“I am not like other girls.”
How many times has the phrase found its way through the lips of a girl, into the welcoming ears of a world that has forever been considered a man’s?
We plaster it on social media. We pride ourselves in the distance we imagine we have put between ourselves and others of our kind. Because as I was once told, directly to my face, as a way of making me to toe the line: It has always been a weakness in itself to be a girl.
So we choose male friends over female ones. Females, after all, are chock full of drama. And who wants drama, right?
“I am not like other girls.”
And then a little ways down the road,
“Girls are just as good as boys.”
And we see no issue; we carry on with life, believing ourselves modern women, unbound by society’s chains meant to tie us to our bedposts with just enough give to let us make our way into the kitchen. Was it part of the feminist agenda to argue that while girls and boys are equal, being like other girls is a shameful thing so you’d best try to be the best female version of a boy instead?
‘I am not like other girls.’ Meaning that unlike other girls, I am calm, rational and intelligent enough to deal with my problems in a civil manner. Meaning that unlike other girls, I am not materialistic; I do not want diamonds and I do not obsess over shoes and shades of lipstick. Meaning that unlike other girls, I am real, and when I love my friends I do not plot to stab them in the back later on. Meaning that unlike other girls, I am actually as good as a boy.
But make no mistake…girls are just as good as boys. Anything a man can do, a woman can do better. But take pride in not being like other girls. Be like a boy but in a more feminine kind of way. Because girls in general are not the kind of people you want to be like. But yaaay feminism.
But Sally, she was a girl.
It was strange how we met. To date, we still cannot figure it out. It was the first day of high school and us poor Form Ones were being herded off to the dining hall (or one of the dining halls because our school in all its splendor and majesty could not conform and simply have one dining hall for all the students. No, we had four.) My new Toughees were killing me, and the nice prefect who was walking next to me insisted that they would soon be comfortable enough-hers were chewed on the outer soles and I had no trouble believing her. There was this girl in a blue skirt; the rest of us were in grey. And she didn’t seem to give one damn that she stuck out. But I kept thinking, “I know this girl. She looks so familiar.”
I didn’t talk to her that day. Let’s blame it on the shoes. And perhaps my social deficiencies. But mostly the shoes.
That night, we had Introduction for form ones. It was tradition, we were told. You stood up in front of the whole house (what most people call ‘dorm’) and you talked about yourself until the senior students got bored of you. When it was my turn, I stood up, I sang decently enough. I gained favor. The next day I was invited into a singing group and I met her. The girl in the blue skirt. Except now, she had the grey skirt that the rest of us wore. We didn’t talk. Not to each other. We were Form Ones. Until she opened up her notebook.
That was the first point of interest for me. She had a notebook. She wrote in it. She loved to write. Second point of interest, not only did she write, she wrote in cursive. I was impressed.
“You write in cursive?” It was more an expression of wonder and admiration than a question.
“Oh my God, you know what it’s called.”
I was amused. Apparently not many of her acquaintances knew what a cursive handwriting was.
“People don’t know this?”
She sighed. As though she had began to think that ‘cursive’ wasn’t actually a thing; that maybe she had come up with it somehow and expected people to just know that that is what she had decided to call it. “You’d be surprised.”
That was all it took, really. A notebook, a pretty handwriting, and a few songs. I made up my mind that night that I would love her. I felt that I needed to love her. It was fate, I decided.
We should have lived happily ever after. But it was Form One and when you’re in Form One, nobody seems to think you deserve a happily ever after. You would be hard pressed to think you even deserved the respect accorded to any human being, simply because they are a human being. But no. You are a Form One. Hii shule si ya mamako.
I don’t know that I adjusted well. I think I did. But there was always the anxiety, the frequent worthlessness, the feeling that life was but a big black hole that I would one day drown in and never make it to the surface. There were always the tears, the oddly comforting nights because I could wallow in peace, the exhausting days. There was always the feeling that I did not, never could belong. There was always the assumption that I was simply homesick. Because that is all Form Ones are good for. Always crying after home, as though home is a fact rather than a feeling.
But, there was, also, always Sally.
Such a beautiful thing she was to me, allowing me to be wretched and to have her love at the same time. It is a quite a task, I think now, to find the balance between letting somebody wallow in melancholy and trying to make them eat. I was all of 39 kilograms at 15 years old, and she took it upon herself to make me eat. I was not an easy assignment, I believe, and she must have borne frustration upon frustration on my account, for how do you watch someone wasting away and believe that perhaps your love will fill them out somehow. She fed me junk food- it was all I would eat. Crisps, biscuits, chocolate, wafers…And it was all hers. I would finish mine within a week or two- she had none at the beginning of the term. But she got a lot of it on visiting day and we both knew that her parents were really feeding me and not their daughter.
At 6:30 pm or thereabout she would find me behind the school chapel, writing, nay scribbling in my notebook, or staring at the setting sun. Or crying. And she would sit with me, sometimes talking sometimes not. Sometimes, she sang as I cried or stared. Sometimes she brought something to eat. As constant as my sadness.
“I feel like crap.”
“I know. You look the part too.”
A smile from me, a smile from her.
“I’m just wondering whether it will ever go away. But I think I like being sad, somehow. In some kind of way, it is rather comforting to know that at least I do have an identity, even if it is that of the serious-faced Form One who never laughs and is always crying.”
“I get that. But it will get better.”
“How do you know?”
“I don’t know. But I know who you are. You are not the serious-faced Form One who never laughs. For one thing, you laugh when you’re with me, and during Soul Winners meetings. Laughter is a good sign. If it were completely hopeless, you wouldn’t laugh at my jokes. And I’m hilarious.”
She always had a big ego like that. But she was right and I laughed.
She left the school soon after. She did her time as a Form One and then left. Of course I was devastated. But when she left, she left a much happier serious-faced Form Two. And she never left my life. She still comes through when the tears come back. And she is always there when there is free food. She brings her hair and her ego and it makes for a good time.
I would not send my own daughters to single gender boarding schools. That much I have vowed, despite my understanding that I am only 21 and will change my mind about very many things in the future. But perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if that is the only way they will get their own Sallys. Their own soul sisters. The girlfriends of whom they can say, to borrow and tweak a quote, “whatever souls are made of, hers and mine are the same.”
When did it become cool for girls to only want guy friends? When did we destroy each other so much that we decided it was boys that we wanted to talk to, to bond with, to cry with, to hug? Is it really so bad to be a girl like the rest of them?
Boys are great, no qualm about that.
But given any opportunity, let me have my girls.
Let me surround myself with girls, women, ladies who are so strong, so love-filled, so incredibly hilarious that I have no issues being like ‘other girls’. Because girls are just as good as boys. And it is likely, in this case, that they are even better. At least they know what it means to be a girl.
Sally, this one is for you.