My Lady Bird, my albatross

What it was like to be best friends with a Lady Bird as a teenager
By Natalie Koch  Published on 02/01/2018 at 1:44 PM EDT

I finally saw Lady Bird last night. I’m typically very late to see “important” films, but I knew I needed to actually make an effort with this one. People who know me well kept telling me how much I’d like it, and relate to it. Women I know and admire were tweeting about how much like Lady Bird they were and I assumed I’d feel the same way. And I did, sort of.

Like Lady Bird, I’m also a Catholic school survivor. I grew up in a town I hated and dreamed of getting far away from. I was a theater kid who wasn’t very good. My grades were abysmal. I loved clove cigarettes and said I smoked them more often than I actually did. My family had far less money than my peers for most of my childhood.

But I’m not a Lady Bird. Lady Bird was my best friend.

When it was time for me to go to high school in 2002 (if you’ve seen the film, you’ll know that puts me three grades behind Lady Bird…Dave Matthews Band didn’t hit me quite as hard as it hit her) I couldn’t continue on to the local Catholic high school. It was 30 minutes from my house, and even if I qualified for a scholarship or financial aid my family still couldn’t have afforded it. So, after nine years of Catholic schooling, I had to transition into public school in semi-rural Kentucky. My high school was actually on the other side of the tracks, like Lady Bird describes her house. I didn’t see a kid get knifed in front of me, but I saw plenty of very scary lunch periods.

It took me a year and a half to find my footing in this strange new land, but in my sophomore year, I met my Lady Bird.

She was electric, she was beautiful, and she was weird. That was her thing, being weird. Our town was so small, and she’d been in the public school system her whole life, so she’d known most of our fellow students for a long time. They knew her before she got weird.

Before she legally changed her name to one that she’d (allegedly) seen on a headstone.

Before she started dying her hair red.

Before she started listening to The Velvet Underground.

I only knew her as she was then, at that moment, and my newness and naivety of her past-self were novel to her. We became best friends seemingly overnight. We latched on to each other and found safe passage through a world we both hated and felt we were above. Because I didn’t have one before, being her best friend soon became my identity.

In Lady Bird, her best friend Julie is depicted as quiet, unboastful, smart, and funny. She’s a version of Lady Bird, but slightly less-than. When Julie gets a big part in the musical and Lady Bird stomps away in anger at her relegation to the chorus, I cried. The way Julie hangs back to lightly stroke her name on the call sheet was all too real to me. I’ve never wanted attention either, but I have craved it. Where my Lady Bird was somehow always able to find a stage and draw attention, I’d slink away and let her have the room. She relished people crowding around her, listening to her elaborate stories, and even if she didn’t try it still happened. She was gorgeous in a time when Angelina Jolie was very much in the forefront. Her boobs were about 3 cup sizes bigger than mine, her nose was dainty and cute, her lips were full and her eyes were doe-like. She was sexual and I was, if we’re being generous, waif-like. Straight down and entirely flat, except for my nose, I was never seen as a dateable option. Certainly not standing next to her.

Trying to be a Lady Bird type, circa 2005

But strangely, the only arena we didn’t compete in was dating.

  1. Because there’s no way I could have actually competed with her and,
  2. We didn’t have the same taste in guys.

The guys she dated were alternative, greasy, often older and in a band – very Kyle-esque. While I dabbled in crushes on those types, my first serious boyfriend was first-chair trumpet and started a theater company in town. He actually was a lot like Danny, just not…you know. No spoilers.

But guys would always come up to me to ask about her. “What’s her deal? Is she dating that one guy still? Is she…you know…crazy? She’s so hot.”
I was approachable. Safe. Non-sexual. I was their way in, but I was also her gatekeeper.

I wanted to protect her. Because she was so open and free and spontaneous, I felt like I needed to reign her in, be her keeper, make sure she didn’t hurt herself or get hurt by anyone else. It didn’t always work. But she let me be that person for her. She got to play Bambi.

She was exhausting.

We competed constantly. I complained about her to our mutual friends all the time. She was a burden, sometimes. She wasn’t just a Lady Bird, she was an albatross around my neck. With me everywhere I went, weighing down my self-worth, choking out my ability to stand on my own.

As we got older, our friendship became more toxic. I was tired of my identity being wrapped up in her and tried to establish a sense of superiority, and she was tired of me being a self-righteous asshole.

“She’s crazy, I have to keep her in line,” I’d tell people.
“Don’t be an idiot.”
“Don’t talk to him.”
“It’s your fault for letting him…”

I can’t believe some of the things I said to her and about her. She got me back in kind, don’t worry. She’d tell me I was boring, or that I acted like a grandma. If I hung out with someone else instead of her I was a backstabber who hated her. We were bad for each other.

When Julie yelled at Lady Bird and said, “You can’t do anything unless you’re the center of attention,” that was me. I was fed up with being her sidekick.

We ended up going to the same (Catholic) college. We were still best friends, but the fissures were getting deeper. When I began to thrive in our new environment, and make friends and establish my own sense of self, she got mad at me. She was struggling, for some reason. I had my theories. We were in a big city where she wasn’t the weirdest girl anymore, her boyfriend was back home, she’d never had to take a theology class before, her worldview was being challenged. When she tried to convince me to transfer to a university back home with her, I seriously considered it for a while. But ultimately, I actually really liked where I was and I decided to stay.

She didn’t. She left. And we fell apart.

As we moved through our adulthood, we both went through some pretty serious life-events and are vastly different people than we were at 18. Shocking, right?  I’m grateful that we’ve been able to reconnect in the past year or so and, despite how dramatic our falling out was, consider each other friends again. Maturity has its perks.

But I remember what it was like to be a Julie.

To be a Lady Bird is to be a force of nature. To those of you who felt a kinship with that character, I envy you. I can admit that now.

You won’t see an Oscar-nominated coming of age movie about a Julie. We don’t really want that kind of attention, anyway. But it would be nice.


Natalie Koch is the Social Media Manager for Grok Nation. Natalie is a semi-Southerner who currently works from home in the Midwest. She loves Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook – in that order – her dog, Walt Disney World, Star Trek: TNG, The Muppets, and many other patently geeky things.

Grok Nation Comment Policy

We welcome thoughtful, grokky comments—keep your negativity and spam to yourself. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.