I didn’t feel any different on my birthday. Even though Fiona’s mom was excited about us finally being teenagers, nothing changed. We looked like teenagers already, like every time Fiona’s mom got all mad and protective because the guy putting butter on our popcorn at the movie theater all these years couldn’t stop staring. Or when Fiona’s dad was coming home so we were told to go put on a sweater. The first change I felt wasn’t on my birthday. It was right before the end of the school year when I had to explain to the headmaster that I didn’t suck Muhammed’s dick in the ashram. I was called into his office. It smelled like myrrh and he had a large gong next to his bookshelf for books like The Lotus Awakening. He wanted to know why we were all the way off grounds, what I’d done. If I knew any better and wasn’t so afraid, like they wanted me to be, I would have said I realized I really really wanted to suck his dick, but he was already late for soccer practice and didn’t want to get in trouble. They were going to kick me out anyway so it wouldn’t have mattered.
We just turned thirteen. We had nothing in common, me and Fiona, other than our bodies made people wanna do bad things. She got tits and had to steal tampons so she didn’t have to tell her mom in the fourth grade, and I stole tampons from her in fifth. We were friends by default. At sleepovers we watched Some Like it Hot and Strawberry Blonde because the women in those movies felt closer to us than our own mothers, or our friends. The girls in our class wore brown gauchos and running shoes, and our moms with thinning grey hair, yelling that we can’t wear this or that. We sought out glamorous women with plump bodies and high voices, their only goal to get the hell out of town, play a ukulele in an all girl band. The biggest difference between Fiona and I was how badly she did want to be like the other girls, and we were growing apart because of it. She wanted to be normal and was willing to put herself on pause until the other girls caught up, like she was the defect. For me, people have always treated me like I belong outdoors. My parents sent me here so I’d keep out of the way. I think if they could’ve gotten away with it, they would’ve cut off my tits instead. It would have saved them thousands in tuition.
Our school was small and all the boys in the high school liked us, me and Fiona. The boys were real losers, we knew that already, but it didn’t make a difference--they were all we had. The problem was any time a boy was interested in Fiona, she liked them back and the love never lasted long. She’d sob for hours, making her concealer gummy and caked on her cheeks.
Each morning, everyone from elementary school to twelfth grade fit into one room, most everyone sitting on the floor. We treated it like a show and coordinated outfits. She liked to wear bras that pushed her boobs up and out. I preferred clothes that clung to my hips. We sat up straight during morning meditation because perfect posture burns fat. All eyes were on us. When we started getting mean letters stuffed into our desks, Fiona got depressed. I cut the collars off my shirts to let the strap of my cheetah print bra show.
The school was built in bumfuck nowhere, named after the spiritual master, or satguru, Kirpal Singh. He helped build the ashram further up the road, out by the cross country trails. It had dark blue plush carpet and floor pillows that smelled like incense with little plastic mirrors sewn onto them. The curtains were dusty and drawn. There was a wildflower garden and meditation pond where no ducks swam. The place was easy to claim as our own because none of the boys had anything to prove so they didn’t fuck around like Fiona and me. It was already obvious that our choices carried the weight of the institution, if not the world, unlike the boys. After lunch we’d put on our outdoor shoes and snuck out the vestibule to the ashram.
Muhammed and I were paired up in the bird watching club every Thursday. We looked for the Eastern Towhee and the elusive Mourning Warbler, leaning into nature’s silence, cupping our ears, listening for the sound chirry chirry, and kept a log of our findings. Muhammed pulled out a pipe and we smoked along the pond. It was my first time. I felt a freedom in my body. I told him this story about a Mute swan I saw once grab the neck of another swan and dunk it under water, its curved orange bill shaking the swan and dunking it again. I never saw two swans in one lake before. I ran across the width of the pond shouting and throwing my arms up the way swans puff their wings. I wanted to scare the swan off the other one but don’t know why. I said, Fight or flight feels so animalistic. Like I should’ve been in the water biting the other swans neck, I said. And then I told him I wanted to lie down and pretend we were evaporating so I coerced him into the ashram. Our backs on the floor, palms up towards the stained glass white cygnet mosaic, listening to the even pitch of a Yellow Warbler. A Brown Recluse wobbled in its web in the rafters. We missed afternoon classes. He missed senior practice. He pulled down his pants.
