Dear Ja’mie: : Letters from inside the boarding house

Dear Ja’mie,

I remember you. That day I had to visit the boarding school’s sick bay to buy sanitary pads, you sat on the hospital bed, smirking. I only saw you after I had the packet of Libras in my arms. My face got hot. I ran back to the boarding house, hid in my narrow cupboard, and cried into my winter tunics. Yes, I did. I was crying about pads, and being fourteen. But I was mainly crying about you. You of all people knew now that I had my periods.

I may as well have died.

I didn’t, but I did ring my dad to come and collect me. He was coming from an hour-and-half away, and we were only meant to go on two outings a term with our parents. But it was an emergency. He could barely understand me through sobs.

By the time he turned up, I was sitting with my friend Hannah on the bench outside the boarding house, talking about boys, and the school social, and about how we were going to travel to the Bermuda Triangle when we were old, and smoke marijuana.

My dad laughed about my desperate phone call. It was clearly a false alarm.

You watched us, from your place against the wall. Your head was in the lap of one of your ‘besties’ and another ‘bestie’ stroked your wrist with her nails. You and your besties also talked about boys and socials and all that, but even though I was now laughing with my own friends, I imagined you telling your besties that you saw me buy pads – ew – from the sick bay. One bestie flung her hair back as she laughed, and I felt all eyes on me. Maybe that was also in my imagination. But I don’t think so.

The funny thing is, when we first met, I wanted to be your bestie too. You were smart, sarcastic and witty. Your ability to reduce a person to a mere morsel in a few sharp words was impressive – and somehow, loveable. You sat next to me while we did homework, and I laughed at your cruel jokes about others, written on notes, which you passed to me. I wanted to be like you, so tried my own wit. I watched your face closely for your reaction as you unfolded my mean joke.

Then, another bestie came along. She was prettier and funnier than me, and clearer a better person. I graciously acknowledged you with a nod as you sat next to her, instead of me, during prep. You stopped sitting next to me at dinner. Soon, you spent every recess and lunch with her. Another bestie joined you, and I found myself in a different bunch. My new friends were kinder than you, and didn’t make cruel jokes about people.

As we grew up, side by side, in those fickle, boarding school years, I watched your popularity wax and wane. You were loved, adored, turned against, and then loved again. Although your popularity was malleable, you spent more time than not with your head resting in the lap of a devoted friend, your arm stroked tenderly by another.

It’s OK, Ja’mie. It wasn’t your fault that I had a meltdown that afternoon you found out I had my periods. We were raised in a boarding house, with few positive role-models, or inspiring adults around. Many of us had little to do with our families, except the occasional weekend at home, and holidays. We lost our bearings. We were looking desperately to each other for some sense of guidance and love. It is only natural that we bonded in tight groups. We needed each other so badly.

My Ja’mie wasn’t Chris Lilley’s Ja’mie – a privileged day girl at a private school. She was a privileged boarder at a private school. I am sure, though, that Ja’mie can also be found in the playground of a public school. She is a product of privilege, yes. But also of girls’ schools, and possibly of teenage girls in general. Girls can be mean. I said and thought and did mean things when I was at school, and in a private girls school, meanness and bitchiness becomes normalised.

Chris Lilly accurately captured  the love a group of girls at a girls’ school have for each other. It is not a lesbian love. It is an intense fondness –  a sisterhood. The code of the girls’ school is that although you bitch about girls from a ‘lesser’ group, you will never, ever bitch about your besties. Ever.

And you will also have a leader. The leader will possibly be as charismatic (and as horrible) as Ja’mie. But all good groups need a strong leader.

School – private school – especially a boarding school show cases group behaviour. Ja’mie only gives us the shudders, and is virtually unwatchable because to many of us, Ja’mie is very real. We might even be her.

Did you go to boarding school? Do you know a Ja’mie too? 

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Linking with Essentially Jess for IBOT.