Friendship and Forgiveness
Jennifer SaderaIt makes the most sense to talk first about Friendship and Forgiveness, since this is the cornerstone of my novel, FLAWLESS. My main character, Lia Copeland appears to have it all: looks, talent, attitude. But, as we all know, appearances can be deceiving. This seemingly FLAWLESS young woman is actually plagued by problems which are slowly revealed as the story unfolds. As Lia founders through relationships and experiences, she discovers that her friendships save her from so much of life's harsh realities.
I think this is a vital theme in literature and in life. Literature, after all, is a mere reflection of the life and times around us all and none of us should ever underestimate the value of the other people who share this world with us. I think that when we share the imperfections in our lives with friends, we develop relationships that enable us to become more perfect. And not the "Facebook" kind of perfect we are bombarded by on a daily basis, with smiling faces extolling the virtues of our activities: real perfection based on self-awareness, harmony, power of choice, fortitude and love.
As I highlight in the novel, friendship is in many ways the deepest connection people can share. There tends to be less judgment and expectation attached to friendship than romantic entanglements. As my aunt once said: "Love is what screws everything up." She was referring, of course, to a romantic relationship. And family ties are often so complicated by memory and perception that they are rarely as reliable to the health of our collective psyches as friendship. Sure, friends let us down sometimes. But isn't it easier to forgive a friend than, say, a spouse? A parent? It is for me because I feel less vulnerable. That slim wall that separates us from the most intimate connections of family and lovers allows us a little leeway. We can forgive friends easier for transgressions. And we can share with them our own foibles with less fear of judgment.
But of course, vulnerability--as frightening and often downright distasteful as it may seem--is often the state we need to reach to experience the most powerful emotions this world has to offer. People go to great lengths to avoid being vulnerable because to expose oneself to potential ridicule or rejection by others is agonizing, yet human nature has endowed us with enough curiosity that we are willing to open this Pandora's Box now and then in order to get a peek inside. Vulnerability is key to one of the most wondrous and terrifying experiences known to man (and woman!): First Love. This is a topic which has always intrigued me and I address the issue of first love, along with its angst, uncertainty, awesomeness and novelty in my book, FLAWLESS. I am a huge believer in the power of first love and its ability to help transform people into better versions of themselves. I believe at the heart of love is selflessness--you are ready, willing and able to think of another person's wants and needs before you think of your own--and creativity. Why creativity? Because you begin to imagine something new: a new relationship coming into being. And those who are consumed by the process of creating don't destroy. Franz Kafka once wrote that by desiring something, "we create it...the nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired." Couldn't this world use a bit more creativity and less destruction? And first love is the first time a person charters such territory so its effects--even if not the relationship itself--last a lifetime.
These forces combine to address yet another topic you propose: The Journey Called Life. They are intricately weaved into life's fabric.
Behind the dazzling light of Lia's successes is a dark tale of fear, betrayal and confusion, leaving her with unfathomable anger--and so many questions. Chief among them: why is apathy threatening to take over her life? She forces herself to look to both inside and outside sources of the problem, leading her through a maze of emotions and relationships as she carries out her quest.
From the friends of Lia's youth--her best friend, Maddie, her tragic kinship with Doug, the tangled love triangle between her, Doug's cousin, Chad, and her pal, Wilson--to her later-day bond with her mentor, Jade, and therapist Ruth, Lia discovers the necessity of friendship and forgiveness in order to reach a life-affirming resolution.
A story about the choices made in the wake of travail and tragedy, it explores relationships with all their messy and marvelous moments and magnifies the beauty, wonder and endurance of first love.
ExcerptI knew what they called me: Ice Queen. Princess. And those were the nicer names, conventionally used by the boys in the school. The girls called me a frigid bitch and a stuck-up cock teaser. At least nobody ever called me a whore, a term bestowed on easily half the girls in Woodrow High. I smiled, recalling my favorite nickname: The Royalty. They all called me that, but not to my face. Never to my face. When they were near me, they all called me over to them. They beckoned me to their lunch tables and tried to lead me to their lockers, where they could pause, casually talking with me. Showing their classmates what a deep connection we had.
“Lia, over here,” came a voice from across the room. I walked toward the table closest to the windows. It was prime real estate in the student cafeteria and only the most popular had sitting rights.
Smiling down at the faces turned upward from the their chicken patties as I passed, I reflected on my enviable predicament. I was never offended by my peers’ pathetic attempts to simultaneously worship and destroy me. Taking offense would have required even an ounce of caring on my part and, sadly, I didn’t possess any of that. My apathy mystified them but it confused and frightened me far more than any silly name-calling or hero worship.
“Make room for Lia,” instructed Kara Carhill, her shoulder-length auburn hair swinging lushly around her face.
“Hey Kara,” I sidled up next to a girl whose name I could never seem to remember. Sarah? Celia? Samantha? Yes, I think it was Samantha. I pressed my hip next to Samantha’s, forcing her to move over and share her chair with me. Her tremble informed me she was thrilled to do it. “What’s up?”
“Just wanted to say ‘Happy Birthday,’” said Kara, looking smug. She smiled at me then looked expectantly around at the others, who immediately echoed her wishes.
“Thanks so much,” I said, mimicking her warm smile. Okay, who told her? I thought through my list of close friends and decided it had to be John. I hoped he got something out of it at least. Maybe she let him feel her up. “How sweet you all are.”
