When I was in high school two of my best friends were Katie and Crysten. Katie was tall and blonde and had these giant blue eyes and this amazing voice and was just the spunkiest person you would ever meet. She was the bright spot in all the rooms she entered, with her jokes and big smiles and not ever knowing someone that wasn’t immediately her friend. And Crysten was smaller, had darker hair and lighter eyes, full of so much love and warmth and compassion. Crysten would cry over anything, always willing to sit and listen to a broken heart, the kind of person with no qualms about putting a hand on your shoulder when you needed a reminder that you weren’t alone and crazy by yourself in high school. She’d reach out to touch strangers, loved everyone as if they were her own family.
And then there was me. Somewhere between the two, with a little of both the spunk and lights and the warm cup of tea for an aching heart. And physically too, since I was shorter than Katie and taller than Crysten. Darker hair than Katie, lighter than Crysten. For a generous portion of our junior and senior years we were inseparable, together in the school lobby before class, walking downstairs to our lockers and our studies (downstairs because our high school was built in a Cold War era bomb shelter). We did obnoxious bff things like kissing one another on the cheek before leaving for classes and playing the painful boob slapping games that most high school girls play, whether to attract the attention of boys or to just be annoying I’m not really sure now. We lead the youth group together, surely formidable in our fervor for Jesus.
One day we were talking about our dream cars, the cars that we felt like would most adequately represent who we were at our cores. Katie said she wanted a bright red Jeep Cherokee with no top and cow print seats. Crysten wanted a monstrous truck with a lift kit, the kind she’d probably have to use a step ladder to get into. And when I imagined it, I could totally see them driving those cars around, being fabulously who they were, their identities so established that even their cars exuded Katie-ness and Crysten-ness. And then it was my turn, my turn to decide what kind of car would reflect my soul and I faced the terrifying vacuous space in the front of my brain, the one that pops up every so often when I am asked a big revelatory question about my deepest self and leaves me simultaneously pissed off and panicked because OH MY GOD IF I DON’T GIVE THE RIGHT ANSWER THEY WON’T LOVE ME ANYMORE! So I floundered a second and then popped off with some answer I don’t even remember. And do you know what their response was? After considerable thought, mind you, Katie and Crysten determined that the best car I could possibly have, the car that in their wildest imaginations would most accurately depict the kind of person I was, that shiny core inside of me reflected in a hunk of metal and machinery. They decided that car was none other than the car I was currently driving: the ubiquitous blue 1998 Honda Civic.
You know this car, even if you don’t realize it. It is the car you see in droves, everywhere. Literally, there are freaky numbers of this exact car, it is entirely without character or excitement or mystique. And pffffffff…….with that tiny declaration, that my deep hidden self would be best reflected in that bastard little un-cool car, with its stick shift and windows you had to crank down yourself, the one that lacked even a semblance of character. Yep! That’s the one that you are, Sadie.
And no, Katie and Crysten meant nothing by it. In fact, the actual conversation went something like this: What’s your dream car? Mine is a bright red Jeep with cow seats. I could totally see myself in one. And Sadie, your car just seems to fit you well already.
The conversation was inocuous. But even inocuous conversations, once inserted into my scary wooden roller coaster of a mind, become epically important determinations of character. So I couldn’t let this car thing go. We went to lunch afterward and ate cookies and cheetos and jabbered on about who knows what, but I still thought about it, and the idea that I was nothing special, not a red cow seated jeep, and not an inconveniently large truck, just a little blue manual transmission speck. In fact, several years later I adopted Katie’s dream car as my own, taking on this skin of red and cow print and trying to make it fit my frame. And even though I was constantly tugging at the seams and hems that bunched and hung down awkwardly, I tried to wear this idea that I was a red cow jeep driving kind of girl. And even though it is absurd that I would take this tiny conversation and blow it up into an assessment of my soul and worth, it bothered me for years (obviously, since I am even telling this story now). Because even though the girls meant nothing by it and probably never thought that I would take the car thing so seriously, so pathologically, I took the words and wrapped them tightly up inside me and kept them there, nursing and cajoling and caring for those words like they were my own children, morphing them and allowing them to grow into ideas, into full-fledged theories about who I am as a person. Its not about the car, of course, it is about the idea behind the car, the possibility that my fears are true, I am nothing special. And even worse than that, because hey, I can live for a long time with the knowledge that I am nothing special, but I cannot live with the possibility that other people know this too.
These people see right through me.