The sweetest girl in the world ever
By SHAWN TAYLOR
Set your eyes on the highest state you can imagine and don’t take them off. ~ Michael Singer
It’s the start of a new year. Three hundred and sixty-five brand new chances. I’ll turn 50 in March and I want to go to graduate school, and stay off meat and sugar, and I mostly do well enough with the tasks required to maintain basic adulthood without needing to check the ever-changing “next thing I need to do this morning” box or committing to a formal resolution about my lack of cake over the course of the next year.
But I have a list just the same and I figure the more additions, the more chances I have for success, right? I could lose 17 pounds and learn to crochet, and new for this year is a comedy class I want to take. Some are dreams and wishes, and some will eventually become goals and plans — things like oil changes and haircuts that I don’t give myself are in the “omfg just go do it” category. Others are more auspicious and audacious. Some are just wishful thinking.
And then there’s the one I’ve never written down. I want to be the sweetest person you know. Not the most decent, the most principled, the hardest worker, all commendable. Do those anyway. I mean The Sweetest Girl You Ever Met. I’m not even sure what that would entail or really, even why. I just do.
So on the eve of the new year, I go to work and decide I will carefully monitor my responses over the course of my workday, see where improvements could be made. I don’t typically lack for positivity but sometimes sleep and cheer are in shorter supply. What’s the opposite of being kind of a smartass anyway? But without judgement, I’d write down whatever I thought and said and go over them, like instant replay.
That said, if obscenity bothers you, I’ll see you later.
“Balls to that, no way” “the f^&k?” and “No, f*<k that, I’m not doing that either” all came before I reached my desk. I’d have to somehow start smaller.
Surely, I decided, sweetness was just an action. A series of actions. Recently I was remembering one of the sweetest people I ever met. Undoubtedly too pure for this world. He died young, and fittingly, of an enlarged heart, and my favorite memory was of him bringing me tacos because I’d had a bad day. I’m probably just easily impressed with tacos. It was actionable sweetness though.
Maybe I could start there.
He didn’t bring everybody tacos and was still regarded as just about the sweetest man anybody ever met, so I considered maybe I didn’t have to resort to something as self-sacrificing and labor-intensive as just handing out tacos, heroic as that would be. While it was in fact, a Tuesday, it was also New Year’s Day and 29 degrees outside. I decided if I went out, I’d bring someone some tacos. I did not go out.
I thought too, of my own now 22-year-old baby, so sweet as a little girl that there were rumors among the Catholic school parents that if a teacher got her in their class one year, they’d have taken on a known handful the next. For 18 years my near sole means of discipline was “Dude, really?” and the near sole response was “Okay, Mama.” As an adult, her workplace — Yelp — is regularly filled with reviews of affection for “the sweetest staff member.”
I call and tell her of my aspirations. We’ve discussed it before. I gave birth to this peach, surely I have such sweetness in my very genome. I get much the same reaction as I did when I first announced my dream to my late mother years ago.
“This is kind of Frank Reynoldsy, Mama, I’m not sure what you want.” (Frank Reynolds is one of the all time great Danny DeVito characters, for reference.) I want everyone to say I’m the Sweetest Girl In the World. She doesn’t say any more about it. I remain undaunted.
I decide I’ll think of the sweetest people I know and make a list of attributes. Good manners, helpful, thoughtful, accepting. At least as a parent, I was a stickler for good manners. I write thank you notes, won’t use the last of the milk, and it’s probably been three decades since I intentionally acted with anything like genuine malice toward any living being.
Still, unlike the sweetest people on my list, it’s probably never going to be the first thing you think of when you think of me. I’m well aware, at least historically, being the sweetest person you know isn’t my best trick. I could stand to be more helpful and less distracted, if only because of the inherent difficulties in being thoughtful, knowing if I was a talking doll, I’d say “Wait, what?” every time you pulled my string.
I make notes.
The first descriptor that comes to mind when you think of the sweetest people you know isn’t the one that comes to mind when you think of me. Of only this I’m certain. I understand. I decide not to take it personally. Sweet is their best trick. I have a best trick and that’s not it. I think of an early progress report from maybe as early as kindergarten. “A friendly, compliant child but prone to irritability. Talks too much.” From this, The Sweetest Girl Ever was always going to be a reach.
I lay my list aside and answer a half-dozen text messages in rapid succession, mostly some variation of “Girl, did you see what so-and-so did?” I did, and I have an opinion, and it’s what you’re here for. Colloquially known as “talking shit.” And, in that, for better or worse, I’m probably your girl.
I text with the growing realization that while it’s maybe not strictly gossip, it’s not all that sweet either. I temper my responses before abandoning the conversations altogether. Now my friends are sad because my responses aren’t as funny and validating, and dropping off the thread altogether is so out of character as to probably come off as rude. But hey — new year, new me, y’all.
Few genuine resolutions come easily and I’m nothing if not determined. I swear out an oath to my list of attributes to strive for in the coming year. And undoubtedly the one after that. If in 362 days from now all you can say is “Man she talks so much shit, but she’s nice,” I’ll cross it off my list and aim higher still.
Three hundred and sixty-five brand new chances is what we’ve been given, and I’ve already blown it hacking at my own hair when I promised myself I wouldn’t. Again. Sorry, Susan!
Sweetness is my next best hope.