Every young girl needs a friend who is a bad girl, a rebel, a rule-breaker. For me, that friend was Cece.
I was a good, obedient, rule-following fifth-grader, who always did what my parents and teachers expected me to do. And then I met Cece, who didn’t do any of these things — and seemed to be having a great time. She had two qualities which, in retrospect, I am always drawn to: she was smart as a whip and she had a great sense of humor. We quickly became best friends.
Cece was the first person in my life who questioned what she was told. If she thought a rule didn’t make sense, she didn’t follow it. If she didn’t want to do something, she didn’t.
And, to my amazement, she usually got away with it.
In part, this was because she got good grades. And why wouldn’t she? Cece was clever and the work was easy. But it was also because she never made a fuss about what she was up to. It wasn’t about confrontation or attention-grabbing.
She just quietly went her own way.
I soon followed suit. We broke dozens of rules. We chewed gum in class. We passed notes. We read “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” instead of our textbooks during class. We refused to follow our school’s ridiculously repressive dress code (No pants! No nylons! No skirts above the knee!). We always opened doors that said “Do Not Enter” to see what was behind them.
Once Cece became my friend, life became a lot more interesting.
Mom packed me a lunch every day, but since Cece lived just a block from the school, I’d often to join her for lunch. As we walked down the street to from the school, we’d open my lunchbox, eat what we wanted and put anything we didn’t care for in one of the mailboxes that lined the driveways of the homes we walked past.
I would never had done that before Cece came into my life. That’s not what mailboxes are for! Putting anything but mail into a mailbox might even be illegal! But Cece’s approach to life was never “We shouldn’t.” It was always “Why not?”
After years of parental pressure to excel, exceed expectations and do everything correctly, even a small transgressive act like leaving a bag of cookies in a stranger’s mailbox was oddly thrilling.
When we hit junior high, Cece taught me to shoplift. That you could go into a store and just take stuff — how wonderful was that? We’d find a shirt we liked, put it on under our clothes and saunter out, giggling.
She also taught me lots of other cool stuff. That you could flirt with the boys without having to take them seriously. That you could seek out and gawk at the Playboys hidden in the bedrooms of the folks you babysat for once the kids went to bed. That you could forge your mom’s signature on an absence excuse and leave school early. That you could smoke a cigarette she’d filched from her brother’s bedroom without instantly turning into an out-of-control chain smoker. (We didn't. We coughed like crazy and never smoked cigarettes again.)
Cece, like so many bad girls, came from a troubled home. Her mom had serious health problems, her dad was far too focused on his business and her older brothers teased and tormented her. When we were in the eighth grade, her mother died. When her dad remarried, her new stepmother gave away Cece’s dog.
Cece went off to boarding school to get away from the whole thing and we fell out of touch. But the impact she had on me has lasted to this day.
My favorite Cece moment? In the sixth grade, all the kids were required to run a timed mile. After taking one look at all the other sixth-graders miserably huffing and puffing around the track in the hot sun, Cece said to me, “You and I are walking.”
So the two of us strolled around the track, talking and cracking each other up, while the gym teacher called to us, in a totally futile attempt to get us to pick up the pace, “C’mon girls! You can do it! Just give it a try!”
Of course we could do it. We just didn’t want to.
I often think about that walk around the track. Our scores were abysmal, and we didn’t care. We disappointed our teacher, and the world kept on turning.
Running that mile, as far as we were concerned, was stupid. We weren’t going to do it and you couldn’t make us.
I learned a lot in the sixth grade. English. Biology. Math. But what Cece taught me was just as valuable. She taught me to think critically. Rules — and teachers and bosses — are to be considered, not blindly obeyed. Analyze them. Challenge them. Don’t just do what you’re told. Instead, figure out what works for you. Don’t always play it safe. Do what pleases you. Sometimes do what thrills you.
I often wonder what happened to Cece. I’d love to find her, but until then, I’ll imagine her out there somewhere, breaking rules and having fun.