In first grade I met Alanna. She spoke to me on my first day at my new school as tears flowed down my face and the national anthem rang over the P.A. I giggled at her quick remark as I wondered to myself: didn’t she know talking wasn’t allowed? Allowed is a buzzword from my childhood, one that I used with a frequentness that is both startling and saddening. To this day, I find myself repressing the limiting word, confused and overwhelmed by the freedoms and privileges that my life affords me. I was always seeking reassurance that permission had been granted, that a stamp of approval had been impressed on the activity by a person of power, a mom, a teacher, a neighbour, someone who could affirm that we were on the right path, that we were obeying, that I was acting as I should, that I was a good little girl. I have spent years trying to unshackle myself from this word.
Alanna paid no mind when I asked her the allowed question, in her world she created her own should’s and allowed’s. And it was a world I wanted to be a part of.
Alanna wore track pants to school and loose fitting boys tees, she met Graham and Oliver and Andrew and all the other athletic boys in our class on the field at recess and I watched as she showed them how to play soccer properly. I was there when, in the middle of the game an older girl wearing cleats stepped on her arm. She got up and kept playing only to find out later that her bones were broken to pieces. She was strong and athletic, wore boy clothes and gave me stories like the one’s my father would end with “boys will be boys.” She was a force, on the field, and in life, she played by her own rules.
My parents hated her.
But she was kind and compassionate and sensitive. I watched her cry when someone at school laughed at her second hand clothes and helped her when she came to me worried about a school project and feeling incompetent. She was strong, she was bold, she was compassionate, she was herself.
My parents hated her.
It bothered them that I would come back from her house with tears in my pants. It bothered them that at her house my allowed questions were rarely answered with a no, over there I could walk to the convenience store, watch titanic and listen to the spice girls. In hindsight I think it bothered them that I would come back from her house happier, that I had gotten a taste of the world outside their control, and that I liked it.
Alanna and I were inseparable for ten years. For that decade I put up with passive aggressive comments from my family about her and her choices, until the dramatic day that our friendship ended with our mothers on the phone to each other yelling and destroying a relationship more dynamic, reciprocal and loving than they could know.
I ran into Alanna recently, her hair is died, her skin artificially tanned, her purse holding a pooch, and her clothes leopard. I’m not sure when she started asking the allowed question, since her and I are no longer close, but it’s because of her that I have vowed never to live my life according to anyone else’s version of allowed.