Disclaimer: Inedibly not mine.
A/N: Originally supposed to be part of As Deep As the Sky, but it grew far too big. Still, I've included the song during which I was supposed to begin and end writing this thing. Who knew Ashley Tisdale could inspire a discourse on the role of women in modern day Japan? And yes, it is possible to accidentally get noodles in all sorts of odd places if you're not careful in the kitchen.
Someone That I Would Never Be
© Scribbler, March 2010.
'Legally, few barriers to women's equal participation in the life of (Japanese) society remain. Gender inequality, however, continues in family life, the workplace, and popular values. The notion expressed in the proverbial phrase "good wife, wise mother," continues to influence beliefs about gender roles. Most women may not be able to realize that ideal, but many believe that it is in their own, their children's, and society's best interests that they stay home to devote themselves to their children … gaining a sense of fulfilment from doing good jobs as household managers and mothers.' – Japanese Lifestyle. com
Anzu was never sure how to take it when one of her culinary attempts went wrong. Should she be offended that the ingredients, so innocent when they sat in the supermarket or cupboard, seemed prejudiced against her? Should she think they were taking on lives of their own and had decided she wasn't the type of person they wanted cooking them? Should she be disappointed in herself for not being able to live up to the expectations of others? Should she get angry, or be relieved that she wasn't just like every other girl?
She surveyed the kitchen with the air of a survivor after a terrorist attack. Something burnt and smelling of eggs was drying in her hair. Had there been any eggs in this recipe? She couldn't remember, but she was pretty sure that if it had called for eggs, it hadn't meant exploding ones. Maybe her kitchen was infested with a rare breed of unstable egg products, which reacted badly to her touch like certain chemicals when they were exposed to air. She pulled at her poor hair to free it, but only yanked it out by its roots.
She yanked harder. It hurt more. She yanked harder still, frustrated. It was easier to take out her frustration on this one imperfection than confront the true mess she had made of ... everything. Her mom was going to kill her when she got back from her date.
Anzu was so fixated on this tiny task she failed to notice the figure in the kitchen doorway, or remember that the doorbell stopped ringing when she gave Yuugi a spare key in case of emergencies.
"Are those … noodles on the ceiling fan?"
Anzu whirled, aghast. It was one of those moments where a witty quip would have been best, so of course she could only produce an intelligent: "Unk!"
Yuugi stared. She'd thought his eyes couldn't get any bigger. She'd been wrong. Jounouchi and Honda peered around him, equally amazed.
"Whoa," Honda breathed.
Jounouchi looked up. "Rice or egg?"
Honda followed his gaze to the noodles. "Does that even matter?"
"Sure does. I like rice noodles but I love egg noodles, so rice would be a mess, but egg would be a travesty."
Honda shook his head. He was used to Jounouchi's attitude to food and messiness. Growing up with a drunkard, neglectful father had given him an obsession with one and a near-total disregard for the other. "What the hell happened here?"
Yuugi took in the carrot peelings on the floor, the split trash bag that had vomited its contents across the floor, and the smell of burning. Smoke still hung in a pall above the automatic rice cooker TV ads claimed even a child could use safely. "Anzu?"
"I … was trying to cook dinner," she managed before embarrassment overcame her. She turned away. Heat crept into her cheeks. She never blushed, not even when Jounouchi made rude jokes anymore, but this was too humiliating. "For you guys. I was … oh, never mind." They were guys. How could they possibly understand? "You're early."
"Jounouchi's dad tossed him out earlier than usual tonight," said Honda. "He called by my house and I gave him a ride over to Yuugi's on my motorcycle. It's still there." He spoke with wonder, obviously envisioning what she'd been doing while they were walking the short distance from the Game Shop to her house. "You tried to cook?"
"But we always order takeout on movie night," Jounouchi protested, fixated, as ever, on food. "Always!"
"Yeah," Anzu replied. "I did, and I know."
The routine never changed. They always came over to her house, ordered takeout, plopped the selected movie (which they would have argued about all week, Anzu lobbying for chick-flicks while Jounouchi and Honda insisted on gore, martial arts and multiple explosions) into the state-of-the-art DVD player and settled in for a quiet Friday evening. After you'd saved the world a few times, quiet evenings with your friends and a bowl of popcorn were to be valued. It was the same every week: same place, same order, same bickering, same satisfaction.
Nobody ever asked her to cook. Not even the popcorn. It was her house, but from the moment they stepped inside, she knew not to even suggest it.
Anzu wiped ineffectually at the draining board with a damp cloth. "I was trying something different, okay? It just -" She stopped. Took a breath. Centred herself. Tried to go to the calm place she inhabited while dancing. Dancing always calmed her down. Cooking … not so much. Any and all grace left her the moment she held a frying pan or opened an oven door, and she became the gastronomic answer to Mr. Bean. "It didn't work out the way I planned."
"No kidding. Ow!" Jounouchi rubbed his head and glared at Honda. "What was that for?"
"Idiot," Honda hissed.
