I was eleven when the voices started. They may have been around before, but it was eleven when I noticed them, although, more accurately, it was eleven when the voices noticed ME. I hadn’t changed, pretty much from the beginning. Same hair, too-thick and cut short, boy-short – not bobbed or even mullet or any other pretty girl-style. Same shoes that were too squat and laced, never buckled like girl’s shoes. Same boy’s shorts and boy’s track suits with stupid flared legs (with zips in the leg for extra flare, as if the teasing I already copped wasn’t enough for them), and the same grey boy’s jeans in winter, because they’re warm, because dresses aren’t practical. I don’t like practical. I like GIRL. I am one. I am.
The voices had faces, and the faces had bodies, and those bodies had hair that was always perfect and swooshed in the wind, and their jeans didn’t wobble on the ankles when they ran, and their fluorescent fold-down socks always matched their t-shirts and their jumpers, and the way their fringes curled at the top, and the way their shirt collars sat up and the bottoms hung down were always perfect, and always exactly right. They knew that, and they made sure I knew it too, in voices as cutting as they were breezy and off-the-cuff. It was only the malice in the eyes that gave away their real intent.
By the time I was twelve, and then thirteen and fourteen, and beyond, the faces and the bodies that housed them had moved on to other classrooms and other prey, and although the physical voices went with them they had trained me well enough to replicate them every day on my own. They didn’t need to be there to do it for me any longer, I could do it all by myself. “Oh Megan, did you get your hair cut again?” I’m saying it myself this time. Yes. Boy-short. Again. “Oh they’re nice new jeans Megan”. Yes. For a boy. “Oh, what a lovely t-shirt!” and pity about the absence of anything in the rest of the outfit that matches.
I tried so hard to fit in. I tried to find ways of altering the clothes I had, and tried hard to make something beautiful out of the things my mother brought home for me from the sales and the second hand shops and the discount bins, and from the things I bought with my own hard-saved money. At the end of the day though the voices were always stronger. They became my voice, and they knew and they told me the thing that I would never admit with my own voice: that I would never fit in, that no matter how hard I tried I was just Wrong.
Being wrong all the time is hard, and knowing that you’ll never, ever be right is harder still, so by the time I was sixteen I rebelled, and decided that if I was going to be wrong I’d do it on my own terms. My boy-short hair was finally long enough to put up in a ponytail, and I let it grow down almost till I could sit on it. I snubbed my nose at fashion stores and danced in hippie pants and old men’s shirts with the collars cut off, in army trousers with lacey edges and endless pairs of stripey stockings. I found funny hats and patchwork jackets and t-shirts with badges and strange slogans that meant nothing to anyone but me. I got my ears pierced and wore a cat in one side, and later I got my nose pierced and wore a frog in it. Because I could. Because there was nothing stopping me now, no voices, no eleven-year-old girls with eyes full of malice, no fashion, no fear.
That’s a lie, that last bit.
I WAS afraid. I wouldn’t walk through the fashion shops, I avoided the trendy areas. I steeled myself when I had to walk past trendy girls with perfect hair and make-up and clothes done just-so. I’d never walk into fashion stores, not ever, because the minute I did I was eleven years old again and there were the voices jamming me over the loud-speaker system in my mind: What are YOU doing here? You don’t fit. You are wrong. You are bad. You are ugly. You don’t deserve to walk in a place this pretty. Why don’t you just GO.
I fought those voices, one new t-shirt at a time. Every time I walked into a fashion outlet I forced myself to stay. I forced myself to move in, to the back of the store, to not be afraid, to try things, to buy things. It’s taken a long time to feel comfortable, but gradually, in the way things do, things are changing. This is a good thing.
This is a good thing, because in slightly over two weeks I’m going to be dragging my disheveled and jet-lagged self right into the heart of middle-class suburban Los Angeles, to my friends’ house in the Santa Clarita Valley.*
I love my friends. I can’t wait to see them again, it’s been far too long. I can’t wait to see where they live, and what they do, and what life is like for them now in the USA, so far from little ol’ Tassie where we first met. I should have picked up on this though a while ago, when I first read the post about my friend’s six year old daughter going to a kid’s party with the stylist who did all their hair and (probably) make-up. I should have thought it through. I should have realized when I first saw a photo of their house, that this was a Valley – even perhaps THE Valley. I hope they don’t carry poodles in their handbags.
It’s a bit late now though. I’m going. And honestly, it’s time to root those voices out once and for all, to embrace my inner Valley Girl (hang, on, do I even HAVE one?) and get a mani-pedi (WHAT!!???) and a great haircut (HUH???) and boldy go where no Megan has gone before. Because, as they say in the Valley, “Whatever”.
And as to those eleven-year-old voices? I’ll put on my very best Valley Girl voice and put up my newly polished nails and say “Talk to the HAND, because the face IS NOT LISTENING!”
*I wrote a post very early on in my blogging life, called “Hey, where did all the perfect people go?” I can answer that really well now: they went to Los Angeles.