One of the prompts from Cricket’s Slice Of Life this week is jealousy.
Reminded me of a time in my life when the green-eyed monster reared its ugly head on a regular basis.
Her name was Lisa Marshall. We were both 16 and she was head of the most popular clique at school. I was one of those kids who tried to outrun the cliques by not allowing myself to be categorised. I had friends from all the cliques – the Geeks, the Nerds, the Jocks, the A-listers, the B-listers in an attempt to remain as broad-minded as possible but it became difficult with Lisa Marshall at my heels, not to become pigeon-holed.
Lisa had everything. She was the first person I knew who got dropped off at school in a Mercedes. This was in Sydney in the late 1970s in the suburbs where everyone drove Aussie cars like Chargers and Toranas. That car immediately provided her with a mystique the rest of us couldn’t hope to attain. As well as the fact her father was a doctor with his own practice and her mother was a model on a gameshow.
Lisa was pretty in a blonde, sun-kissed, soft-pink lip gloss way. She had a Farrah Fawcett haircut and a silver choker with her name on it. She had a tan year round (in the days before tanning salons) and wore real French perfume which she dabbed on her wrists ceremoniously at lunchtime.
It all began with a swimming race. I made the swim team by beating Lisa’s time on the hundred metres freestyle – a record that hadn’t been beaten for four years. It was a complete fluke because normally I am not that fast but I went for it because if I made the team I wouldn’t need to do double maths on Wednesday afternoon. When the rest of the team found out I had beaten her time there was silence. Not one of them looked me in the eye. The coach was excited and slightly petulant that it had taken me four years to try out for the team. He thought he had a new swim star. What he didn’t know was that I could outswim Aquaman if it meant missing double maths.
It didn’t take long for Lisa’s barrage of assaults to begin. In one week we had three swimming carnivals. As Captain of the team it was up to her to decide who raced and who sat on the bench. I spent carnival after carnival sitting on the bench. She also began to pick on me and my friends – the usual stuff, snide comments, stealing things from our desks, spreading rumours, setting us up to look like fools. She got away with these things with ease. As people sniggered at us her popularity grew and my resentment of her increased.
A campaign began for the position of School Captain for the following year. One girl. One boy. Scott Peterson, the all round nice guy and crowd pleaser was elected as the male Captain and predictably, Lisa was elected as the female Captain, beating me by a mere 25 votes, votes she had gained by crossing the palms of people who I thought were my friends with silver. The silver in this case was a promise of an invite to her end of year party, the glory and ostentation of which had become school legend. I was peeved. There were only so many times I could smile and nod, teeth clenched when someone said:’Isn’t it great about Lisa?’ I was annoyed. I was jealous.
The year continued. Lisa carried on with her run as golden girl in full technicolour, leaving a throng of casualties in her wake. I was drowning in self-pity, devalued, dizzy with wishing for things that could never be.
Lisa’s end of year party came round. Everyone was invited except for me, Mel and our buddy Indigo who had made a point of standing up to Lisa several times. Even our friend Jules went to the party, much to our disgust. Mel lived across the road from Lisa so we sat on Mel’s balcony eating pizza and picking the party to bits, out of sorts and jealous of everyone who stepped through Lisa’s front door. I remember feeling particularly annoyed for Mel because she and Lisa used to be friends. They had known each other since they were two and used to dress up as ballerinas and dance on the lawn.
For weeks afterwards people raved about Lisa’s party. Cool. Brilliant. Amazing and one hundred other adjectives filled the air, falling around our heads like flecks of torn paper. Some people were apologetic that they had gone to the party and we hadn’t, others treated us like the losers we thought we were.
Then one day everything changed. Mel and I were smoking menthol cigarettes in the girls bathroom, (well, Mel was smoking while I kept watch) the rarely used one that looked over the sports fields, when Lisa climbed in through the window near the sinks.
‘I thought you two were in here,’ she said. ‘I need your help.’
‘You need our help,’ said Mel. ‘You with your four hundred thousand friends. Little Miss Popularity. Why the hell do you need our help? And why should we even considering helping you after everything you’ve done to us?’
‘Because I’m in trouble. Big trouble. And I know you two. You’re kind and you sort things out for people. And I thought that maybe you might sort things out for me.’ She began to cry.
Mel began to get mad. ‘This is some kind of ruse, isn’t it? Another one of your sick jokes to makes us look ridiculous. Well, you can forget it. We’re not going to fall for it.’
Lisa continued to cry.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.
‘I think I might be pregnant,’ she said.
‘A bitch and a slut to boot,’ Mel said. ‘Who’s the father – Scott Peterson?’
‘A friend of my father’s. Edward. He’s 45.’
‘Did he rape you?’ I asked.
‘No,’ Lisa said. ‘But I was fooling around. Flirting. I could see it was affecting him and I knew I should have stopped but I couldn’t. So I had to give him what he wanted. Just like all the others.’
‘How many others have there been?’ Mel was rolling her eyes.
‘I don’t mean other men,’ Lisa said. ‘I mean all the kids at school. I have to give them what they want on a regular basis. The taunts, the belittling, the cruelty. They’ve come to expect it of me. And if I don’t deliver who knows what they might think of me.’
‘If you don’t deliver they might actually think you’re human,’ Mel said.
‘I need you to buy me a pregnancy test,’ Lisa said. ‘I can’t do it. Someone will tell my mother if they see me. I’ll never hear the end of it. Please help me.’
‘OK, I’ll do it,’ I said. ‘Meet us at Mel’s place after school.’
The test was negative. Lisa cried for half an hour in great, choking sobs. At the end of it she hugged us both, tightly, the way people do who are never going to see each other again. Then she left. We had one year left of school, a long year, a tough year, during which she didn’t speak to us at all. Not once. But she left us alone. She was kinder to people. Thoughtful. She raised money for children in Africa and for abandoned dogs. It was as if she had actually become human. Her attitude towards us changed, just like that. Overnight the tormenting and the ridiculing stopped. And so did the jealousy, dissolving quickly until we could hardly recall it ever being there at all.