October 2, 2007
by Jennifer Byde Myers
Age 9 at the time
In third grade I was in Mr. Lennon's class. It was a third/fourth mixed class at a segregated school for smarty-pants kids; I am quite certain we were all terrors in one way or another.
With special permission, if you were in third, you could stay later with the fourth graders to learn music. I loved to sing, and Mr. Lennon thought I had talent. I longed to perform in front of a crowd and watch people smile, so each time there was a solo, I felt compelled to audition. There were probably only three of us who could actually carry a tune: Amy Rosen, Kianna Winter and I. Amy was a sweet girl who was very shy. She accepted any role she was given, happy, it seemed, to be in or out of the spotlight. Kianna and I were best friends, and as it turns out, arch rivals.
There wasn't a single activity I tried that Kianna wasn't right there vying to be better or faster. Dodge ball got so competitive we ended up on opposing boys' fifth-grade teams. During the school "jogathon" we completed an amazing 34 laps together. When I thought we were both done, Kianna ran away from me and completed another lap so she could "win." If I had a solo in the concert, she had a solo, even asking to add songs to the program if necessary. I never thought I was competing with Kianna until the activity was over and she would tell me how she had won. I guess it never mattered to me as long as we both did well and we were still best friends.
In May, Mr. Lennon decided we would put on play for the entire school: You're a Good Man Charlie Brown. Acting and singing! Performing in front of a paying audience! What could be better? I auditioned and got the part of Lucy. To cover my very blond hair, I bought a black wig that night and made plans with my grandmother to make a blue dress. I was going to be an actress and Broadway was in my future. It was thrilling and I couldn't wait to start rehearsals.
There was only one problem: my best friend had no role in the play. There were props to be made, sets to design, and someone needed to be the "prompter," hovering nearby if one of us forgot our lines. Kianna didn't sign up to do any of these other very important things because she insisted she should play the role of Lucy.
Kianna and her mom met privately with Mr. Lennon. Kianna made a petition and tried to get other kids to sign it asking that she be Lucy. She even called my house and told me to tell the teacher I wasn't good enough at singing and should quit the play. On the playground Kianna let me know, in no uncertain terms, that I should give her the part since I "didn't even have black hair" and she did, naturally.
She told me that I was a horrible friend because I stole her part.
She told me I was selfish.
She claimed I had somehow cheated.
She wrote notes, folding them into very small triangles: "I hate you."
I had no response for her. I was, for one of the few times in my life, stunned into silence. I could not imagine why she wasn't proud of me. I couldn't understand why she was being so hateful and mean. I wrote in my diary "I'm so sad Kianna doesn't like me. We were BFFs and now, because of this stupid play, we aren't."
At home, I finally talked with my parents. Sobbing, I told them all of the things Kianna had said and done. I decided, that while the idea of being in the school play was one of the most exciting things I could ever imagine, having Kianna as my best friend maybe meant more. Since she was not going to be happy, or be my friend if she wasn't Lucy, I had only one choice: give her the role.
My dad asked me, "Jenny, what would have happened if Kianna had gotten the part and you hadn't? Would you have been mad at her?"
My answer came right away. "No. It would have nothing to do with her. It would just mean that I wasn't good enough to do the part. I would be sad and disappointed, but why would I be mad at her?"
And it was like a light came on in my head. There was no way I was going to give up that part, and if Kianna wasn't going to be nice it was her own problem. None of what she was doing had much to do with me. She was sad and disappointed, just like I would have been, she just didn't know that it wasn't my fault.
At school the next day, I wrote Kianna a note asking her to talk with me at lunch. We sat together and shared a pomegranate. I reminded her that we were best friends, which meant that she should be proud and happy for me that I was going to be Lucy. I also told her that it meant that I was sad and disappointed for her because she wasn't going to be on stage. I told her I wasn't going to quit the play, because even if I did, there was a chance that she still wouldn't be Lucy, and then neither of us would be happy.
It seemed to work. We hugged, and Kianna and I were inseparable once more. She helped me with my lines, and we decided that she would be the understudy, just in case I got a sore throat. She never said another mean thing about the play--she even brought me a daisy on opening night.
[Oh, don't worry. Kianna got to "win" later. She was class president in 8th grade; I lost by 9 votes.]