I remember the first time that Jennie Barrett invited me over to her house.
We had been in school together for years, Jennie and I. And obviously I knew a lot about her. She was dating one of the cutest boys and was a top player on the lacrosse and field hockey teams. She wandered the halls of our high school surrounded by a pack of girls with shiny straight hair and a practiced, catwalk look on their faces. I was all fidgety shirt adjustments and overflowing backpack. She was in most of my classes. She was smart but used a lot of those smarts to get what she wanted from other people.
Out of the blue one day, Jennie invited me over to her house after school. To work on a school project. Do I even need to tell you the rest of this story? You know how it goes. The nerdy straight A student gets invited over to the cool girl’s house. It’s pretty obvious what happens. But I’ll tell you anyway.
We started working on our history project. And by the end of the afternoon, I agreed to do almost the whole thing and share it with her. Happily. School work was my comfort zone. I was thrilled that she even asked. I thought maybe it meant I was valuable to Jennie and hopefully, her shiny haired friends.
As I was leaving, Jennie told me she liked my shoes. That she’d love to wear a pair like that. I smiled from the inside out. Then she asked to borrow them. That moment, so she could wear them to school tomorrow. So, I took my shoes off and handed them to Jennie at her front door. I walked to my car and drove home in my socks, my feet wet and slippery on the snowy winter day. So thrilled to be chosen by her for even the briefest of moments.
A week later, Jennie still had my shoes, and now she had a completed history project that earned an A. She still ignored me at school. I summoned the courage to walk over to the “cool” table at lunch, to ask for my shoes back. They’re my favorite pair. Please?
She looked over her shoulder at me without turning her whole body. Smiled at me. And she told me, oh, they’re in the back of my car. Why don’t you go get them? In one swift motion she bent down, grabbed her keys from her bag, and tossed them to me.
She continued her conversation with her friends.
Um, where is your car parked? I murmured, adjusting the straps on my backpack.
Oh, you know, on the road… her hand flicked a lazy direction toward nowhere and her eyes still faced her friends.
I decided that I had asked enough questions of Jennie already and I walked outside our high school. There were almost 600 kids in our senior class alone. Which meant there were several hundred parking spots. I wandered around outside in a panic, wondering if I would be late to my next class. My stomach rumbled as I realized I wouldn’t have enough time to eat lunch once I finally found her car.
And I understood.
Jennie asked me for the power in our relationship. To take what little agency I felt about myself and my life and give it to her immediately. And I was thrilled to give it to her. Because she asked. Then when I asked for it back, she told me to go find it on my own.
But she wasn’t wrong.
It wasn’t up to Jennie to tell me where to find my power, my confidence, or my choice.
It’s was up to me.
I could take back my own power at any time. I could make choices based upon my own best interests. If I decided it was worth it to put up with Jennie’s crap to be “cool” in some small way, that’s fine. If I like my reason.
Or I could blow her off if I didn’t enjoy being treated that way. I could choose that too. Because it felt right to me. That was a valid enough reason. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought.
I found her car and my shoes and sprinted back to the end of lunch period, in time to make it to my next class.
I’d love to embellish the story and tell you that I kept Jennie’s keys and made her come searching for me. But I didn’t. I handed them back to her. That’s the kind of person I am.
But I never approached that “cool” table or did Jennie’s homework again. I will admit I looked at it longingly from time to time. Back in high school, I didn’t have that kind of confidence in my own barometer yet. I don’t always have that kind of confidence today.
I often think of Jennie when I feel that tug to do something just because someone asks me.
I can feel honored to be picked by the coolest girl or the highest paying job or the cutest guy. But I can also choose not to choose them back. For any reason that I want. Anything that makes sense to me. It doesn’t matter what anyone else would choose or what the other person thinks.
Because I hold my own power. And I choose to never drive home in wet socks again.