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Suzanne Roberts

Binders, Forgiveness, Guest Posts

Friending the Dead

July 22, 2015

By Suzanne Roberts

When the friend request comes in, the mind’s rolodex immediately places the name with the pinkish face, red hair, and tooth-gapped smile.  With a shaky hand, I click over and see it on his wall: RIP Kenny Williams. A cousin, or perhaps one of his children, saw we have mutual friends. Maybe my name came up in the drop-down menu under People You May Know because we went to the same junior high, listed the same hometown. Alive on Facebook, but dead.

There’s relief and something approaching happy. What’s wrong with me? It’s been more than 30 years since I’ve seen him.

***

The junior high classroom is arranged by last name, so Mr. Ballard, the ancient Life Sciences teacher, can remember who’s who.  R gets seated next to W. And we are required to share a worm, a frog, and a fetal pig with our partner during dissections. My partner, Kenny Williams, is far more interested in scrambling the frog’s guts, pulling out the fetal pig’s heart to mash between his fingers, and seeing if the giant worm will stick to my curly hair.

And that’s the best of it.

Between botched dissections, Kenny whispers, “I bet you don’t know what a blow job is?”

“Yes I do.”

“Do not.”

“Do too.”

“If you know what it is, will you give me one?” he asks.

“Sure. Why not?”

And with this, everyone in my seventh grade class will be told, by Kenny Williams himself, that I want to suck dick. That’s when I learn what a blow job is, though at first, I don’t believe anyone would put a penis into her mouth on purpose. I have yet to be kissed and have no idea that a blow job is in the repertoire of the possible.

By the middle of the year, Kenny passes me notes:

I know you want to fuck me.

Your tits are hard. Thinking about me?

Nice jeans. I can see your coozie.

We are eleven years old.

I gather the courage to ask Mr. Ballard if I can move seats, but he tells me that we don’t always get what we want in life, and my last name begins with R, so I am to sit at the back of the room. He can’t go around moving everyone who doesn’t like her dissection partner, now can he? I would have to learn to work with other children, no matter the differences. And besides, Kenny’s just teasing.

In fairness to Mr. Ballard, I don’t tell him that Kenny Williams said he wanted my coozie. But what if I told Mr. Ballard exactly what was happening to me? Would I have suffered the blame? Even today I think I might have. I didn’t have it in me at eleven to doubt the inviolable alphabetized seating chart, to see Mr. Ballard as the accomplice he was. How many teachers are ignoring it while children are being terrorized at the backs of classrooms?

I know that eleven-year old girl is not to blame. But there’s still that girl buried inside of me, something of her that feels like maybe it really was my fault. Because of my silence? Because of my confusion about my own burgeoning sexuality? Because though I found Kenny’s advances terrifying, I also felt something bordering excitement? Like getting sick on the Tilt-a-Whirl at the fair—a scary but thrilling nausea.

By the end of the year, Kenny not only passes me dirty notes, he snaps my bra (hard), snatches at my early-developing breasts, and reaches for the crotch of my purple Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, which fit tighter as the year wears on. And when he grows a hard-on, which is often, he grabs my hand and tries to put it on the lump of his OP corduroy shorts. He says You’re such a tease. Because of you my cock’s hard.

“I’m telling,” I try.

“I’m only teasing,” he says.

I am the first of my friends to get her period, wear a bra, and by the seventh grade, I already fill a C-cup. I believe Kenny Williams’s advances are my fault for developing early. I start wearing tops with frills along the front and long dresses, as if I am auditioning for a part on Little House on the Prairie. And at lunch every day I eat a chocolate shake, chocolate chip cookies, and French fries. I gain 20 pounds in a year, and my face blooms with acne. My breasts and my butt only get bigger. There’s no hiding, not even under a layer of pre-teen fat and prairie dresses.

I had been in the Popular Crowd since the fourth grade when I moved to the suburbs from Los Angeles. Being “in” is a benefit I enjoyed without thinking twice about the possibility that I could so easily be out. In the complicated politics of junior high school, you can go from Popular to Misfit overnight, and that’s exactly what happens to me. The popular girls are slender with clear complexions. They don’t wear glasses, and they have the right jelly shoes, the kind my mother says are too expensive, and to her credit, they are made of plastic.

I start getting crank calls from the girls who previously wanted me to wear the other half of their BFF necklaces, girls who passed me notes with hearts over every I and j. Now the notes read:

Fatty four-eyes. You are so fat. How do you fit through the door?

Slut. Everyone knows you want to suck Kenny Williams’s cock. Continue Reading…

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