By Jordan Dilley-
It starts early, during our first juice boxes at the playground. Our mothers must insert the straws for us, but even they have trouble aligning the skinny plastic straws with the dimple of aluminum foil. The boys in their grass-stained jeans are playing on the jungle gym, dangling from the monkey bars with one arm. They fall and scrape their knees, burst into tears at the first sign of blood, green and red, a micro-Pollock on their pants.
Our mothers take off their pumps, massage their bunions and the callouses where the leather digs in. Even flats are uncomfortable when your feet are always swollen, one complains before patting her belly where one of us has a sister in the works. They nod, someone mentions having had to wear Crocs when her oldest was born and they all cringe sympathetically, but no one cries.
On the first day of kindergarten, we find the chair with our name on it. We can already read and spell our names. We put our homework and permission slips in the cubby-hole assigned to us. When we use the unisex bathroom only the kindergartens have, we remember to put the seat down. Before naptime we take our shoes off, and line them up with the others along the wall. Our princess sneakers with glittery laces are wedged between two pairs of superheroes with Velcro straps. No one needs to hold our hands, guiding us as we trace the letters of the alphabet on our dry-erase boards.
The same word can have two meanings. We learn this during our first hygiene talk. The school nurse herds the girls in our fourth-grade class into a room with posters of uteruses, deodorant, and menstrual products. You might notice a whitish fluid in your panties that is viscous (we look up the word viscous later); this is called vaginal discharge. For many of us it’s the first time we’ve heard the word and it will always be our first definition. We will hear the word discharge and regardless of the context, we’ll be reminded of the first time we learned our bodies could embarrass us, and of all the time we spend hiding our biology from the world.
In high school, during seventh period, we always wear a cardigan. Even though the thermostat never drops below seventy-four, Mr. Schmidt’s eyes do nothing but. One August we come back from summer vacation with a B cup and French class becomes the worst part of our day. From the time the first bell rings, we dread the end of the day and Mr. Schmidt’s eyes which are drawn to our chest like a bullseye.
We conjugate être. We think of all the things we are. Je suis une fille. Je suis intelligente. Je suis une bonne étudiant. We think of all the things Mr. Schmidt is. Il est un vieux homme. Il est un professor lycée, pas à l’université. Il est un divorcée. At the end of the semester, we leave his class with an A- and bad posture from hunching over every day trying to hide our growing chest. He is our second primer in the field of knowledge we like to call “your body as a weapon against you.” We buy a minimizer bra, switch from V-necks to crewnecks.
When we arrive at our dorm, the RA hands us a care package. We’re hoping to find snacks and advice on how to use the washing machines. Instead, we find a packet of rohypnol test strips, a shiny brass whistle, and list of the nearest clinics and their relevant services. We forget about the package until the first party of the semester. Our roommate calls us frantic because she can’t remember the night before, all she knows is she woke up on a beer-stained couch missing her panties. We grab the list of clinics and rummage in her laundry for a clean pair of underwear. Under a table in the union building, we hand her the panties and take her to the nearest clinic. It could have been us so easily we wonder why it wasn’t. Is it just a matter of luck? Is there such a thing?
We attend our first baby shower while writing our dissertation. It comes sooner than expected. Our friend who’s always hated kids, won’t even make room for one on the bus, holds a pink onesie up to the delight of her matronly aunts and cousins. More presents wrapped in cartoon animals and baby carriages are pushed toward her and she claps her hands like a greedy child on Christmas. Our present—a Costco-sized package of diapers—doesn’t garner much excitement, it seems the mother-to-be will be using cloth diapers, someone in a knee-length cardigan tells us primly around the punch bowl.
We corner our friend in the kitchen. She’s sitting near the refrigerator massaging her feet. The door of the refrigerator is cracked open, a current of cold air blowing on her face. You never wanted kids, we say, trying not to sound accusatory. No, she finally says, but John did.
On a park bench, on a day that’s too cold to be sitting outside, we sip from a travel tumbler. We spiked the hot coffee with rum before leaving our apartment, a habit from grad school we revisit, you would say too much. On the swing set a little boy is pushing a little girl as she holds onto the cold chains. Their breath makes clouds in front of their faces. When the little girl jumps out of the swing, a trick we remember well, she falls on her knees. The little boy runs over, concern and worry scrunching the baby fat of his face. The little girl gets up and wipes her hands on the legs of her jeans. More, she says, hopping back into the swing. The little boy stands in the same spot, not quite believing her quick recovery. More, we start to chant, voice rising above a rum muffle. The little girl notices us sitting pink-cheeked and glassy-eyed. Something passes between us. More, we agree, we want more.
Jordan lives and writes in Washington. She has an MA in literature from the University of Utah. Her work has appeared in the Vassar Review, Heavy Feather Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, and Barnstorm Journal as well as other publications. Her 2022 short fiction piece “Lani in the River” was nominated by JMWW for a Pushcart Prize.