In which our heroine decides to bid adieu to a chapter in the past once and for all.
I see my trip to Burning Man challenging me in three ways: physically (with the dust storms I talked about earlier), emotionally and spiritually. Today I'm tackling the second one, and it's a doozy, so here is Chapter 1.
First some context...
Around the age of 11, things started to get awkward for me: my hair, once straight and shiny, decided to experiment with curls. It hadn't quite figured it out yet, so it settled on dry frizz. My hormones kicked in, but rather than award me with the menstrual cycle I craved (why oh why?!), it gave me a big swollen chest, a slight furriness above my lip and yes, even MORE hair in even LESS attractive places. (Such is the yoke of the Indian people: we are soooo furry.) Oh, and I wore glasses, big Harry Potter ones. Bren, after finding the following photo of me at this age, likened me to a Mexican drummer for a band like Styx. Lovely.
It's ok. You can laugh. :)
Personality-wise, I was pretty awkward too. I knew I was smart, but I didn't know how uneasy that attribute would make kids around me; I was called a "swot": a studious, over-achieving, lame-o, dorkface, suck-up'ing dweeberson. That was a weird transition, because at home, my intelligence was the most valuable commodity. At school, ironically, it was not.
Soon, a bunch of my friends formed a gang, The Wallyland girls, formed as a quasi-admiration society of some guy named Wally who was a wicked good ice-skater I think.
This is a half-decent photo of me at that age.
All the cool, pretty girls, the ones all the boys were into, the ones even the teachers were drawn to, were in the gang. These were the days of Vanilla Ice remember, so of course, they even had their own rap!
"We're the Wallyland girls and we like to rap. We're the rebel mc's and we take no CRAP!"
I thought it was the silliest thing, and yet I wanted to be able to spit that rap too! Oh man! Isn't it funny what your brain holds onto??
They would hang out together during the lunchtime break, and I don't remember how I knew that I wasn't welcome to sit with them. I suppose I sensed they were shutting me out. Instead, I would sit in our classroom, usually alone, and read.
Anyway, one day, I admit it, I got nosey. I looked in the folder of one my friends (we all carried around these big box files with all our work in them). She had a section with the name of the gang on it, and when I turned to it, I found a list of "applications" each of the members had to fill in and sign. The forms had questions about what kind of music they liked I think... I can't remember honestly. All I remember is scanning down to the bottom of the page, where the initiation-type question was, "Do you hate Aarti (and another girl, Sheetal)?"
One after another, each one of the girls, including the ones who had stayed over at my house and me at theirs, said "yes". Well, except for one girl, Sam, who said she didn't. She always spoke her mind, even if her opinion strayed from the crowd. In retrospect, that's probably why all the girls liked her -- and why, even as an adult, someone who speaks their mind so confidently (even if you don't agree with them) is so charismatic.
Anyway, the reason I bring this story up is because that moment has wrapped its tentacles tightly around my life ever since.
It was the first time that the bubble of sweet innocent childhood popped (and I know it pops a lot earlier and lot harder for other people). Listen, I know they were just being girls, and this stuff happens, and none of them were thinking about how their actions would affect MY long-term sanity. It's not a big deal on paper. But in that moment, I was just an 11-year old Indian Catholic girl with the naive notion that people just aren't capable of being mean or stabbing you in the back.
Yesterday, when I was talking this through with Bren, it dawned on me that my REACTION to that moment probably says more about me than anything else: Rather than lose trust in everyone else, I lost trust in myself. Rather than thinking, "Hey everyone hates me, they must be f*cked up", I thought, "Oh well, I must be f*cked up".
As I said that last part to Bren, my voice cracked and I started crying a little. It's just such a tragic thing to think about yourself, and I realise that I've whispered that mantra to myself, all my life.
Somewhere along the line, I learned that if I did uber-sweet things for people, they had no choice but to like me. At least, I *think* that's what my strategy has been -- I don't have enough distance yet to figure it out. Luckily, I have been blessed with true, deep friends who love me even if I sit on the couch and do nothing (Joo often sat next to me on the couch and ate bacon chips with me. Thankyou Joo!). I haven't completely unpacked that concept yet. But I do know that something to do with that part of my soul came loose at Burning Man.
That's about all I think is fair to lay on you today. More tomorrow. And oh, it's good. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, can you relate? Did you have a similar experience in your adolescent years? Were you one of those rare folks who DIDN'T have these kinds of things happen to you?