Realistic fiction would have you believe there are no happy people out there. Everyone has suffered some deeply traumatic experience in their childhood, been hated by their parents, been abused, been bullied, been abandoned. Everyone has scars to cope with, however well they hide them and however they think they’ve gotten over them. No one is exempt, not by their age or social station, not by their kindness or by their pride.
It’s not true, though. Some people are perfectly happy. Not all less-than-perfect childhoods are the source of Deep Scars. I know I’m only eighteen and thus still young enough for a Defining Traumatic Experience to hit me, but most characters have suffered one or more by this age. I haven’t. Sure, I sucked at making friends and was teased mercilessly through all of middle school, but I didn’t really mind the teasing and I’ve learned to make friends. My parents are not only loving and fair, they also treat me like a person and always have, listening to what I have to say and never just ordering me around. I may not have had many friends when I was younger, but I valued the ones I had. I lived through a thousand adventures in a thousand worlds and learned all there was to learn from them, and far from losing track of reality, all those adventures have only grounded me more firmly.
On the second morning of the Harry Potter marathon, Ripple, Taz and I talked about our childhood schoolmates. Or rather, Taz and I talked while Ripple listened. Taz told us about the unpleasant people in his previous classes; I told them about my not-quite-as-unpleasant peers in middle school. Both of us remarked on why this group of Mao-people was so exceptionally special to us. Ripple was silent.
I have three theories as to why: she’s a very private person who would rather not share; she has her own dark experiences which are beyond anything Taz and I ever went through, and which she didn’t want to bring into the light; or she’s always been a reasonably normal, well-adjusted girl with lots of friends, who’s never gone through anything even close to real bullying, and she felt awkward saying so.
The first of those I believe is true regardless of anything else: she doesn’t go around blurting out her past to whoever will listen like I do (or like Taz, for that matter). As for the rest – from what I know of her, I think it’s more likely that she grew up happy and with plenty of friendship about her. I don’t think I’m being more optimistic than realistic in this assessment, either. I hope I’m being accurate, too, because I’m a protective person and I hate it when my friends have been unhappy.
Anyway. Point is, what with hearing about how insufferable our former classmates had been, I think Ripple probably felt awkward, worried, and maybe a bit shocked by our tales of woe. When I heard that Squiggle had gotten into fights – actual, violent physical altercations, in the plural – I was stunned. I was blown away. In the world I inhabit, this simply does not happen. I think something similar may have been going through Ripple’s mind as Taz and I compared bullies. Perhaps this was awful and unbelievable to her. Perhaps she thinks we’re tragically damaged now.
Truth is, in my case at least, I consider the whole experience to have been useful, educational, and wicked fun. It honed my wit and taught me how to understand social groups in an almost instinctive way, at least in regards to who was friends with whom and where I fit into the structure. I never found it anything more than infuriating, even at the worst of times – none of the people who taunted me was ever important enough to actually hurt me. So Ripple has nothing to worry about on my account. Taz, on the other hand – well, one of the advantages of being a girl is that people don’t hit you. If they do, you can scream like a baby without blemish to your honor. (Dignity, maybe, but not honor.) Eventually Taz got so enormously tall that people stopped messing around with him, but even being this tall, he’s not a violent person. I think he’d put up with a lot before lashing out, and that’s not always a good thing. And I think I took it all better than he did, mostly because I was older when it started. So maybe Taz’ story isn’t as carefree as mine, and maybe he’s not as confident as I am after it all, but I think he’s turned out well enough even so.
I wanted to tell Ripple not to worry, that we were fine. I also wanted to tell her that she was allowed to have been happy. We wouldn’t have been angry or jealous or anything silly like that – we’d be happy for her, that’s all. I didn’t want to pry, in case I was wrong and she really does have some horrible Dark Trauma lurking in her past, but now I see I should have just gone ahead and said it. If I’d been wrong, she’d have answered with some meaningless piece of nothing and we’d have moved on, but if I’d been right, I might have been able to make her feel easier. I try to make a point of not poking my nose into people’s business, but sometimes silence isn’t as golden as it’s cracked up to be.
The other thing she might have been worried about was how Taz and I both kind of painted these Mao-people as pretty much the only real friends we’d ever had. That’s not true, in my case at least, but this is the first time that I’ve fit so seamlessly into a group. It’s to be expected that I’d be rather enthusiastic about it. That’s probably not the way Ripple sees it, though – this won’t be the first time for her, and she probably has other friends that she values as highly as us or more. Perhaps she feels guilty for that sentiment, now that she sees how important this is to us. Perhaps she thinks she’s betraying us by not caring as much as we do.
She’s not. She shouldn’t feel that way. If she’d told us this it would have been a bit hard to hear, but in the end it’s fine. She’s allowed to have friends, after all. If we held that against her, we would ourselves be unworthy of her friendship.
If I’m wrong about Ripple and she was just quiet because she’s a private person, well and good. (If I’m wrong and she has a terrible secret in her past, well, I’m probably going to be furious and depressed when I hear about it, but I refuse to expect it.) If I’m right and she felt scandalized and awkward as we told our stories, then I should have told her that she doesn’t have to. She doesn’t have to worry and she doesn’t have to feel embarrassed of her own happiness.
Your friends don’t have to be just like you. They don’t have to have a similar past or all the same interests. People don’t have to have gone through what you’ve gone through in order to understand you or stand by you. Friendship usually rests on a similar outlook on life and a fondness for and understanding of each other; everything else is extra.