It is the next day and I am back at school. I’ve only told my best friend Millie about my operation, quietly, on a bench outside the classroom, before the first bell rung. She was surprised and wished that I had called her earlier about it.
By Family Matters class she has forgotten all about my operation and it is all about her again.
She passes me a picture of a bride in a long, strapless, fitted white dress that she has cut out of a bridal magazine. ‘I’m thinking about wearing something more classic,’ she says.
‘You mean, more mainstream?’ I say.
‘I mean classic,’ she repeats, a little gruffly. ‘We may not be into Lolita all our lives.’
This sounds very mature from someone who is almost obsessive about having the latest Lolita bell-shaped skirts, ruffled shirts, knee-high socks or print dress. ‘You should be proud of who you are and how you dress,’ I say.
Millie drags her hand through her thickly-parted, straightened-this-morning, blonde hair. ‘I am proud.’
‘I’ve seen a great outfit on btssb.com. It is white cotton, with white lace around the bodice, a knee length bustle-skirt, which reveals a few layers of thick red lace. It is just gorgeous. I meant to download the image and email it to you. I can do it tonight.’
Millie squeezes her lips to the side.
‘I don’t know. I don’t want to regret what I wear on my wedding day.’
I am astounded. Millie is the most die-hard Lolita I know. It was her that converted me into it. She even wears matching bloomers under her outfits. I had thought that her wedding day would have been an opportunity to go nuts with it. I’d imagined her with a pure white bonnet and a frilly carosel, with a couple of ribbons hanging from the handle, that she could have used as a prop in her photographs.
I feel worked up by her comments just now but I remind myself to take it easy. I’m the head bridesmaid and good head bridesmaids don’t pick fights.
In reality, it’s not just her wanting to wear something completely out of character that I have an issue with, it’s this whole damn wedding thing. It’s the terminology she uses, the ‘big day’, it’s the endless one-way discussions about the design of the wedding invitations, the colour of the napkins, whether she should walk down the aisle with just her father, or both parents.
What I would really prefer to discuss with her is how she is going to cope with marrying a boy she has never met before. For her at the moment it is all about the ‘big day’ but that is just one day. She is going to have a lifetime with this person. What if she hates his guts? The flowers at her wedding may be perfect, they may be fresh, and sweet smelling, but what if he has bad body odour, and the mere smell of him makes her stomach curdle in disgust?
Unaware, she goes on, ‘mum and I are meeting with the dressmaker on the weekend, you can come along, if you like, we’ll be talking about the bridesmaid dresses too.’
I don’t really feel like meeting with the dressmaker this weekend and having a gushfest over some stupid outfits and the ‘big day’.
‘I would love to,’ I say, ‘but I’ve got plans with dad on Saturday.’
The look on her face makes me feel bad. Okay, so I’m not the perfect head bridesmaid. But I don’t want to be dragged through this whole ordeal being made to feel guilty, so I say, ‘I’ll come along, some other time. There will be plenty more opportunities. It’s best you meet with her first to discuss your dress, then we can style the bridesmaid dresses around yours.’
Our teacher calls the class back from our ‘group discussion’.
‘Okay, Millie, what do you think makes a good relationship?’ Poor Millie, we hadn’t been discussing the group questions at all, and now she was having to provide feedback to the whole class.
‘Honesty, openness, loyalty, trust,’ she says, unflinchingly. I am impressed, perhaps she has been thinking about what happens after the wedding after all.
‘Excellent, Millie, very well said. Sylvie, did you talk about how women can make their careers and family life work well together?’
Oh crap, she was now targeting me too. I falter, if I was to take a lead from my mother, I would say, outsource the raising of the children to a nanny and the father.
‘Um, women need to be organised,’ I say. A couple of the girls laugh. I wasn’t trying to be funny, it was just the only thing I could think of right now.
My teacher doesn’t make a comment, she moves on to the next victim, ‘Lisa, how would you try to create work/life balance?’
But just now the bell for lunch rings, so Lisa doesn’t have to answer, as everyone starts turning off their zaplets and slamming their books shut, anxious to get the hell out of there, food on their minds. It’s another badly-designed lesson by Miss Morgan, 90% ‘group discussion’ time (aka general chit chat time) and 10% class time. These Family Matters classes, three times a week, are a waste of time. I don’t learn a thing.
Millie and I have lockers side-by-side in the corridor. We shove our Family Matters textbooks, pencil cases and zaplets into the bottom shelf of our lockers and grab our earpieces from the top shelf. We stick the recording device into our ear, and both say, ‘testing one two’ as we always do, into the microphone. It makes us laugh every time.
I find the earpieces a bit unnecessary myself, but if you are caught not wearing them, you get a strike. Teachers prowl around the schoolyard at recess times seeking out girls who are not wearing their earpiece. Three strikes and you get a detention. The earpieces are the main reason my mother chose this school, they are a groundbreaking device that are used by only the most exclusive schools to clamp down on schoolyard bullying.
There is a surveillence team hired to monitor our conversations. They can’t listen to all our conversations all the time, but apparently they dip in and out of different girls’ conversations, and the thing is, you never know when they could be listening.
As a result, everyone is quite wary of what they say at break times. I would love to tell Millie what a waste of time I think Family Matters classes are, but this would be classified as an ‘anti-social’ comment. Likewise, we are not allowed to voice opinions on any of the other girls in the school, participate in gossip or general bitchiness.
At the end of the day, names of offenders are called over the loud speaker in homeroom, as a way of publicly shaming girls with anti-social behaviour. There are usually only one or two names called out a day, some days there are no names called at all. At 3.15pm, when we hear the crackle of the loudspeaker, all the girls freeze in their seats, hearts pounding, perhaps recalling the one not very nice thing they have said all day. You can almost hear a collective sigh in the class once the names have been read out and there is no one amongst us who is called to detention.
If there is someone in the class who is called, they stand up, red faced, eyes downcast. A feeling of paranoia washes over the other class members, as they wonder whether it was them that was being bitched about. What could this girl have said about me? Every girl in the class thinks. The offender leaves the room immediately, with every pair of eyes in the class piercing suspicion at her.
No one talks about what happens in anti-social behaviour detention. The rumour is that it is a two-hour reform session, that a hard-core counsellor deconstructs offenders’ inner-thoughts and fears and leaves them as a quivering mess. There was one girl from our class, Colleen, that never returned to school after her reform session.
Millie and I have lunch in our usual spot, sitting at the top of some cold polished concrete steps in the emergency exit to the sports hall. Dad has made me a ham roll with homemade sundried tomatoes and pesto mayonnaise squirt paste.
‘I should run the menu past your dad, he loves his food,’ Millie says.
She is banging on about her wedding again. I think to myself that dad couldn’t care a stuff about the menu at her wedding party, but I say, ‘Sure, he would love to help you out.’ Something about this annoys me, but I can’t put my finger on it.