I am 12 years old.
Slightly older than most of my friends in school due to my September birthday, but still not old enough to say, “Well I’m older so,” to any of them. We’re all gathered in Melissa’s basement with the lights dimmed, sitting crosslegged in a circle hidden behind some aggressively 70’s couch. Her older sister was “watching” us but really, she was too busy going open-legged over her boyfriend to care what her sister and some other middle schoolers were doing at a birthday party.
Had she been paying attention instead of being hormonally 16, she would have found us spinning a bottle of Jones Soda in the middle of the circle. We had two hours until the boys were being sent home — the perfect amount of time to satiate some pre-teen curiosity between the chorus of various Michelle Branch songs and hushed giggles.
Kirsten is explaining to us how to play spin the bottle. She doesn’t like me. I never actually figured out why she harbored such an adamant hatred for me but I do remember it eventually culminating that year to her throwing a can of Diet Coke at my head on the bus. I never rode the bus again.
But that night, in the basement of a house across the street from a cemetery, Kirsten was challenging me in another way.
“You spin this pop bottle,” She explained, nonchalantly tossing her flat ironed blonde hair over her shoulder. “And then whatever boy it lands on you have to kiss.”
She locked eyes with me.
“Kendra. You go first.”
It was less of a suggestion and more of a challenge in the form of an extended berry lemonade Jones Soda bottle.
And in that moment, my 12-year-old self had a choice.
I could either waver, show my cards that my heart was pounding and I hadn’t kissed a boy since I was 7 and thought it was funny. Or, I could shake my strawberry blonde hair equally as ambivalently, put my shoulders back and my head high, and fake some confidence.
Fake that I didn’t care.
Fake, that I was a “cool girl.”
And I chose the latter.
I yanked that soda bottle out of her hand, spun it around with a little too much force, and planted my lips awkwardly and with as much gusto as I could muster up on Cody’s lips from across the circle. We knocked teeth. We didn’t make eye contact for the rest of the two hours at the house until Melissa’s parents bellowed down the stairs that it was time for the boys to leave.
We never acknowledged that he was my first kiss.
Because cool girls? Cool girls don’t have a definable first kiss. Because first kisses don’t matter to cool girls. They’re whatever. They’re insignificant.
It later became painfully apparent that Kirsten had a massive crush on Cody and was super pissed that the Jones Soda bottle hadn’t played out in her favor.
Maybe that’s why she threw the Diet Coke can.
I’m 14 years old.
I’m shopping with my mother in a T.J. Maxx and I am wildly hungover.
The night before I had been at a sleepover with Sarah who had snuck a bottle of rum from Mexico into the guest room where we were obsessively ranking the boys of our showchoir by attractiveness. It tasted like suntan lotion. We pulled directly from the bottle and chased with cans of soda, each of us shuddering but pretending like actually we didn’t mind the aggressive taste at all.
I never found out if her dad noticed that the bottle with the parrot top went missing from the things he brought back from vacation.
I can feel the rum navigating its way back up my esophagus in the aisle stocked with duvet covers and sham sets. I crouch down, refusing to give in to how disgustingly dehydrated I am. I put my head between my knees, forcing the rum back down where it belongs.
Cool girls aren’t weak. They don’t give in to hangovers.
So when my mom asks if I want to try on new jeans at The Gap, I say of course. I hyperventilate in the dressing room and chew endless amounts of gum to hopefully hide the residual alcohol smell that I can still taste on my tongue.
I never admit that I feel like shit.
Because cool girls? Cool girls accept their fate. They swallow another shot even when they don’t particularly want it because they can. And it’s all about proving that you can. Because can = cool.
So I chug a bottle of Dasani and I continue to pretend that everything’s fine.
I’m 17 years old.
And I start to fall for an older boy.
We met at a party where I was really drunk, and he was stone cold sober. I was convinced that he was more enamored with Caitlin. Because with her giant eyes and famously red, curly hair and long legs, it always seemed like she was the one who got the most attention. We both agreed he was gorgeous, and that one of us would like to “add him to our list.” We both assumed, if it ever happened in a hypothetical future, that it would be her.
But then some months later we ran into each other again. While I was walking around the perimeter of another house party smoking a Camel No. 9 and trying to calm the fuck down, Collin walked with me. Collin made me feel safe.
