An old photo: summer holiday July 1979 – myself at 9 years old
During my last visit back to Rome – my home town – I often found myself looking at photographs of my ninths to eleventh year and a sense of complete mystery kicked in. Sometimes we have the feeling of remembering but then realise that these were memories that others have lent us: by their recounting events they made us aware throughout the years of something that has happened, so that what we acknowledge as an occurrence it is not accompanied by first person’s memories.
I never even realised this before, but it is true that other family’s members’ narratives become entangled with blurred memories of the past so that ultimately it becomes difficult to discern the two as distinct elements.
The process of realising this started when – for the sake of honouring self-reflexivity during my PhD project – I tried to remember myself as a 9-11 years old girl, but I found incredibly hard to even recall a single memory. It seemed like a complete blackout: why am I struggling so much to remember any particular event between my ninth and eleven year? This is in sharp contrast to my vivid recall of events in my teenage years (from 12th onwards).
So in one of my visits to Rome (my hometown), I found mysef browsing old photos albums to try to reconnect with the past.
I found a picture of myself at 9 years old: I see what it look like a boy, with very short hair, wearing a t-shirt and some shorts. In another one I am 10 and I am still with very short hair, wearing a foulard over my head (I wonder if this was done perhaps to give myself a more feminine resemblance?). In another picture I am 11 and I am at the edge of a swimming pool wearing some speedo and completely bare chest: nothing about me from this picture could possibly suggest that I am a girl!
I see a group picture with some of my friends and most girls –at part from me, my sister and another friend- have long or medium length hair. I then asked my parents about whether I was happy to be looking like a boy at that age: they said that at that point of my life I was not bothered in the slightest about the way I looked (a far cry from my teenager years, when I suddenly became obsessed with appearance).
My mother used to recycle my brother’s clothes on me and my sister so that – at part from special occasions and ceremonies – the three of us would look essentially like three boys. Perhaps my thirst for understanding what happen to girls at this stage of their life comes from this lacking of clarity regarding my own past? Perhaps I am hoping to be able to “unlock the gate” and access my own memories?
Why so many vivid memories of my 12th-13th years and nothing for the three preceding years?
From the age of twelve I started to “act out” and officially entered into “rebel mode”. I started to hate school while having a passion for boys, make-up and cigarettes. Truancy was the utmost “cool”, so I had to learn mother’s signature to perfection. Probably this is not different from what most teenagers do nowadays, but back then my attitude was unlike the typical behaviour of middle class early teenage girls, as I can distinctly remember having to hang around with 15 years old in order to find the ideal companions for my ventures and curiosities: my coetaneous and middle class friends were becoming incredibly boring.
I was also quite angry and violent at some point. I have a distinct memory of throwing a cup to the maid. Parents were no longer friends and I still remember how I despised them and how strong was my desire to act as a rebel. Arguments and constant confrontation would be the new way to communicate and often I would be locking myself in the bedroom, refusing to sit at the table to have lunch with them. I would be happy achieving just sufficient marks at school and studying would the least of my worries.
Having started school a year earlier, I was always the younger member of the class and most of my class mates were already 13. My chosen best friend was a 15 years old classmate who had repeated the first and second class twice: she was in my eyes the most fascinating person in the whole school and I quickly became so enthused with her that I started to follow her around everywhere, imitating her style of clothes, make-up and sharing her passion for missing school classes too! This is the year I quite rapidly got sucked into the beauty trap: I would be posing in front of the mirror, trying different attires and absolutely craving for boys’ attention.
Perhaps I am still wondering about these sudden changes even today: from tomboy to make-up fanatic, how did that happen?