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Pre Adolescencia

At my fifth birthday party, I wore a purple tulle skirt and a white vest with a unicorn on it. I wore miniature Doc Martins - the first of many - and had my face painted like a cheetah. My parents helped me to cut my cake, as I’m prone to accidents. I blew out the candles on my own. I had about a dozen or so friends of the same age celebrating with me, similarly clad in garish colours, animal patterns sweating beneath the midday sun. All our parents were hiding in the shade, drinking and talking, and keeping a watchful eye on us. We ran around the grass playing imaginative games, not giving one thought to the grass stains and cake smears that ended up as accessories. At the end of the day, everyone left with little goody bags - mostly leftover candies and a couple of polaroids from the day, with a thank you note signed by yours truly. I was practicing my autograph, feeling very accomplished with the rudimentary lettering. I remember going to bed that night, a little sunburnt, adrenaline coursing through my body, but completely, physically wiped out. It’s still one of my favourite childhood memories, and I couldn’t help but compare the following birthdays to that sublime afternoon.

Having said that, there was nothing wrong with the next birthday party, or the one after that, but they didn’t stick in my memory quite the same way. In fact, when talking about my childhood parties, my parents (whose memories are a little more accurate than my own) often remind me that the party I’m referring to is exactly that one, my fifth birthday party.

There was one morning, my Zaza had their hand ruffling my hair, gently, like they still do to this day, pulling at my irritable curls (the one thing I’m not allowed to change) and Ren was in the kitchen, just the other side of the little island making either tea or coffee. I must have been about eight or nine, and we were very content just us three. Zaza was comparing the bounce of their curls to mine, and we were both giggling uncontrollably at the not-boring we couldn’t hear but began improvising. Who knew there were so many different sounds for the bounce of a curl?

Ren brought over a hot mug of tea for me and leaned over the counter, kissing the top of my

forehead, pretending to nibble on the black curl between Zaza’s fingertips. The late afternoon sun streamed through the window so that you can see the dust particles float in reckless abandon, unaware of their surroundings. The leaves had not yet begun to turn amber, but it was obvious that autumn was already on its way, and that meant going back to school.

School gave me mixed feelings, and I knew that my parents were about to have a ‘serious’

conversation with me. I trusted them completely; they had never lied to me (I still believed in fairies and Santa Clause), or kept secrets, and I had never had any reason to doubt them. I remember wriggling between the two of them, alternating kisses on their cheeks - possibly with the intention of pushing back the inevitable discussion that was about to take place - when a glance passed between my two favourite people in the whole wide world, and Zaza gave Ren the most imperceptible nod.

I wish I could say that this was the perfect transcript of the conversation that changed my life, but it was over twenty-five years ago. I shall do nothing but my best to recall with all the accuracy I can.

‘Briar, have you ever noticed anything about Zaza and I?’

‘You’re both beautiful?’

Zaza grinned at that, and it somehow broke the tension. They were clearly more troubled than I was at the tender age of five.

‘You’re right my love. We are both beautiful,’ I got a kiss on the nose for the compliment.

‘And what about your friends’ parents? Are they also beautiful?’

I remember not knowing how to answer, mostly because I’d never considered my friends’

parents before. I mostly looked at their shoes and knees. They weren’t a permanent fixture in the same way my friends were.

‘Well, some of them are beautiful. None of them are as beautiful as you are.’ I’d kind of hoped that my flattery would be some sort of balm to the trepidation that was so clearly etched on to Ren’s face. I remember that Zaza mostly kept quiet, my curls feeling the tug of loving fingers unable to let go.

‘You are most kind my little kindred spirit. Now I have another question for you. Do you know what happens after you finish primary school?’

I blinked. I had never thought about after primary school. There was just more school. More

learning. More classes. My silence gave my initial lack of curiosity away.

‘You know when you get older your body is going to change? You’ll become taller, and bigger.’

‘And faster?’ I was always eager to be faster. Running races were my forte and I loved to win. I still love to win.

‘Well, that’s something you have to work on, it doesn’t just happen naturally. But yes, hopefully faster too.’

I remember being completely distracted by the thought of being faster. I was already one of the fastest in my class. Only Peyton could outrun me, and that was only at short sprints. Once I started running I never wanted to stop. My engrossed thoughts were interrupted by Zaza giving a sharp little tug on that same curl.

‘What else will change?’

‘That’s up to you. Some mornings you might want to change your face, your arms, your waist, your legs, your chest. Anything you want really. Your body will change depending on how you feel inside.’

‘How long can I make my legs? I still want to be able to fit in my bed but I also want to go fast!’

The innocence of youth.

‘Well that depends on you and what you still think is important when you go off to secondary school. Everyone will be able to change their bodies to suit how they feel inside. You might change the way you look every day for a year. Or you might choose to stay exactly the same. Everyone will be going through the same transformations. It can be such a confusing time my love. You don’t have to worry about it now. You have a couple of years of being just like this, but we didn’t want you to wait to find out about what happens during adolescencia from someone else, we thought it was right to tell you ourselves.’ Ren’s face had visibly relaxed and it never really occurred to me to ask many more questions. Only the one.

‘Can you still change the way that you look? Can you show me?’

This is where Zaza stepped in, ‘no Briar angel. Once you have gone through adolescencia, you stay the way that you feel most comfortable. You don’t really have to choose. One day you’ll wake up and not be able to transform the same way that you were able to the day before. You might not exactly expect what you look like, but it’ll be you. And we’ll always love you no matter what.’

I remember scrutinizing my parents, studying their faces, ‘I think your bodies chose right. You do look like you.’

Another kiss on the nose. ‘Do you want to see what Zaza looked like at 15 years old? I don’t

think you’ll be able to guess.’

‘Same goes for you Ren! Should be a fun game. Though maybe my hair will give it away.’

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