I’m a writer. I’ve written four novels (all unpublished so far, but let’s not dwell on it) I know I can write a good story. I couldn’t make up a story like this one.
A woman who is a reporter from an Ohio TV station is working on a documentary on Princess Diana. Princess Diana’s brother comes to Ohio for an interview. The Earl leaves his pregnant third wife; the girl reporter quits her job at the TV station. She announces in an e-mail sent to friends and co-workers that she is dating Earl of Spencer. It sounds like a romance starring Hugh Grant and Reese Witherspoon. It certainly could not happen in real life. However, it did. Coleen Sullivan met the Earl of Spencer the summer of 2006. She broke up with her fiancé, quit her job, and suddenly she is being pictured in the British tabloids as the Earl of Spencer’s lady love.
Back in high school, I knew Coleen Sullivan.
We went to Ygnacio Valley High School. We didn’t have any classes together until senior year. She sat behind me in Mr. Rochefort’s English class. She had long curly reddish brown hair. She loved Danielle Steel novels. She lived with her dad. She once told us during group work that her father told her: “The thing about you Coleen is that you have champagne taste on a beer budget.”
She was a cheerleader for three years. She worked at Macy’s. Our first essay in class was to write a “stranger in a strange land” essay. Coleen wrote about working at Macy’s, how beautiful the women she worked with were. She worked in the Lancôme department, wearing a navy blue smock and bright red lipstick, her hair pulled back. Saturdays she would spend the days making women beautiful.
She was nice to me. I was mistrustful of her. I’ll be honest I was a geek. While others cared about homecoming and painting school murals, I was busy reading Richard Brautigan and Anne Tyler, dreaming of the day when I would go to college where I would read classic books, discuss them in classes, and become a Writer.
She was everything I was not. She had school spirit. She was part of the Basics, a clique of popular girls. In their senior quotes, they all wrote “Watch out for ghosts!” “Do you believe in ghosts?” (Sixteen years later, I am still wondering what the ghost reference meant).With her best friends Stephanie and Suzanne they called themselves SSC. I always wondered if she was being nice to me just to be nice. I thought it was because she thought, “Oh, she’s the nerdy girl. I will be nice to her to show what a nice person I am.”
She was self-confident. I was not. She was not afraid to tell boys who sat near us to shut up while we were doing group work. One time when we were getting into groups, she made sure I was in a group with her and her friends. At first, I thought it was because she wanted me to do the work for her. Now I know she was just being nice. She always complimented me on something I wore: my shoes, a dress, a ring I just bought. One time after Christmas, I came with a bandage on my hand because I accidentally cut myself with a shard of glass. During class, it started to hurt so I had to keep my hand elevated. “Oh, my God! Are you okay?” she asked me.
I mumbled something that it was fine, feeling embarrassed. Now I am touched that she really was concerned.
So imagine my surprise when I am reading a gossip column one day and it alludes to “Bay Area native Coleen Sullivan” being Earl of Spencer’s new love. At first I thought, no, it could not be. Then I did a Google search and sure enough, there was an interview with Coleen’s dad.
The British tabloids are having a field day with it because Earl of Spencer is known to be a cad. Although he made an impassioned eulogy at Princess Diana’s funeral, there have been stories that he and his sister were not on good terms. People have been saying Coleen is a “home-wrecker” that because she broke up with her boyfriend they “deserve each other” and other names, one of them her being a “gold-digger.”
I haven’t seen Coleen since graduation. I don’t know her. What I do know is unless a person has walked a mile in their shoes, they should not judge someone. Sometimes people do this out of smugness, sometimes to do it just because they are bored or want to feel better about their own lives. I am guilty of it as well. I think we all are.
When I read about good old Coleen Sullivan in a hotel that costs three hundred pounds per night in London, I did feel jealous. I had a bad cold, worrying about how I was going to make my financial aid payment and rent. This did not do much to my self-esteem. Why couldn’t I have someone like that to whisk me away from my problems?
Then I remembered we all have our journeys. This is Coleen’s. I have mine. I do not know what Coleen’s journey will be like. I cannot compare myself to her.
I do remember the girl who sat behind me in English, the girl who was excited when a new Danielle Steel novel came out, whose picture shines through in my yearbook. She has a wide genuine smile. She has no idea what the future holds for her. England is so far away. Being thirty-four is so far away. I simply look at that smiling girl and think you were being nice to me. You meant it. Thank you. Now be careful.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries