In Her Shell
Saturday, May 06, 2006
My childhood best friend, Roni, tells me I was bossy. I believe this to be true. I tormented her by trying to get her to consume things she did not want to eat, like Luden's Cherry Cough Drops and a soup made out of everything in the refrigerator, including chocolate ice cream and cheese.

We passive-aggressively pecked at each other the way only little girls can. Once when we had a fight, I told her to go home (she lived across the street), but she stayed for an hour on our sun porch, flipping lazily through an Archie comic. Walking up the hill from the bus stop, she dramatically ended an argument with me by revoking my nickname privileges: turning, she thundered, "And don't ever call me 'Roni' AGAIN!" Of course I followed her to her driveway, chanting "RoniRoniRoniRoni..."

But often I was the architect of our diversions, and of her subordination. Though she was a month older, she still ended up singing the latter half of a song I made up: "I'm nincom," "I'm poop!" (Then together:) "Together we make: nincompoop!" I also always got to be Jo when we played "The Facts of Life" and the girlfriend of the leader of the pack when we played "1950s." It goes without saying that I was the teacher when we played School, and the child when we played House (every kid knows that's the role with more power). I was the DJ when we played Radio and in charge of the PA when we played Mall (we used my walkie-talkies to announce sales and lost children). When we played Barbies, I always got to be the black-haired one with the almond-shaped eyes, which was always, inexplicably, named Michelle.

How does a girl get to be the bossy one? Was I louder? Or more aggressive? Did I intimidate her, or was I just more persistent? Maybe my status as the only child in the house made me more used to getting my way than hers did as the youngest of six. Or perhaps my ideas were more dynamic, more creative, and she really liked them. When the bossy girl talks, people listen.

I don't remember the reason why, but I did notice tonight, spending the evening with my mother, that she often demurs to my suggestions still. I do remember that she has always done this, even when I was a child: always listened to me. I still expect to be listened to. I don't have to speak as loudly, because I am taller now. I don't think anyone would call me "bossy" now. "Assertive," they might say, or "independent." I've learned some grace, I suppose.

But I think at heart I am still bossy. I like things the way I like them and I relish my independence like a luxury. I don't need anyone else to eat my blender concoctions now to prove that I have control over my life. I think this is a good thing, though I worry sometimes it will make me into a curmudgeon, or lonely. My mother says it's a good thing that I am not constantly trying to please other people. In society's eyes, it makes me a little eccentric.

"Bossy" is not a word used for boys. Even now, boys assume the role of boss; girls presume it. Roni and I can laugh at ourselves and our early struggles for power, can laugh at me and my small empire on the sun porch. But I still want that empire, even if it only extends to the ends of my fingertips, and the sound of my voice.
You wanted to be Jo? Really? I wanted to be the rich bitchy one with the good hair.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should follow up and say that Roni did want to be Blaire. I didn't get it.
Blaire, that's it. She had really good hair. I've spent my whole life in the pursuit of really good hair.
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