The next school day dragged on. Classrooms and indoor shoes and vegan lunches and afternoon meditations. I didn’t know everyone knew, but I got a Facebook message, then another. And another. Everyone wanted to know what I’d done in the ashram. I saw Muhammed walk down the hall fist bumping his buddies and I knew he’d told. Boys are such wimps. When I told Fiona about it she said it was our secret. Girls get secrets and boys get fist bumps. Fuck it, I want a fistbump just once. The change in me told me this would be my life forever--being followed, being pressured. This was it. This was all I got. In bird club I learned that Bald Eagles sometimes chase Osprey so they drop their food for the Bald Eagle to catch. I felt like both the Osprey and the food.
At lunch, teachers chose to hang out with the students since there was no lunch room.Some teachers want to sit and talk with you but never to me. I wasn’t the favorite. The theater teacher, Matt, liked Fiona a lot because Fiona wanted to be an actress. She lied about being an extra in Bridesmaids once. When it was Matt’s turn to watch lunch he’d come in with a styrofoam container of tacos and let her have some. Because of Fiona’s eagerness to fit in, I think the other teachers found her desperation admissible. Or maybe I thought it was weird because I was jealous.
Everyone had to go outside for recess. I felt my phone vibrate with more Facebook messages. A kid in a grade below me was dared by his friends to ask me my bra size. I was doing something wrong but I don’t know what. Was I supposed to suck Muhammed’s dick? Or was it because it was obvious that Muhammed wanted me to suck his dick? None of the other girls in my class could relate and Fiona was busy with Matt talking about John Lennon or whatever. Standing outside, alone, I saw one of Muhammed’s friends walking towards me. I should have dunked his head. Instead, I just started screaming. An animal might be screaming, Don’t come near me. Or maybe they’re challenging the other animal. I don’t know why people scream. I screamed that I didn’t suck anyone’s dick in the ashram, that I can only ever wish for a fist bump over sex, and tha maybe, just maybe I didn’t do anything wrong.
When I was finished I felt like I did in kindergarten when I cried because I couldn’t find my lunch box and my teacher said, “It ain’t no thing but a chicken wing.”
I did not stop feeling like this until Fiona and I were no longer friends.
On the bus home I let my head touch the brown plastic of the seat. Fiona said, “So what happens now?” They were kicking me out. I was going on the end of the year trip and then I was gone. Fiona and I were over.
At her house she talks to her internet boyfriend she met on Omegle while I try on outfits for our eighth grade trip.
Muhammed texts me: Do u have plans for the summer?
I reply: I just want to have a good time before I’m old.
In perfect punctuation. And then I send him a Youtube link to Elliott Smith’s Ballad of Big Nothing.
He texts: I dont get why u like me lol. U always like punk rock stars.
I text back: Will you teach me how to swim this summer?
On our eighth grade trip, we get to stay in a cabin, boys and girls in separate cabins. There’s hot tubs and a gym and a lake for kayaking trips. Fiona and I put on matching black bikinis and pose for a picture which she sends to her internet boyfriend. She keeps her arms crossed over her stomach while we find a place in the bushes to smoke a cigarette. She checks her phone and he replied that she looks so hot and pretty. She gives me a sour look. “He said I was pretty.” What’s wrong with that? “That’s like a fake compliment. Like ‘Oh, you’re like, pretty.’” “He said you look hot, too.”
We never ask for pictures back because it’s never about the boy. It’s about how the boy makes us feel.
She smoked my cigarette and said she was going in the hot tub. I said, “Send him a pic of you in it.” “How? There’s like teachers everywhere.” I tell her I’ll be there in a second once I finish this. I don’t even like cigarettes. It doesn’t matter what I like or don’t like. I just want to do. I crush the butt and walk over.
Fiona’s in the hot tub and I see Matt climb in with her. She’s laughing and adjusting her swimsuit top. It’s an ugly sight. His arms spread out wide, and her hovering near him. I try to look at her the way he does. Her body, her big crazy hair, her little swimsuit. This must be how everyone sees us. The lower half of their bodies are invisible. Our other chaperones lay out on pool chairs, uninterested in the hot tub. The patio lights turn on and reflect off his bald head. I should have lied about what happened with Muhammed. I should have said we went all the way, twice. I should have tried to intimidate them with what I want. It doesn’t matter how many schools they send me to because there’s always going to be a hot tub and a guy in the hot tub and some boy in the woods and a group of guys to answer to. This is all I get. I bend over, letting the blood thump in my ears. I listen for the sound of a bird and hear Fiona’s voice.
Strawberry Trellis is a writer and good time gal living in the dirty south. She is the author of the zine Fantasy Blonde. You can find her at @nolonelycowboy on Twitter.
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