That's me at 14, guys. I'm trying so hard to be hard and it's not working because I have on skorts. And, more importantly, because I was the furthest thing from gangster there was. I can't even spell it wrong.
In this one-hour-strip-mall-photo shoot I'm rocking the always popular "Don't fuck with me" face, the one that only got air time in the presence of a camera, other girls or a strange man on the corner.
None of us were hard. We didn't know it then, but all we were doing was playing dress up in this new personality just as a six-year-old would with her mother's high heels teetering on the edge until she gets it right. Problem was once puberty rolled around we'd practiced at "being grown" -- the attitude, the apathy -- so often that eventually we'd perfected it, unable to call a "time out" and start being kids again.
It kills me when I look at that picture because I remember the innocent silliness that would get sucked out of me soon enough by boys and life (actually boys were life). It also kills me when I see it happening to other little girls.
The other day whilst out walking my dog, Miles, I passed an alley that seemed unusually packed with pre-pubescent girls. I am that neighbor. I'm nosy. So I stopped to look and listen. There was some shouting and a lot of energy, but no one was screaming bloody murder so I figured they were just girls being girls. School had just been let out and I remember when the sound of the last bell was like a champagne bottle popping open. So I kept walking but made a note of the mini mosh pit.
But something pulled me back to the alley just seconds later. My original plan was to walk Miles another five blocks or so, but after steps in that direction I turned around just in time to catch the parade. A few girls started spilling out of the alley, one waving what looked to be a fist full of weave in the air and another shouting excitedly into a flip phone, "She's practically bald!"
Didn't sound like good, clean fun to me.
When I got to mouth of the alley I saw what they were so excited about. Two girls were going at each other against a brick wall. One eventually knocked the other to the ground and proceeded to rain down kicks and punches like nothing I've ever seen beyond the confines of a TV screen.
"Hey. Hey! HEY!" I shouted. The girl with the upper hand (and uppercut) paused briefly to take me in and replied all too calmly, "Don't worry. It's OK." She then started again with the kicking and punching and "Bitch this" and "Bitch that."
"No, NO! It's NOT OKAY. Stop that. Right! Now! Go home. GO HOME!" I drew from a deep well of "mom voice" I didn't know existed. I've never shouted so deeply, so furiously. Miles sat down, waiting patiently for these girls to go so that he could get back to pooping.
They filed out of the alley slowly, gathering up the discarded machinery of their age littered about the alley -- JanSports, Mead notebooks, iPads. More than one of them called me a "bitch" and told me to "shut the fuck up" as I attempted to look authoritative and threatening in yoga pants.
Then one of the girls danced at me. Like I have no other way to describe it. She literally planted herself in my direct line of sight, looked me straight in the eye and proceeded to do coochie thrusts in her khaki uniform pants. This went on for a full minute as her friends laughed and I waited for the girl who'd been kicked to walk home in the other direction.
"Um, do you think you're cute?" I asked Ms. Coochie Thrust.
And she seriously goes, "Do you?" She couldn't have been older than 13, 14 tops.
"No," I sighed. "No I really don't. GO HOME!"
It was surreal.
What upset me most wasn't the fight. Girls fight. Or so I'm told. I never got into more than a brief Yo Mama match in middle school because nerd.
I just couldn't believe how bold they were. If what looked to be an adult called me on some shit I was doing wrong as a kid, I'd bolt sans protest. But these girls were brazen, actually expecting me to leave them to their own hormone-addled devices. When they realized I wouldn't let them act up, it only enraged them more, encouraged them to tighten the laces on their badass personas.
The whole thing made me sad more than anything. Nothing says you're old more than a 13-year-old yelling, "Mind your own business, bitch," as she runs by, recording the exchange on her iPad.
But I was also sort of glad I was there, obviously to break up the fight, but also to point out to these girls that they are just that -- girls.