Wednesday, April 01, 2015

And these children that you spit on

As they try to change their worlds

Are immune to your consultations

They’re quite aware of what they’re going through

Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it

Changes by David Bowie

BOWIE wrote Changes over 40 years ago but it’s still among the best songs ever to describe what it’s like being a teenager.

I was obsessed with The Thin White Duke in my teens and particularly loved that song. It all came back to me last week when I met Jean, the mother of Susie, a girl who’s the same age as my own daughter. Our daughters are both 15 years’ old now and are both only children. It seemed ideal, then, that one summer when they were eight, they became hard and fast friends. My young one would spend hours over in Suzie’s house, holed up in her pink, princess-like bedroom. They played with their Little Pet Shop figurines and dressed up like princesses in cheap, nylon dresses of pink and purple.

But even when the sun was shining and her room got unbearably stuffy, Suzie was happy to stay within the confines of her own realm. My daughter, a tomboy, became restless with such inertia and would leave to play outside on her rollerblades, scooter, bike, flicker or any other method of locomotion that would make her go faster than usual.

It was a friendship destined to fail. I wasn’t at all surprised that the pair of them turned their backs on each other when September came around and a new school term began.

I’d quite forgotten about that short-lived friendship until I met the mother in the supermarket on Tuesday.

“Your young one is gorgeous! I sometimes see her walking home from school, laughing with her friends. Such a friendly girl, isn’t she?” Jean said.

I wondered briefly if it was, indeed, my daughter that she was referring to, but then I realised that, yes, although she’s as moody as hell, she is very smiley and sociable while out in public.

“Ah, sure, she’s grand,” I answered. “And how is Suzie getting on? I haven’t seen her in ages.”

“You’ve seen her alright but you probably didn’t recognise her,” Jean replied, with a nervous smile. “She’s a Goth, now, don’t you know?”

“No way! A Goth! How did that happen?” I said back to her, not believing that a passive, princess-obsessed child could change so dramatically.

Turns out, little Suzie has now transformed into Siouxsie, à la the punk/Goth band, Siouxsie and the Banshees. She arrived home one day from school when she was midway through first year and declared that she wanted to dye her beautiful, titian hair jet black.

“Everyone in school looks the same, Ma. They’re like sheep with their perfect blonde hair, their clichés and their silly crushes,” Suzie told her mother.

Jean argued and rationalised against Suzie changing her hair but we all know who won that battle.

Next, the pink walls of her bedroom, once the place where butterflies went to play, were painted charcoal grey. The transformations continued when the furniture that once housed her unicorns and fairy statues were lacquered in a high-gloss black.

The tutus and pumps she so loved were replaced with black leggings and Doc Martens. She experimented for hours in front of the mirror with white foundation and kohl eyeliner. Always brilliant at art, she painstakingly drew tattoos on her forearms of skulls and crucifixes with finely-tipped markers.

“My word, Jean, that’s amazing,” I said to her mother back in the supermarket.

Then I let an involuntarily gasp as the star of the show, Suzie herself, wandered up beside her mother.

There she stood, from head to toe in black, save for the blood-red varnish on her talon-like nails. She peered at me through her heavy fringe and dug her hands into the heavy overcoat she wore on her tiny, hunched shoulders.

“Suzie, you look amazing! How are you, little pet?” I said, patronisingly.

Needless to say, she didn’t reply.

The transformation from butterfly to bat was complete.

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