An “Ugly” Gift
In eighth grade, my best friend Julie made a sculpture of me for art class. She worked really hard on it. I know that now, but I didn’t realize it then. I had sat down for brown bag lunch on our usual bench in the sunshine waiting for her, and she came walking toward me with something behind her back. I remember her straddling the bench and sitting down, grinning.
“What’s up?” I asked, ready to be happy with her. “What happened?”
“I made you something.”
I knew she’d been working on a project for a while, but we didn’t have class together. In my class, we were painting so I was busy not very successfully imitating Van Gogh’s Starry Night and pretending it was a reflection of stars on the ocean or something equally lame. I had no excitement at all about showing it to anyone.
“What did you make?” I asked.
She contorted herself to pull a clay sculpture out from behind her back. “It’s you,” she told me helpfully. “Do you like it?”
I hated it. More than that, it hit me in the gut as if she’d punched me, because the sculpture was me and not me. It was the worst parts of me, like a caricature. There was the bump on my nose and the gap in my teeth, my flat, skinny chest and sloping shoulders. I looked hideous. I looked exactly like what I saw in the mirror, and nothing like how I wanted to look, and everyone in her class had seen it.
Julie sat on the bench, smiling. She expected me to squeal and tell her I loved it. She wanted me to tell her that I appreciated her making it for me. She hoped I would tell her that she deserved to be proud of it. But it was horrible. It was ugly.
Instead, I asked her why she hated me. I got up and rushed away. I made it through the day on auto-pilot and faked being sick the next day so I didn’t have to go to school. That was Friday, so I had the weekend. I ignored everything Julie did to try to get in touch with me. I wasn’t ready to hear her apology.
I didn’t realize the apology that needed to be made was mine. It was my own self-image that I hated. My own appearance. My own ego. I think of that now, and I’m so deeply ashamed, but mostly I’m sad that my self-esteem was that fragile and that I let that get in the way of friendship.
Julie and I were never okay after that. I’d hurt her too badly, and I was small enough that I couldn’t get over my own hurt. I told her we were okay, and she told me we were okay, but we never got over it. I never apologized.
I’m apologizing now, both to Julie and to the insecure girl I was. Even now, I don’t even know if Julie’s sculpture was actually hideous, but it was how I saw myself. I’m sorry I let that self-image warp what Julie offered in friendship. I’m sorry it cost me a friendship I should have valued more.