Back as a teenage girl, I had harbored a pressing need for a boyfriend. Any boy with a car so we could swap saliva in the backseat. Dreams of secretly calling him to say ‘Iloveyou’ a few times and buying mushy cards from Anybodys inscribed with cheesy sonnets. We could share ice-cream spoons at Yummy 36 or be spotted by the gossip mongers of Isloo high-schools when we canoodled in the back booth of Pappasalis on a Friday night. My first quick fix for this urge was an anti-climactic loser called Salman. Most of you have already read about him and my other tragic ex-lovers in ‘Happy Effing VD to you too!!!’ so I wont bore you. Today however, I am the total opposite from the Padash who once desperately yearned and prayed for a boyfriend. Now, I sashay down a path discovered gratefully in college. Never carry sand when you can live at the beach? All that’s needed in life are a few close friends. They can quite sufficiently fill the companionship void and as for the sex part…well pretty girls can never be devoid of such an indulgence, if they so choose to seek. For a girl like myself with no regard for societal rules, men soon become synonymous with New York subways: one stops in front of you every 15 minutes and depending on how you live your life…or your commute, you can ride one all night and a different one back ;) So perfect was this eureka that I soon found myself turning down several eligible and handsome suitors only because I had tasted, savored and was now hooked to a phenomenon called ‘my freedom!’ The wise like to advise that someday, when I get older, this juvenile outlook on life will begin to loose its charm. And by no means do I refute that prediction! But for now, the former desperation for steady boyfriends has morphed into a strong aversion to nouns like ‘relationship’ and ‘commitment’. Why I do this requires Freud, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre to scratch their heads and deliberate over vodka and Maui Wowie blunts but how I arrived at this lifestyle is something I can probably attempt to answer. A stir-fried concoction of various incidents and people. But somehow the first person who always comes to mind is my best friend from college: Jenny!
For those of you have followed my columns closely are well aware that not only did I have rotten luck with boyfriends in the past but I wasn’t always blessed with finding loyal friends either. No doubt, both deficiencies stemmed from my own lack of self-esteem so there’s no one to blame but myself. When not spending my life in the shadows, kowtowing to queen-bee’s such as Aliya, I was settling for a superficial and invisible association to popular crowds only because of Daddy Padash’s wealth. Sure, among that shallow mix a few good apples like Shela made cameos in my life like needles in haystacks. But still, even with a heart of genuine gold, Shela and I were just two different souls. She was the quintessential good girl; an epitome of chastity and virtue while I stifled a rebellious soul repulsed by convention and piqued by inquisitive tastes for an eclectic array of unmentionable sins. I guess, Afia would come closest to that perfect best friend but we all know from (Afia from Karachi Company) how well that turned out due to my own idiotic insecurities. Needless to say, by the time I headed for college, I was determined for a fresh start. Another chance to start on a new page and do it right this time. I had imagined college to gift me with that perfect dreadlocked/mustached boyfriend and with him or maybe without him, I would explore my sexuality, my spirit and myself. Well… it didn’t go exactly the way I had charted it out but sans the dreadlocked lover I still managed to hit the nail pretty close to its head. My soulmate, I soon realized wasn’t someone with dreadlocks, a moustache or even a penis. It was in fact someone who loved me unconditionally, was there to comfort me through hard times, taught me, mentored me, held my hand when I needed and never dared to judge me. That person was a beautiful and sure soul named Jenny. Before I had ever seen an episode of Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives, Girlfriends or any other clichéd fairy-tale of a sitcom, it was Jenny who educated me that love comes in many shapes and forms. You can never feel alone as long as you’re surrounded by good friends. And sometimes, all it takes is just one.
Just one column on Jenny would never do justice to our relationship. In truth, a large part of my life that helped shape who I am is attributable to our friendship and the lessons I learned from Jenny. Before meeting her, I was merely a confused, spoilt and inept girl with little self-esteem and still trying to find myself. Jenny accompanied me in that search. Along the way she taught me about the simple pleasures in life and the beauty in humility and ordinary. About the importance of independence and fearlessness. Most of all she taught me how to become comfortable, embrace and then eventually love the one person who should matter the most to me…myself.
