“When I was just a little girl…” I desperately wanted to be a boy.
Most of my friends were boys, my favourite pursuits were football and rugnby, and I just hated it when I had to do needlework at school. Or deportment classes. I don’t know if any of you, dear readers, have been subjected to deportment classes, but even now, at a distance of forty odd years, I shudder when I recall the two afternoons per week I spent with Mrs Miller.
Even worse, I have had very little practical use for “getting out of a car while keeping your knees close together” or for “inclining your head in a gracious nod”. Sometimes I think Mrs Miller fantasized about one of “her” girls marrying into a royal family somewhere, hence the training in waving techniques, in how to curtsey with a book on your head and how to move up and down stairs in a dress with a train. So far into my life, I’ve never worn a dress with a train, far less clambered up and down stairs in one. The single good thing to come out of these classes is an ability to walk on high heels. Many women don’t know how to do that – and in general if you don’t you shouldn’t, as NOT knowing how to walk in heels results in a rather hilarious combination of legs, knees and hips that brings to mind camels in the desert.
While the girls were doing deportment, the boys were playing loud, physical games just outside the window, testament to how much more fun it was to be a boy. Or maybe there was something wrong with me, given that I never understood the point of having a Barbie. (My mother gave up on giving me dolls early on, as most ended up decapitated or thrown into a bush.)
And then, one day, I realised I no longer fit in with the boys. My chest hurt, my previously so fleet movements on the football field became that tad clumsier as I developed curves (far too many curves), and where before I held my own against any of the lads, suddenly they were stronger and taller than me. A rude awakening one might say …
This was also the point in time when I gave up on time travelling, this despite a series of creative experiments involving lit candles in my wardrobe, backward declamation of German poetry (Why I thought that would help is a mystery. I don’t even speak German, but apparently I believed Goethe was just the thing to breach the walls of time – think “Faust”) and the consumption of a potent potion consisting mainly of raw eggs, lime juice and half a flask of tabasco sauce. Don’t ask; I was an imaginative child, and this “hair of the dog” recipe seemed just the thing. Which, it turns out, it wasn’t. No matter potions and singed hair, no matter soot stains in my closet and hours spent practising the “ach-laut” before the mirror, the ground below did not tremble and break open, sucking me in to spit me out elsewhere. So, there I was having to cope with the sad fact that I was stuck being a girl – a girl with budding breasts no less – and in this oh, so boring day and age.
I never asked my mother “will I be pretty, will I be rich?” as the song goes. There was no need for me to consult with her about my future. Now that being a medieval knight was out – although I did spend a number of nights thinking that if Joan of Arc could do it so could I – I decided to become a navy SEAL. Two major problems: I am not American, and at the time SEALs were always male. (This was before Demi Moore showed the world that a woman can do anything a guy can do – and more.) My mother sighed when I moped, reminding me that there were many good things about being a girl – like one could have babies. Aaaaaagh!!! NOT the right thing to say, let me tell you, which considering the fact that I ended up having four kids – and loving every moment of it – is something of an irony.
This period of my life is when I began writing in earnest. My writing efforts of the time are stereotypical: brave tomboy dresses up as a boy, saves king/queen/duke/through a combination of deadly skill with the blade and courage. Now and then she dies – very sad – just as often she rides off into the sunset. In none of these early attempts is there as much as a whiff of romance, no, our heroine is above such ridiculous pastimes, concentrated as she is on saving the realm.
Things changed. When I was fourteen a handsome boy fell in love with me. Something of a nuisance at first, to have this tall boy shadow my every move on the beach, but flattering all the same. One evening we were down by the sea and he took my hand. It made me tingle all over. And when he kissed me I started to realise that maybe my mother was right, maybe being a girl had its upsides after all…
Since then I have come to the conclusion that it’s great being a woman – and my writing has more than a whiff or romance and love in it. But I have still not reconciled myself to the fact that I can’t time travel, and every now and then I open my poetry books to Der Erlkönig and start from the back “In seinen Armen das Kint war tot.” It still doesn’t work, but I hope – I still hope.