Here’s the thing I find most annoying about undergoing personal change: Getting other people to realize it. Why do people who knew you during one period in your life always expect you to be the same as they remember? Sure, not everyone has gone through the tumbling wash cycle of emotional/mental/psycho analysis that I did, but why do we hold people from our past in mental time capsules? Everyone changes. The hard part is that, even after you know you’ve changed for the better, you have to convince other people, and that is oddly more work.
Upon my return to Western Michigan from my experiment on the Detroit side, I’d mentally made a break from “growing up Sunny” and changed things about myself that I didn’t like, let other things grow out, and stopped letting myself wallow in behavioral ruts. I felt better, healthier, freer, and more open and loving in general.
Then… I happened to return to Grand Rapids around the time of an ACS Homecoming, so I immediately ran into people who had high-school-shaped perceptions of me. I shattered them joyously.
“You did what?!” someone asked when I told them about my model scouting while in Detroit.
“You were always a shy, quiet girl,” another told me in bafflement.
“I can’t see you doing that.” This was said in a tone suggesting that, since she couldn’t see me doing it, that meant I hadn’t.
It may show just how much I grew to say that I smiled with nothing but love for these people.
But as the months rolled on after my return, the differences between who I’d been as teenager and who I was as a nearly 30-year-old came up time and again. People expected me to be snotty and cutting, which was really obnoxious because I found myself “obliging” in this regard and therefore reverting a bit. I suppose parents and family will always see you as you were as a child, but if they could accept that I drink on a regular basis, why couldn’t they conceive of the idea that I might now be happy and not sulking all the time? (That’s just my face!) Even the person I was from college had changed, so people who didn’t even know me as a teenager often still thought of me as they perceived me in college. My college friend Justin pointed out to me once that he had always assumed I was aloof and thought myself better than everyone else because he’d often seen me smirking during classes. I explained that I smirk whenever I’m amused by someone or something. Justin – God bless him – actually corrected his view and has been “in on the secret” behind my rather constant smirking ever since.
I can’t be the only one with this problem. But, it has always bothered me when people don’t know me but think they do – this is actually my biggest pet peeve. My roommate, Miranda, and I had a group of friends referred to as “Group Yay” (more later) who tended to lump Miranda and I together as one entity. While I love M as one of my closest friends, we are NOT the same person and have significant differences. I’m sure Group Yay thought I was being negative about M one night when I repeatedly pointed out that I was not her – I am not as conservative, I am not quiet, I swear, I like rap music, I have been drunk on more than a handful of occasions. I also pointed out that M is a better person, so I tried to point out how she is her own person, too – she thinks before she speaks, she’s gentler, she knows more about folk music than I ever will. Also, the issue went beyond simply being compared to M, because they had a very certain idea about who I was under the label of a “good, Christian girl” too. I’m not a rebel or a badass or anything, but considering my upbringing and educational experiences, this label and the assumptions that go with it drive me nuts – especially when coming from these boys who should have known me better.
But what are you going to do?
I guess part of this problem is that we constantly realize new things about ourselves. I am this. I am this. Wow, I’m way more that than I thought. Do people see us better than we see ourselves, as outsiders looking in? Are we all a little blind, or delusional? I pride/bludgeon myself on being ridiculously self-aware, but why don’t other people see things about me that I think are essential and obvious?
On the flip side, there are those people that see you at every stage of your life. No matter the lengths of time that go between your meetings, they know who you are and what you need and love you enough to be accurate, if that makes sense.
Enter the Andrus kids.
When I was 7ish, my mom wanted to earn extra cash by babysitting. One wet Michigan day, a lady with her baby showed up at our trailer door and came in to interview my mom. She was there only a short time before there was another knock on the door. I remember our dog, Kat, barked with a mouthful of dog food and scampered over to greet a second woman who’d come to meet my mom about babysitting. My mom was confused, but soon enough the first lady realized she was at the wrong address. Thank goodness, because this second woman was the mother of an adorable little girl with a mullet named Kaly and a robust toddler named Luke.
My fondest childhood memories are of Kaly, Luke, my brother Christian, and me playing outside, drawing inside, and eating macaroni and cheese and baloney lunches. When we played, “Mrs. Jackson” was for some reason always the name of the bad lady after us. We played hockey on the frozen swamp behind our house in the winter. We made the most awesome fort of all time – it had a working sauna, no lie. They helped me create The Kota Series as we played Kota for hours and hours and hours – I was always dying, Kaly always had telepathic headaches, Luke always crushed things, and Christian was the wild card. We became like siblings, really. Kaly’s bloody nose stain on our house’s stairs was still there when we moved.
Fast forward a few decades.
At Kaly Andrus’s wedding, she chose me as her maid of honor. I hadn’t really seen her in about four years, but when you grow up as the closest thing to someone’s big sister, I guess this is a job that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The strange thing was, though we’d both changed a good deal since we’d been kids playing Kota, I don’t recall even having a catch-up discussion. It did immediately strike me as odd that Kaly thought she would still know me as well as she did way back when, and she also didn’t seem to think there was any reason I wouldn’t know her anymore. I was worried about this at first. Kaly said things like, “Well, I trust Sunny. She knows what I like.” When you haven’t known someone since they were of legal age, can it really be said that you know or even can guess their taste in gifts, flowers, or colors of penis straws?
But here’s the thing: We did still know each other. We could exchange wordless glances and get it. Kaly knew enough not to attempt to match-make me at her wedding. I knew when to help as a maid of honor and when she had it under control. And I’ve never been prouder than the morning of her wedding as she chugged from a bottle of Pepto in one hand and then a bottle of Jack in the other.
And this lack-of-need-to-catch-up goes for Luke, too. It helps that the kid is so laid back and just plain lovable in general. When I was leaving Kaly’s wedding, I remember a very drunk Luke picking me up in a huge hug and saying, “I love you. And that’s not just because I’m drunk. I really do love you.” He may not remember that, but it meant a lot to me. Later, when Christian was in Luke’s wedding, I saw this same connection still existed between them too. The funny thing here is that they’ve grown to have such different lives and interests – Luke stayed country while Christian had to borrow cowboy boots, for example. But there’s still just that easy thing that exists between people who grew up together.
And that’s what the four of us have. We’re almost-siblings. We can change and grow up and go for lengths of time without seeing each other, but we’re still close enough to know each other at the drop of a hat. We’ll be in each other’s weddings without hesitation. We can roll with the changes life brings and accept each other
So. There are people in your life – some whom you even love dearly – who will hold you in a time capsule. There are some who will refuse to see changes/growth. This can be incredibly frustrating as you try to move forward, but it’s good to keep those other people around you, the ones who somehow know you and love you and recognize you.
Maybe that’s the test of any real relationship – no matter how much time and how much change has come along the way, who still knows you without having to ask?