A Hug for Sally Draper

by Jen Doll

Sally, Sally, Sally, Sally. Sally. Oh, Sally. Our Sally. Little Sally Draper, or Sally Draper Who Once Was Little but now is, well, On the Verge of Grownup, 13 Going on 14 Going on 28.5, Sally Draper as played by the wonderful Kiernan Shipka, aged 14 herself: I would like to salute you, Sally Draper. Before you cross your arms and slouch away, just listen for a second. I really mean it! Your sassiness this last season has been a balm to my aging soul.

I know your years — 1967 to 1968, to you, several months of 2013 to those of us watching at home — were not great, and I’m sorry about that. A lot of really crappy stuff happened to you. The worst was probably the shock of walking in on your dad having sex with the neighbor when you were just trying to retrieve a love letter your nasty little friend had written, signed your name to, and passed along to the neighbor’s disarmingly attractive son (unfortunately named Mitchell) without asking you if that was OK. (It was, for the record, not OK! Friends do not do such thing to friends!) It was also not OK to see Dad with his pants around his ankles, lying on top of Mrs. Oh-God-This-Is-Awkwardskdjafldjl;sakdlfjal;dsjk, though of course you’ve long suspected he’s been up to things that you never totally knew about or understood. (Well, now you know, which is not to say you understand, or even should. How could you understand? Seriously, not understanding a parent is totally fine, even normal and expected. This will go on through much of your life. Just because you’re biologically similar doesn’t make you the same at all, and you’re allotted to your own mistakes, out from under the shadow of theirs.)

Which brings me back to your year, and those shadows. It would be easy to chalk this one up as a very bad year/time period on cable TV. This most recent sex sighting was not the only thing, not in the slightest. You’ve had a lot of really unpleasant stuff happen in your still short life, even before Season 6. Mom and Dad divorcing and their remarriages are just the tip of the iceberg; there’s Mom’s less than loving personality, Dad’s erratic habits and absences, getting your period at the museum with Glenn that day in Season 5, and, good lord, walking in on Roger and Megan’s mom engaged in some questionable adult stuff — mortifying, all of it. But it’s not your fault two dysfunctional people brought you into the world, thereby bringing their dysfunction to you. And you’ve shown remarkable coping skills, especially this year. For 1967/ 1968/ 2013, you deserve some accolades, and if I could deliver you a car with a big red bow on it (and if you were old enough to drive), maybe I would, maybe I really would.

And now for the twist in this missive: Yeah, your year was bad, but you were awesome. A less strong person might not have taken that woman breaking into your apartment and claiming to be your Grandmother Ida so well. You can’t blame yourself for the burglary; you shouldn’t have been left alone as the babysitter, and if that father of yours could actually communicate like a human being, maybe you’d be better prepared for such situations. Anyway, whose fault was it she got in? Not yours. What I’m trying to say is, if you can shine in such an off-year, there’s only more greatness in your future. I hope that’s not dismissive to your pains and the trials and tribulations of a particularly trying sort of youth, it’s just, you’re really my favorite character now. I would totally watch The Sally Draper Show.

That said, and not to get all lecture-y, some of your behavior is cause for concern, from a semi-responsible adult point of view (I drank at LEAST a bottle of wine all by myself last night, so feel free to take this with a grain of salt). I know it’s hard not to act out when surrounded by so many jerks and idiots and people of deep and perilous immorality. But you do not need to stoop to their level. Fine, fine, be a rebel, drink a Tom Collins or four, smoke a cigarette or two, make boys fight over you, social-climb. We’ve all been there. But don’t take it too seriously. Don’t actually buy into the snooty mean girl routine you’ve been exposed to, and are only going to be exposed to increasingly throughout life. Play the game, but keep a little distance. Keep some of you to yourself. Smile and nod when people say “never change,” but do your best to keep changing, because the last thing anyone needs is to be stuck. (Just take it from your mom and dad.)

In the meantime, thanks for sharing your awkward adolescence. You make it look good. You’ve made me embrace the irascible, sassy, not-taking-shit-saying-it-like-it-is inner person we all have, even if sometimes that inner person generally only comes out under cover of night and after several hours in the bar. Oddly enough, that embrace has felt warm and real, even if it’s not always been the cuddliest. I’d hug you back if I could, but I fear you’d dislike that, and the point of this piece is to pay tribute to you, not to anger you further.

Look, I’m sure you stopped believing in Santa a long, long time ago. But in this post-Christmas time, I want you to know that you’re better than them. You’re better than the whole lot of them, minus maybe Joan and Peggy (on The Sally Draper Show, they could certainly make cameos). And you’ve got something the rest of them don’t have. You’ve got all the potential weighing down your crossed arms and shrugged shoulders and furrowed brow, you’ve got your keen insights, you’ve got your future. You, girl, are awesome. You deserve more than a field trip to see the brothel your dad grew up in, but maybe he’s just trying to let you in. Let that unfold. See what happens. It could be good. You’ll be fine, Sally.

Previously: How to Cook Like a Writer for the Holidays

Jen Doll is a regular contributor to The Hairpin.