How Jenny and I met is an interesting tale. Fall of 1999, a quaint little college town clutching on to the few more days of sun it was allowed. Where the locals were more conservative and somewhat as ignorant as Anne Coulter herself. Yet in the middle of this rural foliage stood 4 walls which housed some of the world’s greatest and most radical minds. A campus where genders were often bended, everyone succumbed to becoming a BUG (Bisexual Until graduation), sex was not taboo but the norm and rules became more fragile than our mother’s most expensive China. Like many other novices to a liberal arts lifestyle, I too arrived here clueless and escorted by protective parents who could never imagine their young daughter boarding an international flight let alone navigating her way through a sequestered destination in a foreign country. We had arrived here from a five-star hotel where all my meals were paid for. For a split-second, I even wondered how different my own dorm room would be from this luxury suite. If someone had told me back then that in the coming years, I would become a person who spontaneously rented cars and drove to foreign places alone with no definitive plans or that I would travel my way through all the places I wished to see while hostelling, couch-surfing and ridesharing I would neither fathom nor believe it!
The first night in my dorm room, I unpacked my stuff and prayed (you know Pakistani children will always pull out their praying mat on the first night, the first week or their first month of college even if we never touched it back home). Now for the Isha kay baad Nasha routine, I headed off to a local frat party with my roommate and excited hall-mates – all trying hard to mask their nervousness with heavy makeup and forced grins. We huddled close in a circle as we danced and noticed that the putrid basement of that fraternity was saturated with many similar circles all representing a floor of a particular dorm. The men surrounded us with lopsided baseball caps and Varsity jackets leaning against the wall, picking out their prey but still nervous to make a move on the first night. Even though, the months before college, I would try every trick in the book just to stay out past my curfew on Islamabad dance floors, but now on my first night in the Land of the Free, I was ready to head home even before midnight. At 11:45 we all walked home in a pack and retired to our rooms to sleep on uncomfortable bunk beds and acquaint ourselves with our roommates some more. Girls we pretended were already our BFFs but would soon discover that they would become the one girl we would eventually avoid, then despise and later never see around campus again. Growing up as a follower to self-indulgent debs, I was all too familiar with the artificiality of such friendships. Heck I had mastered it by now.
A few weeks with the blond herd of freshmen estrogen and I found myself spiraling into a nagging disappointment. This ‘follower routine’ was exactly what I had wanted to denounce in college; weekends spent watching coats for bimbo friends to avoid watching them hook up with cute boys. Though the girls would frequently gush that I was ‘gorgeous’, I would dismiss them as meaningless compliments bestowed upon desi girls who are assumed to be ‘beautiful’ because they are ‘exotic’ and ‘exotic’ only because of their dark skin and darker hair. More of an accessory for the background aesthetics than a bedmate. Girls who were probably no more than ordinary back home often find themselves fawned over by Americans only because long hair + dark skin + femininity spells exotic beauty here.
Since I had arrived to school guarding an I20 close to my heart, I was instantly expected to color my college brochures with ‘diversity.’ Also immediately pigeonholed into a default social network called the ‘International Students’. These F1s and J1s were to not only help me alleviate my homesickness by shared stories of jet-lag but also to help me ‘assimilate’ by correcting each other’s grammars. A socially awkward bunch, my new best friends but all it took were a total 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 3 dinners and 1 brunch with the corner UN table of men and women from every continent flirting with each other in broken English, to help me effortlessly deduce that Hye sue from Korea and Oguo from Ghana weren’t really the posse I saw myself rolling with. That and the fact that the oblong-shaped, Oguo from Ghana with his enunciation as comprehensible as the lyrics of a Klingon Opera, decided he was infatuated with me. Not really a bad guy but I could never get past his large ears (which I could only hope had been stretched out by an ex girlfriend grabbing them with pleasure) and an unfathomable articulation (often I would misinterpret that he was requesting me to become a drug mule to Cuba when he would only be asking me to pass the salt shaker). Fuel to fire, one night I came home from a party and found Oguo taping a love letter on my door. The girls on my floor were quite entertained by this so-called romantic gesture but I knew I had to put am immediate stop to this. A rude rejection was the only option I had! And might I add, his best attempt at a love letter were quoted dialogues from the movie Titanic and its soundtrack! Never really a Celine Dion fan, I had to let Oguo know, that sweetie…I’m sorry…its not me, it really is YOU!
