I had the misfortune, once, of making friends with a sort of “universally” beautiful girl. By the end I was exhausted and bitter and she was frustrated and without much to talk about. She was beautiful, I suppose. I won’t dispute that, but anybody could happen upon being beautiful— I didn’t admire her for her Elizabeth Taylor a la National Velvet resemblance, but for her self-reliance and the way she could groom a horse or swim in a dirty pond like it was a swimming pool. She could drive a truck when she was 12 and eat more ice cream than a grown man and knew all the words to Oklahoma! She was funny and sweet and could play pretend with abandon or put on eyeliner to play spin the bottle. We were 13.
And then she became “the pretty one” and everyone ruined it, because soon we were plucking our eyebrows, bleaching mustaches and wondering whether people was going to notice just how pretty she was. I wondered because I dreaded being the friend of the pretty one, and I think she just became programmed to wonder. People say something enough; you wonder when exactly they’ll say it. If they don’t, you wonder why and if they do you wonder when they’ll say it, and how and why it matters. It’s distracting, to say the least.
Even my own family couldn’t stop themselves from bringing it up, and in turn, I looked like the “sour grape,” my mother said I was when I covered my ears and said “stop saying how pretty she is!”
After a while I couldn’t say a nice thing about her because I knew other people would. And when I asked people to stop talking to me about my beautiful friend, they all shook their heads and called me jealous. I’m not ruling that out. I’d like to be pretty as much as the next girl. Maybe more—it’s certainly helpful. But nobody would ever completely understand what they did to that girl. They ruined her entirely. She became nothing but pretty—all those other things got lost because we couldn’t get past her face. The analysis of beauty trumped any other conversation piece we could come up with.
Even now, I look back on old photos, and I can’t even feel whether it hurts or not that I don’t know her. I just stare at her eyes and her hair and find myself stuck in that same stupid maze, trying to dissect her face and find out where the “pretty” is, exactly, trying to divide her face into symmetrical pieces and wondering if she’ll age well.