Filed under: coming of age, cruelty, crush, disappointment, forbidden, going steady, junior high school, menstruation, middle school, sexuality
Age 12 at the time
Jorge strummed his blonde wood guitar in the hotel patio. He swaggered right up to the table where I sat crunching a taquito de pollo drizzled with cream, flanked by my parents. I leaned toward him, his tight silver-spangled pants and mustard-colored mariachi suit bright in the Mexican sun. He looked me straight in the face, and launched into a song that seemed to be breaking his heart. Yo soy un hombre sincero…
I was twelve, and enchanted. It was Holy Week in Puerta Vallarta. California was still groggy from winter, but Mexico was wide awake, fragrant and rioting in color. Scarlet and magenta bougainvillea comingled, dripping over gleaming black balconies of twisted iron. Thick white-washed walls hid interior courtyards, filled with cooing birds and cooling palms.
I watched bright parachutes soar over the Pacific. I ate clams for the first time and crunchy curls of fried cheese dipped in smoky salsa. I devoured Gone With The Wind, perched poolside in a black bikini, legs slick with baby oil.
Back home, the foxiest boy in the 6th grade was Tim Morelli. If I did the right thing, acted the right way, maybe he would invite me to his fort, clasp his St. Christopher medal around my throat, ask me to go steady. A couple of weeks before our trip, Tim invited me to meet him after school at the bluffs, a hideout under the eucalyptus trees. I pushed my bike up the craggy, crusty hill and waited in the shade under tangy leaves, my heart thumping. When he arrived, Tim jammed his grimy hand into my underpants and wormed it around. I squeezed my eyes shut, lips pressed together. The going steady would come next. A ring, maybe. I waited. Footsteps crunched through the leaves and he pulled out his hand. His two friends, Wally and Dave elbowed each other, and Tim grinned.
I pedaled my lime green Schwinn home as fast as I could, thighs on fire, tears streaming into my ears. No medal, no gentle kiss. After that, Wally and Dave regularly ambushed me in the janitor’s closet. They wrestled me to the ground, then groped and grabbed at me. “Gusto,” they shrieked, mimicking a popular beer ad, and twisted the tender tips of my breasts. “Go for the gusto!” Each time, my nipples were purple for days.
But in Mexico, there were wide grins, low bows, a door swept open. And what does the señorita desire this evening? While Jorge strummed, I sipped my virgin strawberry daiquiri and imagined his mouth clamped over mine, what it might feel like to have that black mustache prickle my lips.
I was safe, high on my vacationer pedestal, a moat of chlorinated water, Hawaiian Tropic Cocoa Butter and my mother’s close eye keeping me from harm.
At home, though, the border between child and woman was dangerous. On weekends at my dad’s house, my older step-brother regularly terrorized me in the middle of the night, fondling my breasts with his dry hands, jacking off in the dark while I scrunched into a ball. Another guy started out as a babysitter, and we jumped Parcheesi pieces around a board, but after dark, the game changed; a slobbery kiss, a teenage hand cold on my belly, reaching, pushing.
“Don’t tell,” they all said, and I was ashamed, so I kept quiet. I figured I deserved it; that’s what happens to girls with breasts already as big as their mother’s, who dream of kissing mustached mouths, who are desperate to wear Tim Morelli’s cheap ring.
The lipglossy clear-eyed girls in magazines, the Susan Deys and Marsha Bradys swung their hair and grinned. They didn’t look scared. They wore gleaming white swim suits, slim bodies just right; no scraggly wiry hairs sprouting, no purple stretch marks, no Oxy 10 in their medicine cabinets, no worn copies of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret under their pillows. They were cool, possessed, sure, un-slouching, un-needing. Unlike me.
A couple of months before our trip to Mexico, I discovered a saddle-colored stain in my underwear. I was the first girl in the class to get my period, but I had seen the film strips, I knew that it was just men-stroo-ay-shun. I snuck into my mom’s bathroom and pushed in a tampon. It felt foreign inside me, uncomfortable; I didn’t feel like horseback riding or swimming, like the smiling Kathy Rigby had promised in the TV ads.
That afternoon, I hid in my room, record player blaring, furious at my body’s betrayal. I knew what was lurking across the border; more bruised nipples and slimy tongues, more grabbing and jerking.
My mom came in, asked how my day was, and the tears dripped off my jawline.
