What were you good at when you were 11, when you were 12? I don’t think I was good at anything other than telling a story.
I could momentarily charm someone, I could make them laugh. Put me up on the table, I’ll recite you bits of poetry. Strike up the piano, I’ll sing for you. I’m basically a landlocked siren. I’m all wiles and a vacuum of hunger and I’ll lure you towards my gob with assorted party tricks.
I think that’s why I stopped singing, why I stopped acting. I think that’s why I stopped lying even. I was tired of being a fish alone on a rock scaring the crap out of everyone, myself included. My tail was starting to go off. There was a smell. Too many show-tunes sung too earnestly for too many adults about dreams dreamed and lost men and sadness.
I was 11 when I got my period. I don’t remember the first one. I knew all about it, I was primed for it. While other girls were exploring their nether regions with healthy curiosity, I was appraised as to the specifics of them and saved my sense of baffled frustrated ennui for each unkissable boy I passed.
I thought about sex often. What would it be like? I had a reoccurring dream that Ted Danson wanted to do me. We were on the set of "Cheers" and he kept trying to take me into the back room. His nose was running and I wasn’t grossed out, exactly, but I didn’t know what would happen if I walked into that back room. I’d wake up from these dreams with a delicious tingle of butterflies in my stomach and my upper thighs. It was the same confusing sensation I got when I happened to pass Kevin Sorbo on TV. late at night. I had a little black and white TV in my bedroom and I had trouble sleeping. "Hercules" was always on some UHF channel. I stared at his body and reveled in the butterfly feeling. It was the same when I saw "Welcome to the Dollhouse" for the first time and Brendan Sexton Hall III came on screen: Instant, weird, but not awful butterflies.
To this day Faneuil Hall, Greek mythology, and "Empire Records" all still give me the faintest of lady boners.
My first period was so faint I must have missed it. I hated wearing underwear (still do, let the record show), and whatever I thought the discharge in my jeans was, it didn’t occur to me to think that my escaping uterine lining factored into it. It was rich and dark and sparse.
The next time it happened, my mom found my jeans and confronted me with them. “Has this happened before?” I don’t remember what I said. I am bad at my period. I haven’t improved.
I eyed the boys at school warily, more so than even before. I daydreamed about Devon Sawa and Mel Gibson and Sorbo and Danson and I verbally zinged all the real boys around me because I was terrified and self-conscious.
By 11, my pediatrician had broken the news to me: “You’re overweight,” she said simply, showing me the chart. The dot representing me looked like a seagull flying over the dead sea. I looked in the mirror and the monster who was there to begin with was now a fat monster. Sarah plain and tall, Becca, plain, short, and fat.
If only there was some way to crawl out of my skin. I could do that when I told a story. I could do that when I made them laugh. But I never stopped being afraid. Boys don’t like girls who are afraid of them. They don’t like girls who lie to them. They sing songs about the girl who doesn’t know she’s beautiful, the shy quiet girl afraid to open up. In movies, they fall for the crazy girls, with big eyes and daddy issues and propensity for cutting or hysterics. The pine over the girl who won’t tell them the whole truth.
None of that applies in real life. If you don’t think you’re beautiful, then you aren’t. If you’re crazy or a liar, then nobody trusts you. It’s a simple equation. It’s hardly even math.
My mom in the bing-cherry-colored minivan picking me up after soccer practice, sixth grade. I always volunteered information before my parents had a chance to even ask. “I scored a goal!” I trilled, lying and ebullient. I kicked one of the boys so hard in the shin that our teacher barked at me, “Stokes! What do you think you’re doing?” I didn’t tell this story. I had a million anecdotes I could have shared of my meanness, my temper, my cruel and quick tongue. I didn’t tell her any of those.
I didn’t want my mom to know the awful truth: I was a bad person. My mom already knew that I was a liar. A desperate stink to please came off me like pheromones came off the other kids, in noxious and heady waves. “You know I’d love you no matter what, right?” My mom always said this. I always nodded, I always believed it. I never asked her the question that has always lifted in before my eyes in a spectral text meant for only me when presented with unconditional love: “Why would you? Why would anyone?” I nodded and then I told her a story that wasn’t true but sounded nice, because that was easier than coming home every day and looking her in the eye and saying with a self-awareness I lacked, “I don’t know what I’m doing so I’m trying everything possible just to survive.”
People like liars because they say interesting things. People hate liars for hiding themselves, for thinking that they can pull one over on other people. When you lie to someone and you get caught, they say that they’re angry at you for deceiving them.
That’s not it, not exactly. They’re angry and hurt and embarrassed because you thought so little of them that outwitting them seemed possible. They have presented you with themselves and you have hidden yourself away. There I am, just behind my left clavicle bone. I’m clutching it and squatting and three inches tall and desperate to know, “Why would you? Why would anyone?” It has been the question of my life.
Next year, our class was joined by a few more girls. I made a best friend, fell in love with my first gay man, and missed out on dating a Greek god when everyone started dating for real. Ah, seventh grade. You dirty bitch.