“You look gorgeous today. Where did you get that stunning dress?” asked Kara.
I smiled again, but not at her compliment. I was amused by the fact that she was the only one at the table who ever addressed me. No other girl dared—or were allowed. “Thank you, I made it.”
“Of course you did,” said Kara. “How stupid of me to even ask. You make the most beautiful clothes. I love the skirt you made Maddie, you know, the one she wore yesterday?”
I nodded. “Yes, that’s one of my favorite pieces.” I knew she was dying to ask me to make her one but her pride would never allow it. Pity, I thought. If she’d only ask, I’d be happy to make her something. But giving her one of my designs unsolicited was equivalent to giving up control and I could never do that. The thin veneer we’d forged was all that was keeping everyone in line. I sat back, waiting. There was more to come and I had to be patient.
“By the way, Dex is having a party Saturday night and he told me to let you know,” said Kara as if she’d just thought of it.
I smiled. Being patient had its privileges. “Your boyfriend’s parents going out of town again?” She nodded and, feeling magnanimous, I put my hand on Samantha’s arm and looked at her. “You going?” Samantha flushed and nodded. I looked back at Kara, whose face was just as red—with fury. Kara hated to be upstaged. “Then I’m in.”
“I’ll let him know,” Kara said tightly.
“I know Dex will have something decent to drink, won’t he?” I asked, standing. “You know how much I hate beer.”
“Of course.” Kara sounded offended. I bit my lip, hiding my smile. Only God knew what kind of names she’d be calling me as I left the lunchroom. Everything under the sun, except, of course, slut. I was never called that.
When I got to the doorway, Doug was waiting for me, smiling. “You know there’s a special hell waiting just for you when you die, don’t you?”
I grabbed his arm and squeezed. “Thanks honey, you know just the right things to say to a girl on her birthday.”
He shook his head, laughing. “Why do you take such delight in tormenting that poor bitch?”
“Because I can.”
He shrugged. “Hell, if anyone deserves it I guess its Kara Carhill.”
“Don’t pretend for even a moment that you wouldn’t knock her down a notch if you could.”
He sighed. “If only I could. But I don’t have your power, my friend.”
I rolled my eyes. “You don’t want it.”
He laughed. “With great power comes great responsibility. That’s how the saying goes, no?”
“Something like that.”
We stopped at Doug’s locker for his lunch bag before heading to mine. “Do the others know we’re eating in the senior room today?” I asked. Whenever Kara’s group lunched in the cafeteria we’d automatically eat in the senior room. I hated to be stared at when I ate and her crowd ogled the most. Dex and his group of football thugs were thankfully in a different lunch period.
“I think so.” Doug twisted the front of his combination lock. “What got Kara’s panties in such a bunch today?”
“She invited me to Dex’s party Saturday.”
“And you said no.”
I shook my head. “Uh, uh. I’m going but I played with her a bit before giving my answer.”
He flung open his locker and grabbed the bag from the top shelf. “You’re like a cat with a mouse. Why do you want to go, anyway? You don’t like them.”
“Yeah, but Dex always finds a way to get his hands on a bottle. Last time it was rum, one of my favorites.” My throat closed around my last words and my heart hammered a warning. I knew my attraction for the stuff was not a good thing but I brushed a strand of hair off my face, determined to dismiss the uncomfortable thought with it.
Doug gave me one of his intent looks, the kind that saw right through me. When I frowned, he smiled and slammed his locker door shut. “You’re an evil genius, as opposed to me. I’m just a genius.” He hooked his arm with mine. I sighed and leaned into him because he was right on both counts.
Arm-in-arm we made our way down the hall to my locker. We both stopped in front of it, staring. It was completely covered in crepe paper and streamers. Scrawled across the top in what appeared to be shaving cream was: “Happy Birthday.” But that wasn’t the focal point. Taped front and center was a white T-shirt with a saying on it: “I am not a bitch, I am The Bitch and that’s Ms. Bitch to you.” I laughed.
"Aww, they thought of you on your big day,” said Doug.
“They shouldn’t have,” I murmured, gently pulling the shirt off the locker and removing the pieces of tape. “Could you open my locker and grab my lunch, Doug?” I asked, shaking out the shirt and pulling it on over my head.
Maddie, John and Wilson were already in the senior room when we entered. They stared at my chest, along with everyone else in the room. I sat down, supremely amused.
“Okay, I’ll be the one to ask,” said Maddie. “What’s with the shirt?”
“Doesn’t it go well with the dress?” I asked the group at large. Might as well get as much mileage out of this one as I could. God, I thought, I was such a jaded bitch. When she merely raised her eyebrows, I added, “A little present on my locker.”
"How nice,” mocked John.
“I wouldn’t have had a decorated locker if some little birdie hadn’t sung my birthday song all over the school,” I said. His grin confirmed my suspicions. I smiled back. The fact that he cared little for consequences was his most appealing attribute. Hypocrisy annoyed me. No need to act remorseful if you weren’t.
“Nice and cruel at the same time,” observed Maddie. “I’d expect nothing less of the idiots in this school.” Unlike John, she had a super-conscience. She was forever being offended on my behalf. This I loved most about my oldest friend. I also envied her tender sensibilities.
“Don’t worry Maddie, Lia isn’t,” said Wilson.
“That’s right.” I looked at him and he smiled in his guileless way, reminding me yet again why I loved him the most of all my friends.