By Lauren Anton
You’re turning thirteen tomorrow. It’s time to act like it.
She looked around her pink and white bedroom. Pink: her favorite color. Her journal, also pink, with a picture of a pretty little girl on it, surrounded by flowers. She had gotten her period, as if on cue, the day before. When she went to tell her mother, she had handed a pad to her, unceremoniously. Her dad had hugged her for no reason that morning.
It was all pretty awkward. But still. She took the event and her upcoming birthday as a sign that things needed to change.
No more being loud. No more tomboy. You need to be quiet and pretty.
She thought back to the times when she would hang out with Natalie, prowling the mall for guys.
At least that’s what Natalie was doing.
“Did you see that guy?”
“He’s so cute! I think he was looking at me.”
According to Natalie, they always were.
They would then follow the guy (or guys) around, while she became increasingly more anxious, when she would eventually duck into a bookstore to read magazines, not books. She was trying to figure out how to be a pretty girl who attracts boys. She would stand there for an hour, waiting for Natalie to be done with her guy-hunting, reading magazines like Seventeen, Vogue, and Cosmopolitan not for enjoyment, but for the task of research.
It didn’t seem to sink in.
No matter how many quizzes she took, she didn’t naturally have the eye that Natalie – and all the pretty girls in her class – had.
Even if she did attract a boy, she didn’t know what to do. She liked her guy friends in class, but never seemed to like the guys that she was told were “looking” at her.
She felt that she had been left behind in fifth grade, when they had “Family Life” – sex ed in Catholic school. She had hidden behind her book when they learned about “intercourse,” lest she make eye contact with any other human being.
“Intercourse” was defined as “a man placing his penis in the woman’s vagina, with the hopeful outcome of conception of a new human life, within a loving marriage.” The book went on to say that it was a “precious gift from God” and was to be “held with the deepest respect.”
Meaning never done outside of marriage.
The daydreams, as she called them, started when the “Family Life” classes started. She would spend hours fantasizing about being a boy in a relationship with a girl, having sex with her, getting married, having a family. Her imagination was expansive, which was important, as she didn’t know that girls could masturbate.
She thought only boys could do that.
In fact, the book had been so centered on the penis and ejaculation (and other words that made her want to die when she heard them), she didn’t realize girls could have an orgasm and that there was something called a clitoris.
She had no clue about her own body.
And so the daydreams where she was a boy having sex with a girl continued for over two years.
The penis was all she knew.
Her pen hovered and then drove into the paper.
You need to stop these daydreams.
Her sexual fantasies that she called daydreams because she didn’t know what sexual fantasies were or that she could have them.
She didn’t know why she had the daydreams. She just knew she couldn’t stop and found her mind on them, not even realizing how long she had been thinking about it. She just knew they were bad and had to stop. She had to find a way.
She remembered what happened two years ago in her pink and white room on her frilly twin bed. Her cheeks burned with the shame.
They had just started “Family Life” and her friend Christine had come over to spend the night. It had been a normal visit, nothing noteworthy. Dinner, playing games up in her room, talking, until her mother had told her it was time to get ready for bed.
When the lights were off, they continued to talk, as ten-year-old girls do, in the dim light of the nightlight.
The topic of “Family Life” came up and how embarrassing it was.
But she wasn’t feeling embarrassed.
She was feeling…like she did in the daydream.
“We should practice.”
Christine was nervous about this so she offered that they could leave out the kissing. She was secretly bummed by this but realized that compromise was needed.
And so, she lived out her daydream in her pink bed, in her pink and white room. At ten years old.
She didn’t know she could float, but she did.
When her eyes were woken by the sun shining through the split in the curtains, she looked over at her friend, still asleep. She shifted to her side to watch the ray of sun creep up Christine’s body under the covers, her blonde hair in wisps around her face, until at last the sun reached her eyes. She blinked herself awake.
“Morning.” She smiled.
Christine immediately got up, taking her change of clothes in the bathroom. Her stomach had a tiny pang of fear which she quickly shoved away and instead got dressed, taking her cue from Christine.
When Christine came back in the room, she sat on the edge of the bed, her gaze on the floor. She sat beside her, a respectful three feet away. Her body sent off alarm bells.
“What we did last night was wrong. We should never do it again.”
There was a moment when she couldn’t really see and her stomach dropped to the floor. She thought she was going to faint.
Christine looked at her, expectantly. Waiting for her response.
The right response.
“Yeah…yeah…” She trailed off, her head nodding slowly.
“OK. Yeah. Let’s never do it again.”
You can’t do that. It’s disgusting.
Her pen dug into the paper of her journal, almost ripping it.
Turning thirteen would need to involve an entire personality overhaul.
And her sexuality would be the first order of business.
Lauren Anton is a registered dietitian specializing in eating disorders by day and a writer by night. She is a mom to her beautiful 8-year-old son, who is a constant teacher of what it is to be in love with life, feeling everything so, so fully. She enjoys hiking, yoga, piano, and her little rescue poodle, Bernie.
Although each of Jenny Offill’s books is great, this is the one we come back to, both to reread and to gift. Funny and thoughtful and true, this little gem moves through the feelings of a betrayed woman in a series of observations. The writing is beautiful, and the structure is intelligent and moving, and well worth a read.