Chapter 38 - Pedaling Toward Self Confidence

Margaret Conners was a math prodigy, had learned to read at two, and wrote perfect essays. She was poised and sure of herself, and by the sheer intensity of her confidence she convinced me that she knew what she was talking about. Her wavy blond hair bounced when she walked, and her clothes were always neat.

Margaret was everything I wasn’t. I disliked math, thank-you notes were the extent of my writing career, and my brown hair was straight, plain, and anything but bouncy. At eleven I was still grasping for that elusive thing called self-confidence.

But despite our differences, we became friends. We did share some hobbies, and things worked okay while we were both young enough to have a friendship based on common interests, not shared values. Besides, my relationship with my best friend was in a drifting-apart phase, our new house in the suburbs was far from everything, and I was lonely.

Because I was needy, when I was with Margaret I compromised. The games I wanted to play were often “silly,” so we’d play Margaret’s. My political opinions (mainly copied from my parents) didn’t jive with Margaret’s opinions (also copied from her parents), so I'd just give in after a while. The food my family ate was "weird," so instead of defending vegetarianism, I often listened silently to her sarcasm.

For all its flaws, our friendship might have muddled along for years more. But the summer we were thirteen there was the Incident at Lake Muskoday.

 

In August, Margaret arrived at our rented cabin with a week's worth of non-weird food.

For the first few days we did fine. We rode our bikes around the lake, slept outside in my tent, and did back dives off the raft down at the beach. Then Margaret met Jenny, the thirteen-year-old next door.

You would have thought they were long-lost best friends. When my mom called up and told us it was dinnertime, Margaret said, “Just save mine for later. I don’t wanna go back now.” The next night, Margaret suggested that we have a sleepover with Jenny in the tent.

“Cool!” I said. But there was one problem: our tents were too small for three.

“Oh, that’s okay,” Margaret assured me. “Jenny and I can sleep in the red one, and you can sleep in the other.” I was quiet, because I didn’t want Margaret to see that she had hurt me. I didn't want her to see how much I craved acceptance and friends my age.

 

On the last day of her visit, we went down to the lake. But ever since Margaret met Jenny, she didn’t like to go in. The bottom was too mucky, they agreed, and they preferred to sit on the dock or float on our large inner tube. Today they were floating, and, exasperated that they wouldn't come swimming, I finally climbed on too.

Inner tubes are finicky things, and the next moment, there was a splash! as I unbalanced the tube. Margaret and Jenny were shrieking about the mucky bottom.

Sa-ra!” Margaret said angrily. “You knew we didn’t want to get wet! That was all your fault. The tube’s too small for three!”

I knew that six people had crowded onto the tube the day before, but I didn’t mention that. I said, “I guess you don’t want there to be room for me,” and I walked home, crying bitter tears when I was out of their sight.

 

“I’m sorry I made you upset,” Margaret said insincerely as she said goodbye that afternoon. I knew, while she continued on to say Thank You for Such a Nice Week, that she wasn’t really sorry. When I came home that summer, I didn’t call her. For three years I’d been accepting her put-downs. Three years was long enough.

As I entered my teens, I made true friendships that were much more wonderful and real than Margaret’s and mine had been. By seventeen I’d come a long way from the eleven-year-old who just wanted friends—any friends.

But I wanted to go farther than that.

Before my trip, in late January 1997, I wrote in my journal:

 

…I need to be lonely, to live uncomfortably, to see this country in all its beauty and grossness. I feel like going away is what I need to do most right now. I need to meet different kinds of people who I can't meet at home, and interact with them even if it's hard.

 

What I meant was, I could stay in a sort-of-satisfactory rut at home—but I want to leave. Just like four years ago when I'd had the choice to stay in a sort-of-okay friendship, or move forward.

"In lots of cultures," I wrote in that January journal entry, "young people are initiated into adulthood with ceremonies that involve physical and emotional challenges. My culture does not offer me a rite-of-passage, so I will have to create it for myself."

In an all-too-human way, I wanted to prove to Margaret—who symbolized anyone who had made me doubt myself—that I could do something big and scary and wonderful. I wanted to prove that I wasn’t the shy, reserved girl I used to be.

I wanted to Come of Age.