It was summer. And it was hot. And a cop car drove lazily past us and waved.
We walked a few blocks away from the house where people were shotgunning in the backyard and holing up the bathroom with their cups of UV Blue and Lemonade to gossip down a quiet street. For the first time in months, my heart rate was slowing down. I felt calm. I felt like I could breathe.
We laid in the parking lot of a Lutheran church, shoulder to shoulder, staring up at the sky and listening to the nothingness.
He told me he’d thought about kissing me at that first party but that I was worth waiting for. I told him that I didn’t remember the last person I kissed and actually liked it.
He didn’t kiss me in that parking lot.
But when he did kiss me, later in his bedroom below the Nietzsche quote on the wall, his lips woke me up. And he told me I had perfect shoulders while he kissed them too. And he made me feel beautiful.
But I never told Caitlin about it.
Because cool girls don’t fall in love.
They bottle everything up. They’re beyond emotions and feelings and things that belong between the pages of John Green novels. They don’t lay in the parking lots of Lutheran churches talking about heartbreak and abandonment and how they feel like they spin out of control. They hook up and fuck on the pavement and they don’t talk about heartbreak because it never happens to them.
Cool girls don’t give a shit if they have perfect shoulders or not.
I am 18 years old.
Everything is spinning and I’m perched on the bed of the bed of the 1136 house, smoking a cigarette and trying to focus my vision. I don’t know how much I drank, and can’t remember if I ate that day. There are Christmas lights strung above the bed even though it’s almost February.
Collin is pacing beside me. He’s worried. He wants me to sober up. He wants me to stop panicking.
He tells me, over and over and over, that he wants me to be okay.
And in the middle of trying to get me to stop panicking, the panic overwhelms him. He starts muttering about his roommates and I can see the anger bubbling up inside of him. And so the tables turn, and I want him to be okay.
So I do the only thing I know to get him to stop acting like the world is going to end.
I pull him on top of me, and I strip off my shirt, and I tell him to stop talking for once.
Because I’m a “cool girl.”
And cool girls let their bodies do the talking.
So when he goes down on me and tells me he wants me to come (something that has never happened before), I act like I’m a pro. I don’t tell him how foreign it feels to have someone actually care what I’m feeling, care that I enjoy myself during sex. I don’t tell him I’m not sure I know how to orgasm with another person. I don’t tell him thank you for getting me there and showing me how.
And so when after we have sex for the first time, and I drive home with my best friend in the blizzard, and Collin stops talking to me all together, I don’t say anything about that either.
I don’t say anything when he gets a girlfriend more age appropriate, who’s taller, and more self-assured, and looks like a Nasty Gal model. I don’t say anything when I hear him call me a “child.” I don’t say anything when he doesn’t even say goodbye when he hears I’m moving away.
Because cool girls? Cool girls don’t care. They don’t need to say anything to anyone.
Because cool girls don’t miss people.
I am 19 years old.
My high school ex-boyfriend tells me that it’s just fun “for now” when we hook up all of winter break. He calls me the wrong name in bed. He never gets me off. He stops texting me immediately the second I leave the city to go back to college.
I never call him out on it. I never call him on his shit. I let him walk all over me and I pretend that I don’t care.
Because I’m a cool girl.
And cool girls definitely don’t Facebook stalk their exes at 2 AM in their dorm rooms while crying to Ingrid Michaelson on repeat.
I’m in a long distance relationship. It’s putting more that literal miles between us and I can feel myself pulling away.
So when one of my guyfriends comes to my bar and pays attention to me, I flirt back.
I buy him a pour of Johnny Walker Blue and entertain the notion that I might have feelings for him too, even though deep down I know that I’m just lonely. It’s not nice. And it’s not fair to my boyfriend who is 436 miles away and my friend who has liked me for years, but I do it anyway.
And any semblance of guilt I feel, I brush to the side. This is just two friends catching up over expensive whiskey. If he reads into it, that’s on him. I tell myself anything and everything take away whatever responsibility could potentially fall my way.
Cool girls have guyfriends, I assure myself. And sometimes those guyfriends catch feelings. It’s not her fault.
And I never even worry about whether or not it makes me just a cool girl or a cheater or selfish or all of the above when he tries to kiss me after more drinks fall his way. I never tell my boyfriend. I never tell anyone.
