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Fall 2000.

The Secret Life of Girls

by Amy Abdou

Kindergarten: I am a strange and smart girl. My best friend is from a big Italian family and she is well liked. I am the only kid who can read and I frequently read out loud to the rest of the class. I believe I possess powers of clairvoyance and express this belief to adults. I refuse to go watch the sixth grade production of Peter Pan, on the grounds that the main character frightens me and am sent to the principal's office for the first time.

First grade, my first taste of social ostracization: a division arises between the Italian kids and everyone else. They are popular and we, the rest of the class, are not. I pray to God to make me Italian. Tension ensues between me and my best friend Gina.

Second grade, I refuse to wear underwear and love skirts. I think I was testing the parameters of good social conduct. I get caught one day by the quietest boy in class. He speaks to say he knew I was not wearing any underwear. I lie bold faced and tell him he was wrong. I lie but he speaks flatly, "No, you're not wearing any underwear" and walks away. He never mentions it again.

Third grade, I begin lying to adults, not maliciously, just to see if they're on the ball. They're not. Instead of reading the book for the book report, I improvise it. I think I know what it would have said.

Fourth grade, I am branded a feminist (read lesbian) by my social studies teacher, I have no idea on what grounds. This woman is "a lady, and I like to be treated as a lady." She smells postmortem and is viscous and cruel. She warns my parents they are headed for trouble. She has no idea.

Summer camp 1978, my friends are all in the advanced swimming class. I fake bronchitis so I don't have to compete. I split my first pair of jeans on the trampoline. One of the girls on the sideline says, "I thought they looked tight." My camp counselor's name is Ruthie. She's 12, I'm 8 going on 9. Ruthie has a big mouth and can curse like a sailor. I'm a good Catholic. She takes me under her wing. She combs my hair and tells me even though the other girls can't see it, I'm going to be very pretty someday. It's the first time anyone has paid attention to me in this way. I feel weird and happy.

Back at home, my mom has repaired my ripped up jeans. They are still too tight but the only pair I own and I wear them at least twice a week. School is torture. I have an enormous zit and I am not well regarded as I always bust the curve. My parents favor the pixie cut, so I have no hair. My saving grace is a pair of shiny black patent leather maryjanes that I wear everyday. I am frequently mistaken for a boy without these shoes. Barefoot in thought, I am the lesbian for my fourth grade postmortem teacher.

In fifth grade, I develop a weird sexual tension with the boys in my class, who tease me for wearing second hand clothes and being ugly and too smart, but secretly are nice to me. As far as my relationships with men go, nothing has changed in this regard.

In sixth grade, my father moves us out to a cabin/trailer in the woods. To the girls my own age, I am very naive, so I play with their younger sisters. We have no shower and no running hot water. My mother boils water on the stove and pours it over our heads into the sink and this is how we wash our hair. I see my first penis through a speedo that summer. I am fascinated. Later that summer, I find a copy of "Where did I come from" at somebody's house. I am shocked. Nothing in my life has prepared me for cartoon renditions of sexual reproduction. The act of sex had been described to me as standing really close to a man, in the shower, partially clothed. I figured if I ever had to do it, I would definitely keep my underwear on. Considering my earlier predilection for no underwear, this seems ironic.

In seventh grade, I keep hearing about boys, and bras and periods but nothing ever happens to me. No boy has expressed interest in me except my seventh grade social studies teacher who sings "Once in Love with Amy" whenever I walk into the room. Creepy.

Eight grade, I have a perm. I start wearing a training bra although I can't figure out what I am training for. My biology teacher throws a chair across the room to punctuate his sentences. A boy named Brandon sticks pieces of dissected frog up the faucet I use in biology. I am thrown out of class for making a mess.

In ninth grade, I fantasize that I am trapped in a box and swords penetrate and impale me. The pain lessens after each one breaks the surface. The first girl to give it up in our class is now an acknowledged whore. I always thought she was really nice, but nobody talks to her anymore. I used to have a huge crush on the boy who deflowered her but now I think he needs a beating.

Tenth grade gym class, I am tortured by a variety of older, tougher, louder females that have already had babies. I am the only girl in my row of lockers that doesn't have stretch marks. A girl named Beth slams me into a locker and splits my lip. She thought I was acting immature.

I leave school in the eleventh grade being one of the first in our cohort to drop out. I am an A student, but the inability to socialize with other kids has made me a target. I'm starting not to give a shit. My grades and looks drop like my only friend, the repressed homosexual, hitting acid the moment he gets on the bus. I am obsessed with my own blood. At night, I drag a razor across my dry legs until they start to bleed and then I blot them on light green stationary that my estranged grandmother sent me. I haven't seen her in ten years and I think about sending her the blood soaked stationary. My father lives 250 miles south in a trailer with a co-worker.

I start community college in the spring of 1986 at sixteen years old. College is easy. I hang with a bunch of older kids. We drink cheap wine and throw stale donuts out the second story windows of run down apartments. I get stoned in the middle of the afternoon and drive around in my 76 Plymouth Fury with no gas gauge and only one working door - I think I know what Grace Slick was talking about.

In 1987, I give my first blowjob, marking my entry into the world of semen. As first sexual experiences go, this one is not exactly gratifying. I have no idea what the objective of the act was until it is "too late." I have since learned to get out of the way. I later fight with the same guy over what will become a familiar pattern - wanting to give too much. He says he doesn't want to spend the rest of his life wanting to be with me. So we break up. Four years later, he's married and tries to pick me up in a bar.

My first real sexual experience happens later in the year with my next and for all official purposes first "real" boyfriend. He dresses like Nick Rhodes, plays electronic drums and is a complete freak. I still live with my parents so we fuck in a big closet at his father's house and arrange an elaborate system of deception, so I can stay out all night with him. I get caught. My mother doesn't tell. My father suspects. At least, I have the pill.

AMY ABDOU is stranger and smarter than you.