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The It Factor

Some people just have it – Not a Memoir, Part 9

Cindy Gabriel
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Sharon Trojan Hollinger and Cindy Gabriel

FIRST BEST FRIENDS Sharon Trojan Hollinger and Cindy Gabriel still cherish their shared adolescence. As Dolly Parton sings, “You can’t make old friends.”  

I am currently reading a book called Everyday Holiness by a Jewish author named Alan Morinis. Morinis makes the claim that life gives each of us a curriculum, our circumstances. The more I write my own life stories, the more I see it. The more I see it, the more I wish I’d seen it sooner.

It was the last day of seventh grade, the last day of life in Rosenberg. My mother picked me up in a car packed to the ceiling, including the dog and two younger siblings.

Houston was just an hour down the road, but a world away. We were among the first families to move to a new suburban development of homes built along a golf course in Northwest Houston. Who moves a girl at the age of 13 at the beginning of summer, with no friends? 

The first two weeks I did nothing but stare out the window and sob, especially when my parents were in ear shot. I wanted them to pay for ruining my life.

Apparently, my mom found out that another girl my age just moved in around the corner and was making her parents miserable too. I think our mothers conspired. Mom told me to walk down the street and around the corner to see if anyone my age lived nearby. Just as I rounded a corner to the next street I heard a mom-like voice calling. “Are you Cindy?” It was Juanita Trojan, mother of Sharon Trojan.

The next thing I knew, I was standing at their front door, looking at the cutest, most stylish girl I had ever seen. I was totally out of her league. Her perfect tanned legs emerged from cut-off blue jeans. An oversized t-shirt hung off one shoulder, on purpose. Her big blue eyes looked me over with a hint of disapproval. 

One of us had clearly made the transition into a full-fledged teen. One of us was still a child. If Sharon’s mother had not invited me in, I wonder if Sharon would have. 

Once in Sharon’s room, the brutally honest words came: “No one wears pointy-toed tennis shoes anymore. Camp shirts are out too.” My white box-cut shirt barely covered elastic-waistband shorts, which I suddenly, intuitively realized was wrong too. Hard as it was to hear, the words didn’t feel like complete rejection, but more like I had just become a project. 

Next thing I knew, we were both looking at me in her bathroom mirror. I never liked what I saw in the mirror. There was something wrong around my eyes. My blonde eyelashes and brows were invisible. All you saw were two blue dots lost in a blank white face. 

“Mascara,” Sharon said. “That’s what you need.” Out came a magic wand in a tube. I blinked a few times in the direction of the wand. Voila! Eyelashes. I suddenly looked normal-ish. Sharon looked pleased. 

“Here, let me part your hair down the middle.” Then she added a little blush and lipstick. 

One turn of the corner, a wave of a magic mascara wand, and that pouty little girl was gone. I would never leave the house again without mascara. More importantly, I had a new best friend. 

I was surprised she stuck by me given the fact that I had the world’s strictest father. I was forbidden to date boys with long hair, go to movies that weren’t G-rated, or listen to rock ‘n’ roll music. At least he didn’t lock me in my room. I could bypass the rules in one sentence. “I’m going to Sharon’s.” 

My parents liked Sharon. Everybody did. She had this thing called the It Factor. Boys melted in her presence. She made A’s without studying. She could read a book in a day. She loved animals, and fearlessly tested parent-set boundaries. 

Was I jealous? Heck yeah I was. She had more than her share of things falling her way. I wasn’t always happy about it. 

In college, we went our separate ways. Sharon went to The University of Texas, which my father thought was “too liberal.” I went to Stephen F. Austin in the Bible Belt. We both majored in Radio and TV. My focus was in front of the camera, but Sharon’s was more behind the camera.

In college she was part of the production team for Austin City Limits. Then, she took off for Los Angeles, finding a break as the assistant director of The Arsenio Hall Show, which ran from 1989-1993. For the last 10 years, she has directed Chef Gordon Ramsay’s hit show Hell’s Kitchen

Some 30 years ago she melted the heart of Gard Hollinger, a Johnny Depp lookalike, who designs world-class motorcycles for a living. Let’s just say, It Factors attract. Since 2011, Gard has co-owned a business called Arch Motorcycles. Who is the other owner? Keanu Reeves, naturally. 

I give up. You win, Sharon. Your It Factor condition is chronic. I’ll get back to my book now. The next chapter up is called Humility. It’s part of my life curriculum. 

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