Attention, please by Marie Susanne

Dear Dawn,

In English we were told that a letter like this should begin with me asking how you’re doing, but in French we were told that we should mention the most important thing right at the start. I remember that, because it was the day when the two of us were celebrating five years of being best friends. Not that your health wasn’t important, but I know you’re fine, because I saw you in school this morning, although you tried not to look my way.

Maybe I should start by saying sorry, but I don’t like saying so and you know that and maybe one of the two things I just mentioned is the problem. I don’t like saying sorry, because I think it’s so damn simple.

Do you remember when we were in my room on Saturday last weekend? You were sitting on my bed with your legs crossed and you were playing with the pendant of the necklace I had given you for your birthday last year. You looked kind of sad and shy, which I remember, because it bothered me, since I wanted to have fun.

I’m sorry for not asking what was wrong by the way, although that’s not what I’m writing to apologise for. Maybe there are more things to apologise for than I know. Maybe it didn’t even bother you. I don’t know.

“Can you do the presentation?” you asked. “I’ll do the poster.”
I jumped on the bed to sit next to you. “Sure,” I answered, because it was the way we always did it when we work on a presentation for school together, since I knew you were scared of attention and didn’t want to speak in front of the class, but I loved it and that way it was fine.

One day, you’ll have to answer this one. Are you really scared of attention? Or is it more, like, negative attention? Because sometimes you attract attention by being involved with charities.

“We could order pizza,” I suggested.
“I’m on a diet,” you said and I could read in your eyes that you didn’t enjoy it.
“Why?” I frowned. Maybe I’m sorry for that, too. It was a pretty stupid question.
You crossed your arms. “I’m fat.”
“You aren’t,” I disagreed and this time you should apologise, because it was a lie. You really aren’t fat.
“You’re thinner,” you said.

I was going to tell you that you really, really weren’t fat or anything like that and that you were beautiful and nice, but I was flattered to hear that I was thinner than someone else, so I didn’t deny it. Maybe we’re both not exactly thin. In our class there are many girls who are thinner than we are. Maybe you’re thinner than I am, maybe it’s the other way around? Who cares? I might’ve enjoyed your comment, but I hated the conversation.

When I was putting make-up on your face it was difficult because you were nervous and there was sweat on your forehead, but you know I’m determined to become a make-up artist one day, so I told myself I needed to handle this.
“I can’t do it,” you repeated again and again.
I was thinking about telling you that you could, but it was the kind of thing I had already done mentally and then forgotten to actually do. I’m sorry I never told you that I knew for sure you could do it.

“Rose?” you asked then.
I moaned, which wasn’t because I was mad at you but only because my hand had slipped and the rouge on your cheeks had gone wrong. I’m writing this, because you looked as if you thought you were mad at me.
“Nothing.” You looked at your hands.
“Tell me.”
“Can’t you make the speech for me?”

I burst into laughter and I honestly believed it was a joke. It didn’t occur to me till that evening that it wasn’t.
“I’m not planning on talking about stuff I know nothing about in front of thousands of people,” I said, gave you a hug and left you alone.
It was a charity event, the kind of thing you arranged every now and then at school and I think I actually know why you do it. It gives you the kind of attention you like, positive attention. It keeps you above the average without the risk of failing, of getting negative attention. I know that you fear that and maybe you know that I don’t, but I kind of understand what you were thinking.

I just never have those high expectations. For me, it’s enough if people talk about me – be it bad or good. I don’t know whether I should apologise for that, too, but if it bothers you, I will later. Just tell me. Basically, it would be great if you started talking to me again.

“I welcome you to the tenth charity event at Lindwood,” you said through the microphone. Your voice was thin and shivering and I started clapping. It sounded as if I only did so to make people clap, because no one else was clapping at first, but it was only because I wanted to give you some time to breathe and the others wanted to give you time to finish your speech.

I don’t remember the rest of your speech, because that was when I noticed the boys. They were standing on a second stage above you. It wasn’t difficult to figure out their plan. I could see our favourite teacher. I could see them laughing and pointing at him. I could see the cake in their hands. And I could see how our teacher accidentally moved away in the moment when they were dropping the plate.

Do I have to describe the scene? Maybe you didn’t really see it. Probably you did. More than one time. I know someone filmed it, but I’ve never actually watched it myself.

I’m not going to deny it. I pushed him, so that the cake landed right on his face, he started screaming and people were part laughing and part panicking. I guess you’ve also already seen that I was laughing, too, because it was funny. And because I liked how everyone was looking at me, even those boys a year older than us who had never talked to me before. Everyone. Staring at me. I loved it. And I’m sorry for it.

Do you remember the day we met? Just saying, because there was also a cake in someone’s face, but that time it was mine. It was your birthday and you were walking down the corridor in school with a cake in your hands when you accidentally slipped and pretty much slapped me in the face with the cake. For three weeks, I had been convinced that there was still cream in my nostrils. I swear I had been able to smell it!

I remember your face, that face of an eight-year-old that’s nothing but shocked. I could see in your eyes that you were thinking about all the things I could do to you for revenge. Did you actually notice that I wasn’t mad at you? Once you told me that was why you liked me, because you would’ve been embarrassed but I kept calm. Maybe it’s not only that I kept calm. Maybe the real problem is much more that I liked the attention people were giving me. I liked how you turned it into something positive, which is why I’ve never told you.

There are a lot of things I’ve never told you, actually, and I’m not going to now, because I don’t want to force you to read all of that. I’m trying to say that maybe the problem isn’t you. Or me. Maybe it’s just us. We both have a problem with attention. Only that it’s… different. It’s like when one is fat and the other one is anorexic. They both have a problem with food but a different kind of problem.

When you were running down the stage, I could see you crying before anybody else did, but I was still laughing, there were people around me and they were laughing. Our teacher was staring at me in disgust and a small part of me was hoping he wouldn’t become my teacher again in the next years. But I still carried on laughing. I could feel the glances of the old ladies in the corners who were sneering whilst my friends were cheering.

I remember now that when you were running towards me, you were crying and I honestly believed those were tears of joy, because what I had done had definitely refreshed such an old-fashion event.
“I hate you!” was the first thing you slammed in my face, followed by “You are crazy!” and later “Have you ever listened to me?” all the while I was standing there, waiting for someone to explain to me what was happening.
“What?” I eventually asked.
You stared at me and said: “I hate you.”

I couldn’t remember the last time I had heard you cussing or the last time you had yelled at someone. I could remember you apologising for all kinds of things no one else would apologise for and giving coins to every single homeless man we met on the streets. I couldn’t place why you were yelling.
“Why?” I whispered.
For a moment, it looked as if you had calmed down, but then you hissed, “Because you knew what this meant to me. You knew it.” You were biting your lip, but I barely noticed, because I was staring at your eyes. They looked evil. “You made me look like a fool in front of everyone.”

Getting in the car, I noticed my mother was in a good mood and even allowed me to go and celebrate the event a little afterwards, but I told her I had already had too much alcohol, although I was sober, knowing that if she thought I was drunk she wouldn’t make the effort to try to have a conversation.

So this is when I finally make it to those important things that should probably really be at the top of this letter. I want you to know that I’m sorry.

Now I’ve said it. Are you happy now? I hope so. Maybe I sound angry, but I’m not. Honestly. Perhaps I’m only kind of disappointed, because I thought we were best friends and could talk if something was wrong. Anyway, I decided I was going to make the first step and do this so here I go. I hope you will still read the letter tonight after you find it in your locker. We will see each other at school soon, or later tomorrow and I will smile at you and if you smile back, it means that we can sit together again during lunch break. I would like that a lot.

Maybe we can talk then.