Throwback: Shoelaces

Girls are mean. I don’t like mean things. I like small, fluffy, cute things. But girls can also be small, fluffy (?), and cute. Final verdict: I’d rather just like puppies. Puppies are always a safe bet.

When I was in the first grade my family moved from Texas to Hawaii. At the age of seven, I was still kinda girly. My mommy dressed me in pink dresses (I remember I had a favorite strawberry-patterned one), put my hair in curlers every night, and pinned up my tresses in the morning with ribbons. I was the daughter just about every mother wishes she’ll one day rear.

On my first day of school, I asked my mom to “make me pwetty girl.” She laid out my strawberry dress with white sandals, picked out a few hairpins that she held in the corner of her mouth, and placed two flowing, pink and white ribbons in my hand to hold until she asked for them. When I was all dressed and ready, my mother held me up on top of the bathroom sink so I could look at myself in the mirror (I was too short to see much more than the tops of my shoulders). I thought I looked like a pretty girl. She hugged me and whispered, “You’re Mommy’s cutie,” before she walked me to my new school.

My mother dropped me off at the main office where an attendant led me to my class. We had moved in the middle of the school year so I stood at the front of the room and tried to introduce myself. I wasn’t used to having so many eyes on me. I looked down at my shoes and half waved to my classmates. “MynehmisJeska…” I mumbled. My teacher, Mrs. Okawa, asked me some questions, “Where did you live before?” “How old are you?” “What is your favorite food?” I felt so shy. This happened nearly 20 years ago and I still feel the icy, unnerving feeling in my stomach when I reminisce.

After the seemingly endless slew of questions, Mrs. Okawa pointed to a seat between two boys, Kyle and Basil. “Ew, boys,” I thought to myself as I settled into my plastic, yellow chair. I remember tucking my elbows to my side so I wouldn’t encroach on their space or have them brush up against me. I felt like I couldn’t breathe comfortably without the fear of touching them.

About an hour or so of instruction later, it was lunch and recess time. I was glad to leave my desk and the boys. I quickly walked to the front of the room where I had placed my lunchbox in a cubby and queued up for lunch. I stood behind a group of girls, all chatting about something that seemed interesting to my yearning eyes and ears, but I was too shy to ask what they were talking about. I kept quiet and brooded over a way to be included with the gaggle of girls.

Mrs. Okawa led the class to the cafeteria where I sat at a bench with a few of my classmates (they too had brought lunches from home and didn’t buy food from the school). Slowly the rest of the class sat at the long table carrying trays of food. The girls who had walked in front of me sat close by. “This is where we sit. Move,” said a girl with blonde hair. She was taller than the other girls and this made her intimidating to Little Jess. Her harshness startled me and I obeyed her command without much thought; I slid down a seat and began to unpack the food my mother had prepared: a sandwich, sliced apples, cucumber sticks, a juice box, and a cookie my mother and I had baked together.

I gnoshed on my food, still determined to be included with the girls even though I had been slightly reprimanded. I looked at the blonde girl and asked what her name was. “It’s Megan.”

“Hi, Megan. Would you like to try some of my cookie? It’s yummy.” I don’t know why I tried to ingratiate myself like that to a girl who had acted like a complete snoot. I guess I just really wanted to make friends.

“Stand up, new girl.” Again, her sharp voice – something that most children do not possess at such a young age – snapped me into action. Megan looked at me with steely eyes. “You’re not pretty. I don’t like you, and I don’t want to be friends with you. That means you can’t be friends with any of my friends.”

I wanted to cry so badly. With my head hung low, I slowly placed all of my half-eaten food back into my Winnie the Pooh lunchbox and sauntered away from the table. I found a bathroom, stood in front of a mirror, and let the tears fall. It seems silly now, but I felt that I had let my mother down. I felt that I wasn’t pretty and that my mother, a very beautiful woman, deserved a gorgeous daughter. I glared at my reflection and pulled out the pink and white ribbons my mother had so meticulously pinned to my locks. I clenched them in my fist and threw them in the trash bin. That’s when the tears really began to stream down my face. There was something very awful and final about throwing away those ribbons.

When I went home that day, my mother asked me where my hair ornaments had gone. I cried again. My mother is a harsh woman, always has been, always will be. Instead of scooping me into her arms and asking why I was crying, she told me that I was irresponsible for not taking care of my belongings. Coupled with the feelings of my letting her down, the scolding plunged me into a dark pit. She and I don’t have a very good mother-daughter relationship, and I know that this very moment is what started the tear in our bond that would bloom into the deep and wide crevice that splits us today.

For the next few days, my mother put new ribbons in my hair before school, Megan would tell me how ugly I looked, and I would go to the restroom to discard my ribbons. I threw them all away. My mother scolded me relentlessly, and I just couldn’t bring myself to explain my actions. I’ve never told her.

A few weeks later, on my way to recess, I walked behind Kyle and Basil in line. Megan was ahead of them, and I wanted to keep a couple bodies between her and me in case if she was feeling particularly ghastly and decided to lash out. And that’s when Kyle and Basil started to make fun of her. I don’t recall what they teased about, but they made her cry. She flat out started bawling. I was surprised and, dare I say it, somewhat pleased by her tears. Here was the girl who had made me feel like an outcast, and she was crying in front of everyone on the playground. I decided that I liked Kyle and Basil.

Instead of vying for the approval of the girls during group activities, I sidled over to the boys and hung out with them. I joined them in their games on the playground and copied the taunts they crowed at Megan and her posse. “Boys are better than girls,” I would think to myself. This sentiment still crosses my mind from time to time.

There was one morning I came to school with my hair curled and pinned sans ribbons since I no longer had any. It had been a long while since Mum had styled my locks (we may have a strained relationship but she still loves me). Now Kyle, Basil, and I may have become friends, but they still were little boys who liked to tease. “Yuck. Your hair looks weird, Jessica.”

The boys regularly teased me quite a bit and I had grown used to it, but this barrage of teasing hit a nerve. “Don’t. Megan used to say I was ugly. I threw away my mommy’s ribbons because…” My voice started to tremble because I was on the verge of crying. “I just want my ribbons back…. I thought they were very pretty. Don’t be like Megan because I know you’re the good guys.” I told those two boys the thing I couldn’t tell my mom. And they didn’t say anything about the matter again.

When I went home that day, I had hair ornaments in my curls:

Basil’s shoelaces. 

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