I may write a series about the Karakura girls. Not sure if I have Tatsuki's voice yet.
No warnings, really. References to homosexuality and bad language.
I Don’t Like Girls
Description: PG13, Tatsuki and Orihime face middle school bitches and presuppositions about gender.
“Not until you become a stranger to yourself will you be able to make acquaintance with the Friend.” ~ Mark Twain
for Laurabryannan who got me a-thinking
Tatsuki was tired of telling the boys that she wasn’t a lesbian. The last time someone in Judo class made some remark, she put the hurt on him so bad that he needed physical therapy. Tatsuki didn’t usually go around spraining people’s necks, but enough was enough.
Still, they didn’t give up commenting on her sexuality. “Hey, are you sure you even have a uterus?” “You and Chizuru would make the cutest couple.” And Tatsuki’s favorite: “You throw a guy to the mat just like a lesbian.” Even the nicest boys tittered over the remarks, and it began to dawn on Tatsuki that maybe they wanted her to be a lesbian.
Then Chizuru sighed over her lunch and spoke from experience as a libertine. “It’s a shame that the boys find me so appealing. If I liked boys instead of girls, though, the little bastard puppies wouldn’t give me a second look.”
“Boys like lesbians?” Tatsuki had to accept the words as fact; Chizuru was the expert.
It was the fall of first year middle school, and all that Tatsuki knew about gender dynamics was shifting. Ichigo grew more distant. Other boys got flustered in her presence. Girls who had been perfectly sane last year turned into giggly simpletons at the mere mention of this boy or that one. (Nobody mentioned Ichigo, so Tatsuki felt bad for her friend).
Tatsuki took to eavesdropping on girl conversations for the entertainment value. That, and she wanted to know why she was so different from them. From the little information Tatsuki had of middle school girls so far, she didn’t like them. Vain, obsessed with designer purses, babbling about pop stars. And then there was their relentless competition for the attention of boys.
Ha. Become a lesbian, Tatsuki thought. That’ll get you noticed.
There were three girls who particularly got on Tatsuki’s nerves. They were popular for reasons unfathomable to any sane person. Two third years and a first year younger sister, they sat at the same bench before the bell every morning, and other girls--in what appeared to be a ritualistic processional--would pass by to pay homage and bandy trivialities.
The standard exchange went: “Oh this cut doesn’t look as good on me as it does on you.” “Oh you flatter me. I wish I had your hair.” “So and so goes to which and which salon.” “Oh really? Only primary school girls get their hair cut there anymore. I hear that this or that is a better place to get your hair cut.”
In one another’s presence, girls faked humility and praised one another up and down; then when one girl walked away from the group, she was bitterly evaluated. “She really needs to do something about those split ends.” “She sucks up to all the teachers.” “She only gets good grades because her parents send her to a tutor.” “You wouldn’t catch me dead wearing clunky jewelry like she does.” “She thinks she all that.” At the center of this inanity were the three Karakura Middle School peer-designated beauty queens.
Queens maybe, but they weren’t beautiful. They wore the vaguest bit of eyeliner and mascara--Tatsuki believed that this peculiarity (who needs to wear make-up to school? Who needs to wear make-up, period, at twelve years old?) made them stand out.
Tatsuki never said hello. She would sit within earshot of the queen bitches and open a book. They acted like she was a leaf on the lawn. Tatsuki didn’t even merit their talking bad about her. But damn, they talked bad about people more than they talked about purses.
“Pity whore,” one of them said one morning. “Stuffing her bra is bad enough, but she wants to get people to feel sorry for her.”
“Anything to get attention,” said another.
“Oh shut up. Pot, kettle. Pot, kettle,” said the third.
Tatsuki wondered who they were cutting down this time.
“I want attention,” said one, “but I don’t go around making up stories about how my parents are dead and I live with this handsome older boyfriend. That’s just so… ridiculous.”
“Her hair,” the other said. “It’s so trampy how she wears it down. She thinks that because it’s a strange color that she’s hot stuff.”
Tatsuki recognized that the girls were talking about Inoue Orihime. She was in Tatsuki’s grade, and everyone knew that she lived with her brother, not a boyfriend. Inoue Orihime was the prettiest girl in the whole school--especially since her boobs blossomed--but that was no reason to talk her down. If anything, simple beauty like Inoue’s should be marveled at. Tatsuki, for one, marveled at it. Without make-up or frills, Inoue managed to be the creamiest-skinned, most luxurious-haired, most stunningly proportioned girl.
“I’d like to cut off her boobs,” the first year said. “Or strangle her with her own hair.”
“Maybe she’ll get lice,” said her sister, “and have to get her head shaved.”
“She wouldn’t look pretty at all if she had short hair.”
Tatsuki rolled her eyes and didn’t think about the ludicrously mean remarks until the following day.
