Can I Sit with You?


Ella Enchanted

Suzanne LaFetra

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.

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MEN-STRU-A-TION
October 8, 2007, 7:01 am
Filed under: junior high school, menstruation, puberty

By Judy McCrary Koeppen
Junior High

For many, junior high was a time characterized by gawky looks, lanky extremities, braced teeth, and questionable skin clarity. Even for those fortunate enough to have a proportionate body, naturally straight teeth, and even skin tone, no one could escape the Big P.

PUBERTY

A time in life when hormones invade and one’s body begins to morph and alienate its owner. Adding injury to the hormonal insult is the obsessive desire by girls to be carbon copies of their peers. Well, that’s the way it was for me. Every moment was spent certain that everyone was looking at me. I just knew the eyes of the world watched and were interested in the exact length of my pants, if my hair was brushed, and if my lips were glossed. When one lives in a perpetual state of self-absorbance, the most embarrassing horrors are often caused by one’s self.

With a November birthday, I was older than most of my peers. In addition, I was an “early bloomer.” So I experienced PUBERTY earlier than most. My breast buds were an AA size at best. But no matter, I was sure my voluptuous tatas turned the corner and entered a room an hour before the rest of my body. The embarrassment of my body embracing its early spring was further fueled by my mother’s insistence on using appropriate and anatomically correct terms. Three and four syllable words were stretched and articulated nearly beyond recognition.

“Oh that’s great! You are MEN-STRU-A-TING!”

“Do you need any more SAN-I-TA-RY NAP-KINS?”

“Are your BREASTS tender?”

“Are your NIP-PLES feeling sensitive?”

“Is your VA-GI-NA bothering you?”

In my junior high era, girls didn’t carry purses, or I certainly didn’t. Kids also didn’t haul back packs from class to class. So this made it difficult to safely secure and hide a SAN-I-TA-RY NAP-KIN. Now of course, I called them “pads,” not nearly as offensive a word, and no one used a tampon back then. Certainly, no one admitted to having crossed over to womanhood.

Following lunch one day, I decided to change my pad in the girls’ locker room bathroom just before P.E. But how could I carry a pad from my outdoor locker to the locker room? There were no pockets in my light blue Dittos jeans. No matter that it was 95 degrees F, I donned my lemon-yellow windbreaker and slipped the contraband into the pocket. I stepped into the swarm of moving students and headed to P.E.

I can still picture it. I was ten feet from the entrance to the girls’ locker room. Suddenly, my not-so-mini pad dove out from under the lemon-yellow hem. It was then that I remembered the fist-sized rip in my pocket. It was a slow motion event.

After escaping, the pad jumped on a current created by all the moving bodies. It dashed left, glided right, swirled above a light-brown Wallaby, finally dipped down, and came to rest on the sizzling concrete. I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to run, but I was fixated like a moth on a bulb. Should I pick it up? Should I kick it under the bush? Should I just ignore it and RUN? I decided to go with ignoring it entirely.

I regrouped and cloaked myself in my best casual saunter and slipped into the girls’ locker room. But I was certain that from that moment on, everyone in the entire school knew, and cared, that I was MEN-STRU-A-TING.