One of my favorite stories to tell people about me is that I used to believe I was the reincarnation of Joan of Arc. When I was eight, nine, ten, really honestly just a baby. I had a picture book about her and she was so beautiful to me, this girl with her bright bright eyes. In the paintings the sky behind her was always so blue, the sun shining on her armor. I thought she looked so tall. I believed in reincarnation the way I believed in everything, vicariously and with open, reaching hands. I felt myself carrying this Joan of Arc purpose around with me, fluttering gently underneath my ribs.
It is hard to write a children’s book about Joan of Arc without doing some (understandable) glossing of the Facts as They Stand, and so to me Joan was mostly a figment of something bright and brave, a gleaming thing eventually dissolved into smoke. I called my mother to write this piece, asked her to find the book in my childhood bedroom and describe it to me, but she couldn’t find it—I don’t remember but I wonder if we gave it away at some point, if some other girl is running her fingers over the lines of Joan’s face, gentle with wonder.
My parents had every Narnia book on audiobook and I spent so many hours listening to them while lying on my back in my carpeted room, sea-foam green and blue, posters of horses on the walls. Whispering along to the audiobook with Lucy the Valiant, “I think—I don’t know—but I think I could be brave enough.” I chewed cheap stringy gum and curled my hair by putting it in braids overnight and all the time my huge baby heart was searching desperately for something to defend. Searching for a way to be a girl who talks to saints.
I am not telling you a new story but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. I am young so I am still waiting to grow out of anything. To be a girl is always, a little bit, to be a story about a girl. A dozen stories about a girl. She’s the kind of girl who. This song repeats this sentence over and over but it’s not the ending that matters. She’s the kind of girl who. Every avenue of being a person a kind of girl. A kaleidoscope human built out of stories. A thousand invisible forms stretching off into the distance, all of them never coming home again. Her patron saint, broken and lame and absolutely insane. Listen, I am pretty crazy. I don’t like that word but I am pretty pretty crazy and sometimes I read back through the journals I kept when I was fourteen, fifteen, sixteen and I was so paralyzed by a hunger to be believed, to be a shining thing like nobody else. A startled fly frozen in the delicate amber of my sleepy little life. She’s the kind of girl who’ll smash herself down in a night. She’s the kind of girl who’ll fracture her mind til it’s light. Probably I am. Probably I always was.
This song gives advice, over and over again. So darling let go of her hand, let go of her hand, let go of her hand. It insists. “You’ll be to blame,” it says. Listen to me. Those girls are only trouble. But still, Regina’s voice is also a girl-voice, gentle and warm, matter-of-fact. Regina singing “she’ll break her own heart and you know that she’ll break your heart too”. The girl in the song is still a girl. The girl in the song sings the song, too. I think back to my smaller self and I am so fond of her that I almost can’t contain it. Biting my nails chewing my gum breaking my own heart like a thousand more of me I, too, sometimes feel brave.