Because cool girls have secrets and that’s just the way it is.
I have suspicions my boyfriend, the one I’m convinced is my person, is cheating on me. I see a photo of a girl sitting on his lap at party where I was absent on Facebook, looking at him the way I did two years prior when we started dating. I feel those nerves start to tangle up like snakes in the pit of my stomach — my gut telling me that something is up.
I chalk it up to jealousy, to weirdness, to just really loving him.
And I never confront him.
Because I’m the cool girlfriend.
I’m the chill girlfriend. The one who never worries about not hearing from him and gives him that Woody Allen/Mia Farrow “waving from across the park” separate togetherness that he previously thought was unobtainable.
I’m the carefree the girlfriend. The one who doesn’t care that he stays out past 2 AM and doesn’t tell me where he’s been when he comes home smelling like cigarette smoke and cheap beer.
I’m the cool girlfriend. Who is one of the guys but still owns garter belts and never refuses to go down on him and drinks beer and eats pizza but like Amy Dunn says still remains a size 2.
Who feels that oh shit moment where she realizes he’s probably going behind her back, and ignores it.
So I maintain my role as the cool girlfriend.
And when he leaves me for that girl in the photo that was deleted from Facebook, I look in the mirror at my reflection and say,
“I told you so.”
A rebound boyfriend throws me into the wall while we’re fighting and calls the cops on me even though he’s wasted on God knows what and I’m sober.
I take him back the next day and say I get it, he was drunk. Shit happens. We’ve all been there.
He tells me how cool I am.
The same rebound boyfriend asks me to help him put a deposit down on an apartment. He’ll pay me back. He promises.
I tell him not to worry about it. Even when months go by and he’s still bleeding me dry. I never bring it up.
He thanks me for being so cool.
I finally leave the shitty relationships behind me and decide to pick up everything and move 8 hours away from my college town.
I make it sound like this is my grand plan. That it’s my Wild. That it’s my great escape and that I’ll blossom away from my problems into a new version of me that isn’t heartbroken or traumatized or scared.
I don’t mention that I can’t afford it and that my first 4 months in Seattle are spent alone in a dark room, crying over $3 wine that I bought with found quarters and dimes, terrified that I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life.
My best friend texts me after I instagram a photo of my roommate and me in a photobooth on a night where I overdrafted my account in order to buy drinks.
“God your life looks so cool.”
I fly over 700 miles to meet Chase because I feel a spark between us and I’m convinced that I am the kind of girl who can take a spontaneous trip to hang out with friends and hook up and not care about it or give it a second thought when it’s over.
You know, a cool girl.
And after we do whatever adults do in beds in San Fransisco after confusing holidays while drinking cabernet and Maker’s Mark and talking about everything from our childhoods to politics, he stops talking to me.
Gone. Nothing. No contact.
And I act like it doesn’t sting. Not even the tiniest bit.
It bothers me.
It bothers me that he’s gone from talking to me all day every day, to nothing. I didn’t ask him to fall in love with me. I didn’t ask him to remember my birthday or how I take my coffee or what my dog’s name is. I just thought we were friends.
I just expected him to be, well.
I expected him to be just as cool about things as I was being.
But he wasn’t.
And that’s when I realize something.
Being cool is exhausting. Being cool is unrealistic.
Being cool is grossly overrated.
So even though it means losing all of my cool points, I text him.
“Hey. Question for you. And no pressure if you don’t feel like answering so feel free to ignore this. But why did you stop talking to me out of the blue?”
And he gives me some sort of stupid answer and then tries to sext with me again.
But in that moment, of watching him flounder while maintaining my chill, my levelness, my “cool” I have a thought.
Maybe there is no such thing as a “cool girl.”
Maybe the only thing that matters, is being cool with yourself.
Even in those moments that some people would deem deeply uncool.
I’m chatting with my favorite bartender Alex about his best friend Elanor. She’s the quintessential girl who I aesthetically wish I could be. Fair and coifed with tortoiseshell glasses and impeccable style — she looks like she walked straight out of a Kinfolk edition.
“Alex she’s just one of those intimidatingly cool girls,” I say between sips of beer.
He sort of laughs and shakes his head about me.
“I bet a ton of people say that about you.”
And I go back to my Macbook with a shrug and a scoff.
Because finally, I don’t really care if they do anymore.