Bodies Are a Car Door

We are drinking coffee together, sitting
each in our own maturity and marveling
the kids these days!
when he says, “I always thought puberty
was so much worse for girls. Breasts, menstruation—
like living inside an alien.
Boys have nothing that compares.”
“Boners,” I retort.

***

The agony of my girl’s puberty was in how other people changed.
How the soft swellings of once-rawboned flesh turned
my whole carcass into something
groped/gawked/commented upon/grabbed.
The surface indignities of new hair and acne were nothing
to the way puberty made my body
into an IPO.

Do women ever comment on boys’ erratic laps, I wonder,
the way men detail young girls’ bodies? As if without their attention
we might not notice our own shape beneath our clothing.
My father’s coworker, noting how my knees don’t touch
even when I stand my straightest:
“Yknow what we say about bowlegged girls!”
(I am twelve. I don’t know.
I stand less straight the next time I meet him.)
My favorite ninth grade teacher, who becomes
my less-favorite ninth grade teacher the day he asks
about the decal on my tshirt, the one with images of my favorite seabird:
their always quizzical expressions, their improbable blue feet.
(I shrink under the smirk he gives when I reply, “blue-footed boobies”—
a grin that says the shirt across my chest is a joke we are sharing,
two chums looking over the body of a third.)

My friend’s parents had an understanding: Men open doors.
On weekends when I joined them in the car,
her parents talking together in the front seat
she and I whispering together in the back—
when we reached whatever restaurant, her father
let himself out, then stepped around to open each of our doors in turn
while inside the car, we three waited. We three sat silent.
My friend and I exchanged impatient eyerolls
the silliness of it all
but I knew enough not to comment aloud, knew how a giggle
might turn this charade suddenly serious
and fierce. A lesson first learned at home:
“It’s all fun and games until someone loses
his manhood in the comment of a child.”

When pubic hair first began to sprout across my crotch
I cut off the ever-regrowing tangle, using—in my memory—
blunt-nosed kid scissors, the kind designed for construction paper and safety
(though more likely I filched my mom’s good hair-cutting scissors,
impossibly long and pointy, the ones she used to trim my head
into its neat Dorothy Hamill).
At the pediatrician’s, when I slid off my panties to stand
in tubby nakedness showing off the deforestation between my legs,
the doctor raised her eyebrows in a question to my mother
and only when I explained how I did it myself
that hair’s all itchy and weird
did she relax, exhaling a tension I hadn’t noticed before.
For a long time after I wondered, what other answer
she might have waited for
or feared?

***

We are still sipping coffee, he and I,
when I say: “There is nothing about growing
into a young woman’s body
so alien or alienating
as how public a property
we suddenly become.”

Cars parallel parked on a street in Winchester. Photo credit: Cyren. Used under Creative Commons license

6 thoughts on “Bodies Are a Car Door

  1. True. I needed decades to come up with answers to hollering (probably only after it stopped) and to stop crossing the street when passing a barracks, a building site, an open bar. I love blue-footed boobies and I have yet to see one on a t-shirt. I’d smile if I did

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So, so, so true. I *vividly* remember the first time I was (what I would now call) sexually harassed. I was 10 (as in my profile pic). All the boys were into grabbing girls’ bra straps through the back of their shirts and snapping them loudly. A boy tried to do this to me and, upon discovering that I was not wearing a bra (because not needed), announced in front of a large group of boys that the reason I didn’t wear a bra was so that [other boy, not present] could feel me up more easily when we made out. I can not only remember the boy’s name (even though he moved soon after and I –thank god–never saw him again) but also picture exactly when it was, where we were in which classroom, what I was wearing, and, of course, the sound of all the other boys laughing. So apparently you don’t even have to reach puberty, just be a female who is known to have the potential for someday reaching puberty.

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