Some Things You Should Know About Jane
I stopped thinking about Jane around the same time I decided to grow up. Such decisions are rarely made with much forethought, and perhaps I am giving myself too much credit when I tell you one day I was an adolescent, and the next an adult. The place? A coffeehouse. Time? Probably 1 o’clock in the afternoon. A regular spot after I graduated college and found out there weren’t many good places to go in the middle of the day. Most people my age were at work or, worse, looking for work, and I often found myself with little or nothing to do. When I chose not to take a nap and instead seek out the company of others, I went to my local purveyor of lattes and espressos. My compatriots were all mothers or tennis players or salespeople who eschewed the office in favor of a better-lit environment. I overheard one woman who chastised a sales-underling for not making her quota. “You have to make yourself VISIBLE!” she shouted over the din of 80s rock Wednesday. Indeed. I continued reading.
This was my situation when Jane walked in the door. Well, I thought it was Jane. This woman had the same confidant swagger, the same low-hung jeans. I wouldn’t have even noticed her if she hadn’t given her order in Jane’s chirpy staccato. The sound stopped me midpage, but it wasn’t her. On the contrary, this giant of a woman with long yellow hair looked nothing like the auburn companion of my youth. It wasn’t Jane, and the disappointment stung so bitterly that I couldn’t think of her anymore.
I first met Jane in junior high. I had known about her for as long as I could remember. That’s not to say I had the foggiest idea who she was when she introduced herself, along with another girl who, I’m sad to say, has not withstood the test of time in my memory. We lived in the same neighborhood, took the same bus to school. But Jane was always talking to someone else or to no one at all. She always seemed too cool for school, in that early nineties way, but when I look back on her now, I think that it must have been terribly lonely to be the only kid on the bus who regularly shopped at thrift stores, not of need, but of want.
She bounced into my field of vision. I had plunged myself headfirst into a book (the only habit of my youth that has stayed with me) and as any book-lover knows it’s difficult to comes to terms with reality when you wake up from a dream. “We should be friends,” she said, “like Alicia Silverstone and Brittany Murphy in Clueless.” I was ripe for the picking: a sixth-grader to her seventh grade, a brunette, and wearing braces. Jane was no more sophisticated than me: she shared my brown hair, blue eyes, and freckles. She was simply enacting one of her childhood fantasies. As for me, I finally had someone who understood me, the real me. Or the me I wanted to be.
We spent the afternoon with powder and lip-gloss and glitter. It was my first makeover, and I was thrilled when she invited me to sit with her the next day. From that day forward we were close friends.
You see, the thing about Jane is that she was full of subtle contradictions. Even as played dress-up, we started talking about literature, culture, and the machine of society. At fourteen, Jane had an advanced sense of right and wrong, and about how things should be organized. That is to say, she thought she held all of the answers, her opinions carefully curated from lessons learned outside the classroom from her older sisters, reading books that were much too grown up for her, and picking out abstracts from our sorry textbooks.
Jane wasn’t a scholar, per se. I don’t think she ever succeeded in her classes by any stretch of the imagination—no, she was too precocious for that. Instead, she read Austen and Kant and made connections between ideas that no ordinary student would make. That was my impression of her, at least.
We both wanted to be writers. In my youthful worship of her, I fancied her the better scribbler. Her sister had already been published, and surely literary talent such as that was in the blood. I doodled in my schoolbook margins, but for every hour I spent daydreaming, I spent another three finishing my homework.
I only saw Jane before and after school. We lived in the same neighborhood and took the same bus, but we never hung out between classes. If I did happen to cross her path during lunch or on my way to algebra, we would catch each other’s eyes and go back to talking to our other friends. My feelings weren’t hurt, and I daresay hers weren’t either. We were in different circles, knew different people, and that was ok. We were training ourselves to be proper adults in a way. How often have we met an interesting person outside of the office and skittered across the street to avoid an awkward conversation?
I was intensely loyal to my friend, but I knew next to nothing about her, really. We presented our best possible selves with each other, impressing ourselves with our knowledge and savoir-faire, but we did not talk about our ordinary lives. The one time she mentioned a crush on a boy that wasn’t going well, I was sympathetic, but a strange silence lasted between us for two days.
We had our differences. Our tastes devolved at crucial moments. She, for instance, fell in love with Colin Firth of the Pride and Prejudice years. I dutifully read the book but I missed the magic. Of course I didn’t tell her that. Instead, we watched The Secret Garden together, a story I loved as a child and that coincidentally starred Colin Firth as a grown-up in the film version. That scene wasn’t in the book, mind you, but we didn’t care much for authenticity. Her happiness was my happiness, and for a brief moment, I saw what she saw. A word of praise from Jane was enough to convince me that I believed everything she did.
Once she got her license, my parents were happy to have her drive me to school. Never one for practicality, Jane left the windows down when we arrived. “Aren’t you afraid someone will steal it?” I asked.
“What’s there to steal?” she said and shrugged. And she was right. When she walked back to the parking lot after school, the car was still there, along with everything inside. But it had rained while we were in class and the upholstery was practically ruined. We drove home laughing about the moisture seeping through our jeans. My mother was incredulous and made me change out of my soggy clothes right away. I never asked if her parents were mad at her for ruining her car, because it seemed to be a non-issue. Jane was Jane, and her parents must have understood that too on some level.
Since I was a year behind her, I couldn’t help her apply to colleges. I understood college in an abstract way, something that happens after you walk across the stage. We hugged goodbye after her graduation, and she signed my yearbook, but we fell out of touch. The last time I saw her was one summer outside a movie theater. We chatted, said hello. She smoked a cigarette and laughed about the film. I was thrilled to see her again, but as we waved goodbye, my disappointment slowly seeped through the seams.
My friends asked me later who she was. “Someone I knew from a long time ago,” I said. They pressed me for details, but soon gave up when they realized I was unable or unwilling to say anything more. I had already lost enough.
I never wonder anymore if we would have stayed friends through college, if we would go to book signings and poetry readings, and if she ever wrote about me. I’ve never looked her up on Facebook. There are other long-lost acquaintances I found, friendships rekindled as quickly as they faded out. But never Jane. What would be the point?
Still, every time I sit down to my computer, her face is on the screen, whispering words of encouragement. Her brown hair and blue eyes smile back at me, and I wonder if I can see a bit of myself in her, finally. Have I done what she wanted me to do? I think so. But each time I see her, I look more closely. My nose straightens, her freckles look like my freckles. And I realize the face in the screen isn’t my long lost friend. It’s me.
So you see, it wasn’t a falling out, or a change of interest that led me away from Jane. The sylph who taught me how to be myself while she was pretending to be someone else is gone, and I miss her in the way we miss our youth, how time glides past us and we can only look at it sideways. I don’t think about Jane anymore because I don’t need to. My endless search for her would only come back to myself.
About the author:
Anna Saikin is completing a PhD in English at Rice University. Her fiction has appeared in Vinyl Poetry and Bound Off, and her reviews have appeared in Pleiades, Concho River Review, and elsewhere. She is the review editor for NANO Fiction Online.