggle with not having a lot of friends, I know my limits.” I said not looking at Kiara in her face. “And if I don’t, I learn quickly.”
“What do you mean, Ms. Washington? You’ve got friends. Mr. Beagle- the English teacher- is always really nice to you and Ms. Proctor- the lady in the cafeteria- always says what a nice lady you are.” Kiara said counting on her fingers. “And what about Principal Tucker?”
Kiara was absolutely right and, despite my thoughts that I didn’t have any friends, I realized I’d been blocking people out of my life because they didn’t meet my standards of cool friends; the exact things Tamia and other children, growing up, had always done to me.
I’d always had an ideal of how my cool friends would look. They’d be beautifully proportioned, wear trendy clothes, drive fancy cars and be the talk of the town. It never dawned on me that my cool friends might have come in a beat-up Volvo wearing baggy khakis and polo shirts- like Mr. Beagle.
I took a deep gulp and bit my bottom lip before starting to smirk.
In an effort to get more friends, I’d changed who I was completely, and I hadn’t even noticed it. It took a shy, chubby, mini-me to shine a light on the insecurities that had plagued me since I was a child.
“Don’t ever change who you are for anyone, Kiara. Losing your soul, and everything you believe in, isn’t worth a few moments of fun or coolness. Everyone in high school is blending in, trying to be just like everybody else. You don’t have to blend in like them. Blend out, honey. Be proud to blend out.” I begged her.
I could tell my talk with Kiara wasn’t one that I had with most of my students; you know, in one ear and out the other. Kiara was absorbing everything that I was saying and I really appreciated her for that.
“As a teenager, I wish someone would’ve told me the things I know now and had to learn the hard way.” I said as Kiara pointed towards a street for me to turn down.
“Don’t be in such a rush to grow-up, life isn’t going anywhere. I still think about what people will remember me for when I’m gone. I hope, to God, it’s not because I was rushing to jump into a world that I’m now having trouble maneuvering through.” I said cautiously as I continued. “I wish I would’ve slowed down on my quest to be an adult.”
“Laugh off the things people say to you, just because you’re different, and embrace the fact that you’re not like them. Trust me, the older you get the more you blend into the crowd; now’s your chance to blend out. And I know nothing I’m telling you can stop all the mistakes you’re going to make in your life, but just know that some things you can avoid.” I said as I slowed down in front of Kiara’s house.
We sat silent in the car for a few minutes, watching little kids run up and down the shabby street, before Kiara looked at me-with tears in her eyes- and wrapped her arms around my neck.
“Thank you” she whispered.
During my training as a teacher, they taught us to never get too close to a student because you never want to risk a lawsuit; but that day, I wasn’t her teacher and I wasn’t a liability of the Leon County School system. Instead, I was her friend; I had risked a lot to give her another shot at finding her way.
Kiara stood outside of the passenger side door, searching for something to say.
“I’ll see you in sixth period on Monday.” I said winking, as I put my car in drive, just as Kiara held up her hand for me to stop.
“Ms. Washington, you are cool.” She smiled widely, before running off towards her house.
Re-living my pain brought the realization that I was cool all along.
Just like beauty, it was simply in the eye of the beholder.