FROM the age of five, I have known my place in this world.

Others spend lifetimes grasping for a meaning to all the air they breathe in, free of charge.

For artists, a neat little line for a poem or song, for the rest of us, a few kind words etched onto our gravestones.

I guess I should feel lucky that I avoided the void between knowing and not knowing.

When I was in my first year of primary school, I tried, I really did, as my mother would tell me, to “make friends.”

A few weeks in, I notice a group of girls being rounded up by a petite, blue-eyed blonde girl who came to be the prototype for everything I aspired to be. She had you wrapped around her little finger from the moment she looked at you in the eyes and didn’t blink once.

Her Mary-Kate and Ashley looks and loud talk-show-host voice drowned out all the other girls who hadn’t even thought about thinking about who they really were yet.

My Dad had just bought a Sky box for our TV, meaning I could watch as much bubble gum kids’ shows as I wanted. I, therefore, knew how this played out in the Disney Channel narrative I assumed to resemble something of real life. I knew I needed her if I was ever to earn an ounce of popularity, which those who are lacking “it all” need if they are ever to scramble their way to the top of society.

Straining my neck over my shoulder, half in hope that my peers would witness my entrance into higher society should I be granted access, and the other half hoping no one would be there to watch should I get rejected.

This, it should be noted, is a historical moment. This is the moment that a little coloured girl asked a group of white girls if she could play with them. It’s strange that you cannot have history without remembering the past and you can only read history by knowing what you know now, by which point you struggle to fill in details.

This moment takes me back, actually, to Dr Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I stood for hours squinting at the words hanging in my Grandmother’s hallway, a reminder to always say grace at the dinner table and accepting what was placed in front of you.

Years later, I would cry along to the YouTube audio whilst I tried to revise for American history, feeling like my ancestors were squeezing my ribcage until I could feel pain and tears were rolling down my cheeks.

Sometimes, I think we try to absorb history in its every conceivable reproduced form just to convince ourselves we were a part of something.

This was my dream at five years old- to be friends with pretty white girls.

Looking back, half of me wonder whether my ancestors would be proud at my attempt at integration, or turn in their graves at my plea for assimilation.

Generally, I don’t believe racism is ingrained. I think children are taught to fear difference, hence the following excuse that would devastate me until I cease to remember it.

“You can’t play this game unless you have straight hair,” said Mary-Kate, twisting her body from side to side out of childlike restlessness but keeping her eyes fixed on me in the way that adults do to make it clear they do not like you, but society deems it inappropriate for one to voice such dislike out loud.

I tugged on the strands of my tight curls, suddenly noticing how they formed a spiral twist that tangled around my hand, and would spring back into place whenever I tried to crush a curl in between my thumb and index finger.

My hair had never before felt alien to me until this moment.

I turned away from them in recognition that I was not wanted, the water that blurred my vision threatening to drown me. I sat on the ledge, alone, outside of my classroom and watched them as they played their game of happy families.

The teacher saw me and started to walk over to me before changing her mind and helping another child who had fallen into the sandpit unwillingly. Perhaps her choice wasn’t a malicious one. Perhaps she just decided that telling a child to be more careful would be easier than telling a child that she would never belong.

From that moment on, I tried to disguise myself. I tried to pull my own hair out, begging my mother to help me change the skin I was in, half resenting her for playing a part in creating a reflection that the magazines I read and the TV I watched told me was not pretty.

Ironically, Mary-Kate became my best friend, until she decided she didn’t want to be anymore. She made all the decisions, and whatever she chose was always the right one because she made everyone believe that it was.

I was sat at the lunch table, on my own, when she approached me for the last time, looking between me and the group of other pretty white girls sat at a separate table who between them, were good at math, had boyfriends and made the teachers laugh, of which I could do none. She shrugged her shoulders in apology as she turned her back on me to sit with the people she knew were going to get her ahead in this world. I smiled at her understanding that she had found where she belonged, treading a path to maturity that I was not permitted to follow.

After leaving primary school, I vowed not to make friends with pretty white girls, in full acknowledgement that I had wasted the past 6 years of my life attempting to do just that. Instead, I made friends with girls who were just as insecure and unsure of themselves as I was.

They say misery loves company, which is what kept us laughing throughout all the cut arms, the haircuts and crash diets, the metaphorical pot we would keep stirring to create drama to make the days pass by quicker.

We would crave the attention of those that validated our worthiness as human beings.

Insecurity was like our safety blanket, a haven we were scared to grow out of. We would turn on each other if one person was deemed to be outdoing them on attractiveness, intelligence, or just the way that boy looked at her when he laughed at a joke that she had not intended to be funny.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a girl must be put back in her place if she attempts to become a woman.

Sometimes, I think we try to absorb history in its every conceivable reproduced form just to convince ourselves we were a part of something.

I did a lot of growing up since then and am now not friends with anyone apart from those who had already grown up when I met them. One person’s achievement is a win for all of us and we talk about the future and people we don’t like in our past over glasses of wine, teetering the line between civilised and irresponsible.

I had almost forgotten what it was like to be insecure, to want to be wanted, to feel like I didn’t belong.

That was until I was rather comically banned from a friend’s house by her two housemates that didn’t want me there. I say “comically,” although trust me; I’m still waiting for the punch line. My Dad promises that I will laugh about it later down the line.

Perhaps it was because they disliked the way my friend and I lived our lives not caring what anyone thought of us. Perhaps I looked at them funny as I was coming down the stairs. Perhaps it was because I was sleeping with both the enemy and mutual friend.

When I handed back the key, I asked her what I’d done to upset here. She said something about “engaging in the same behaviour as them.” Knowing a thing or two about micro-aggressions, I can conclude that what she really meant to say is, “you people are all the same.”

I questioned myself for many days after that incident, returning to the childhood bedroom from which I had tried to escape and suddenly felt lost all over again.

I looked at my reflection; at my badly-braided hair, my wide eyes and complexion that wasn’t quite even and reminded myself that I am different. My friends and I are different, and still, we succeed and still, we stick together and maybe that irritates some people who were told to be a certain person and know certain people to get to the top.

I rang my Mum in a pub toilet approximately 6 hours after being exiled. In a typical motherly fashion, she said: “I told you this would happen.” Perhaps her comment wasn’t a malicious one. Perhaps she just decided that telling her only daughter to be more careful would be easier than telling her she would never belong.



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