Between the pool and Hannah’s house there is a vine-covered chain-link fence and a shallow patch of spruces, but enough light filters through that even on this night, this moonless August night, it is bright enough for them to see you, to laugh at you.
“Louise,” they say, “Why don’t you shave it? All that hair—that’s so weird. So gross.”
They float on their backs, their naked, hairless bodies glowing in the same light that exposes you. You think it made them look like children. You stand on the cement, twirling a big toe in some crabgrass that sneaks up through a crack, the last to remove your bathing suit. You don’t see the fun in skinny-dipping.
“Are you a hippy?” Bailey asks. She leans her head back to wet the hair on the top of her head. “I guess it’s cool if you believe in going natural.”
You hadn’t been aware that you were going natural. No one had ever told you that there was any other way to go. You want to scream, to ask, to plead. You want to know how they’d both known that they were supposed to shave it. Instead, you cross your arms in front of yourself, failing to cover anything.
“How do guys react when they put their hands down your pants?” Hannah asks. You shift your weight onto your other foot and cross your legs. You hadn’t known boys were already putting their hands down other girls’ pants. You want to tell them that this, this hands-down-the-pants business, is something that you know is supposed to happen. In this case you’re aware, you just hadn’t known that it was time for it yet. Instead, you walk toward the far ladder, your arms hanging lamely in front of you.
Something rustles in the ivy, but you don’t start. You’re used to small animals. Those you understand.
You slip into the pool with Hannah and Bailey and plunge your head underwater. Your forehead aches—even in August the New Hampshire sun can’t heat a pool past fifty—but you stay submerged. Though water fills your ears you can hear Bailey. “Oh my god, I can see it,” she says. You blow out bubbles and sink to the bottom. You squeeze your fists, wishing you could go back just a few hours to your shower this afternoon. You’d scraped the calluses off your feet with your mother’s pumice stone and shaven your legs and armpits just like she’d taught you the year before. You’d wanted to be ready in case there would be pedicures or swimming at this sleepover. You didn’t want to be embarrassed by rough feet or those short dark armpit hairs.
You run out of air and kick to the surface. You burn in the cool water, wishing with every tensed muscled in your body that you could just go back a few hours and fix everything.
The screen door bangs open and Hannah’s mom calls that time is up, no more swimming allowed on this August night. You’re still hot with embarrassment as you wiggle back into your dry bathing suit, your towel draped over your hunched shoulders for privacy.
Inside, you eat popcorn and paint each other’s toenails. You want them to acknowledge the smoothness of your feet, that you know just this tiny bit about being a 12-year-old-girl. Instead, you sleep on the floor as Bailey shares Hannah’s bed.
Your mom comes before breakfast in the morning and you hate her. You slouch in the passenger’s seat, imagining Hannah and Bailey talking freely about it now that you’re gone. You shower as soon as you get home and it’s more difficult than you’d imagined. The hair is tough and blood beads on your naked skin. Drying off, you’re careful not to get any on the towel. You don’t want your mother to know.
You’re a good daughter, so you go with your mother to the grocery store. In the bathroom behind the deli you lock the door and stare down at it. This change had made it look dead; your skin is like the skin of the plucked chicken that you’ve just helped your mother pick out. When you rejoin her in the cereal aisle you’re conscious of the way you walk. You worry that any deviation in your stride might give you away, that if you limp or stumble she might know.
Photo By: Gerald Davidson