A hand stopped Anzu's from scrubbing the icky green mush. Had that been green beans before, or something else? "It was really nice of you to try, Anzu," said Yuugi. He sounded earnest. Then again, he always did. He'd known she was a heinous cook since they were twelve, when she forgot to turn on the hob and flipped raw pancake into his hair. Things had only gotten worse since then. Eventually she'd given up trying, but every so often …
How to explain it? How to explain the need to cook when the entire planet knew she was terrible at it? It wasn't quite masochism, but it was about as easy to understand for anyone who wasn't her.
She was a girl. She was a girl in a sea of testosterone. That could get lonely – so lonely she was willing to risk burning down her house trying to breach the bastion of femininity long denied her. Little girls played house and nursed dolls, and Anzu had been no exception. Now girls her age were thinking about those things in real terms. They were still in the last throes of high school, but already talk had switched from boys and nail polish to university degrees and beyond: marriage, husbands, making homes and babies. Anzu had heard the twittering as she filled out application forms for American dance schools. Other girls were practically picking out wedding cakes while she …
She couldn't even boil an egg without it spontaneously combusting. She could perform a mean pas de deux, or grande jete, but put her in a kitchen and you might as well find shelter until the fireworks stopped.
The guys would never be able to understand what it was like being a girl in modern day Japan. Half the time Anzu didn't understand it either, and she had to live it! So many conflicting expectations: she was supposed to be more western, striving to be independent and live her own life, but at the same time maintain respect for tradition. It was impossible to maintain the right balance between the two. Anzu felt like she was failing everything equally as time went on. It was bad enough she had no boyfriend, nor any prospect of one, and most of her female classmates thought her a confirmed freak. Now distant family members were asking her mother whether they should start planning wedding lists on her behalf since she was 'getting towards that age'. On top of that, her exams for college were looming like … big loomy things. That loomed. A lot. All that was bad enough, but Anzu had the added pressure of bottled secrets and no real girlfriends to talk to about any of it.
She still missed Atem, and in some small way missed the madness that had surrounded his time with them. At least that kind of insanity was understandable. Deathly, but understandable: beat the bad guy and the day was saved. Current problems were a lot messier.
If she failed her entrance exams, what then? Who the heck wanted a girl whose idea of serving up dinner was plunking down a phone and a menu for Domino's Pizza? And why was she even thinking about becoming some stupid Happy Homemaker when what she really wanted was to follow her dreams and become a dancer in New York? It was all very confusing. How did you find the right balance? Did anyone actually manage it, or did they all pretend and then cry in private, like her?
"We'll help clean up," Yuugi said, shooting a glance at Jounouchi and Honda.
"Um, yeah," said Jounouchi, still rubbing his head. Honda added his assent and they went to fetch the mops and bucket from under the stairs.
Yuugi knelt to pick up pieces of broken casserole dish. Anzu vaguely remembered dropping it because it was too hot. Or had she smashed it on purpose? She couldn't remember, which was disturbing on a whole other level.
"Careful!" she cried. "You'll cut yourself."
"I'll be fine." Yuugi looked up at her with those big purple eyes of his, which had been both clearer and more troubled since Egypt. "You will too. You'll see. Just be who you are. That's good enough."
Just like that, he hit the nail on the head. Scored a bull's-eye. Hit the jackpot. Plus any other cliché that meant Anzu flushed crimson and muttered, "Am I that transparent?"
"No, but I can tell you're worried."
"I could just be wigging out because I broke a nail or something."
Yuugi just looked at her.
She sighed. "You know me too well." She looked at her clumsy, un-chef-like hands. She had played Odette in her last recital, and shaped her hands into swan wings so graceful it was like she really had grown feathers when the stage's paper moon disappeared. There were blisters on her fingers now. Apparently she had dropped the dish because it was too hot. Who grasped a dish when it was clearly too hot? Only a moron. "Better than I know myself, sometimes."
"You'll be fine," Yuugi repeated firmly. "Trust me on this."
And despite all evidence to the contrary – some of which chose that moment to drip off the ceiling fan onto her head – Anzu believed him. She ran her fingers through her hair. They came back gluey, but the impulse to cry morphed instead into giggles. Yuugi caught them seconds later. By the time Honda and Jounouchi returned, both he and Anzu were propping themselves up on the counter like they'd heard the best joke in the world and couldn't stop laughing.
"They're nuts," Jounouchi pronounced. "Completely gaga."
Later, when the kitchen had been cleaned up, and everyone had crammed onto the couch, they began the requisite argument over who should answer the door to the pizza guy. Anzu argued just as loudly and strenuously as everyone else, elbowed Jounouchi in the ribs to make him move, settled back for another evening of testosterone-laden predictability … and felt at peace. She would always be a lousy cook, but in its own way, maybe that was a good thing.
I'm not the girl that you see in the magazine
Perfect face and perfect body
Never be anyone but the one I am, what I am
I can't bend to your expectations
Look to fulfil any fantasy
If what I am is what you need
Love me for me
And not for someone that I would never be
Cause what you get is what you see
And I can't be anymore than what I am
Love me for me
Or don't love me.
-- From Love Me For Me by Ashley Tisdale.
AN: The article found at w w w (dot) japaneselifestyle (dot) com (dot) au (slash) culture (slash) japanese (underscore) women (dot) html may help clear up some of what Anzu's feeling in this fic.