I guarantee that you’ve known Isabella Millar. If you’re a guy, it’s possible that you didn’t know—or still don’t—that the person you knew was Isabella Millar. But you knew her. If only by name.
Isabella Millar was the It-girl in grade school, the one whose parents threw all the parties and invited everyone, or at least everyone who mattered, and that put the whole school in disarray, but it also meant she got invited to everything, just in case that was a factor.
In grade school, that was fine. We were petty, but we weren’t terribly self-conscious about being petty. Everything was life-and-death all the time, but that was no big deal.
Isabella Millar, though, was the girl who continued to be better than everyone else long after we graduated to sixth grade. She was the first girl with hips, let alone mosquito-bite pecs, and she wasn’t afraid of them like we were. You know this girl. If you’ve been paying attention, you can probably name a dozen of her.
But that’s not what makes an Isabella Millar.
You have to hate this girl. Even if you’re her friend, she really leaves you with no other choice, with her bland perfection. Even if you call her out, you know that it’s not because of anything she can help, you’re just jealous. A jealous bitch, which is way worse than being Isabella Millar, you just don’t get to rub everyone’s faces in it all the time.
But what really makes Isabella Millar Isabella Millar isn’t how many people she’s whipped and slathered and ground into jealousy, it’s the fact that all that’s a façade. A farce. A beauty pageant. Isabella Millar is not perfect—if she was, she wouldn’t really be Isabella Millar. She’d be a bitch.
It happens around seventh grade: one day, she comes to school different. She’s drab, she’s dour, she’s down. Her parents are getting a divorce. Oh. Suddenly, the perfection of the last seven years is shoved into the fluorescents, punching its pastiness and its pores. Those parties weren’t charity. They were a cry for help. Or no, a distraction: see? See how happy we are! You should be jealous of us because of how much happier we are than you! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
And even Isabella Millar fell for it. She believed the lie. Her parents wouldn’t lie to their little angel (both her parents are lawyers, so).
For some of us, the revelation of our parents’ imperfection, of their fragility, comes in digestible waves and stages, but then some of us wake up one day to find our home destroyed and Vesuvius itself a smoking ruin.
I can’t stand to see her like this. I know I hate her—I’m supposed to, anyway—but she was my friend once, or I thought she was, and now she’s not who I know her as, so of course I’m gonna go to her, even if I didn’t see this coming…
Why didn’t I see this coming? Why does my power discriminate? Is it because Isabella is somehow immune? No, she’s appeared before, I know she has. But I know the answer. Isabella Millar is not going to be important in my life, long-term. That’s it, isn’t it?
I don’t care.
I approach her at her locker. I’m not going to say I’m sorry, I tell myself. There’s too much opportunity for snark. Instead, I ask, “Do you wanna hang out?”
She isn’t really taken by surprise, but she is suspicious. It’s been too long, I guess. Or has it? “No, thanks.” At least she’s civil. “Maybe some other time.”
And she does take me up on that. Later.
I guess people aren’t usually as unpleasant as we make them out to be, you know? Everyone has a life and a life is enormous and multidimensional—Picasso couldn’t paint every angle of it. I try to think about that when people talk about bullies, and I try to point it out to boys when they look at girls like Isabella and think they see perfection. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but that’s all the eye gets. Anything else, it should have to work for.