It was at one of those boring International student luncheons where my eyes first landed on a gorgeous and slender girl with a complexion as perfect as dark chocolate. Self-assuredly, she sported a shaved head, killer legs to match and eyes so seductively enchanting that they held back a story of their own. She bore the starkest resemblance to the model Alek Wek and was aware of that fact because she emulated her from hair to expression. We exchanged brief homilies over cookies and lemonade where she informed me that although her parents were immigrants from Sudan, she herself was born and raised in California. Her Sudanese heritage helped her to fashion the role of a token to help increase this college’s diversity numbers in exchange for financial aid. That was also why she made brief appearances at such mundane luncheons. Her confidence and the surety with which she carried herself enticed me immediately. Attired in such an expensive and classy dress, I would never have guessed that this self-assured Nubian princess actually hailed from the projects of Compton and grew up on food stamps. On that night, Jenny and I only shared a cigarette before we parted. Many years later I would be informed by her that she too walked away from me, enticed, impressed and intrigued by a tale hinted by just my eyes. Of a privileged past and a beauty undiscovered. We both wanted to be each other’s protégés but neither knew of the other’s intrigue.
After the International crowd and the bimbo hall-mates who had already begun talking about each other behind their backs, I found a new niche. The school’s resident goth crew. I befriended Libby in my gender and sexuality class and when she invited me to lunch with her entourage of Goths, I readily accepted. A table full of black make up and sinister frowns yet all just a tough façade as a defense mechanism. Inside they were loveable, maybe even dorky and that’s probably why they accepted me with open arms. Maybe because I brought long black hair to the table and a few local Pakistani amulets bought at Mazaars for less than a penny. Oh and they adored my ‘ominous sounding’ name and the exotic roll it brought to their tongue. Libby truly was fun and it was refreshing at first to replace a night of surrendering to bimbos bumping and grinding with drunk frat boys for a night of glaring angrily without the subtlest of a smile on a dance floor which thundered dark menacing beats. Libby and I remain good friends to this day and eventually she outgrew her black makeup and piercings. She married a fellow non-conformist in a quaint medieval themed renaissance wedding in Nova Scotia.
Of course, I experimented with every sub-segment of society in this school, so after the goth crowd, came the raver crew! Ravers caught my attention with their ostentatiously flamboyant attire which was the other end of the spectrum from the gothic uniform of dark frowns and black gloom. Ravers wore baggy jeans, bright colors, pacifiers around their necks, glow-sticks between their fingers and any accessory that rhymed with HAPPY to a spoilt rich white kid tripping on XTC. I met Jemima (a candy raver) at a game of Spin-the-bottle or was it Psychology class, but soon after I landed at my first ever rave. Jemima always showed up to class in tight Care-Bear t-shirts, pig-tails, smiley face stickers on her cheek and a pacifier in her mouth. It fed another fascination with another underground scene for me where the depravity of drugs and addiction were conveniently gift-wrapped in colorful happiness, dutiful camaraderie with strangers, perpetual grins, hugs and French kisses. Needless to say, as fun as it was, but after watching Jemima overdose on E, GHB and crystal meth and then spend a night with her in the hospital in a pink tank top with not just matching harem pants but also a pink visor, I had to rethink the path I had chosen once again. I was quickly realizing that my interest in all of these sub-groups was due to an ingrained curiosity to try new things. Yet there still lacked a sense of belonging or permanence.
Luckily I didn’t have to continue searching too long because soon I found Jenny. Our paths would cross endlessly throughout the year yet we remained oblivious to the fact that maybe fate was trying to help us connect. Besides our shared aversion for token diversity luncheons, we both began to work at the Library. It was a great work-study; I could read, write papers, talk on the phone, all while getting paid. Jenny and I never worked the same shift but would always bump into each other when punching in our timecards. Our conversations, mostly brief and somewhat cordial. Uncannily, we had even been on dates with the same men yet neither knew. One night I ended up having sex at the library after a date (I had an extra key) and later I would find out that Jenny had done the exact same thing with the exact same guy and just a week before me. We were two peas in a pod and had yet to discover that.
During one particularly excruciating night shift, when neither of us felt like studying for midterms, we began to converse and by the end of the shift we had exchanged our life stories. I learned that Jenny was nowhere close to the bourgeois and wealthy girl I had perceived her to be. It was hard not believe with her designer clothes and the royal grace with which she glided down campus like panthers striding down runways. In truth, she was a struggling soul born to immigrant parents. She had witnessed and survived some of the most desolate of times. Neither African royalty nor an International supermodel, she was just a street savvy and headstrong girl from Compton who would be quick to put someone in their place if they rubbed her the wrong way. Our similarities? We both grew up with low self-esteem, always second-guessing ourselves. Unlike myself she had changed it all and taken responsibility for her life. Some other day, I will share her life story since it was so inspirational.
