Not that kind of friend

As kids, we had to move countries thanks to the child-friendly pastime called war. I lost a few friends while the adults who lead the world squabbled like adults who lead the world. Many other friendships were lost in translation, literally; it wasn’t easy to learn 3 new languages to keep up with the other 7 year olds in India.

While teen years are the most confusing to most people, I was at my cockiest best. I was making friends while walking from the water cooler to the library. Back then, conversation came as easily and frequently as awkward silences do these days. I could write a whole post on my school friends! Oh wait, I did.

If the number of ‘Miss Friendly” sashes I had earned by the end of my school years was anything to go by, life was going to be a breeze.

And as promised by my tone, it was not a breeze.

The rules of adulting were chucked at my face in quick, migraine-inducing succession.

Once you cross 18, tomboys are called butch. There’s no such thing as just texting. There’s feminine and there’s masculine, and you need to choose – now. You’re either politely submissive or an ice queen bitch; you need to choose – now. Pick a clique. You will be judged, adored and despised for reasons beyond your control. Just don’t be a bitch about it.

Fark me, these are the rules against which all of us get measured. Lucky for me, I stopped giving a shit.

Needless to say, I haven’t been winning any “Miss Friendly” sashes in the last decade.

Grown-up-ness also marks the switch from multiple best friends to multiple friend circles. Work friends, family friends, husband’s friends, old friends, mama friends and miscellaneous.

Even within these circles, I sometimes find myself trying to find my self. My fellow former refugees and move-ers may correlate. We don’t have much in common with a large group, our interests are as flaky as our thoughts, and we intermittently drift far, far away. When the friends are great, the place isn’t. When the place is good, you miss the friends. It’s not that we’re dissatisfied, we just want everything. Is that too much to ask for? We honestly want to belong, but seem to have misplaced the ability, somewhere in transit.

Fitting in was never easy for me. Perhaps I wasn’t trying hard enough – or trying at all. It’s not that I didn’t want to; there were several times in my life where fitting in would’ve made life much easier. Instead I invariably, and inevitably, turn into a bumbling, awkward and confused mess with incomplete sentences dribbling out of my gaping mouth.

Luckily, I always find a fabulous bunch of misfits. Our rough edges, broken corners and missing parts make us a noisy bag of spares.

I don’t meet them regularly, don’t share my deepest darkest secrets and don’t know their families like my own. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy their company like a dehydrated person enjoys an ice-cold Slurpee on a wildly hot day. (Yes, it needed all those adjectives.)

Our complete lack of rules and structures of traditional friendships means that no one feels let down or left out. We discuss to great depths our current joys and trials. We celebrate each other’s lives without reflecting on what it means for the future or past. We laugh, cry and over-share. We drink, dance, and then return to our best friends and soul mates and childhood friends.

Every day I miss these ridiculously kind and funny people I call my friends. The very thought of them makes me feel pure happiness of having known them.

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Then, there are people you can’t call friends, because as heart-warming as the word is, it isn’t big enough to carry your love for them.

No matter how distant I feel in a room full of friends, I know I’ll never be lonely because I have 2 of these people. My soul people. I’m the best version of me, when I’m with these beautiful humans.

I must confess something at this point. While this post is an xoxo to the fantastic friends I’ve made over the years, I do have an ulterior motive. This post is also an ad for new friends, of the face-to-face variety. (I have a head-start with my school friends; but we bonded as 17 year olds, and are too busy reminiscing. Leave us alone.)

So here I stand. 32 years old, and starting all over again. I’m calling all misfits and crazies. Old friends and new. I’m open to coffee, frozen yoghurt or all-you-can-eat buffets. I’ll talk, listen, laugh and cry – not necessarily at the appropriate times, but I’ll work on that. I won’t break any promises if you don’t make any. It’ll be a breeze, I promise!

I want my “Miss Friendly” sash back, goddamnit.

School’s in!

Like any regular school day, I woke up groggy, mechanically brushed my teeth and washed my face. I put on my freshly ironed clothes, tied my dusty shoelaces and threw my bag over my shoulder.

Unlike most other school days, I walked into school with my son in tow as my husband waved from the car.

