Sunday, November 08, 2009

Jackson. It is what it is.

I finally got a chance to read The Help this week. Kathryn is my big brother's age. They went to school together from kindergarten until the 12th grade. So many of us in Jackson did. First Presbyterian Day School followed by Prep. I swear, Jackson, Mississippi could put out it's own version of the game Life.

The book was great, I thought. What struck me the most though, was the very end, where Kathryn talks about why she wrote the book. She talked about the woman who helped raise her - her family's own help.

It makes sense. I don't know anyone who didn't have a maid growing up, or at least not that I can remember. And when First Presbyterian Day School arranged for the kids who lived out further in the new part of town to ride the city bus to the Colonial Country Club to be picked up by our moms? We shared those buses with the domestic help. The women who spent their days in the homes of Northeast Jackson taking care of white families and their evenings on the other side of Woodrow Wilson taking care of their own families.

But Kathryn set the book in the 1960's. Not in the 1980's, when we were growing up in Jackson.

I'm certainly not saying that it was the same in the '80's as it was in the '60's. But it wasn't as different as someone who didn't grow up there would imagine it would be. It was the same enough for me to be caught blushing with shame at identifying too well at times throughout the book.

There is something else that I associate with Jackson. It's probably not inherent to the place, but having been gone from there for over a decade now, it seems unique to the local to me. I have so much more confidence here in Raleigh. The mean girls just seemed meaner there.

The way the circles of friendships revolved around who your parents were and the Junior League made it impossible for lines to be crossed. I know I've mentioned before how I derailed my own track to debutante when I found out my best friend wasn't even allowed to utter the word because she was Jewish.

My father has never looked so relieved and yet altogether disappointed in the same expression as when I told him that I didn't want him to pursue it further. I think it was the moment he realized that I had no intentions of staying in Jackson.

Like Kathryn said though, I'm allowed to say whatever I want to about it. It's backwards, it bears bitter bitter fruit. It will never be as important as it thinks it is. I can talk some smack about Jackson, but don't you dare try. It's wonderful and quirky and full of surprises.

I've received multiple suggestions lately that I friend a woman named Mary Katherine on Facebook. I will do no such thing. Kevin can't believe that I can hold a grudge for 23 years. I disagree that it's a grudge.

In seventh grade, I was one of the last girls to figure out that you didn't get to just be nice to everyone, regardless of what they wore, what they looked like, or who they hung out with. As a result, after being burned a few times, and having the world's meanest carpool (seriously, Facebook, don't even think of recommending those girls), I just started being generally harsh on the outside. Protection measures, you know.

Anyway, one day before the Great Wall of Teenagedom went up, I passed Mary Katherine in the hallway. She was tall and gangly. Her hair was brillo pad curly, and I don't think I have ever seen her smile without sneering. She was on my ironic list of kids I felt sorry for. Ironic because I was so far down on the food chain, pity from me inspired ire in people.

"Hi, Kacky!" I smiled as she approached.

"My name is Mary Katherine," she hissed, cutting her eyes to see if anyone was watching her speak to me.

"Oh. I thought your friends called you 'Kacky,' I'm sorry." I thought I had made a mistake. We hadn't gone to elementary school together, so I didn't know her well.

"My friends do." she tossed over her shoulder at me.

I couldn't tell anyone why I hated her so much because it was too humiliating. I just made sure never to sit near her or hang with any of her friends and generally avoided any situation where I would have to be in her presence. Not an easy task in a school our size.

It's not like that one incident gave me reason to hold a grudge for 23 years really. She just never changed towards me. She never gave me any reason not to feel differently about her. For six years, all I saw was that sneer, and her walking in the back of her crowd most of the time. Like she was just following along. Like the moms were orchestrating the friendships and her mom just had the right clout to make sure she had the right friends.

In all honesty, I continued to feel sorry for her. But I would be damned if I ever put myself out there for her to spit on ever again.

So it's not really a grudge, it's just that old protection mechanism that's urging me to not only not friend her on Facebook, but to just block her and continue to pretend like it's a happy slappy world without people as mean as she was in it. Besides, I can guarantee that she doesn't care about being Facebook friends with me.

Of course, the grown up in me knows that is ridiculous. I'm sure she is a nice person, and I just never got the chance to see it. I don't imagine I ever will either because I'm not willing to try. That's really kind of sad.