It started with the banana.
In my mid-twenties, I wait for a flight at the gate. Five guys at the gate are laughing and joking, and have been trying to get my attention from afar.
"There go your girl," one of them said to the other. I ignore them and pull out my breakfast: a banana. The laughter erupted even more loudly than before and then, I turned it upside down and began to peel it. With each peel the men scoffed louder and louder. I ate the whole banana, tossed the peel in a garbage can and boarded my flight. It wasn't until I was sat down on the plane that I realized the joke.
"Oh! Is it because a banana looks like a... ah I see." I never realized my naivety before.
On my second day of high school, two blonde upperclassmen boys walked past me on campus.
“There’s the Freshman girl who doesn’t shave her legs,” one says. They are pointing at me. They snicker and laugh as they pass in the crowd. This became my marker, my curse. I was known only for that fact.
By the time I started high school, all the uniform rules had been heavily enforced and reformed. It had to "touch the ground when kneeling" which we did a lot of, in front of the heavenly host and in confessionals and weekly mass.
Imagine then, my skirt. I wore it so long to avoid the hassle of skirt checks. My socks past my ankles, two peanut-butter-colored hairy legs sticking out. Ankle socks were really "in" back then. As was rolling the cuffs of your shirt.
During lunch, myself and a friend fill our trays. Fries and chicken nuggets for me. A hamburger, fries, a hot dog, and a side salad for her. One of the lunch ladies ringing us up said to my friend, "You been eating a pumpkin seed?” We have a discussion about this at lunch, we can’t figure out what she meant. (She later has contractions in the second floor girls bathroom, and that afternoon the principal and the disciplinarian are seen dramatically running to their cars and going straight to the hospital. It was a girl.)
Southerners have a euphemism for everything. It's a restrained world made wholesome and cute. I realize that if no ones going to really tell you, and Google doesn't yet exist, then you live in a world of inferences and assumptions.
One of the nice, blonde, popular classmates pulls me aside after math but just before history.
"Ariel, are you on your period?" she asks.
"No... I don't," I look down, there's a blotch of red.
"Maybe you can take your skirt and twist it," she says.
A week before the first day of high school, a friend came over to hang out. We'd run out of things to do, so I walked her to my bedroom closet.
"We can play shoe store," I say. I could be the seller, she could be the buyer. I didn't realize that high school meant that we weren't allowed to "play" these games anymore. If there was a memo, I never got any of them.
A sibling in the hospital talks to me from the bed. It's 4 am, and neither of us can sleep.
"I saw 'Ladybird' but I didn't get it. Everyone was crying but me," I say to her.
"Of course you didn't get it. We never get 'coming of age' movies because we didn't have a normal 'coming of age,'" she says.
I take a summer geology class where we're shown a film about molten lava. I get up from my seat and feel, again, the wetness of blood.
I wait in the bathroom for the building to empty. I pass through a thick forest of pine between the building door and the parking lot. I feel protected in the trees above me. I sit on my green pillow in the drivers seat and soil it with my own blood. The blood reaches through my pants, the jacket around my waist, the pillow and eventually, the car seat.
I don't know anyone who wears tampons because their parents wouldn't let them.
The movies make it seem like everything happens overnight.
I once dated a clever start-up owner in New York. Your friend runs into him at a party.
"Ariel was too angelic," he says while drunk.
I saw nudity in film for the first time during an English class viewing of "Romeo and Juliet." One of the students hadn't finished reading the play, and after Romeo's suicide shouted at the TV.
"She ain't dead! She just playing possum."
In middle school we do a question and answer with a priest. It's my favorite time of the year, we get to write anonymous questions on a slip of paper. Someone asks, "Why can't women become priests?" and our parish priest, a hilarious Irish man who always makes me laugh, answers. The teacher then stands up and holds up both her hands to pause the conversation.
"And, you know, I just like to remind everyone that while men get to be priests, women get to experience the pleasure of childbirth and motherhood that men don't get to experience. So...just remember that right?"
My top lip has curled up distastefully. My eyes narrow.
My mom's friend picks you up from school one day and drives you through the city. I see teenagers on the corners with their friends. A girl sitting in a boys lap.
"Trashy," your mother’s friend says. "pretty soon she'll be droppin' her drawers."
Another southern euphemism for "having sex."
At a middle school party some of the girls go into an alley to smoke.
“We’re all staying over tonight,” they say and invite me. My parents tell me I can’t go, which leads to a firery journal entry and a bunch of tears.
“Those girls are ‘fast,’” my dad keeps saying. He’s talking about one in particular who has free-range parents, boobs, and a boyfriend before anyone else.
About seven years later they spot her, the girl with the free-range parents, at a McDonalds Drive-In with a pregnant stomach, working the last of two windows, the one where they hand you the food.
This is their: “I told ya so” moment.
Parent's don't admit it, but they love that "I told ya so" moment.
I make a mistake in a term paper, and accidentally use "loose" when I mean to use "lose." My professor walks into class and writes both words on the chalkboard.
"Loose girls lose their virginity. OK? That's how you remember it."
My only advice to my high school self would be to care less.
Of course that's not what happened. I cared so much I eventually shaved my legs. I've felt like that person ever since, the stalwart who makes a show of it and eventually crumbles.