When I was a girl, my housing development had this very nice pool. I was young enough that I spent the majority of my time with my friends in the pool, splashing around, timing how long we could hold our breath, that kind of thing. Around about 6th grade, we noticed that girls just a year or two older than we, spent their time lolling in the sun, slathered in coconut oil, in barely there bikinis. AInd, oh, were they beautiful.
One of these girls was Tina Manfredi.
That’s not her real name. I changed it because this story is about how this girl’s life was so much about how other people perceived her, and I figure she doesn’t need more of that.
At any rate, Tina was gorgeous. She bloomed early and magnificently. She and her brother, Tony, were of blond, blue-eyed Italian heritage. With golden skin. They were like the human version of palominos. Everyone wanted them.
We heard stories about Tina all the time and never thought twice about repeating them. How she wrapped herself naked in Saran Wrap to get an all-over tan for her boyfriend. Who she’d been out with and what she’d done. We spoke about her with envy, fascination and not a little obsessiveness of our own. She moved through the hallways of the school in a cloud of glory. I often thought about what it would be like to be her.
Many years later, like maybe 15 years after high school, I went to a party with my parents. They still lived in the old neighborhood, we’d been out to dinner and we stopped by a house-warming. A daughter of their friends, who’d also gone to school with me, had bought a house in our old neighborhood and a whole bunch of people were there, most of whom I didn’t know.
I got to talking to this one guy who was kind of a computer nerd. Interesting guy and I don’t recall the exact form of his nerdiness, but he was kind of skinny and geeky. At any rate, in the course of tracing why we were both at this party, he mentions that he married Tina Manfredi.
And I was really surprised.
I mean, I hadn’t given her a thought all those years. I don’t think we ever had a conversation – I never rose to those ranks – but I supposed she’d gone on to do exotic things. Like sail off into the sky in a convertible. I didn’t think about it, my adolescent brain kicked in and I blurted out how Tina had been Miss Thing in school and somehow conveyed my shock at her choice of husband.
Instead of being offended, his eyes danced with unholy glee. He starts telling me how much he loves when people react this way. (See? It wasn’t just me.) He went to a school in another state and met Tina years after high school, when they were in their late 20s. He didn’t know until after they married, moved back to the neighborhood and ran into her old classmates, just who she’d been. And he clearly loved this. He was so far under the radar in high school, he confided, that he would never have been able to touch a girl like that.
As he waxed on, I felt worse and worse. Tina wasn’t at the party because they had a new baby, but they lived just a few houses down. I wondered how many of these conversations she’d sat through, where her cohorts recalled her legendary glory and her new husband chortled at having snagged Aphrodite on sale.
I found myself wishing she hadn’t moved back, that she’d gone on to be the new person, who married a guy presumably because he saw her for herself.
I even toyed with stopping by to visit her and her fussy baby. But she wouldn’t have known who I was. And I never ran into either one of them again.
I think about this story sometimes, though. If you’d asked me at twelve if I’d ever feel bad for Tina Manfredi, I would have laughed in your face.
Now I wish I’d tried to be her friend.