I’m the “funny friend”. Since high school, my best female mates have tended to be jaw-droppingly beautiful. It’s almost like I seek out the most obvious threat to my self-esteem, hunt it down and befriend it.
It started with Sharon, my bestie for most of my secondary schooling, not counting the two weeks she didn’t speak to me because she was sick of the way I constantly corrected her pronunciation. She had a point – she’d be telling a perfectly interesting story, and I’d just pipe up intermittently, re-pronouncing an incorrectly uttered word, interruptedly peppering her speech like intensely irritating commas. It’s a habit – nay, a compulsion – that I’ve since grown out of, mostly thanks to Sharon sending me to Coventry for that fortnight. Now I just repeat the correct word silently in my head and keep smiling and nodding. Baby steps.
Sharon was gorgeous in a way that was completely different to the way that most of the other girls at my high school were gorgeous. Our yearly school photos were sprinkled with sheathes of blonde, sun-kissed hair, impossibly slim legs and envy-inducing figures. Sharon was short and petite, with boobs on the generous side, freckles twinkling relentlessly across her face, a great heaving mass of dark curly hair and a dainty, turned-up nose. Of all Sharon’s features, her nose was the biggest source of envy on my part. This was the mid-80s, and elfin wee noses were the solid gold Rolexes of facial features. I would go to bed at night, pinching and squeezing my relatively non-descript but really quite normal proboscis into the shape I thought I wanted, trying to will my cartilage into fashionable submission.
Sharon, my sister Shelley and I had a lot of friends in high school, which was probably surprising in traditional cliquey circles, as we spent more than our allocated time hanging around the art and music rooms. It was (and admittedly still is) the primary and singular priority in my life to be ‘cool’. I can pick where I’m standing in school photos from half a room away with my eyes crossed – I just scan across the picture until I pick out the vague outline of dyed-black, short spiky hair and a sarcastic grin. I modelled each haircut I had carefully after popstars and desperately underground actresses that I deemed imitation-worthy at the time, and got around after school in mostly black, often home-modified outfits. There was a neo-gothic sub-culture at the time, but although I nudged the edges of it occasionally appearance-wise, I didn’t really like their music, and chirpy, bouncy class clowns who could moonwalk pretty well were generally frowned upon in black-lipsticked, artfully depressed circles. We developed our own mini-subculture, getting good marks at school but looking like drop-outs, voraciously devouring music and photography magazines and drawing highly accomplished profiles of pretty boys in the margins of books.
Most of the boys at school were beachy-coloured and got around playing handball in shades of gold and brown. There was a handful of boys who we deemed acceptably cool, and one of them, Jono, attracted my eye purely because he had a pierced ear and wore a Greek fisherman’s hat on mufti school excursions, despite having one German parent and one Bornean one. It was the 80s. Logic was secondary. Jono and I held hands a lot and even kissed once or twice, the cute and intensely embarrassing way that thirteen-year-olds do. The mostly superficial relationship lasted an impressive total of two weeks until it became clear to me that Jono was going out with me to get closer to Sharon. I was pretty intuitive about it, carefully piecing together subtle and obscure clues, like when he said to me “I like Sharon”.
A couple of years later, I was enamoured with a boy called Dave, who was rumoured to have been expelled from his previous school, sported a curly mullet not dissimilar to my main celebrity crush, Michael Hutchence, intense green eyes and a general air of danger. It was the first time I’d experienced the thrill of having a crush on a Bad Boy, and it was truly exhilarating. Add the fact that he played bass guitar, and in retrospect I can see that Dave pretty much paved the way for most of my future crushes over the next twenty years.
Dressed in an out-of-character studded white dress and reeking of hair gel and hormones, I arrived one Wednesday evening at the local youth centre dance to find Dave there in an advanced state of inebriation, obviously because he was cool. We sat for a while in the crowded yard next to the main hall, and he asked me if I would pierce his ear. In my very early teens, being asked to pierce someone’s ear in my mind was tantamount to an offer of marriage. Happily, the hem of my dress was held in place with a safety pin and ice was readily available, so with a hand rendered unsteady by a thumping heart and an unfamiliarity with medical procedures, I clasped ice to his ear while he rested his head in my lap. Having Dave’s tousled curls nestled on my thighs was pretty much the sexual peak of my life at that time, and the fact that the rumour that bloodshed and jewellery were imminent had attracted a small audience. I had it all. I had the head of the cool guy on my lap and the devoted attention of a gaggle of onlookers. I had ice and a safety pin. I had new shoes. I was pretty much living the teenage dream.
The safety pin poked easily through the skin on the front of Dave’s frigid lobe, but became stubborn when I asked it repeatedly and painfully to break through the skin at the back of his ear. Sounds of thrilled disgust were starting to emanate from the audience, almost drowning out the sounds of drunken agony emanating from Dave himself. After a couple of final, desperate, gory stabs, I gave up. Dave sat up in order to start early work on an ear infection, and then told me how much he liked Sharon. I looked down at the depressing spots of blood on my white dress.
Sharon didn’t end up going out with either Jono or Dave. Perhaps out of loyalty to me. Perhaps because she didn’t share the same taste in scruffy, addled miscreants. Perhaps because she ended up realising she was gay, and lives with her girlfriend now. Either way, I feel I’m entitled to feel a little smug. Through her pheromonal destiny, Sharon vindicated the embarrassment and disappointment I felt at the actions of these silly, barely-pubescent boys right where it counts. In the penis.
Although it wasn’t a habit I intentionally cultivated, I continued to befriend, or was the object of befriendment to, some of the planet’s most stunning inhabitants. I easily became accustomed to it, and found my own way of opening doors – a well-placed witty one-liner here, a startling philosophical revelation there – all helped me to keep feeling secure and liked, with dignity and pride intact. Of course, none of those things helped open doors quite like walking through them with a six foot Amazonian friend with a rack you could rest schooners on. But it’s all about balance, see.
Recently I was playing Monopoly with one of my pretty friends, who used to be a model. I landed on a ‘Chance’ square, and she handed me the top card from the pile with her elegant, impossibly long and slender hands. Turning it over, I read “You have won second prize in a beauty competition”
Yeah. No kidding.