Monday, November 3, 2008

Burp, Fart, Etc.

I remember it like it was yesterday. Katy was standing at the foot of my bed, digging through a rumpled pile of clothes we'd pulled out of my closet. She'd called an hour before and said, "Oh my God! I don't have anything to wear! Can I come over and borrow some clothes?"

This was an unusual phone call for me to field from Katy at this point in our relationship. After all, she and I barely knew each other. I'd been in Minnesota for only a few months, and I wasn't yet quite sure how I felt about this short blond who hung up motivational posters in the giant bullpen office we shared with twelve other first-year graduate students who were teaching composition.

"You're such a girl!" Katy said as she flapped out a shirt and pressed it to her torso.

Katy was calling me such a girl because I was the opposite of her. Katy was calling me such a girl because I didn't own velour jogging suits that I counted as "going out outfits." She was calling me such a girl because I took a shower every morning, because I put on makeup before coming to school, because I threw out shoes that had holes in the soles, because I didn't teach in sneakers, because I always remembered to put on deodorant, because I didn't have a legendary collection of hoodies, because I shopped at places other than the Kohl's junior section clearance rack, because I refused to buy a shirt that didn't fit me, even if it was such a bargain priced at three tiny dollars. In short, Katy was calling me such a girl because I was very different than she was, and she liked to think of herself as above all that girly stuff. She wanted to be no-fuss and what-you-see-is-what-you-get. She wanted to drink cheap beer and eat baked potatoes at a bar while wearing a pink velour jogging suit.

But still, there she was, shrieking over my clothes, my shoes, my giant bin of earrings and necklaces and bracelets. She wanted to know how I had time for all of that stuff in the morning. She wanted to know how I didn't get overwhelmed with all those choices. And she wanted to see what she'd look like in this shirt, that shirt, this necklace, that necklace. This, of course, was a dead giveaway: sure, she wanted to mock me for my "girliness," but there was also a part of her that wanted to drape herself in all that girliness, too.

At the end of her visit, Katy walked out the door with a few of my shirts to wear, and she threw a wave over her shoulder as she headed for her car. "I'm so excited!" she sang out. "I've got a GIRLY FRIEND!"

For a long time I tried to fight that label. I resented that everyone I went to grad school with--even the boys, especially the boys--thought I was some fluffy, frivolous princess. I resented the fact that because I took care to shower every morning and turn on the light when pulling an outfit out of the closet, because I ran a comb through my hair before walking out the door, because I made sure I didn't stand in front of my class smelling like whiskey and strippers, because it took me fifty minutes from the moment I woke up to the moment I left for school, that I was thought of as a big girly-girly-girly-girl.

But I (mostly) got over it. And I (somewhat) even managed to force Katy into a girly streak of her own for the three years I lived in Minnesota. There were some very important lessons I tried to teach her before I went--things like one should not wear an oversize hoodie with a skirt and chunky shoes went out with My So-Called Life--and some of it took, but some of it didn't. Or maybe it is more precise to say that it took for a little while.

This past week when I was in Minnesota, there was a moment I found myself in Katy's closet, and she just looked up at me with sad eyes and said, "I'm bad, aren't I?"

We'd ended up in the closet because when we were getting ready to go to a party where there was going to be a lot of alcohol and a visiting writer who liked to read stories about anal sex, and when Katy came upstairs in her outfit--work pants and a sweater/dress shirt onesie--I blinked. Then I asked her if she knew she was going to a reading where the word sex would be used more than any other word. I asked her if she thought it was a bit weird she was wearing something she might wear to work--and she works in close vicinity to a cluster of nuns--to this type of function.

"Dress meeeee," she said, picking at the shirt she'd just tugged on.

And that's when she took me in the closet and gestured to my options. And that's when I realized that maybe a few things had backslid the last few years I've been away from Minnesota. I'm not saying she went back to the velour jogging suit era--far from it--but you could tell that the girl hadn't spent any time or money finding clothes that she really loved in forever.

Other things had gone on the backslide, too. The old Katy--the girl I imagine thrived as an undergraduate at MSU--had reared her head over the recent months, thanks to a childhood friend coming back into her life. This childhood friend liked to swill beer and burp and fart and pick her nose and scratch her breasts in public. These are things you will never see me doing. These are things you will quite often see Katy doing. (You will also see her pick "spicy stuff" out of her Chinese food at Yu's buffet, using only her fingers.)

While we were out at the bars on Halloween, this childhood friend of Katy's was with us, and she lived it up the way I imagine Katy used to when she was younger. After this girl--who dressed up as a character from some YouTube clip--took a giant swig of cheap beer, she'd hinge her head backward and rumble out a burp that smelled like fried food and olives. And then she'd giggle. And Katy would giggle. And I would think Ick.

But as much as I was dismayed by this kind of behavior--and some of Katy's backsliding into the not-showering-not-shopping-anywhere-but-Sears behavior--there wasn't much I could do about it. And why should I? I apparently have the corner on that girly-girly-girly-girl market, and why should someone who likes to talk about poop and farts as much as Katy be forced to be anything but what she is, anything but a girl who once thought it is completely fine to have a night out on the town wearing something that is all the rage with the assisted-living set down in Coral Gables, Florida?

A girl like that is one in a million.

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