I was visiting my alma mater almost 15 years after I graduated from there.

Would the teachers remember me? Would the buildings hold any signs of me skidding down halls and leaning against pillars making secret pacts? Would echoes of my excited squeals still resonate along the corridors?

Walking towards the gate, I can feel the noise and energy in my bones. And if any of the students ask me if I’m a parent, they’ll feel the power in my bones, too.

After all, I’m in school and parents are just not cool.

I’m told to get permission from the Principal to go into the main building, so I walk right past his office and into the building.

After all, I’m in school and if you don’t rebel, you fit in.

At first glance, everything is different. A new paint job, new uniforms, new attitudes. And everything is the same. Same rush, same invincibility, same energy.

It’s recess when I walk in and the teenagers, who’ve replaced my friends and me, gather in cliques like we did before them. Some of them spare me a side-glance, too entrenched in their discourse to pay too much heed to the blue-haired mama with a small boy and big smile.

The few teachers who remain, recognise me right away. I can see their minds racing, as if to sort through thousands of files to match my face to a memory. After good-naturedly chastising me for my absurd hair colour, we begin to chat. As we reconnect, I can see it in their eyes – they’re remembering me, one mischief at a time, one laugh at a time, one grade at a time. That’s my sign to keep moving!

With every step forward, I go back in time.

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One corridor, a million memories.

Running into school to share a secret (of the “don’t tell anyone” variety) with my best friends. Or the moment of hopeless terror when I remember I left my assignment on my bedside table. Or the silent prayer for a dreaded teacher to be absent. Or the exhilaration at the thought of spending the next six hours with some of my most favourite people.

That feeling when I enter my classroom every morning – either “here we go again” or “here we go again”.

The unconscious ritual of scanning the classroom to see if anyone was panicking over homework that I had forgotten about, too. Then weighing time versus interest to see if it was worth attempting to complete it or using the time to come up with a creative excuse.

Slipping into my seat and instantly filling my desk drawer with the essentials – pen, pencil, books and my lunch in case of an emergency snack attack.

Over the next six hours, teachers would walk in and out of the classroom. We were inspired, bored, entertained, and very often, we were the entertainment. But we learnt life lessons. Like how to stifle a laugh without bursting a vein, how to think of the saddest thoughts to douse the laughter and how to drop a pen and spend the next three minutes looking for it so as to laugh freely under the desk. Essentially, we learnt that we are powerless against an infectious giggle fit.

 

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If only these benches could speak. They’d tell tales of notes and chips and cassettes. Of laughter and nerves and tears.

The time we spent laughing for absolutely no reason makes the time we spend looking for a reason to smile these days, seem sadly disproportionate.

School or university years are always remembered as the best days. We hold on to every detail; how the classroom looked on that rainy, sleepy day when you sat at the back of the class daydreaming, the way you felt rushing out of school on the first day and rushing in on the last, the cold water at the water cooler after PT, the smell of chemicals on your hands after lab, the exhilaration of writing on the chalk board (unless you’ve been asked to solve a problem in front of the class, then it’s fear, pure excruciating fear), the crucial chat with your friends about that boy and the day of raucous laughter about that boy.

What if someday we look back upon today as one of the best days of our life? Even if we’re all happy beyond reason in the future (and I hope we will be!), I hope we lovingly remember the room, office, train or classroom we’re sitting in right now, and relive the conversations we’re having and the people we’re having them with.

Almost 15 years after I left school, I can still hear the weightless laughter and feel the blind hope bouncing off the walls. I want to tell 15-years-back me to remember this moment and know that you’re living it – and you’re responsible for the happiness you’re feeling, don’t ever put it in anyone else’s hands. Never lose the sense of wonder for the world out there. The fun, quirky or shy girls around you will become the strong, beautiful women who make your day by just remembering you, so cherish them. Continue believing that you can make a difference and never stop being different. The song lyrics you say is your motto in life right now, you’ll probably laugh at that in a few years, but somehow, you’ll reconnect with it again, so hold on to that (even the really, really cheesy ones. Especially, the really, really cheesy ones).

