Envy - Hits of the 90s and now
Words by Hannah Bambra
Everything has unravelled and I’m only jealous of women who get to keep their pregnancies. There’s nothing else.
1997 I punch my dad in the back, hard. He’s sitting on a swivel chair and typing on a very chunky, very grey desktop computer. This means no-one can be on the phone. The house is quiet. Maybe this is my moment. The computer has its own little room under the stairs. If I had been in a joyous mood, I would have danced to the internet’s dial tone already. But I stayed still. I’m in the mood for blood. I watch him push both his shoulder blades together, crank his neck to one side and lower back down into a symphony of typing, like a piano player who is moved by the notes. This is my moment. I want to know what it feels like to hit a man. My fists are small, but my ambition is large. A little monkey punch hits him off-centre in the fleshy part of his right shoulder. He yells and flicks an elbow back in revolt. He looks at me in a way that I now know is the start of me being “the difficult one”. I think my experiment has failed, I didn’t think about what would happen after the punch. My heart is beating fast in my chest, which now wears an imaginary badge of honour; “a girl who has punched someone”. My family hate sport. They hate it when I hit or bite people more. I’m jealous of big kids who kick balls and look strong. They must punch everyone. 1999 I’m better at hula hooping than Merryn, but she got a ribbon in class. I hula-hooped for the ENTIRE Lion King movie at Phillip Island, don’t they know? I sit at the top of the jungle gym, the one we jump off to kiss boys. I’m furious. It’s nice to be alone but it’s also hard to stop thinking about this injustice. What does she do with a hula hoop that I can’t? She can handstand and cartwheel, but that’s irrelevant. Those are things I can’t do, even though I’ve tried. Hasn’t she taken enough? The teachers try to get me down. I pout. I want an award. 2001 I change schools. This one is fancier. Still no awards. I make new friends. We sit on the table that’s under the exit sign in the year three classroom - so obviously, we’re the cool group. The teachers try to get us to use a new, exciting digital version of Encyclopedia Britannica. They don’t know how to use the computers and neither do I. Sometimes we use it to look up words like cock. Kirsten has more cursive handwriting than me. I study and copy it. (Note: I regret this later in life. I can’t read my own notes). 2003 I have my first kiss before a lot of other girls. I’m ten years old. We don’t french kiss, because that would be gross. But I’ve won this round. 2004 I’m obsessed with an older girl at school. I know where her locker is. I know who her friends are. She’s so good at waterpolo. I’m pretty good too, but I’m very small. She’s tall and lean and she has the kind of blonde hair that makes her look like she was born in the sun. I want to be around her, but not have to talk. Because talking to her is hard and I clench so much it hurts my jaw. I want to be her. She hugs me one time and says I’m like her little sister. I’m both thrilled and confusingly hurt. Little sisters are cute but they aren’t much more. She looks very elegant in bathers. She’s always the captain of all the drills. I like it when she says I’m doing a good job. 2006 Julia smokes and drinks and goes out. I try to match this as much as possible. I hate school. This perfect-looking girl who has been modelling since she was nine wins the short story competition. She wrote it about a ladybug. Mine was gritty, about a homeless girl in the cold. The teachers just want us all to be the same. I have a lot of friends at school, but I kind of hate them all and myself. I want to be someone else. 2007 My school has a year in the country and I barely talk for twelve months. After I get used to not seeing my family and friends in Melbourne, I find that it’s relaxing, it’s nurturing, it’s beautiful. I listen to The Smiths’ “pretty girls make graves” repetitively and my friend Jacinta, who has the next bunk, recaps the storylines of Stephen King novels so I don’t have to read them myself. I have the centre bunk with a sloped roof about a metre from my head as I sleep. Most people cover theirs with printed pictures of their dogs. I print and collage photos of Jeff Buckley wearing silver jewellery and loose-fitting white shirts. This is it, I’m in love. I wish he wasn’t dead. Although, he can’t ever release a shitty album that dampens Grace. I’m jealous of the ocean he’s forever a part of now. 2008 I wish my homelife was normal. I wish we were rich and lived near my school. I wish I didn’t have to catch two slow trams home. I wish I was taller and bigger boobs. I wish I wasn’t so easily bored by other people. 2010 I do surprisingly well in year twelve, considering my arty subject choices and newfound interested in marijuana. I get in the top four percent in the state overall. The girl who said the suburb I lived in was “basically the slums” in year seven does not even get in the top ten percent of the state. I think of her big, shiny clean house and her smug face and I smile. Now I have to choose between costume design, law, journalism and graphic design. I have too many possible versions of myself. She can’t get into her first choice, but I hate that smug bitch again for knowing exactly what she wants to apply for. 2013 I graduate from Journalism. I get a job in the country. I gain weight because I drive everywhere. People from my work all bond over sport. I never know what they are talking about. Their interests seem easy enough to adopt. I keep trying to go to personal training to make more friends, but I always get distracted by a local wine bar. One time, I’m told I can’t train after alcohol, so I stop going. I wish I could just spend all my time hanging out at wineries. 