A man much wiser than myself once said, “Happiness is a caustic condition that compels us to look for things outside ourselves in order to achieve and maintain it.”
My Olive looked for it in a friendship that had passed her by, one she was having a hard time letting go of.
“It’s like a part of me is gone too, mom,” she said. Olive was only fifteen, and the realization that life had plenty of rough edges was just beginning to take hold.
I could see in her the woman she could become, one on the cusp of learning that sometimes life can feed you a shit sandwich, and it’s your duty to swallow it down as best as you can, because believe it or not, there’s a good lesson to be learned.
My Olive is a sweet girl, sensitive, creative, all those wonderful things parents say about their kids, but of course in my case, they’re actually true. She wears a tough exterior, but inside she is as soft and tender as a kid can be, so much more than she lets on.
Olive and Trish met in utero when Trish’s mother and I were pregnant. And for most of their early childhood, they were inseparable.
But their friendship began to fade, the way some friendships do, but Olive never understood why.
Now, this is the hard part of My Olive’s story. The part where she calls Trish and Trish never calls back. Where she mails her letters and gets none in return. Where she sends several Facebook messages, only to hear back weeks later, after seeing all the fun pictures of Trish with other, more “worthy” friends.
Now, you might say, Old Olive should just move on, and I get that. But it isn’t easy for her, not at fifteen. When you’re a teenager, every problem seems like the worst life has to offer, and it’s a mistake for adults to discount the enormity of what they’re feeling, whether we understand it or not.
My heart breaks for her, but there’s nothing I can do except be there when she needs me.
Olive sat, looking forlornly at Trish’s Facebook page, lost in the fairy tale that this social networking site can be. Where everyone else’s life seems better than yours. Where you’re bombarded with endless posts of happy family portraits, vacation photos, and the news that someone’s child got the best grades in the history of grades. It’s the one place where we can control how the rest of the world sees us.
“Seems like Trish is doing well,” Olive said.
Trish, who moved away a few months before, was in town visiting friends and didn’t bother telling Olive.
“It’s best not to have any expectations when it comes to Trish,” I said, frustrated at how My Olive was being treated.
She nodded and went back to Trish’s picture perfect Facebook life.
Billie Odell was sixteen, a year older than My Olive, but miles apart in every other way. They met in English class when Billie told their teacher that “the Hobbit was a second rate kiddie book that didn’t have the depth of The Stand by Stephen King.”
Olive stared at her in disbelief, not only because she thought the same thing, but because Billie had the nerve to say it out loud—when the teacher was just singing the praises of the Tolkien classic.
Billie Odell had blue hair, a tattoo of a skull on the underside of her right forearm, and a rose on her left shoulder. Her nails were bitten down to the stubs, and heavily ladened with black fingernail polish. She was a cliché in a black t-shirt spray painted with “Teenage Wasteland” across the front.
“Mom, this is Billie,” Olive said one day walking into the kitchen after school.
I hope I had my game face on because Billie was not the friend I expected that day, or any other for that matter.
“Hello, Billie, nice to meet you,” I said.
“You too, Mrs. Dupree. You got a cool kid here,” she said a little nervously, shifting from one leg to the next.
“I’d have to agree,” I said, and Billie laughed.
“That’s funny, Mrs. Dupree.”
“Don’t encourage her,” Olive said. “She’ll end up telling you all of her corny jokes.”
Then she and Billie made popcorn and went into the TV room to watch YouTube videos.
The next night Billie came over for dinner. I talked to her mom on the phone and detected a slight southern drawl as she said, “Thanks bunches for inviting My Billie to dinner. She’s just over the moon about Olive.”
Billie was wearing a pretty little pink top and a fresh pair of jeans, and her blue hair was cut neatly into a Joan Jet-styled hairdo. She was holding a cake tin. “My mom makes the best lemon cake on the planet,” Billie smiled, and it looked beautiful on her.
Dinner was nice, and Olive, her two younger sisters, and Billie went into the TV room afterward to play scrabble and watch, of all things, My Little Pony.
“You’re doing all the giving, and none of the getting,” Billie told Olive after she sent Trish a third text when the first two were ignored.
“Can you believe she said that, mom?” Olive asked after telling me about their conversation.
“Well, do you think Billie’s right?” I asked, not wanting to remind her that I’d said that very same thing, at least a dozen times.
Olive was quiet for a few moments, then said, “I think she is.”
My Olive began to change after that. It was slow going, but there was progress nonetheless. She saw what friendship was supposed to look like with Billie, and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t that way with Trish at all.
Olive had come to accept that the closeness she once shared with Trish wasn’t there any longer, and she ceased acting so desperate. Their relationship morphed into something new, and things began to change for the better. Olive received a few birthday cards on occasion from Trish and even got a letter or two on a semi-regular basis.
Olive and Billie became very close. They learned how to be friends the hard way, by working at it. They fought and made up, but it was an honest friendship in a way it never was with Trish.
I could end the story here and tell you that Olive and Billie remained the best bosom friends forever—that would be nice, wouldn’t it?
But that didn’t happen. Their friendship changed as well, but it was an amicable shift. And still, on occasion, I might come home and find Olive and Billie in the TV room, eating popcorn and watching YouTube videos—like in those early days of their relationship.
Having waded through the waters of that caustic condition known as happiness, My Olive came out on the other end healthier, and yes, happier.