You wish you didn’t have to wear this training bra. And that you weren’t so awkward, hunched over to hide the two teensy humps under your shirt. It’ll be four months before Brian tries to fumble that bra off in his parents’ basement, his breath ripe with pizza and hormones, his pants bulging. You’ll stop him by wrapping your arms around yourself tight. You don’t know anything about sex, except that you’re not supposed to let boys do what they want.
Your best friend, Sarah, suggests you wear makeup and different clothes to cover your “many” flaws so boys will like you. This makes you cry, because you believe Sarah. You make a list: 1. Eyes, too large – eyeshadow to look smaller 2. Body, too thin – bulky clothes to look larger 3. Lips, too fat – lipliner to look smaller, and start planning what you’ll say to your stepmom to convince her.
Students race around you in the hallway. The bell rings for first period. You had your first period this past summer. You’re still puzzled about how to position your body so the sanitary pads aren’t uncomfortable. You wince when you see the blood on the clotted cotton pad and streaked in the toilet. You wipe and change the pad quicker than you’ll switch the TV channels as a teenager.
Sarah hasn’t had her first period yet, and she says she’s glad. When you beckoned your stepmom into the bathroom and she saw the red, she shouted Guess who has her period now? to the whole house. They laughed, and you loitered in the bathroom for hours, waiting for adolescence to end.
Mr. Marks scribes a sentence on the blackboard for the class to conjugate: Richard gives Sally a beautiful rose. You catch Brian staring at you. He smiles when he sees you seeing his stare. If only life was as easy as a sentence, to break down into parts and understand. Nouns: the people we’re supposed to spend our time with. Verbs: how we’re supposed to act around these people. Adjectives: all the pleasant things they’re supposed to say to us.
Words come easily to you, rushing fast as pus when you press a pimple, until Sarah turns with a scowl and passes you a note from Brian. Mall after school? Me and Jeff will be there. You don’t know what to respond, and avoid his glances and Sarah’s frowns by propping your cheek on the palm of your hand. You narrow your eyes into slits, blurring the edges of everyone and everything. You’re learning it’s easier this way.
When you walk with your friends to the mall after school, you’re all laughing about what Brian said in history: Paul Revere was a queer. None of you know what a queer is. But Brian said it and your classmates laughed, so you laughed too. Michelle says Brian likes you, and most of your friends agree. You turn to Sarah to see what she thinks, but she crosses her arms and looks away. You don’t know why. Again, you cry.
A group of men in fatigues hang out their humvee window and wolf whistle. They look you and your friends up and down, eyes finally firing on you. One of them smiles, baring teeth. You will be wounded by many of these smiles, these eyes. You’ll be told you’re supposed to endure this pain.
You feel for the first time a spreading stain inside. You know that soon it will seep out. That you will always be oozing. That you will lose parts of yourself as they gaze, and that this is
what it means to be a woman.
published 26 June 2013