2014 The most beautiful girl I’ve ever met marries someone from her church and I have to say goodbye to her. She cuts me out of her life. I’m jealous of him for seeing her everyday. I’m jealous of him for understanding her more than I ever could have. I wish I could’ve seen the belt and earrings she chose, it’s hard to tell in the photos. I don’t know what their traditions are, but I imagine he got to kiss her out the front of the hall. I hate him. I miss her. 2015 I schmooze people in my new swanky PR job. One client asks how old I am. He says I look twelve. I am his account manager. He doesn’t ask to see the project plan. He doesn’t really understand the work. My insane boss says I need to start wearing makeup. I watch my colleagues lather it on in front of a mirror in the small apartment the crazy bitch makes us illegally work out of. I do not envy them at all. Late 2015 I get my dream job. I work with honest, funny blokes. No more being told how to look. They have studied science and chemistry and maths and understand chemical compounds. I wish I studied something more sensible. Imagine having real skills. 2016 I live by myself for the first time. I date, a lot. I invite people back to my apartment, which makes me feel adult. Shamefully, subconsciously, my version of being “sex positive” is scratching notches into my belt. My apartment is a sanctuary. It’s beautiful. Why do I need to spend so much time in it trying to impress other people? The nicest times are the quiet, gentle ones, where I make myself coffee and water my plants. I like walking to the market. I love mornings alone with the sun streaming in. Dating apps become normal. People I’ve only wanted to see once won’t leave me alone. I envy women of the past who could have genuine one night stands. Now, even if they don’t know your last name, they somehow find you on Facebook. 2017 My job is going extremely well. I wish I earned more. I hope I get a position overseas. I want another promotion. I need to start managing more full-time people soon so it’s on my resume forever. I’d like to write a book. I wish my partner (who is beautiful) wanted to save more of the money he earns so we can accumulate more property and buy more and do more - I want to keep pushing myself. Why can’t I speak Japanese properly yet? I’ve been going for months. I’ve started my Masters, but I need to get in a rhythm. I need to google “ten healthy habits of highly successful people”. I need to integrate in the “ten healthy habits of highly successful people”. I wish I was one of the highly successful people they interviewed for the article “ten healthy habits of highly successful people”. Christmas 2017 Everything has unravelled and I’m only jealous of women who get to keep their pregnancies. There’s nothing else. 2018 Mother’s Day is hard. The day I should have given birth is excruciatingly hard. Elections that include abortions are hard. Friends announcing proposals and pregnancies is hard. Pretending to care about people my age wanting to get drunk and stoned constantly is hard - when will we move past what we did as teenagers? Walking past baby clothes sections of supermarkets is hard. Seeing kids play in the park who look like me is hard. Breathing next to someone in yoga who is pregnant is hard. Being asked if I’ve had previous pregnancies by doctors is hard. Getting in the habit of picking up my pets like pets - not babies - is hard. 2019 I’m happier. I’m calm. But it’s still hard to really care about anything else. Listening to parents complain about the challenges of having a healthy kid is still hard. I’m jealous of their lack of sleep and glitter-filled birthdays. I’m jealous of the way their child must look up at them and wrap their tiny hand around one of their fingers. I envy the way they talk to their friends and say things like “we’re trying this new thing when we put him down”. I imagine they have partners who thought they looked beautiful when they were pregnant, not a bloated, expensive hassle. I’m jealous of people in difficult situations who made it work. I want to buy little socks and little shoes. I never learned how to tie my shoelaces properly, though. I’m still stuck on bunnyears. I’m jealous of other people’s patience most of all. How does everyone keep on keeping on while they watch everyone else hold everything they want in their arms? Maybe I’ll try punching a grown man again. I should google boxing schools. It's probably one of the ten healthy habits of highly successful people; “number four - take your frustration out” and keep on. The good things will come.
Hannah Bambra is a creative nonfiction writer based in Melbourne. Her work explores issues and opportunities in public health, the environment, feminism and urban planning. She's also a poet, a yogi and a lover.
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