It’s 1985 and I’m seven years old. I have new, bright white sneakers that I’m so enamoured with I lovingly placed them on the end of my bed when I went to sleep the night before. We’re in a circle on ‘the mat’ at school, except that it’s not really a mat – it’s just carpet. My teacher is calling out names randomly, bucking the trend I’ve come to rely on in my time at school – that everything is dependent on the first letter of our last names. I’m a G and I’m happy with my position in the queue when it’s time to collect notes to take home, to chirp “Here!” when the roll is called in the morning, and now – when we do Show & Tell. The teacher starts with a boy whose surname begins with an M and it throws everyone off. Eyes dart around the circle. The girl next to me picks at a scab on her knee. I had planned on telling the class about my new sneakers, but now I’m not so sure. Not knowing when I’ll be up has my stomach folding over itself and my heart knocking against my ribs. When my name is eventually called, I keep my eyes on the carpet and quickly shake my head.
1992. My first ever mufti day at High School. I agonised over what to wear for hours the night before then woke up feeling frustrated and uncomfortable in my own skin. Everything feels too tight – my jeans pinch my belly and the top I’d picked out itches the back of my neck. It’s raining and cold outside and I have a sudden flashback to my old primary school. Our four class school was homey and warm. On rainy days, we all brought our slippers and changed into them at the door. I’m running late for the bus and feeling anxious because we’ve just moved across the city and I’m still learning the bus route. In a last minute panic, I throw on a pair of worn jeans and a pale pink sweatshirt I borrow from my mum. The bus is slow – it’s a trolley bus, with those long antenna-like poles that are always coming off the wires. I mistake the bridge we travel under for one further up the road and pull the buzzer early. I’m too embarrassed to ask the driver to keep going so I get out in the pouring rain. By the time I make it to my classroom half an hour later, I’m drenched. I feel the fringe I’m trying to grow out sticking to my forehead. The bell hasn’t gone yet which gives the girls in my all-girl school ten minutes to assess each other’s outfits. A girl I’m terrified of strides up to me as I make my way into the room and unrolls the cuffs of my jeans for me. Apparently, rolled up jeans are so Intermediate School. She’s wearing a huge men’s Barker sweatshirt and wide leg jeans. I don’t like what she’s wearing but make a mental note to look for these items the next time my mum takes me shopping.
2013. It’s Christmas time. My friend and I have been buying our children gifts. We’re trying, as we do every year, to find things that are original and locally made but still in our price range. We laugh as we shop because we both know we’ll end up at Toys R Us. I want to buy my daughter a chapter book with a main character who shares her name. Now that she’s nine, she would like to distance herself from ‘Jemima Puddleduck’. I can’t find one anywhere and I mention this on Facebook. A friend casually suggests that I write one. At first, I scoff at myself. Write a book? But the idea keeps coming back to me – when I’m cooking, when I’m driving, as I lie awake at night, and I realise that I want to write this book. I want to write it more than I’ve wanted to do anything for a long, long, time.
2015. I have a file on my computer named Writing. It’s full of books and stories that I’ve written but not shared with anyone. I start to write a romance novel and surprise myself by enjoying it. I decide to take a big risk and share what I’ve written – timidly at first, then with growing confidence, and the positive reaction my writing receives feels like a flower blooming inside my chest.
And here I am.
It wasn’t until my 30s that I found the thing I had been missing throughout my childhood, my teens, and most of my twenties.
Self-belief. Self-confidence. Self.
A sense of okay-ness. I’m not finished learning about this but I know that I like who I am. I like my clothes and my hair and my body. I can say I’m a writer out loud without cringing or following it up with a self-deprecating comment. I know that I’m good at writing and cooking and reading out loud. Equally, I know that I’m not good at being in a crowd or playing instruments or reading things with lots of numbers or detailed instructions. I can make things and they might not always turn out how I imagined them to be. They might be better. I can learn things. I can speak up if I don’t agree with something and that doesn’t make me difficult or bitchy or a nag. It just means I’m using my voice.
It took me a while to find this. I spent a few years walking toward it then at the last minute deliberately going the wrong way.
But do you know what I learned when I got there eventually?
The long search made the discovery all the more precious.