“Oh, honey, whatever it is, we can fix it,” she kept saying, stroking my hair.
“You can’t,” I cried, hanging my head. “Nobody can.”
After a few minutes, she spied my balled-up underpants in the corner and understood. She straightened me up, looked into my face, gently. “You’re becoming a woman.”
On our last day in Mexico, Jorge again came to our table. He sang a lovely lilting song, closing his eyes, chin tilted skyward during the best parts. “In your mouth, you will carry the flavor of me…” Then he took off his hat, and asked my parents’ permission to leave a small gift. “So that you have warm memories of my country,” he said in perfect English. It was a cheap, too-big necklace, a slab of marbled stone hanging from a cord. I was awed. It was the same mustard color of his mariachi uniform.
A tiny ballerina danced every time I cracked my jewelry box open to look at Jorge’s gift. I fingered the cool stone cradled in red velvet. But I never wore the necklace, didn’t want to feel the weight of it around my neck, the press of stone between my breasts. I just liked knowing it was there, waiting for me.
Filed under: athletics | Tags: athletics, basketball, farm kids, mortification, puberty, religion
Age 14 at the time
I was a mediocre basketball player in grade school. If it weren’t for the fact that I reached my current height of 5’11” at 14, I would never have played at all. After my first season of seventh grade basketball and, despite my failings at baseball, I was determined to remake myself into a great athlete. I shot hoops all summer. I ran laps around the mink yard. I lifted the weights Jim used to prepare himself for high school football. When my farm chores ended, my training regimen began. As always, I was tireless in my pursuit of perfection.
But despite long hours spent in athletic self-improvement, I seemed to get no better. I didn’t get a lot of help from my parents. Sport camps were out of the question. I didn’t know there were such things, and even if I did, I would have had to overcome my parents’ long-standing self-improvement philosophy, which said, “If you’re not good at something, you weren’t meant to do it.” They believed that real basketball players just hopped out of the womb hitting jump shots. So the chances of my getting them to spend money for someone to teach me how to play a sport were pretty slim. When it came to athletics, I was on my own.
I don’t know many farm kids who have gone on to become great athletes. Those who do most often do it in the brawn-over-brain sports of football, wrestling, pig throwing, or cow pie tossing. Those big-hearted, thick-headed plow jockeys make great linemen, but when it comes to finesse sports like basketball, golf, tennis, or soccer, forget it. That’s not to say a farm kid couldn’t become a great golfer, but who has time to practice? Most farmers believed as my father did—that chores and schoolwork came first. Athletics were for city kids who had nothing to do. However, practice time notwithstanding, I just didn’t come into this world with natural athletic grace and nerves of steel. And to top it all off, I suffered from a chronically busy mind.
My city friends didn’t seem to have this problem. They didn’t worry about good versus evil or why God made them or how to serve the Lord in this world. They didn’t spend time wondering whether they’d just committed a venial sin or not. They just lived and shot buckets, read Mad magazine, farted, and enjoyed life. Continue reading
Filed under: Uncategorized
Did you miss Wednesday’s Can I Sit With You? Live! in Redwood City performances? Never fear; now you can have a glimpse of what it was like to be at that fantastic show.
Jenifer Scharpen Reads “A First Grade Reader”
Elaine Park Reads “Forever Young”
Lea Cuniberti-Duran Reads “A Non-Catholic Upbringing”
Jackie Davis-Martin Reads “Lose and Win”
Judy McCrary Koeppen Reads “Men-Stru-A-Tion”
John Kim Reads “Spitting Image”
Jennifer Byde Myers Reads “Sorry, Charlie” (Apologies, this is a very brief excerpt from a charming performance. Stupid camera.)
Shannon Des Roches Rosa Reads “The Joker’s Wild” (and overacts quite a bit out of sheer nervousness)
Again, audio from the Seattle show is coming soon.
Filed under: bully, peer pressure | Tags: bully, cheating, elementary school, math test, peer pressure, popularity
by Sabina Sood
Age 11 at the time
“I dare you to cheat on your math test.” The gentle breeze blows her words away before they reach my ears.
“What?” If my words aren’t enough to portray my puzzlement, my scrunched nose, half-opened mouth, and furrowed eyebrows are. Did she say, “cheat”? How will cheating on my math test make me worthy enough to be accepted into her circle of friends?
“I double dog dare you to write down all the test problems and give them to me,” she taunts. Who does Kristina think she is (besides the leader of the most popular group in fifth grade)? As my flame of hope to join her group is snuffed, I turn around to leave.
