The First Other Anna
People, if when you finish this, you decide you haven’t had enough myopic navel-gazing for a Friday morning, please go check out my guest post today at Stefanie Wilder-Taylor’s blog, Baby On Bored. We’ll be talking about not drinking, so be sure to bring your dancing shoes.
The first time you met somebody who shared your same name, it was the summer following seventh grade, at soccer camp in Montecito. For the Jennifers and Heathers and Tiffanys of the world, this kind of thing happens early on, before anyone knows that it is strange. But as it was — though there had been plenty of Anns, Annes, and Annies in your past — there were few, if any, Annas wandering about your section of Southern California. To meet another one was eventful, if for no other reason than because it suggested that there might exist a place somewhere in which you would not always be just slightly different, always just a little bit off.
You were at soccer camp with Cindy Corsakov, the girl from Clearpoint who had befriended you on an AYSO soccer team the year before. You had never met somebody like Cindy Corsakov: effortlessly social, bubbly, and so generous with her compliments that you guessed she must be under the mistaken impression that they were something that grew freely on trees, rather than being a resource so rare and precious that they required a specially trained pig to sniff them out. Cindy’s world was intoxicating, if suspicious: everything was fun, everything was exciting, and each new person represented a new opportunity, instead of the need for devising a new defense mechanism.
And when she flattered you, there was such a mastery in her light hand that sometimes you caught yourself believing that the things she said about you were sincere. You began to think of her compliments not as flattery, but rather the natural response that came from dealing with someone so wonderful as you must clearly be. This was how she became one of your best friends, and it was how she remained one of your best friends for precisely two years. After that, there was to be a dramatic falling out, the specifics of which you would misplace among other lost artifacts of tweenage years, packed away where they could never again be found, along with your faith in the nice things she said, of which you would claim to have been suspicious all along.
You were at soccer camp with Cindy, but this was not the first time you had been there. This time was to be so different from the first year — last year — which was the year that you were told you would be rooming with Megan Fairfield, only to discover on arrival day that Megan had already made plans to room with Courtney Valentine, because they were best friends, after all. And really, you only knew Megan a little bit, it was your parents who were friends, and besides, everybody felt bad about the mixup, and that’s why one of the adults came up with the idea to bring in a third bed into that tiny room that housed just one pious seminary student during the academic year. They had all agreed that this would be the best plan — three girls in a dorm room — that it was the only way to be certain that nobody would be left out. The adults, of course, had been careful to wipe away from their language any indication of who might hypothetically do the leaving and who my hypothetically be left, and you went along with the plan, superficially, agreeing to it as if it were not the worst idea you had ever heard in your life. You allowed them the luxury of feeling better about things, holding out just long enough so that your parents could get back into their yellow Volvo sedan and drive away. And then you gathered your things from Courtney’s and Megan’s room and went next door, and silently went about unpacking your things and making up your bed, again, and the business of applying yourself to soccer: the love of it, and the getting-better-at-it of it.
But this year was different.
You were still only there for one week, but this was a different world. There were kids who became girlfriend and boyfriend for the week, making out in the tiny dorm rooms in between soccer practices and cafeteria lunches. As it happened, the room you shared with Cindy was uniquely situated so as to facilitate late night discussions out the window with the boys two floors below. This was how you first heard the eponymous Violent Femmes album, shocking as it was, and why when you went home you would go into Licorice Pizza and ask for the cassette version of it with a muted voice, requesting that the counter clerk give you the one with the picture of the little girl looking through a window on its cover. This year, instead of studiously ignoring the social element of soccer camp, you were in the center of it, and it was a relief, for once, to not have to worry about what people thought.
The Other Anna was a year younger than you and she was from Encino. You were not totally sure where Encino was, but you did know that the wealthy girl in The Karate Kid had been from there. Based on this, you figured that Encino — wherever it was — must be a pretty exclusive place, if the object of Ralph Macchio’s affections had hailed from it, and so The Other Anna must be a child of privilege. Naturally, there had been other demarcations of class, though you would not have recognized them as such at the time: her hair was long but boasted perfectly feathered sides the likes of which you had never been able to accomplish with your own hair, and her clothing covered the requisite brand trifecta of tweens of the early-to-mid-eighties (Guess, JAG, Esprit). But most significantly of all, while the rest of the soccer campers used regular Chapstick during long days on the soccer field, the Other Anna had Bain de Soleil lip balm, which came in a delicate case with a longer, more elegant cap.
The Bain de Soleil lip balm was of particular note to you because it was the very brand you had begged your own mother to buy for you for soccer camp before leaving home. She had refused, and the decision had been logical: Bain de Soleil lip balm was twice as expensive as PreSun15, which clearly worked just as well. That your family could have afforded the Bain de Soleil lip balm was besides the point: it was a needless expenditure of extra money based on superficial preference for packaging. Had you been older, or better trained in pitching the intangible differences and market value of things like beauty in presentation and subtle social language expressed by commodity choices, perhaps you might have negotiated better for yourself. Perhaps then you might have been able to convince her of how essential it was to have the Bain de Soleil brand, but instead you were stuck with the PreSun. But to be fair, though there was no way that the fact the Other Anna had the Bain de Soleil lip balm could escape your notice, it only bothered you slightly. Because this year, you were with Cindy, and you were having a great time at soccer camp, and the subtleties of lip balm envy are nothing when you have already survived a week long camp with no roommate and come back for more.
It had been hot that week, and you had taken to putting the PreSun around your eyes to keep them from getting sunburned while you were on the soccer field. It was a stop gap solution to stopping the sunburn damage, and you had made it in the moment, and thought nothing of it, at least until the Other Anna came up to you and asked to see the lip balm that you had been putting around your eyes. You agreed, though you were unsure as to why she cared, and the Other Anna looked at the lip balm, examined its lackluster brown and orange packaging, and then looked at you with something like unkindness and disdain. She demanded to know why you had been putting it around your eyes and you explained that you had been sunburned, that you just wanted something there to protect that skin from the glare. The Other Anna continued to look at you with annoyance, until she ceremoniously dropped the tube PreSun into grass in front of you, like something not worthy of her time or touch, and walked away.
Surprised, you picked up the PreSun and put it back in the pocket of your soccer shorts. You did not know what to make of The Other Anna, much less of the subtleties of tweenage caste systems and the semiotics of lip balm in Southern California. And besides, before you could blink, the ball had been thrown in again, and . But before you could figure things out, the ball was thrown in again, and the Other Anna was off towards the other goal, and you headed back to defend yours, before the rest of the week blurred past you with the kind of speed that only the last breaths of childhood can carry.