I dreaded going to school yesterday. Stepfather wouldn’t let me wear jeans, it had to be a skirt and I don’t have any nice clothes. Well not what I consider nice anyway! Everything I own is dumpy, strange and just not what anyone else wears. All I want to wear are jeans, t-shirts, sweaters and shoes that don’t make me stand out, that just blend in with everyone else. Levis and Converse would be nice, but I don’t need them, I just need to wear things that don’t make people stare at me. Like those horrid brown grandma shoes with wedged heels that they bought me from the market one year. So ugly and I had to wear them all through the winter. Or those horrible orthopedic mary-jane style shoes that made me look like I had huge clompy feet. I wish I had the guts to just say no, but I don’t. I’m too scared of the consequences. I’m not an adult and don’t really have much of a choice when it comes to choosing what I wear, or who pays for it, or where it comes from. I understand that we are not rich, and I understand that no one wants to spend lots of money on clothes and shoes, but still. I know there are cheap but nice clothes out there. Just clothes that make me fit in. All my life I have stuck out like a sore thumb, all my life people have either laughed at my clothes, or what I listen to, or what I say, or by the fact that I am always reading, by the fact that we don’t own a TV and by the fact that I am never allowed to do anything outside of school. But as usual, I just keep my mouth shut and write in my diary and cry under my covers. One learns fast that it makes no difference to stand up and say something. If I keep quiet and accept the facts that nothing will change then it will just be easier for everyone.
It was the first day back at school yesterday, after a long summer of being more free than usual. Sometimes my sister and I even got to stay outside late and hang out with Virginie and sometimes some boys would join us. Summers in the village, the pool, my stupid pink swimming costume that makes everyone look at me, the evenings out on the school racing track, just talking and playing and laughing with Virginie and the boys. Listening to Bob Marley and playing basketball (or pretending to), dropping our brother off at home and finally being able to go out without him tagging along with us and throwing tantrums when we don’t do what he wants. Granted, he’s only 6, so I can’t really blame him for wanting to ride around and around on his bike, and I’m just too responsible to not watch out for him constantly. It’s just so nice when he is finally home in bed and I can feel free for a little bit. Summer nights this year were just really better than usual. Stepfather spent a lot of time writing, listening to Led Zeppelin and Lou Reed, and was mostly in a good mood. Mostly, because you never know what could set him off. As long as you keep out of his way, don’t mention anything that may set him off and just be a good kid you don’t need to worry. When the bottles come out it could go any way though and that’s just a toss of a coin…
Yours is the cloth, mine is the hand that sews time
his is the force that lies within
Ours is the fire, all the warmth we can find
He is a feather in the wind – Led Zeppelin, All My Love
Summer time in the village always means hot days and warm evenings, the swimming pool, olive oil and walks in the mountains. Jumping in freezing mountain water and writing letters to my friends. Waiting for the postman every morning, shopping for milk and cheese and fresh bread, reading many books and going to the library to pick up more, and watching fireworks from the balcony. Blue skies and heavy flash summer storms, eating Virginie’s mother’s delicious cakes and watching Beverly Hills 90210 on Virginie’s TV. It also means finding things to do all day long and looking after our brother all of the time. Having to check in with stepfather every hour so he knows we are alright. Waiting for Mum to come home from work so we can have dinner and then maybe, if we are allowed, go out with our friends afterwards, until the sun goes down, sometimes even later if stepfather is in a good mood.
Summers don’t cancel out the usual trepidation, the one that starts filling my stomach around 3pm every day, wherever I may be. The one that teaches me to look for the warning signs: the clink of a bottle against another, the refilling of the mug not from a kettle or the coffee pot, the bottle of wine on the table, the dinner that hasn’t been made, or that is being made in a crazy, haphazard way, records strewn out on the living room floor, T-Rex blasting away from the stereo and the intense stare coming from the cold blue eyes. But during the summers, somehow it’s always a little easier to deal with. Just a little. Working out how to avoid him on days off school is always a little more difficult, but one can always use the playing outside excuse and disappear for a while. At least until Mum gets home, because we are somewhat safe then. Somewhat.