It was also around that time when I slumped into my first depression. Rarely would I make it out of bed and lied to Professors that I was homesick. I had hoped that my decision to leave my home, jump on a plane and travel across the 7 seas would be to start a new life and find myself. Yet here I was. Still a confused soul, too scared to be myself and still unaware of what ‘myself’ meant. Hopping from group to group, and left with no more than a barrage of acquaintances but not a single close friend. What Jenny would admire and envy from afar as my popularity was in fact loneliness. Even though I had begun to loose all my weight because the closest dining hall to my dorm was a glorified salad bar, my self-esteem remained low. So ingrained was my self-deprecation that when girls told me about all the attention I got from guys, I assumed it to be a tricky ploy to flatter me for something in return.
During my first break, I hitched a ride to Philly to visit Khala 1. I even planned a day trip to NYC to visit an old high school friend who was at Columbia. It was the first time I stepped foot in New York and the city immediately became my savior at a very low point in my life. The reason why I have such a deep loyalty to New York. As we walked around Manhattan, I couldn’t help but gape at the beauty and surety in every man, woman, and tranny that sauntered by. I was awestruck! They had all left everything behind to move here and follow their dreams. They didn’t look back and by the determination with which they marched it was obvious they were not going to let anything get in their way. I wondered what it would be like to walk in the shoes of these svelte bombshells. Click clacking away in high heeled pumps with ease, expensive clothes on their flesh, faces like airbrushed perfection. When you looked closer, you realized that they weren’t and didn’t even have to be genetically pretty. It was merely the confidence with which they lived life that attracted the world like puppets. And here I was, blessed with a beautiful face but the only thing stopping me was my own uncertainty of myself. As we sipped coffee in an outdoor café in the village, beauty parading by, I turned the intimidation into encouragement. I was going to be myself and I was going to love myself. If there was something about myself I didn’t like, I was going to change it. You get one shot at life and here I was wasting it away in depression.
I returned to college a determined person. Sure when guys asked me out to fraternity formals and mixers, I still second-guessed myself. When Jenny and I would talk, she would comment on how she envied my fun lifestyle of partying with jocks and greeks. I in turn, envied her for her confidence and wished to achieve the same.
It was around that time, studying for finals in a deserted library when Jenny and I began to share some of our darker secrets and illicit fantasies. I gave up on my Psychology textbook and confessed.
‘You wanna know something wild? I had sex in this library!’ ’
Her eyes widened as she removed the highlighter from her mouth, ‘Me too!’
‘With CJ!’ I revealed his name.
‘Me too!’ She jumped up and almost spilled her coffee.
We spent the rest of the night comparing notes. What I admired about her was how sexually experienced she was and not ashamed of it. She reminded me of a more confident version of Afia.
‘It had always been a fantasy of mine ever since I started working here!’ I informed her.
‘Any other fantasies?” She asked!
‘Well ever since I saw the movie Threesome in high school, I have always wanted to try one in college!’
‘It is quite fun.’ Jenny’s reply was surprisingly cavalier.
‘You’ve done it already?”
She nodded ‘A few times.’
“Well lets just say, every now and then its better with a third!’
I didn’t think much of it but a few weeks after finals, I had been asked out to a fraternity formal by a cutie. I had packed most of my clothes already and remembered that Jenny who had yet to attend a formal had always offered to let me borrow her clothes for such occasions. I decided to ask her for her divine backless, champagne dress. She agreed immediately and even invited me over and since both of us had no specific plans on the night before the formal, I accepted. When I arrived at her dorm room, we started off drinking wine on her bed and listening to music. When her phone rang she informed me with a wink that an old friend was coming over.
‘Company? Booty call?’ I joked ‘I should get going then!’
‘Well actually, if you’re still interested in that threesome…’
And that my friends was how I had my first ever threesome in college. After that my life became a floodgate of new experiences. I still remember when the guy left with the goofiest Cheshire grin on his face, we giggled away. I couldn’t believe what I had just done and on the other hand it all felt so comfortable with Jenny. By sunrise as I did the unusual walk of shame back home, I couldn’t stop smiling. When I reached the entrance of my dorm, I turned around to breath in the splendid view of my small campus. Breathtakingly beautiful. For the first time, it looked inviting as well as comforting. I now looked forward to returning to campus for sophomore year. In the years that followed, Jenny and I became inseparable, experimenting with all our curiosities. College instantly became the best years of my life. I was on a journey, and all I needed was Jenny to accompany me! And…sometimes it is better with a third! ;) That third friend was Julie. And the three of us commenced on a journey full of memories we could rarely repeat unless one of us chose a pseudonym and shared those memories with her chowkies. =)