Memories of Girlfriends

I can’t believe how good this book is, “Writing With Intent”. I’ve bought this book for a year and haven’t gone around to read it until now. I think it’s because I got it at the end of my feverish obsession with Atwood’s work–finally the enthusiasm waned and I didn’t finish Testament and another book, name forgotten, that molded after Tempest. This is the first several essays I read by her and they are wonderful, reminding me of those essays of Evelyn Waugh, George Orwell, Nora Ephron–not that they have similar styles, but rather I have the same fondness for them. Another reason I didn’t immediately picked it up to read it is because of the title. I prefer random thoughts and writing for writing’s sake without any other intent. I grew up in an environment that every word is carefully uttered with an intention behind and I know the effect of that. Actually my very action right now is the after effect of such an upbringing. I will be fine with appropriate amount of intent, but I know it is hard. Whenever one has an intent, one tends to overdo it. Still, I love Atwood despite not agreeing with her on many things. I especially love the fact that Atwood is witty and humorous without even trying to be acknowledged this way. Nora Ephron is funny but she deliberately crafts her writing in the way to nudge people to laugh, no matter how gentle the nudge is.

I am reading “That Certain Thing Called Girlfriend”, which inevitably brought back memories of my girlhood and those wonderful friends I had. L is my best friend and my classmate as well. She’s a clever girl who likes mathematics and computer, but most of her spare time had to be spent on house chores and the duty of taking care of her two younger sisters and the youngest–a boy, who’s nickname is “The Last One”. Thank goodness. I mean “thank goodness” and a deep sigh should be added to his nickname to make it truly a representation of the parents’ sentiment. If “The Last One” was not a boy, my friend L would need to take care of more sisters and her mother would have to try even harder to make babies. If I wanted to talk with L after school, I had to go to her place since she had no time to visit me. She lived on the fifth floor in a two bedroom apartment while I lived on the second floor in a one bedroom apartment. How much I have to sacrifice for our friendship since I had to follow her around when she was doing her chores and cooking dinner for the whole family. Our conversation was often interrupted by her yell at her younger sisters. Although “The Last One” was truly the most indulged in the family, L was not afraid of screaming at him when he made a mess or tried to come too close to the stove. My visit usually ended when L’s mother came back from work. If I didn’t meet the mom, I would think L is a little hyper. When the mom appeared, I knew who L was learning from. The mom screamed orders as soon as she got indoors. The second eldest was to mend the clothes, the third child was to tidy up, and she herself immediately picked up a mop to clean the cement floor. While she worked energetically to clean the floor, she continued to bark orders, to complain, to answer questions, to offer instructions on certain dishes L was cooking. It is so strange that I still don’t know how to explain this– she was so blunt and so loud, but I didn’t feel afraid of her at all and the children were not afraid of her either, though they started to take her orders and at least looked obedient. Probably because her voice had a quirky hilarity that one could almost laugh at it. My mother rarely raised her voice, but her gloom and silence was much more menacing. L’s father was a math professor at the provincial university where my mother also worked. L’s mother was only a store clerk, but it’s a happy marriage. Although they never showed their affection in front of others, I suspected that they loved each other and respected each other deeply. There’s some deep connection between them that other people could not penetrate. I would like to ask but never dared to. They probably came from the same village or childhood sweetheart….

So many years later, I still feel my love for L and regret that I left my hometown. If we were of opposite sex, we would have married each other. I feel strongly about that, still do. I wouldn’t mind to live with her talkative mother, getting yelled at when she’s cross. Next life, I will be born and live in my hometown as long as I live no matter how poor, provincial, dusty, rural, backward it is. Voilà, love and friendship!

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