I choked on my Chardonnay and practically yelled across the table, "Oh my God! I grew up in Lewisville!" Ayrin asked me to repeat my name again and it was as if she had seen a ghost. "Oh, my God," she said. "You're Andrea Buchanan. I can't believe it!" My face flushed. I wasn't exactly sure how to handle her shock at discovering my identity.
Ayrin blushed, too, "You used to be so beautiful," she said softly, and I felt as if I'd been punched in the gut. "Not that you're not beautiful now," she stammered, "but you were the girl we all wanted to be. You were so perfect."
She went on to tell us that she had been a misfit. Bone thin and six feet tall, with pale skin and black hair, she'd found herself in a sea of blondes when her parents moved to our town. She used to hang out in the 'freaks' courtyard and smoke cigarettes, counting the days until she could leave Texas.
Ayrin claims to have two friends in school. I had two hundred. She was shy. I was outgoing. She dated the mascot. I dated the star linebacker. She wanted to be me, by I wanted to be Christie Brinkley. We both wanted an identity beyond ourselves, a sense of belonging.
Ayrin cut to the chase. "And when you got sick, I was so upset. It just seemed like you were in so much pain. My friends and I tried to figure out what happened to you because back then, you had set the bar for what was possible in life: being popular and being super-nice. If you weren't happy and perfect, then what were my chances?" Ayrin, choking back tears, went on."One day, in homeroom, you looked at me. It felt like you were really seeing me, and that you somehow understood me. You seemed to understand what it was like to be a misfit, and that gave me a big dose of courage, strength and confidence. I have never forgotten that."
And then she explained the perfect irony: when she left Lewisville, Ayrin moved to Manhattan and became a Calvin Klein model.
That night, Ayrin helped me realize that I needed to heal the shame I felt for what had happened to me and learn to laugh about the humiliation I experienced on the field that night. Through the embarrassment, I had transformed the path of my life. I went beyond the surface in almost everything I did in my work, my relationships, and how I viewed the world. Through the pain I had learned compassion for anybody suffering something out of their control. Disease in any form is scary stuff. And it can show up when things are humming along and knock you down, however beautiful you may look. And the night I met Ayrin, I truly learned that reaching within yourself to find solace, peace, and love heals you from humiliation. When we are knocked down, we sometimes see things more clearly, below the haze of lost perspective.
Note to self: Losing your crown can be the luckiest moment in your life.