Updated: Oct 17, 2020
I slide into puberty like a whale slamming home base.
Belly up and lacking grace.
I still want to be the girl who skins her knees playing rough games on the asphalt with the boys.
Roller hockey, ride around on skateboards, lay naked on that giant rock letting the
sun scorch the water off my body after a swim in the lake, work up that kind of sweat
that smells of playground dirt.
Now I’m conscious of things like body odor and skirts that are too short.
Now the boys, they tell me, girls have to sit on the floor, when we huddle around the living
room couch to play video games. I’m permitted to play last.
In summer I’m on the verge of junior high school. Locked on a Hawaii hotel balcony,
naked, with lice shampoo in my scalp, huddled with my mother’s best friend’s children
while they vacuum the floor inside.
A summer epidemic.
A rain forrest full of insects that gnaw our heads. And all of us too stupid to know the
shampoo couldn’t work with us in and out of the chlorine all day.
We move from the house to the hotel trying to rid ourselves of a home infested.
A stinging scalp is a familiar evening routine.
Weeks like this.
My mother combing eggs from our heads with that tiny comb.
Wrapped in a towel on a hotel room floor.
A vacation I couldn’t have known
was a last stab at saving a marriage.
I run though the jungle when the yelling mounts
and daydream of Mowgli.
Where was my father?
A golf course.
Came and went on business.
Returning with a snorkel in hand.
Frozen peas to feed the fish.
I watched my mother unravel
on that active volcano.
Two women with 4 feral children to care for.
I eat sticky rice with eggs and greet the spider who lives in the pantry.
Ran barefoot through a forrest collecting volcanic rock.
Riding in the bed of a truck.
Who was that man who drove us?
I get caught in a wave one afternoon that folds me in half.
Chin slamming sand, I hear my back crack.
I come up for a sip of air and the current drags me by the ankle.
The ocean spitting me out.
Coughing up sand and no one around to witness my survival.
I pass a man with a bloody leg on the pool deck.
Shark, I think.
White hotel towels wrapped around his leg and people clambering to help.
I’ve never seen so much blood.
Perhaps a wave had swept him through coral.
All at once the ocean becomes dangerous.
I find myself searching out privacy. Scarce.
And doors I’m forbidden to lock.
I cover myself when my father enters the bathroom where my mother is shampooing my
head with that godforsaken chemical.
That boy. I’ve known since birth. My mother’s friend’s son.
Looking at me.
All the while throwing fits when the waitress mistakes his tattered baby blanket for a rag
and throws it to the garbage.
He can’t sleep without it.
Are we still children?
My bathing suit curving around flesh that changes shape before our eyes.
And all of us trying to order adult films on the hotel TV
while our parents are drinking MaiTais in the lobby bar.
Boys. They pick flowers for me some days.
Stop to collect them when we ride our bikes after school.
Other days they chase me with bottles of urine as shrill laughter escapes them.
Men driving by in trucks slow down and make finger-mouth gestures I don’t understand
as I walk home from the school bus.
My belly, a sailor’s knot, as I check to make sure the wind hasn’t blown
my clothes to the clouds.
My too-tight childhood ballet leotards become a fitted garment
I wear with jeans at school.
I feel sexy.
I don’t know what that means.
but I feel it.
A terrifying thing.
An exhilarating thing.
I’ve had dreams of turning the bathroom at my 5th grade elementary school into an
apartment I share with one of the boys I play basketball with at recess.
I’m kissing girls for “practice” and feel panicky about how much I like their touch.
We call it a game, but I feel a tickle in places I hadn’t known I owned.
I’m 11 when I wake in my wooden twin bed with the little carved hearts and think,
I might like to have a wife.
My mother calls to me to get up.
Today is my birthday.
Today we’re going to Disneyland.
I’ll wear my new backpack. The one that looks like a stuffed frog.
And I’ll crash from sugar in the car on the way home.
My father carrying my limp shape up the stairs.
My mother lifts my shirt and inspects my chest in the night with a flashlight.
I feign sleep.
Later we will laugh about this.
She has to see for herself.
Her baby. Developing breasts.
Hours in the bathtub trying to understand the skin I’m now living in.
I sneak training bras into the cart at Target.
My mother tosses them back.
Other girls at school wear them.
I want to belong.
I slip it into the cart.
I mimic my mother’s routine.
Towel on my head and some stuff I’m supposed to rub in my armpits.
I steal my mother’s razors.
My legs all full of cuts and my mother screaming from the other room not to shave my
arms, my belly.
I don’t know what hair I’m supposed to have.
I’d discovered scissors in kindergarten and cut off my bangs the day before picture day.
Little stumps of fuzz along my forehead.
I’d cut my brothers curls and hid them in a wicker box I’d stolen from a hotel.
She must have feared I’d shave my head.
There was nothing growing under my arms.
But I had to learn this toy.
I lay in bed and cry with my bones aching.
Growing pains, my father says.
I’m not sure I want to grow.
How much will I grow?
How do I slow this?
How long will it hurt?
What if I never stop?
I’m told a change is coming.