The Drop Dead Careless has been edited by Sheeba Mammen.
Between ages five to nine, my best friend was the most popular girl in class. And I was ‘the best friend’. Every boy had a crush on her and every girl wanted to be her ‘friend’. She was the coolest person there was, with her bootleg jeans and her red strappy top; attractive in an in-your-face kind of way that you just didn’t have the option to escape.
I wanted to be her. All I could think of was that she was so cool, so pretty, so attractive, so efficient. When she wanted something, she got it, be it a boy or a dress. And not necessarily by force, especially when it came to boys! I don’t think I ever saw her go through a single failure in life. She was the kid that bunked class, wore tight jeans and tiny t-shirts, and always smelled sexy. She was beautiful in a careless way. Careless with her hands, her clothes, her hair, her gait. It was she who taught me to glorify carelessness.
Why was I not like that? Sure, I too was liked. Sure, some boys had crushes on me, sure I had friends – but I couldn’t see any of that. All I knew was that I wanted to be her and it was killing me that I couldn’t! I wished I too, got everything I wanted. I wished all the boys had a crush on me too, especially that guy she liked. And I wished my parties were the biggest social event the year. She was a bitch but never got her own hands dirty. I wished I was as cool as her!
Then, in my new school, I met a girl who was also careless. She genuinely did not care what people thought of her, she was demanding and spontaneous and hung out with boys. I thought she was very cool and tried to emulate her. But soon I realised that we were very different. No matter how hard I tried, I just could not pull off that self-confidence. But this fascination faded away soon. I realised it was just because I had never met a girl that didn’t care how she looked but was still liked. If there was one thing that my best friend at nine was not careless about, it was her looks.
In eighth grade, a new girl from an obscure town took away the breath of every man that went to our school. She was utterly careless, she could have bought and sold mens’ hearts as dismissively people throw out dirty rags. Her aim was to become a supermodel. She would marry rich and when she grew up, she’d learn to appreciate her little brother but for now, she wished he was dead.
It just so happened that she had managed to become friends with me and my friend and now we were a ‘clique’. Although she was my friend and for a while, we went everywhere together, I was not comfortable with how star-struck everyone was by her. Within the first week, everyone was asking about the new kid – and we had forty students in a class and seven classes in a grade – so that’s almost three hundred people. It was a phenomenon I’d never seen before. I didn’t know whether to be jealous or amazed. It was like she had physically cast a spell on our school.
I wished I were as cool as her and it killed me to know that it would never happen. She was tall and skinny – a perfect model like figure (what my mother would call ‘sickly’) with a swaying gait – and I was just petite. I was neither as thin nor as tall as her, and while I could make myself thinner, I couldn’t make myself taller. And I was convinced that that’s why all the boys liked her. I wished I were as cool as her, that I could also be tall and wear a tiny pleated skirt hanging straight from my hips, that swayed every time I walked. She left at the end of that year and people forgot about her just as quickly as they had found her.
In ninth grade, again, my best friend was one of the more popular girls. She wasn’t the most popular but she was extremely charming and the single most graceful person I knew. And she could have been the most popular if she tried. Again, boys had crushes. Again, our friendship was solid and although I wished I were her, I also cared for her deeply as a friend. She also went to great lengths to protect and stand up for me. We were very similar people and so, we had each other. Yet, I wished I was as unobjectionably charming as her – she could charm her way into anything and look good in any situation. She could make you feel uncool even if she was the pauper and you were the princess.
However, unlike my best friend at age nine, curiously, I didn’t want the clothes she had or the boys she dated. In fact, I couldn’t care less about them. No, I wanted her charm and her grace – the ability to have those boys or clothes if I wanted. She was careless with herself. One of the first people I had met who in spite of all the show – or perhaps because of it – was frightfully intelligent. She was up to the brim on practicality, IQ and sense, and she squandered it on men. Squandered. Careless. She was like a man who had been given all the money in the world. But on the condition that he could only gamble with it.
In eleventh grade, there was, again a comparatively new girl, in the class next to us, that everyone had been talking about for a while. When she finally arrived, she was beautiful and I wished I was her. More so, because she had it so easy. She had just arrived at a new school and because of rumours that had been spread before her arrival, people were already in love with her! But apart from all this, she was pretty. She didn’t care about the rules, wasn’t worried about whether people would like or accept her in this new school (why would she be, they were already at her feet) and was mildly entitled – but not in an abrasive way. She was really cool and more self-assured than any of the other girls I have mentioned.
Anyway, before long, my attention shifted to this boy who apparently had some romantic interest in me and whom I proceeded to have a crush upon. We spent the year flirting and talking. All the time with me wondering what it would be like had it not been near the end of my school life and had I dated him seriously.
I was in love with this boy. So much so that I forgot to be jealous of anyone else most of the time, out of the hormonal ecstasy that is teenage love. At the end of our romantic affair, someone came up to me and said, ‘Oh you poor thing! He wasn’t worth it anyway.’ I asked them why, to which my shocked well wisher replied, ‘Oh you didn’t know? He was courting the new girl from the class next to you, the whole time!’ It wasn’t that straightforward, the discovery, actually. Nevertheless, I had never wished to be someone as much as I wished to be that girl, then.
At university, I expected to feel more nervous than everyone else. But as I stood in the queue for our first lecture, I realised something. Everyone was as frightened and awkward as I – we were all in the same boat. Except for this girl, who stood behind me. She was stunning, in an exotic way. We were about to enter the first lecture at one of the top five institutions in the UK. But she stood there asking for the time, in a relaxed way, as if this was not a big deal at all. Already, the boys standing in front of her and behind her were grappling with their phones and watches in order to tell her the time.
This was the first time I had seen someone who was as petite as me, surrounded by six feet tall men, and standing with such authority and panache. She was only five feet tall, brown Asian and properly nerdy. I then realised – it’s not about how you look.
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