And I want 15-years-back-me to tell me the same thing. Run into work and home to smile and talk to the people around me. Create rituals that make every space mine. Never stop laughing at silly things. Not to wait for something big and shiny every time. Let everyday things inspire me, even if just for a second. Never stop making friends. Make conversation with the quiet guy at work. Finish your homework quickly so you can go out and play. You’ll keep finding best friends and soul mates, but your school friends will be your parachute and jetpack and magic door. It’s ok to be sad, mad and bad. Your school memories may have been the best, but better days are in front of you, if you keep moving forward.

I think school-me would’ve been happy seeing today-me, this morning. She would’ve looked at me and passed the verdict to her friends: “Yeah, she’s not too bad for an adult.”

Ya heard that? Not too bad! Ha!

(Haha she thinks I’m an adult. Cute!)

 

Got some change?

For those of you who’ve been following my blog (Babe? Are you still reading? Ma? Chechi? Is that an echo?) you’ll know that I’m back home with the parents as a pit stop to our next big adventure. When I say pit stop, what I really mean is ‘time to check the map again’. Either way, being here has brought back an avalanche of memories.

I claim to have a photographic memory. I claim it and this is my blog, so I won’t refute it. When I manage to drag myself off the couch and get on a treadmill, I ease the trauma by visualising the streets that I walked through while growing up. Now that I’m back on the streets (not literally! Ok, maybe a little literally), I can see that everything has changed. Where our old home stood is an ugly multi-storey apartment, our little corner store is now a slick car rental outlet and my favourite shopping haunt is now a deserted street half in ruins.

Our new home is better by a mile, the new corner store is a lot like the old one and the new popular shopping mall is an exercise in extravagance. Two out of three, I guess change is not all bad.

In a previous post I wrote about catching up with my friends from high school. On our last day at school, we hugged and wept and promised to never change.

The Backstreet Boys were performing in Melbourne a week after I was flying out; If I hadn’t changed, I would’ve gladly swapped my life adventure for 3 hours of screaming and weeping for 5 gorgeous middle-aged men. Yeah, I’m not entirely convinced about that choice.

Aaaaannyway…

For a very long time after school, I clung on to who I was in the hopes of drawing confidence from the memory. I waited patiently for the right moment to reveal my old self to my new world. It never came, and I found a new self in the process. I instantly hated her. After a few dozen pity parties, I found validation in the form of friendship from the unlikeliest and coolest bunch of people I know, and more importantly, from myself.

That was only the first of many versions of me. Now I’m like Voldermort, looking to save memories of myself in different phases in a bid to live forever. Minus all the killing and soul-splitting.

The main reason I feared change was that I equated it with compromise. To me, I had life sorted out when I was 16. I knew what I wanted to do, where I wanted to live and the kind of person I wanted to be with. Today, I’m not doing what I thought I wanted to do, not living anywhere in particular and not married to a cool dude wearing low-slung jeans and a dog-tag chain, with a catch phrase to reassert coolness. Dogged that one!

The other reason is that I didn’t want to grow up. And sometimes I still say that I haven’t grown up, but come on, 16-year-old me wouldn’t know what to do with a double shot of vodka and Kahlua, and I’m never going back to that! (Drink it all up. That’s the correct answer. Drink it all up.)

When I first heard ‘More than words’ by Extreme, I loved it. I loved the sound and the voices. I loved that it meant love is more than words. That was before I hated it. I hated that it meant you can say you love me till the cows come home, but it don’t mean shit until you take your pants off. Now I love it. I love how prophetic it is about being affectionate and passionate, and not robotically uttering the words.

Cool story bro, right? I have a point, I promise. How we see things – wait, I’m not Deepak Chopra – how I see things is a perception based on my knowledge of the world around me and my acceptance of it. So I now see change as widening my horizons, learning more and living more.

My dreams and aspirations have changed. How I love and want to be loved changes all the time. I’m not flaky, just discovering more about myself every day and making this little ride a lot more fun. I will always love the people I loved, and I may love many more. I’m sure of what I stand for, but they may be enhanced further as I learn more. I still want to be happy, but the how may keep changing.