First day back to school is always like getting ready for a battle in the warzone. I’m shy. I don’t like to talk to people I don’t really know and most people are intimidating. They are all laughing at me anyway, in my silly clothes that don’t look like normal clothes, my long, long hair that I can’t do anything with and am forced to have tied back in a plait down my back all the time. I am sure people laugh when I can’t find a word in French, when I stumble over my own language and blush because I think everyone is looking at me. I only feel comfortable in my English class with Mr. Wing, because he pushes me and makes me feel smart, questions all my questions and gives me new ideas and tells me to read new books. Teaches me how to understand Shakespeare properly and makes me feel that being intelligent in thought but terrible at Maths is not a bad thing. At least one class that I can walk in to without feeling like I am going to have to talk about something I don’t understand, or be called to the front to figure out some enigmatic equation that I had no idea how to figure out. I just cannot understand the logic of adding letters together to equal another letter. Letters add up together to make a word, words add up together to make a sentence and sentences come together to become a piece of literature. That’s my logic. So back to the warzone it is, pull yourself together, build those walls and walk on inside, amidst the loud voices, the games, the gossip, the dirty toilets and the disgusting canteen food smells.
“Jade! We are in the same class! Let’s sit together so that we don’t have to sit with any of the others.”
“Ah – I’m so happy! I was worried I was going to be stuck with all the mean girls and boys, the ones we hate. Thanks for all your letters over the summer! You are so tanned!”
“You too! Let’s try to sit at the back – I don’t want Fuckface to gossip about us behind our backs.”
“Did you see that old green eyes is in our class again? I thought he moved this summer? I was really hoping that he wouldn’t be here anymore. He thinks he’s such a rebel and a heartbreaker, but he really is just a mean bastard. I can’t stand him.”
“I know – I suppose he didn’t move. I checked the list and it’s the usual crowd of assholes in the class. Yet again. Maybe next year they will all choose S* so we can at least get rid of them. Although I see that they all see themselves as obscure poets now, so that’s probably not going to happen.”
“If I have to spend the next three years with these idiots I am going to cry profusely into Act III of Othello tonight – have you finished it yet?? It’s so good – I wish we could actually act it out this year; it would be so much fun. Instead we have to study it for our GCSEs.”
“I know! I’m a little worried about it all to be honest. I’ll see how it goes this term and see if I can deal with Mr. Wing’s strictness and sarcasm.”
“Don’t abandon me just yet! I’ll help you if it gets too much, I promise.”
Having that one friend is the most important part of getting through school. I’m not popular, I’m not really pretty (in any case I don’t think I am), I’m thin, plain, shy and just a little boring to be honest. I don’t really listen to popular music, except for maybe Madonna and Michael Jackson; I love all the artists my Mum and stepfather play all the time: Cher in the 60’s, T-Rex, Bowie, Dylan, Tom Waits, and the love of my life Tim Buckley. I listen to bands like Suede and Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. I spend most of my time reading obscure books in English and French and writing in my diary, when I am not looking after my little brother and making sure he’s alright. Or when I am not doing my chores and going shopping, or hiding from stepfather when he is drunk, or listening to the radio under the covers in the dark.
Disarm you with a smile
And cut you like you want me to
Cut that little child
Inside of me and such a part of you- Smashing Pumpkins Disarm
I’m not really allowed to do many activities outside of school anyway, so I always feel like a social outcast. Sleepovers are not really an option and I am always too scared to bring people home because I never know what the atmosphere is going to be like. It may be fine, but what if stepfather has decided to go on a bender? People at school think I am strange enough as it is, this would just put me over the border of strangedom, right into the “let’s gossip about that girl and her really weird family.” Or maybe I think too much about all of this and no one really cares about anything.
I just know people don’t really want to get to know me, and in a way I am fine with that. I have my small group of friends at school that help me get through the worst, and no one is exceptionally mean or unfriendly. I’m just not in the cool kids’ crowd, and in a way I like that. I can get along by being anonymous. But sometimes I just wish someone would realize how sad I really am, and how I often cry myself to sleep at night because I know that something is missing.
I just really want to fit in somehow, so I can pass through the crowds as invisibly as possible.
It's love back to front and no sides
like I say
These pieces are broken - like I say
These pieces are broken
Hope I'm wrong but I know – David Bowie, Because You’re Young
*S = Scientific channel in the French high school system