It had rained all night and was still overcast. Girly complaints about how humidity wrecks hairstyles could be heard in the hallways. Tatsuki took her seat in class and some girl staggered into the room looking red-eyed and miserable. Tatsuki didn’t recognize her at first, but it was her. Inoue Orihime with a bad haircut that she had tried to disguise with hairpins. Her once waist-length hair was unevenly bobbed.
They couldn’t have.
Tatsuki intended to find out. There was no approaching the girls at lunch because of the teachers hovering everywhere, but after the final bell, Tatsuki wandered to the bench where the queen bitches sat, waiting on some bitch parent’s car to take them to their bitch houses.
The schoolgrounds were clearing and most of the students had walked home. Karakura wasn’t a large town; Tatsuki didn’t see the need for these girls to be picked up in a car. They seemed to enjoy malingering on the bench and bitching after class. If they used their legs like everyone else, they could bitch on the sidewalks all the way home. Maybe, after their afternoon bitch, they wanted to get home quick so they could shed their uniforms and pick up their designer purses? Was that what life was all about? Talking bad and looking good?
“I really don’t want to walk home again,” one of them said. “Let’s ask someone for a ride.”
“No, it will be worth to see her again. Yesterday it was worth it just to see her cry.”
Laughter. “Did you see her try to pick up the hair? What was she going to do? Use it to stuff one of her stupid handicraft projects?”
More laughter. “I bet she’ll still be boo-hooing today because--”
“I AM TURNING YOU OVER TO THE POLICE!” Tatsuki had jumped up and shouted the words. Her fists were clenched at her sides.
The girls turned around, unimpressed.
In fact, Tatsuki had never seen such apathetic faces. Bland, mascara-ed faces. Each one as expressionless as a punching bag.
“Oh go home, little lesbian. Haven’t you stared at us long enough?”
It would be the first time Tatsuki kicked anyone outside of a class or a tournament. Her legs felt like they were flying of their own accord but she maintained enough control so as not to hurt the girls. They fell--one, two, three--off the bench.
The girls sat on the pavement and looked satisfyingly startled.
“You cut off her hair!” Tatsuki yelled. “That’s got to be a crime! That’s assault!”
“You just kicked us,” the oldest bitch said. “That’s assault!”
Tatsuki picked up their bookbags, which still lay on the bench, and threw them. One, two, three. Each bag landed with hostile accuracy in each girl’s lap.
“Look here, you worthless disgusting bitches.” Tatsuki’s eyes were smarting from the rage and the veins in her neck strained. “Forget the police. They’re not going to pay attention to a bunch of little girls. Not to you. Not to me. All that matters here is that I can kick your asses and you can’t do anything. You can’t cut my hair. You can make up all the lies about me you want and see if I care.” Tatsuki had never been so disgusted with humankind. “And if you start any of that bitchy shit with me, all three of you will be lying half-dead in that ditch over there.”
The three girls on the pavement stared. One of them hadn’t even bothered to pull her skirt down. It was gathered at her hips under the weight of the bookbag Tatsuki had used like ammunition.
“Just go home. And you better ride in the car tomorrow. Because I swear if I see you on the sidewalks, I’ll kick you even harder.”
“She’s crazy,” said one girl.
“She’s the tri-district girls’ karate champion,” said the first year girl.
“And if you ever, ever, touch Inoue Orihime again, I’ll do worse than cut off your hair.” Tatsuki held up a fist. “This little hand can make pulp of each of your faces. Instant make-over.”
The girls grumbled and threatened as they left, but Tatsuki was sure they were cowed.
The following day the queen bitches took a car-ride, but Inoue Orihime was still scared to walk home. Tatsuki knew this because she was a sprint’s length away from Inoue all the way to her apartment.
Tatsuki didn’t know why she cared so much. Inoue wasn’t anybody to her--just another one of those giggly girls. A very pretty one, but a girl nonetheless. And Tatsuki didn’t like girls.
It was only after a few days of following Inoue Orihime home and keeping on the lookout for bitches that it occurred to Tatsuki that she and Orihime were the only two girls who didn’t walk home with someone else. Schoolchildren moved in cliques from spot to spot in Karakura. Inoue Orihime was always friendly to everyone, and she was well-liked, but she didn’t appear to have close friends.
Tatsuki wondered why. Maybe girls were intimidated by her good looks? Orihime was also smart. Hard to believe the way she giggled and looked spaced-out a lot of the time, but Inoue Orihime was getting the best marks in class.
Maybe I should talk to her.
Then something awful happened, something truly horrifying and awful, and Tatsuki had no choice but to approach the girl. Tatsuki hadn’t been eavesdropping on the queen bitches lately--who needed to hear their nonsense, anyway--but one morning her ears caught the name “Orihime” and Tatsuki stepped closer to the regal bench.
