The first time I heard Britney Spears it was on a casette tape my newly appointed best friend played for me on my parents boom box in the backyard of my freshly minted childhood home. There were may flowers in bloom that dropped their lazy white petals all over the concrete, and my friend sat at the picnic table and coached me on all the dance moves which I had never seen. I was flattered by her interest in me and attention to detail as she corrected me, but I knew if my mom caught me acting this way and listening to this music it would be the end of our baby friendship. She liked boys, and she didn’t like her home. I’m not sure why she liked me because she was clearly quite a bit older than me although I hadn’t figured that out yet. She lived across the street in the row of three cement condos with the empty flower bed out front. I spotted her on the first day that we moved in playing in her front yard across the street. As soon as I had jumped out of the car I had waved at her enthusiastically and invited her over to play at my house. She had short curly hair and a brother that was mean to us sometimes but mostly left us alone. Televison had already taught me my best friend would be the one geographically most convenient to me since I wasn’t enrolled in school and didn’t yet have full run of the neighbourhood. She would bring over tapes of Brittney Spears and Spice Girls and teach me all the moves, but I wasn’t allowed to go over to her house to watch them on TV. Once she told me she had peed her pants because she couldn’t get to the bathroom in her house. She couldn’t quite explain to me why she couldn’t get there, but having only been potty trained for a few years myself it didn’t seem that out of the ordinary. I reassured her and told her she could use my bathroom anytime. My parents started to ask a lot of questions about her, and my baby sitter wouldn’t let her come over to play at all. She did seem to cry and shout a lot, but I didn’t think that was unusual she just had a lot of feelings that she couldn’t explain. I don’t remember when she stopped being allowed to play in my house or why that happened. I do remember that someone explained to me that I didn’t have to be so nice to everyone. I didn’t find being nice to her a chore though. She would give me her undivided attention for hours at a time, and I would give her mine. It was a very mutual exchange from my young vantage point. Not long after that her family moved away from mine. Some time afterwards my family got a few months of cable as one of those internet bundle promotions. I remember watching all the moves my friend had taught me in real life on the television, and feeling a sense of pride over the hours we spent practicing our routine. My new friends scoffed at Brittney Spears and thought girls that liked that kind of music were stupid air head bimbos. I had to agree with them externally, but inside I remembered my friend asking the same questions that they were.
The first time our lips groped each other in gentle awkwardness a tidal wave overcame my body drowning my brain in the dizzying waves. You touched my face in that loving way we had whispered to each other about as kids. Except you weren’t the tuxedo mask or Kurt Cobain of our fantasies. You had soft hands that smelt like vanilla body spray and truth or dare perspiration. You pulled away while I was still struggling to catch my breath and laughed in my face. You said that its no big deal to kiss after all it was just a game. Even though I had tried to say to you many nights in the dark that I could fall in love with any gender, but what I didn’t say was that I was falling in love with you. I think of all those times we would practice our make up and try to find the right angle to make our barely there breasts seem most appealing in the mirror before lying together on the bed legs entwined talking about our futures. You said that we had to practice doing it for the boys, to attract a husband that we would wow with our nubile yoga bodies, and cook fancy meals for on special occasions. But I knew no boy would appreciate you like I do. He would be intimidated by your Amazonian figure, and fierce intellect. He wouldn’t know the hours you devoted to becoming your best self. He wouldn’t know the way your dad sometimes scared you, but you still loved him. He wouldn’t know that you think carnations are tacky as gifts. But I knew. I had watched you growing up all these years, blooming into not a woman but a force of nature. And I was the one reminding you that you were beautiful, and that shared your anxieties about sex and love and romance. I couldn’t say to you though that I was falling in love with you. You were my best friend, and if our parents found out no more sleep overs, no more friendship, no more innocence. Besides we agreed that we weren’t ready to have sex yet anyways. You wanted to wait for marriage, and I wanted to wait for more body hair. But then you kissed me on a dare at your birthday party while your parents were out in front of all of our friends and shipwrecked my timid heart. In that moment as my lips parted to your infinite wetness letting it wash away all my fear of being seen when I too felt like I might be a goddess of the sea, you laughed at me. You told me that it meant nothing. You could kiss me anytime that you wanted, and it wouldn’t mean anything to you because you are not gay. I am just your friend. And sometimes friends kiss because boys like it when they do, and you, my friend, really want a boyfriend for your birthday, and I am never going to be that boyfriend because I can’t hide how soft my lips are, or how smooth my cheek is, or how tiny my hands are. My tiny hands that could never encircle your waist in the strong titanic embrace that you dream of. I wouldn’t even know how to love you if I could. We hadn’t been practicing for this moment. The moment I would dissolve into your lips. I buried those feelings like a treasure closely guarded. Kept under lock & key, but always just below the surface. I had seen the ocean in your grey eyes, and I tried to swim back there everyday, but you were always looking somewhere else.
Why do we choose the words we do and what do they mean? To us, to our friends, to people on the street, and future explorers. There is a magic in language that is itself hard to capture. Ambiguous yet specific; call to mind something particular that you have no way of sharing. We don’t recall the same tree, I can’t articulate your grief, colours are infinitely described as they are seen, will what you call me effect who I am to you? Read this collection before taking a long, quiet walk at night and see what hidden meanings you interpret or misinterpret.
- David Whyte on the True Meaning of Friendship, Love, and Heartbreak via Brain Pickings
- Daniela Andrade covers Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) so simple yet so much more grave, check her music here
- When Choirs Sing Many Hearts Beat As One via NPR – pair with my favourite hymn sung by the Soweto Choir
- On prescribing poems for the sick, the dying, and the grief stricken via LitHub
- Leading neuroscientists and Buddhists agree: consciousness is everywhere via Lions Roar – the article is a great summary, but if you have an evening to listen to the full conversation between the Dali Lama and Christof Koch it is well worth the investment (link in article).
I must add this final note, we have lost another great soul, Kazu Ohno founder of Japanese Butoh has died at age 103, my heart grieves, this video soothes it, thanks Lia for sharing.