Seeing Clearly

and-then-it-rained“…It’s her journey to find the strength within herself and become the person, the example to others, that she really wished Maya had been for her.”

–Amazon.com Reader Review of And Then It Rained

“I didn’t bring the chicken.”

My 20-year-old cousin Natalie, or my “big sister” as I often called her given our 5-year age gap, responded to my whisper with raised eyebrows, “you didn’t?”

“Nope… and I’m not even sorry about it.”

She walked away with a laugh while I pondered that statement. Was I really not sorry? I’d known Maya couldn’t eat red meat, which is why I’d grabbed chicken on my sisters and my store run (bike ride) in preparation for the cookout at my cousins’ farm that night. But given how mad at Maya I’d been when we’d left, I’d conveniently forgotten it in the fridge – why should I cater to her?

It was one of the most uncomfortable feelings I’d ever had – being mad at Maya. She was my idol, someone I looked up to more than anyone in the world. And I was mad at her?

Her 4-night stay with my sisters and me while my mom attended my uncle’s wedding in North Carolina had been great so far, and tonight would surely provide extra fun. For my sisters and me, it was a chance to hang with our cousins while all the parents were away. For 19-year-old Maya, she’d get to enjoy the farm for the first time, and also meet up with my cousin Connor, who she’d grown close with over the last couple months, particularly after her recent breakup. We were all so excited…

Until she showed up 3 hours late to pick us up.

I’d purposely made my frustration visible on the way there, so much so that I’d received a pointed “are you guys MAD at me?” several minutes into the car ride. And when I’d replied yes, saying it was because she’d been over 3 hours late, because she hadn’t even given us the courtesy of an update phone call (we’d been in touch with Natalie even to come get us), she’d blown up, responding that staying with us was doing my mom a favor and that we should appreciate her and take what we got.

Her reaction had floored me, so much so that I’d stayed silent until meeting up with Natalie upon our arrival to the already-bustling party. But I couldn’t shake the discomfort of being mad at this person I admired so much, and I really couldn’t stomach her being mad at me. So, after a few minutes, I pulled her aside and apologized. She thanked me and gave me a hug. From there?

June 5th, 1999. There was a time I planned on marking the 20-year anniversary of such a great night by driving back up to the farm – now with new owners – just to take in all the fun memories again: Connor and I taking Maya on a tractor ride, getting her to take the wheel and holding on for dear life as she did. Climbing to the top of the stacked hay bales with her in the big storage barn, running from a bat that swooped in at us while we were visiting the dairy cows.

Playing volleyball – 2 on 2, Maya and me on the same team. For 3 years I’d looked at Maya as a mentor in this sport, going to all of her games, partnering with her at the camps I took (to my delight, she’d always run up to me when the directive was given to partner with a younger player). Now, on this night, we were on the same team, setting each other up, cheering each other on.

We played 6 on 6 volleyball as well, with a group that included another cousin of mine who’d gone to high school with Maya. He’d told me before how much he didn’t like her, which made no sense to me. Most people I’d ever talked to about Maya seemed to look at her with at least a little of the admiration I did. She was beautiful, charismatic, and funny; exuding a magnetism that seemed to suck in those around her. When she got on the volleyball court that night, those qualities shined through, so much so that I gave my cousin a “see, told you so” look about halfway through.

He shrugged.

Finally, there was the end of the night. The chemistry between Maya and football-star Connor had been palpable since the moment I’d introduced them, and the events of the night had only seemed to expand on their attraction. For that reason, my sister singing “Blue Moon” at the top of her lungs while they said a very long goodbye to each other, had made us all – Maya included – laugh so hard we cried when she got back to the car.

So much good had happened that night, that for years, it was all I could remember about it. In fact the only thing I remembered about the bad stuff early in the night was that it had made the good that much more amazing to look back on. What I didn’t grasp, until very recently, was how much of what I saw early on in the night from Maya, became the very thing that drove our fallout in the end.

maya

A few days following that night began what I think of as the “coffee shop summer.” During what should’ve been the height of our so-called friendship — a point when we’d gotten closer during the course of several fun times together — I spent many days riding my bike to the coffee shop where Maya had taken a new job, and providing a listening ear as she told me how depressed she was, how things were going so wrong for her… sometimes for hours at a time. As she told me just days after our farm fun, she was going through so much, and the only way I knew how to help her was to listen. So I did.

Maya and I had a few more fun times that summer, ones that seemed to further emphasize a true friendship, but it is those talks – somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 over the course of 3 months – that made our fallout from the letter I gave her so devastating. I understood the length of the letter was crazy. My picture perfect memory of content about all the times she’d lifted me up was ridiculously over the top. And yet I felt like I deserved better than being ignored, avoided and lied to for nearly a year. All I’d ever done was try to help her.

And I got zero credit for it.

The very qualities of Maya’s that drew me idolize her so much, were the same ones that blinded me to the realization that she didn’t actually place any value on me. Everything about our connection to one another was always on her terms, and I just went along for the ride. Even in the rare instances when I’d questioned her treatment of me, even when someone else had suggested it to me, even when she’d told me herself, like saying on the night of our fallout, “Well, I’d have never lied like that to Paige or Chloe,” two of her closest friends, I hadn’t been able to fully accept that this image I had of her could be wrong.

I wanted someone I could admire and look up to. What I got instead was a lesson in understanding about how I deserved to be treated.

A teammate of mine on a project I’m directing said to me just last week, “you know what I admire in you, Megan? I mean, you demand so much from yourself, which I do as well, so of course I admire that. But… what’s different about you, what I want to learn for myself, is how you demand the same of those around you.”

Instead of driving back up to the farm on June 5th — besides not really wanting to, I now live out of state — I think maybe I’ll just look through the pictures. Ironically,  I have several good ones that showcase nearly all the good memories of that night. Even more ironically perhaps, the one of just me and Maya didn’t turn out. What I’d wanted at the time to be a great memory of me and my idol got damaged, and so when I look at the image, I only see blurriness.

But that night and the meaning behind it, I see now as clearly as ever.

Sarah pic

For more background on this story, look for  And Then It Rained.

Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.”

-Randy Fausch

 

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

-Maya Angelou

 

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