When I drive through Mount Adams, there’s only one thing that comes to mind. I couldn’t tell you a thing about the bars, restaurants, real estate, shops or where to find parking, but, damn, I know the perch of that parking lot.
“Shout it right now. You’re a 10, Hannah Mae McCartney. We’re not leaving until you do. I swear I will get in my car and leave you here if you don’t.”
I remember wondering to myself if this scenario could possibly be any more corny. At that moment, I felt like a kindergartener with a mediocre finger painting, being gushed over by high-strung parents and overzealous teachers. God, I hated this sort of thing.
“Ashleyyyyyy,” I whined my standard reaction when she persuaded me to doing something that made me uncomfortable, which was often.
“I’m a 10!” she retorted, feral and resounding and full of gusto. I swear I heard an echo. I waited for someone to shout at us from the condos above, anticipating a “Shut the hell up!” or at the very least a passing couple flashing us a look of disapproval, expressing their embarrassment for us.
There was nothing. We were peering out and talking to the entire city of Cincinnati, glowing, living and breathing from up on that hilltop. But nobody seemed to hear.
I looked over at her, bewildered by her audacity. Tall, willowy, with perfectly tawny legs, a wild mess of hair, long eyelashes and huge, deep brown eyes, she smiled, deviantly. Just looking at her, I felt dwarfed; she was always the incarnate of everything I wanted to be and everything I thought I couldn’t make myself. She was beautiful and confident and wildly intelligent and bold and crazy and determined.
I’ve known Ashley since we were both in sixth grade. We’ve gone through almost nine years together — school dances, first “Bs,” long-distance calls from college, running jokes and tears and hugs and dry spells. We kid (and still do) about the marked lack of male attention we garner, our supreme nerdiness and our more than eccentric sense of humor.
That muggy night last July, Ashley and I were just doing what we typically did whenever our equally hectic schedules allowed us to spend time together. We were gallivanting around the city, entertaining ourselves as cheaply as possible. Nights like these usually consisted of car rides, trips to parks, UDF frozen yogurt, lots of cacophonous laughter and long, long, talks. That night, we’d parked her car and walked around Mount Adams, taking in the view of the city at the edge of the parking lot right between that horde of condos and the Rookwood Bar and Restaurant.
Her theory of “10” came from some less-than-mediocre chick flick. She redrafted the idea and made it her own, to reinforce some sense of womanly self-empowerment within us — on a scale of inherent value, beauty and self-worth from one to 10, she wanted us to reaffirm to ourselves — and the entire neighborhood of Mount Adams, in the middle of the night — that we were “10s”
That July, I’d been mopey. My first boyfriend had stung me pretty deep; I felt like he’d really tarnished my perception of relationships and love. I’d already spent much too large a portion of the summer canceling plans in favor of sleeping alone in my muggy, cramped apartment, wondering how and when I ever might start to feel like a person worth getting to know. Shit, I’d have taken a three on the scale at that point.
She was hell-bent on dragging me out of my slump and wouldn’t stop until she succeeded, just like with everything else she did. A few playful taunts later, I was ready to shut her up. Anything to get this personal cheerleader off my back.
“I’m a 10?” I chirped, as if it were a question. I felt like I was stuck in front of a room of strangers. I choked at the notion of needing to sound confident, to believe and know what I was saying.
She made me redo the “call” a couple more times; I realized she wouldn’t let me get away with anything less than an absolute bellow. So I caved, hoping we could move on.
“I’m a 10!” I hollered as loudly I possibly could.
And I swear, for that split second, I believed it. I never scream about anything or at anyone; maybe that’s why it felt so good to do it. I don’t know.
I laughed a lot that night — real, hearty “Hannah laughs,” as Ashley calls them, and I felt better. Not wholly or magically or permanently, but better.
Ashley is in Africa now on her own mission, making people smile from all over the world. I haven’t seen her in six months. Tokens of her litter my apartment: photos, old gifts, a necklace she left here.
On my 18th birthday, Ashley gave me a plain blue journal with “dream every day” inscribed on the front. Hidden on one of the pages inside, she’d written me a letter.
“You just have to be confident and see yourself as everyone else sees you,” Ashley wrote. “I believe in you more than anyone else in the world.”
On the back of the book, she wrote, “We are the hero of our own story.” God, she is such a sap. And, Jesus, I know I’m not a 10, whatever that really means. Not even close. But if she thinks I’m any good, then, damn, I must be.
CONTACT hannah mccartney: [email protected]