When I was seven, I felt really out of place. I should’ve enrolled in grade school a year earlier, just like most kids back then. Unfortunately, that was not the case with me. According to Mom, there was this rule that all children who had been born by the end of the year should’ve gone to elementary school at the age of seven.
I was born in November and I still couldn’t understand why. I’d thought it was just silly. What difference did it make? I’d felt so old and alienated. Many kids in my class were a year younger. Plus, I was also big and tall for a first-grader. My head was also too big that they needed to make a custom-sized hat. My hair was curly and always cut short.
I was an awkward, seven-year-old girl. I’d felt that everything about me was always wrong. They called me a ‘bloated elephant’ that I’d nearly cried, just like when we were still in kindergarten. Many times I’d wanted to hide in the back row of seats. It was peaceful that way. I could secretly fall asleep if I wanted to, as long as no teacher caught me.
When I was seven, I’d rather stay at home than going to school. I didn’t really like school, but Ma said I had to. So I had to pretend all day, acting like everything was okay. I’d managed to look normal so that everyone was pleased. Still, sometimes it was easier said than done. I was in the same school as my older sister. Her friends looked at me and wondered.
“Is that your little sister?” they asked her. “She looks so different. She’s so…fat.”
I wish I’d disappeared every time I heard that. Only at home, I felt happiest. Why? I’d inherited my love for books from Dad. Come to my bedroom (uh, I mean…the bedroom I shared with my sister) and look at my study desk. You could see a lot of novels stacked neatly in the bookshelves before me. Enid Blyton was my favorite author.
I also loved listening to the radio and watching TV. According to Dad, I remembered all the songs, musicians, actors, and movie titles far better than the names of important figures in my history textbook. I wondered why he was so surprised and displeased by that. When it came to something fun, I could remember much more easily.
When I was seven, I’d worried Mom and Dad more than I’d known back then. Later in life, they told me that I started having this habit of sneaking around past my bedtime. I’d wait for everyone at home to go to their bedrooms and sleep. My sister had always been a heavy sleeper. I was the one who woke up easily, an early riser later on.
After that, I’d quietly step outside my bedroom, opening the door before closing it again. I was trying not to make so much noise the whole time. Then, I would tip-toe to the TV set and turn it on. I made sure that the volume was low enough but I could still hear it. You’d probably be shocked with how many adult TV shows and movies I’d known back then:
Friday The 13th: The Series. Sonny Spoon. The Wise Guy. Tour of Duty. Mission Impossible (both old and new – all seasons). Miami Vice…
…and the list went on…
What if I got caught? I’d sometimes hide behind the giant couch or rush to the bathroom. I’d also sometimes pretend to be asleep on the couch with the TV on before Mom or Dad would tell me to get back to my room immediately. Mind you, at home back then, I was the only child who did that.
When I was seven, I couldn’t wait to grow up. I’d told Mom and Dad that I sometimes hated grownups, but wanted to be just like them too. When she asked me, I said: “Grownups can say whatever they like and never listen to children. They always laugh at children. I hate that.”
Of course, they found me weird. Still, they thought it was just a phase that I was going through. I’d get over that soon…
I was looking at my then seven-year-old nephew Gyan-ku. I’d heard stories from Mom about how easily temperamental he was. Whenever he detest something, he’d throw a fit – or anything nearby – or even both. It didn’t matter.
With me, he was a fluent storyteller. He’d sometimes talk about stuff that had been going on with his life. He’d done that since nursery school. I remember when he mentioned Michelle, this girl who’d always forced to kiss him.
“I hate Michelle!”
“Because she always kisses me!”
“But I kiss you too.” I shrugged. He looked at me.
“But you’re Bibi.”
Ahh…so that’s why, I thought silently, stroking his soft dark hair. So young, yet he’d already understood what ‘consent’ was all about.
That’s one of the many things I’ve been grateful for him. Because at a very young age, it’s important that a child’s consent is acknowledged instead of being dismissed…
When I was seven, a grown man who was someone else’s driver tried to grab me by the hand as he laughed. I’d struggled to get free before I realized I still had my plastic drinking bottle dangling by my side, with its sling over my shoulder. The bottle was quite heavy because it still had enough water in it.
I swung the bottle at the man’s grip around my other hand. He yelped and let go. I ran as far away as possible from him, back into the main hall where most of the other students were still waiting to be picked up.
I never told anyone that. I was afraid that the grownups (including Mom and Dad) might have accused me of lying, or making things up, or even blaming me for wandering off on my own. They’d probably have said this if I’d told them:
“You watch too many movies. That’s your problem.”