This woman told a story about when she was younger. When I was maybe 90lbs, she said, and could pass the pencil test. Remember the pencil test? And I did--do--though I never could pass it without taking a few very deep breaths. The story had something to do with her going braless in a grocery store and a woman who scolded her for it. So I told her I'd put on a bra just as soon as the weeping scars on my back healed up! That was the punchline of the story, the point being that a good comeback is all you ever really need. Honestly I was only half-listening, so distracted was I with disbelief that there was ever a time when her breasts were not heavy pendulums of resting right there like that.
There are certain stories that you just can't shake, this not being one of them. I have always remembered John Updike's A&P, the slow narrative of three sunkissed girls in their bathing suits. Without being too creepy (although there is no other way to say this), I find myself lately watching teenage girls. Maybe it's because Zoey is suddenly interested in iCarly, or because I am now exactly halfway between 18 and 58, but they are everywhere with their low-slung jeans and skin. I have always been afraid of teenagers, the way they push against each other when they walk. Even when I was one, half afraid of myself.
I have a friend who has a friend who is a teacher at the middle school here; I have no idea how big her boobs are. So this school, there is always some sort of oversized wooden cutout of a tree outside, or a thermometer, something painted with the words Help Us Reach Our Goal! and a line like a measuring cup that almost always crawls to the top very quickly. It is a California Distinguished School, and the other day my friend told me that some girls were caught soaking tampons in vodka and then wearing them in class to get drunk. Don't ask me how they got caught, but Jesus Christ. In the 8th grade I called my period Aunt Tilly and carefully folded up toilet paper because I was too embarrassed to ask anyone for a pad, let alone a tampon.
Is it even possible for a vagina to drink?
There is something dangerous about teenage girls, the way they carry their power simultaneously clueless and acutely aware. In 6 years Zoey will be 10. I can't always afford organic milk so by then she may have boobs. I cannot look away from the girls who cluster together behind the building of the movie theater downtown, though I hardly pay attention to the short boys and their skateboards. Sometimes the air smells sweet and skunky and I wonder if I should say something, though like Sammy at the A&P I know that once you begin a gesture it's fatal not to go through with it.
Deep breaths, the exaggerated rise and fall of my ribcage. Sometimes I can still get the pencil to drop.