“I can’t believe her. She got a bad haircut so what does she do? Makes up another ridiculous story about her brother being killed in a car accident.”
“She didn’t make it up. I heard the teachers talking about it.”
“But it was her who told the teachers!”
“Dead brother. How stupid.”
Tatsuki’s heart lurched. Someone was dead, and this was the way these girls talked about him? Why would Inoue Orihime lie about such a thing?
“Her older boyfriend probably dumped her.”
“Imaginary older boyfriend you mean.”
After the bell rang, Tatsuki saw Inoue Orihime leaning against her desk. She didn’t look particularly sad and her hair was either growing back fast or she’d fixed the irregular edges somehow.
Tatsuki stuck out her hand. It was a boyish gesture and she knew it. Girls bowed, and everybody was supposed to bow in the dojo, but shaking hands felt natural to Tatsuki. Less humble. More immediate.
Inoue Orihime took Tatsuki’s hand right away and gave it a solid shake. Surprising. Tatsuki thought she would have a gentle grip.
“Arisawa Tatsuki. I don’t think we’ve ever talked. I heard about your brother and I wanted to give my condolences. If there’s anything I can do--”
“It’s alright, it’s alright.” The voice was wispy and high-pitched. “I’m Inoue Orihime, and thank you. But please don’t worry. Relatives are taking care of everything. My grandmother was in town last week and she helped a lot.”
After the final bell, Tatsuki told Orihime that since both of them never seemed to have anyone to walk home with, they might as well walk home together.
“I live close to you--past the railroad in the Minamikawase district.”
“That’s where the Kurosaki Clinic is!” Orihime looked like she’d just won a prize at a festival. Her eyes shone and she clasped her hands together.
“Uh, yeah, that’s where it is.” Maybe this girl was cracked.
“The Kurosaki Clinic was where my brother died two weeks ago.”
Tatsuki was sure that this girl was cracked until Orihime looked into some faraway place in the sky or in her mind and smiled sweetly. It wasn’t a crazy look; it was an angelic one.
“The people at the Kurosaki Clinic were so kind,” she said. “I always remember and be thankful to them.”
On the walk, Tatsuki told Orihime that her hair looked nice, and Orihime touched a lock of it and said thank you in the saddest way. Tatsuki said she’d heard about the girls who did it, and Orihime’s eyes opened wide. She hadn’t told anyone, and no one would believe it about those nice girls, she said.
“Nice girls?” Tatsuki snorted. Maybe Orihime had been too traumatized to get a good look at the bitches and thought they were some other girls.
Halfway to the railroad, they stopped at the park because Orihime wanted to swing. Tatsuki never understood the attraction of passive exercise and it concerned her that Orihime was perfectly oblivious to the fact that she was swinging in her very short school skirt. Bad boys sometimes hung around this park. Video arcade kids who never went to school.
“Where did the girls jump you? Was it in this park?”
“A little further from here.”
On the last block of the walk, Orihime looked sad again, and Tatsuki expected her to start talking about her brother. She didn’t. She mentioned the girls again, by name this time, and reiterated that they were “nice.”
“Lively, fun, always laughing. Really nice girls. Everyone likes them, right? At first I thought they were making a joke, but then they really did it. They held me down and cut off my hair.”
They could’ve cut her skin with those scissors. They could’ve poked her eyes by accident.
Tatsuki would not tell Orihime for months about threatening the girls. About kicking them on their asses and saying that if they touched Inoue Orihime again, their faces were going to be mashed potatoes.
It was approaching Orihime’s apartment that Tatsuki invited Orihime over for dinner and video games. Mrs. Arisawa cooed over her daughter’s finally bringing over a friend and was delighted to have someone request seconds and thirds of her cooking. Tatsuki could only stare as Orihime inhaled meatball after meatball.
Poor girl. Probably not enough money to eat right. I bet Mom wouldn’t mind if I brought groceries to Orihime’s place every once in a while.
Then it got too dark for Orihime to walk home, so Mrs. Arisawa told her to borrow the pajamas that Tatsuki never wore (she slept in t-shirts) and to stay the night. Tatsuki was a little sour about the whole thing because her parents never let boys come into her bedroom. Tatsuki’s friends had always been boys. The idea of a girl in her room made Tatsuki a little uncomfortable.
I bet she combs her hair like a thousand strokes before she goees to bed. She’s going to think I’m a pig when she sees my room.
That night Tatsuki found out that Inoue Orihime was not an ordinary girl. She was not an ordinary person. She was not only beautiful, but she was good in the sense that she presumed the best of people. Some people might have called it dumb, but she didn’t know that the three bitches who cut her hair off were bitches at all.