“I triple dog dare you. You can’t turn that down!”
My shoes squeak on the dewdrop grass as I pivot to face her. A smile tiptoes across her face as the other girls in her clique laugh.
She knows I know about the unwritten rules that bind every elementary school kid to the social ladder. Every kid keeps this rulebook tucked away in a corner of his mind until the day she outgrows it and passes it on to someone else. One of my friends passed this knowledge on to me when she graduated from elementary school, and during times like these, I wish she hadn’t. This rulebook is the Bible of elementary school and not abiding by it makes losing one’s social life inevitable.
As I ponder her statement, I flip through the pages of the rulebook in my head. Here it is. Page 37, Rule # 182: “If a kid is dared to perform a task, she has the choice to accept or refuse it. If a kid is triple-dog-dared to do something, she must complete the dare or risk public humiliation.”
If I refuse the dare, then word of my sin will spread like wildfire throughout the school, and no one will ever speak to me again. If I accept the dare and cheat on my math test, I will jeopardize my elementary school career … but that will only happen if I’m caught.
The next day, I enter my math classroom, my heart pounding and my mind searching — searching for the courage and reassurance that escapes with every breath. I accepted the dare and there is no turning back. My face tingles as shivers dart up and down my spine. Sweat trickles down my arm as I focus on one sustaining thought: I accepted the dare and there is no turning back.
Mr. Walshe reads the directions of the math test. Time creeps by. Tick…tock … tick…tock. After what seems like an hour, he finishes his speech with, “You have forty minutes to complete the test. You may begin.”
We turn the page. One student taps his pencil on the desk in a rhythmic pattern. Another accompanies him as she hits the desk frantically with her shoe. Tap … tap … bang … tap … bang. As the other students scribble on their scratch paper and fill in the bubbles on their answer sheets, I grab my pen, turn my left hand over, and jot down the first problem on my palm. “If 3x+5=…” The sweat from my hand smears the ink. “If 3x+5=…” My hand quivers, causing even the prettiest handwriting to be illegible.
I cross out my mistake and find a clean part of my palm to begin again. “If 3x+5=20, solve for x.” I glance up to see if anyone notices. Mr. Walshe types on his computer. The other students rustle their test papers and answer sheets. I look at the next problem, but I hear something as I bring the pen to my hand.
“Sabina, what are you doing?” Although he whispers, Mr. Walshe’s deep voice penetrates the classroom. His tone drowns the paper rustling and shatters the pencil-tapping and shoe-banging harmony. As he stands by my desk, his shadow devours me. My heart sprints to catch up with my embarrassment. The blood from the pit of my stomach rushes to my head as my face boils. He grabs my test and tears it in half. My classmates murmur. I can’t swallow and can barely inhale enough oxygen to stay conscious.
“Let’s go talk in the hallway.” I can’t move. My feet are glued to the ground. Guilt desiccates every drop of saliva in my mouth. It chains me to my desk. I struggle and finally break free from the shackles. The water that disappeared from my mouth now crowds my eyes and streams down my face. As Mr. Walshe crosses the classroom, I try to run, but my feet are anchors, maliciously enjoying every student’s glance that pierces my ego and follows me out of the classroom like a shadow.
As soon as the door closes, I ramble, trying to say anything that will save me from the punishment. “ThereisKristinaandtherulebookandshetripledogdaredmeIcouldntsayno.” I hate him. How can he embarrass me like that? It isn’t my fault that I cheated on the math test. It’s Kristina’s fault for daring me. It’s the rulebook inventor’s fault for writing Rule # 182. It’s God’s fault for giving me dreadful cheating skills. Why should Mr. Walshe punish me?
“This is your first and final warning, Sabina. I’ll give you a second chance to take the test, but I will have to call your parents,” Mr. Walshe explains. He returns to the classroom, leaving me alone in the hallway to think about what I have done.
The following day, I walk onto the playground and sit on the tanbark. Kristina and her group spot me near the swings.
“I heard Mr. Walshe caught you cheating,” one of her friends snickers.
“How embarrassing,” says another.
“Even though you failed miserably, having the guts to cheat makes you worthy enough to join my group. You can sit with us during lunch tomorrow,” Kristina scoffs.
I turn around and walk away as her offer hovers in the air, waiting for the wind to blow it away.