The smell of teen spirit – A Malaysian Alien Column #5

Bengal

Did you have a best friend growing up? I had a few at different times. I’m the daughter of an academic and we used to follow mum around when she went on sabbaticals at different universities around the world, so I had my share of different schools and making new friends.

But there is one girl that sticks out in my memory – Lis. Not Liz, or Lizzy, but Elisabeth Tucker who joined the school while I was still in hospital. This was during the time of my scoliosis operation, so I was in Singapore, immobile in a hospital bed when I found out about this new red haired, green eyed person. Immediately I was worried, here I was out of the ‘game’, and there was a new person who sounded very cool and pretty, who could easily usurp my place in the high school pecking order. My curiosity was piqued.

Lis stayed simmering at the back of my mind while I recovered from the operation, and when it was time for my first day back to school, she had come to a full rolling boil. Who was this girl? I met her in a free period in our study area, she came and sat at our table. She saw that I was doodling on my jotter, and she said, those arrows look like smiley faces. I looked up into the green eyes that had I had built up into terrifying and threatening entities. She was smiling. And welcoming. And I immediately warmed to her. We became fast and firm friends, and so began an adventure of teenage romanticism and fun in the sticky Malaysian heat of my childhood.

There aren’t many memories that I retain, I’ve resigned myself to being able to remember certain facts and information, and being terrible at memories and dates. It’s just who I am – I know my strengths and weaknesses. As proof of this, today was mine and D’s third anniversary and I’ve NEVER remembered any one of them. I’m hoping he finds this trait endearing…

Anyway, a few poignant memories have lingered with me from my teenage years, brightly burnt and colourful images of my hedonistic romantic youth. First to come up is getting dressed to go meet Lis. Always an affair that I put a lot of thought into, to make sure I looked cool and good enough for her to respect me as an equal, or maybe even to secretly admire me, the things we think when we’re young (well I think I still do this sometimes). The outfit always came out the same – a black crop top and dark baggy jeans – it was the 90s. Dark eyeliner and a tattoo necklace finished the look. I could never get away with a crop top these days, not only because of the ab (non)situation, but because the thought of exposing my midriff to the cold and rain of Edinburgh fills me with lurgy horror.

Then there is sneaking out at night from her condo in Bangsar and smart mouthing our way into bars. Now that I look back on this, it’s pretty dodgy, but we always managed to get free drinks off the bartender even though we were obviously underaged. My favourite memory was lining up shots of Lemon Drops along the bar counter and running along downing them one by one. They were sweet, lemony and very vodka-ey.

Finally was meeting up with the other girls, Ita, Carolina and Melanie (who’s mum diagnosed my scoliosis here) and going rollerblading. Some of the boys lived in the condos nearby and without fail would have found out that we were getting together and conveniently would bump into us during the day. Once we went rollerblading up to an abandoned school, and I braved the big hill back down. I was not confident on my blades, and could only do a circle stop – which is quite a pretty stop when you’re in control of your own speed, but when you’re hurtling down at break neck speed, body frigid with fear and arms jesus akimbo-d, the circle stop only slows you down, spins you around in a few dizzying circles, and spits you out on your ass on the other side. I split my cut offs, and had to walk with my back against something the whole way home, so the boys wouldn’t see the massive rip in my denim shorts.

It was totally unsafe and thrilling, and that’s something I really miss nowadays: throwing yourself into something without any thought. You don’t even realise you are doing it because you don’t know any other way, you haven’t learnt to be wary or hold back. You see a beautiful thing and it reflects back at you like a wall of water, instead of touching it, your jump in so every molecule sinks into every inch of skin on your body. This is the way to live.

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