“They liked me,” she said over her second helping of ice cream. (Tatsuki had sneaked dessert into the bedroom because Orihime was still hungry).“All the girls at school are nice, and I was hoping that maybe I’d make some friends….”
Good luck. Most girls are bitches.
“The worst part about it wasn’t that all my pretty hair was gone. Or even that they’d scared me and held me still while--”
Tatsuki thought she should go and beat those girls up just for the hell of it. They’d left Orihime alone so far, but….
“I thought they liked me. They would pet my head and tell me how pretty my hair was and what salon I should go to. They gave me all kinds of fashion advice and told me what colors would look best with my hair.”
Orihime’s face disarranged itself. Tatsuki knew what was coming.
“They were nice,” Orihime said. Her next words were choked. “I thought they liked me.”
In the futon next to Tatsuki’s bed, a beautiful girl buried her face in her hands and cried and cried. Tatsuki knew that protocol required a friend to put an arm around her and say something kind, but they had just met. Touching her seemed … wrong. Or maybe comforting someone was one of those girl things that Tatsuki really didn’t know much about.
“Why are you covering your face for?” Tatsuki took a deep breath and gingerly pulled one of Orihime’s hands away from her red puffy face. “You don’t have anything to be ashamed about. Those girls were awful. Cry your eyeballs out if you want.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t--”
“Stop it. Don’t apologize. I expected you to cry at some point. Your brother’s just died. It’s not like I wasn’t prepared for this sort of thing.”
Orihime hadn’t cried about her brother, though.
“Believe me, thinking about Onii-chan doesn’t make me cry anymore.” Orihime’s expression calmed as she spoke about her brother. “He was a good soul here and he’s a good soul where-ever he is now.” Yes, Orihime was recovering. She was wiping her eyes and looking less miserable. “Sometimes I think that Death is easier than being hurt by friends. Death means that you don’t see someone anymore and it’s a terrible, terrible loneliness. But losing friends means that maybe…”
Tatsuki was paying attention but maybe she wasn’t hearing right through Orihime’s sniffles. “Friends? They were never your friends. They’re bitches.”
“Maybe it was something I said or did that made them so angry.”
“No! They were being jealous, insane bitches.”
Orihime hugged her pillow. “Maybe so. Maybe I didn’t do anything wrong. But it’s so sad--it so sad to find out that people can be so … mean.”
New tears ran down Orihime’s cheeks.
“C’mon, they’re not worth crying about. Your brother cared for you and they never did.” It perplexed Tatsuki that this girl would care so much about the mean-ness or non-meaness of other people. It was a fact of life; people were mean sometimes.
“Do you think they’ll ever be sorry? Do you think I should forgive them even if they aren’t?”
“Um…. We have chocolate pudding downstairs too. Want some of that?” Tatsuki wondered if maybe Orihime wasn’t getting emotional because of some sugar rush. Maybe she shouldn’t have offered more dessert.
Orihime shook her head. “Thank you for being so kind to me, but I think I’m full now.”
Such big blue eyes and they could cry such giant tears. Tatsuki had never seen tears so big. The splotches on the borrowed pajamas were bigger than 500-yen coins.
The tears dried eventually and the beautiful girl fell asleep with a white ribbon of ice-cream drool at the corner of her mouth. She hadn’t even brushed her teeth after all that dessert and for some reason, her neglect of dental hygiene made Tatsuki feel a little more comfortable. Beautiful, smart, kind and forgiving Orihime wasn’t perfect after all.
Of course, she doesn’t have a mother to bug her to brush her teeth. Maybe I should bother her about it in the morning.
Tatsuki stayed up, in the light of the computer monitor, wondering what it must be like to feel betrayed by humankind.
Tatsuki had been appalled by the girls’ behavior but in retrospect, she shouldn’t have been too surprised. Mean people were just part of the landscape. You either ignored them or told their sorry asses to get lost.
Tatsuki did marvel, though, that there were people as genuinely nice as Orihime. Maybe Tatsuki might like girls after all. Or at least this one.
The morning would rise on a new friendship. Tatsuki knew that, and as she lay her head on her pillow, the idea made her feel soft and happy inside. Almost like she wanted to giggle.
“Good-night, Orihime. You’re such a weird girl.”
It’s been suggested that girls' aggression toward other girls is based on a personal low sense of self-worth and an internalized belief in women's inferiority. (Artz 1998) In Tatsuki’s case, of course, aggression is motivated by any threats to Orihime. “Know what you want to protect” is a martial arts sacrament, and the girl heroes in Bleach are worthy role models so I have no qualms about letting my daughter watch Yoruichi, Matsumoto, and Tatsuki kick ass (My daughter, like many fangurls, is fixated on Renji, though). I wish Kubo-san would’ve given us a hint about what happened to the mean girls who cut Orihime’s hair. Maybe I’ll write that story some day.