In fifth grade, ecology was a big topic. So that year, the downtown merchants association held a poster contest.
I was so excited. My idea was to draw an example of road-making using recycled glass bottles. It was something I had seen in one of the ecology films they showed us.
It was tricky artwork. I had to draw a steam roller which was very difficult. I planned to use colored cellophane for the broken glass in the blacktop. And of course, there was a human figure sitting on the steam roller running the thing.
The girl drawing next to me admired my work but I was highly critical of it. It wasn’t coming out as perfect as I wanted and I said I would probably draw something different for the contest.
She asked if she could copy my idea for her poster and I kind of scoffed. Then she offered to split the prize with me if it won. I didn’t really think it would win, but I agreed. We made a deal.
She copied my work down to the very last detail. It couldn’t have been more identical if she’d used tracing paper.
I went on to draw a very perfect and very ordinary picture of bottles being washed out in a sink.
Amazingly enough, when the prizes were announced, my “partner” had won second prize! It was $5.00! So, $2.50 for me!! Not a huge prize, but woo hoo, it was money!!
When I noticed how proud and happy she was acting, as if the whole thing had been her idea alone, I reminded her that she had said we would split the prize if she won. My expectation was that she would acknowledge our deal and let me know how I would get my money.
What she actually said was, “I did NOT! You’re just JEALOUS!”
I wish I could go back in time just to see the expression on my face. It must have been comical.
I did feel a little stupid as I realized what I had done to myself. I guess I should have gotten it in writing!! But I was not jealous and I was the opposite of a liar. She was the liar.
So here we are in the year 2016. How has each of us fared since grade five?
I am an unemployed civil servant who had a nervous breakdown and will likely never work again.
She is a nurse with a masters degree who was hired a few years ago to set up a brand new cancer center with all the decision-making powers to go with that job. She hired a head-hunting agency who found this job for her.
On Facebook she likes to post heart-warming memes to boost morale. She posts every time she gets a manicure or massage or goes on a cruise or meets someone famous. She looks very happy and I imagine she is.
Maybe I’d be happy too if I didn’t have to worry about the impact I might be having on others.
We are both married, she for a second time, and have children and grandchildren.
I don’t want the same things she wants or has. Except maybe for her supreme sense of self.
I can’t be the only person she has treated that way. I think most people will take advantage of someone who doesn’t know how to take care of themselves. They might even tell a little white lie to soothe away any tiny bit of guilt they might feel for taking advantage. It appears she does far more good in this world than harm.
For me the most shocking thing about that story is that a ten-year-old girl was able to come up with such an ugly lie so quickly and naturally: I did not, you’re just jealous.
At least she got $5.00 and her picture in the paper. And I got the first of many, many life’s lessons. And I still don’t know what to make of most of them.