Now I’ve accepted that change is inevitable, and thank heavens for it. I only need to stay calm and take it as a new happy memory in the making. Slow and easy, awkward stages and all. Somewhere in the middle, I know I’ll find me again.

Change

Walk the walk

I can’t call myself a traveller just yet, but I have moved around enough to pretend I’m one. Truth be told, I have wished I was travelling instead of moving at more than one instance. When I was struggling to bridge the cultural gap or make up for it, when my previously successful sense of humour fell flat in a different time and different language. My confidence wavered, speech stuttered and personality went through absurd changes. I always came back to who I was when I found my people, but I was most at peace with myself when I was out there by myself, exploring this new place and falling in love with it.

Sticks and stones

Walking through a well-manicured park in Melbourne, I see a stick between the blades of grass. It’s a long-enough, thick-enough, less-than-a-branch, more-than-a-twig stick. The kind that stands up, crosses its arms and dares me to pick it up.

The 8-year-old Indian schoolgirl in my head wants to pick it up. She wants to drag it along the sand, all the way from here until the end of the song on her lips.

That’s another thing I miss about India. Random lines dragged along the path from nowhere to somewhere. Marking our thoughts as we walked back home from school.

Or stones. You’d always find stones gathered outside homes. Stones from 2 blocks down. From where that day’s dream began. We would kick it as we walked home. As we imagined, dreamed, sang.

It’s always the simplest things that stay with you, and it could not get simpler than this. Just a stick and a stone, mapping the short walk from the bus stop to my doorstep.

Not that we needed a distraction, because there was never a dull moment in India. Not even when everyone, including the birds and stray dogs, were having their afternoon siesta. We did it as a dance to accompany our wild fantasies. We did it to make the walk home shorter. Or longer. We did it because there was a stick, a stone and an open path.

Get lost

It must’ve been a day like the one I was having when Lawrence Durrell wrote in Justine: In the midst of winter you can feel the invention of spring.

I was still new to Melbourne and on my way to a job interview. The tinniest hint of pollen in the air had given me the confidence to venture out on my own. Naturally, I took the right tram going in the wrong direction. So lost was I in the winter-spring-ness, that I didn’t realise my mistake until I was at the opposite end from where I needed to be. So I wound up enjoying the ride twice, as I took the tram back to my destination.

After my interview, I jumped on the same tram for the third time that day. I stepped off at a random stop and got lost. Lost within the laneways, brick walls, café-behind-a-café, shop-within-a-shop.

One too many left turns later, I turned right and stumbled into the smallest op-shop (thrift store). The smell of dust and crumbling paper and fading clothes and fresh memories made it feel anything but small. The surge of happiness I felt made me laugh; I had just found a piece of my soul I didn’t know was missing. I was afraid the spring in my step might push me over the stack of mismatched cups and saucers.

With a bagful of treasures in one arm and a vintage milk crate under the other, I found myself drawn towards the aroma of freshly toasted bread wafting out of a narrow slit in the wall. Behind the slit was the beginning of my breakfast obsession; a quaint little café that completed my perfect warm winter day with a breakfast stack of a heavenly poached egg sprinkled with dukkah perched on a bed of wilted spinach and garlic mushrooms carefully balanced over a crispy golden hash brown laid out over a spread of avocado and feta on a slice of impeccably toasted sourdough. I know, the adjectives are practically drooling out of my mouth.

I found out a lot about myself when I got lost. I found out that I like old books with notes scribbled in them and curios that don’t fit into any style bracket. I like talking to strangers. I was still petrified at the thought of talking to strangers. I like eating alone by the window. I was bad at catching trams, and it was one of my best qualities. I found out that I was falling in love with Melbourne, one wrong turn at a time.

I didn’t get the job that day, but I got Melbourne.

Goosey Goosey Wander

Writing this post has opened the floodgates, and memories are gushing right in. The short walk from school to home in Kuwait, with the allure of home pulling me forward while the endless conversations slowed down my every step. Hot sand under my feet and hot gossip on my mind. Or early morning temple visits with my mum in India; the lane leading to the temple would be saturated with smells of breakfast being laid out and incense sticks and freshly scrubbed school kids.

Sigh. There’s so much more living to do.