There was this girl in my friend circle who hated me for years.
Not that she ever did or said anything obvious, but I think other women will know what I mean. We can’t show open hostility without ample reason, like guys can. We’ve never been allowed duels or fistfights under society’s blessing, but that doesn’t mean we don’t hate each other, barely under the surface, always showing it in subtle-yet-hurtful ways.
It was like that. She looked away whenever I showed up to a party. She never laughed at the jokes I told, only pressed her lips together and looked off in the distance when I talked to anyone next to her. She angled her body away in my proximity and barely acknowledged my existence for years.
And I was never sure how I’d offended her. We hadn’t actually ever said a word to each other, despite her closeness to my friends and a couple family members. Maybe she had the wrong idea, or maybe I reminded her of the kind of person she’d come to mistrust.
I never knew. I just came to dislike her for hating me so much. “Katie” was just a bitch that had some problem with me for no apparent reason at all. I rolled my eyes whenever someone mentioned her name and then stopped thinking about her altogether.
Last Saturday was my cousin’s birthday and the night started out at a local wine-tasting event. My cousin and her friends have quite the tolerance, so a couple of hours in, I was getting pretty lit. I guess everyone was, when I think about it.
We were eventually all telling jokes and snapping pictures. The camera-phones were flying and people were smashing into each other with the lack of personal space concerns that drunkenness tends to bring on…
And at some point in the middle of all this chaos, I swiveled around to find some woman looking me squarely in the eye. She looked vaguely familiar, like someone I should know. I didn’t want to be rude, so I smiled as I looked back at her. She smiled back, like she knew me too, which only made me smile harder… as big a smile as my face will make, before I turned back around to rejoin the crowd.
That’s when it hit me: that was Katie.
I hadn’t seen her for a couple of years and she’d grown her hair out. She was wearing different clothes. We were in a different setting. I had thrown all this warmth upon the hated woman because I didn’t know who she was, and she had looked me in the eye, for the first time, and given warmth back.
When she later came up to talk to my cousin, she made a point of grabbing my arm in a friendly gesture. Like she’d never done before. It was amazing.
I couldn’t help thinking about all these walls we’d put up against each other for so many years, thinking about our hate. A few drinks in, I’d forgotten my hatred. The walls came down. And suddenly, we were friends.
And I couldn’t help wondering how many enemies could turn into friends if I could only shed the protective armor to let the vulnerable smile peep out.
In real life. Without drinks.