Michelle Chuqi Huang

Girling – n. The process by which girls become.

She steps into fivehood and into an airport. She jabs at keys on her mother’s computer, welcoming each red squiggly line under her words like little rewards. She tries out cat and dog and, most important of all, toilet on her tongue––the vowels comically sharp and rounded at the same time, ‘like a parrot speaking,’ her mother teaches her. A childish hand, barely strong enough to crumple a piece of paper, wraps around a pencil. She soon realises the impossibility of the letter “a.” Her circles are lopsided and her stems misplaced. Why do you write? I ask.Because it is all I can see around me, she says.

She receives a school journal, the papers the thin kind that stiffen under the slightest swabof glue. She loves the sound of the pages thick with the stuff, and smothers her worksheets with it so that they would crackle like thunder and stand stiff between her fingers. She writes tongue-tied weekend recounts, stumbles through bleak oases of her interlocked memories and her meagre vocabulary and extrudes what she can, flattening out the creases, she writes of wrinkled truths and wrinkled lies that gnaw at the pages until they finally claim it whole. Why do you write? I ask. To stand ground... somehow, she replies. To communicate, when all other methods happen too quickly to understand.

She returns to her mother’s computer. With expanding oases, more words come to her. She devours the addictively sweet adjectives, sows nouns into her stories that grow fast and wild like grass seed. She memorises entire picture books and rewrites them word for word, illustrating her own pictures below the printed pages and stapling them close to her heart. Why do you write? I ask. To never forget that I can, she replies.

At some point she discovers TV shows and online stories. Her brain decanters their flat delivery a lot easier than her own writing, so she stops doing that for a while. By the time she returns she writes about beauty, easily finding adjectives for describing blonde hair and long lashes and cannot make sense of black hair and epicanthic folds and flaxen skin. So she opts for the former.She writes of pleasant white girls and adventures that whisk them away, writes about sweet romances that smell of scented, clean linen––her mother never washed their linens with scented anything; their sweat glands didn’t need her to. Why do you write? I ask her. To daydream, she replies.

She’s older. That kind of beauty now disinterests her, so she shrugs them off and is surprised by how quickly they peel away from her skin. Her own skin. Her pages haven’t seen that in a while, she muses. So she decides to write about herself. Her new school introduces her to artificial labels with an immediate mundane appeal. ‘Third culture kid.’ ‘International student.’ ‘Global citizen.’ At first, she wears them like her first pair of heels, grimacing at the supposed grandeur, and grimacing at the way they propped her unsteadily off the ground. Later on, she decides that it was good. She writes, easily. Indulgently. She writes poems and stories that shelter mirages of herself, their sweetness rotting cavities in her heart. She is praised. Why do you write? I ask her. It’s beautiful. The kind others expect of me, she replies.
She steps into fourteen and fifteen and sixteenhood, her head abuzz with pubescent chemicals that fill her veins with bouts of sardonicism. She dismisses her sweet words for harsher ones, writing with anger and spite and bared emotions without their edges taped down. She writes, sometimes honestly and sometimes awfully. She kills the simple sweetnesses, discarding their corpses first like weeping limbs and later like split ends. She keeps herself accountable. Times where her words flow like water she asks herself why she writes; times where her words ooze like blood she asks herself why she writes. She writes of loss and all its unsightly facets, of glee the kind that distorts the face and peels back the lips, revealing all the back teeth.