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The School-Girl’s Tale …
She preferred the smart, pretty, and unique child of the universe. People like to call her the “Ugly-Red-Haired Child of the Family” though. That, uhm, took a long time for her to see, you know.
Oh, I know! [jumps up excitedly] There is this cool game you can play, but it’s not a game, but let’s just call it that.
You get, like, those little stick-it notes. And, what you do, uhm, now listen. Listen to girls when they talk! [scolding you] You write words that describe you and then you stick them all over your body. But if you feel like a butthole, don’t stick the sticky note on your butt! [giggles] That would be inappropriate. Anyway, stick them on your body and stand up and face your fear. You know, I mean the people in your class. Have the other people write words that describe you.
One by one, they come to you and put the stickers on your body. Now, OMG, that is, like, amazing! It’s amazing if you look like everyone else but don’t, uhm, feel like everyone else. Because, you know, if you are a girl, sometimes a boy, you will write these things about yourself:
Now your classmates will write:
Like, the teacher has to be there so that they write nice things. I wonder who is right? Now, if you are the Ugly-Red-haired Girl, or, you know, you don’t look like everybody else, this is what you see, that is if you can see:
You think that you are smart, too, but we don’t usually say that about girls. [examining you critically]
Now this is what your classmates would see:
They think you are stupid, too, but say that girls are stupid so much that they forgot to put it down. So, like, what is a 12-year-old girl to do? [shrugs shoulders, head to side, palms of hands facing the sky]
So here is the school-girl’s tale:
She was dressed in her favorite outgrown yellow panties. Sitting, knees bent and in an under-grown BTS tee-shirt, she spent hours upright on her bed peering at each toe. They were specimens through a microscope. Each snow-white foot had four pink separators, keeping one toe from the other. Her long orange hair covering her face, she surgically maneuvered her brush as it delicately licks jade green on each toenail.
She thinks proudly, I could be a surgeon because of her steadiness. Her thought is cut off. Intruding is her father’s voice, “I sure don’t know why you waste your time coloring nails. Whose gonna see your toes anyway, not when you put these black stockings on?”
She looks up and wrinkles her nose at her father. “You are dad! Get out of my room!” He grins, eyeing her for a moment but obeys. “Yeah, your mama was pretty once like you, but that does not last.”
Mom is scowling in the doorway, glaring at him. He corrects himself, “Not when you marry a guy like me.” She hears her mom whispering to dad, “Don’t go in her room. She is not dressed. Give her privacy.”
“Oh, stop it! She always dresses like that. She is my child, too,” he retorts playfully. He goes to hug mom, but she slaps him on the shoulder, serious but playful. She knows they love each other. The school-girl thinks that she likes her parents. She does not know if she loves them, but she knows she likes them, even though, like most parents, they are annoying.
She knows her mom will yell at her, “What did I tell you? Don’t get nail polish on your sheets. And put more clothes on. You don’t want your father to see you like that, you know. You are growing up.”
But she is full of adolescent school-girl rebellion, like. Parents, she thinks, are too nosy. Often, they smother girlhood, a man in his way and a woman in her way. She likes the freedom of frolicking around in her panties and her BTS shirt. It’s long enough to just cover her buttocks anyway, but, like, she does not think about that. Only adults think about that. Mom watches too many child abduction stories, and dad secretly watches too many young girl swimsuit videos. But, I guess, some men do that. And, as she strokes her nails with that Irish Catholic green, she rebels, sprinkling Protestant orange glitter as a reminder. Even the same Jesus can cause an uprising. Even Jesus, in theory, killed himself.
I am not a baby, she thinks, and sometimes she goes outside, when her parents leave, only in her t-shirt and panties. She likes yellow because, uhm, red-haired girls look good in yellow, she thinks. Of course, they look good in green, but she gets fed up, as she says, looking like a leprechaun, a prisoner of jade and spring green in search of rainbows and what’s golden.
Sometimes, just sometimes, she was tempted to run outside only with her bottoms on, like a boy can do but a girl cannot. We see animals naked she thinks. We see breasts from women in South America and Africa, even naked kids and adults? But she, too, feels ashamed and embarrassed over this thought.
One time, when she was about 10, she was outside pulling carrots out of their garden. When she turned around, she saw the Postman looking at her. She smiled and waved, holding the carrots up. He seemed embarrassed that she caught him looking at her. She did not understand. She thought he was watching her pulling carrots out of the ground, but his postal truck jolted forward and he almost ran over Mrs. Washington and her poodle.
She recalls Mrs. Washington yelling, “Yo white men all perverts! Yo almost k-e-i-l-d me and my beautiful Oprah.” (petting her poodle on the head)
Mrs. Washington, a large and imposing woman, a “thick,” gurl approached her, “Honey, you gotta watch men, now. You can’t be out here naked pulling carrots. What’s wrong which you! He looking at yo butt, gurl! Men, especially those old white men looking at younger now. Yo parents got to do better (walking away shaking her head). No way my daughter walking around in her panties pulling carrots. I slap her so fast she would think she slapped herself. “Gurl,” looking back, yelling at her not meanly but in a parenting way, “You already tempting men; they gotta beat yo butt.”
This was all so confusing. Her eyes watered. She dropped the carrots on the ground and dressed like a nun for the rest of the year. Like, all this talk about butts, looking at them, slapping them, troubled her. She thought butts were just butts, things you poop out of. She thought only babies liked talking about poop and butts, but Mrs. Washington and the Postman put this new idea in her head. Why does he like my butt?
Later, Mrs. Washington would look at her triumphant and wisely say, “Nah, you a good gurl and figured that out all by yo-self. You didn’t tell yo parents, did you?” The school-girl shook her head no. “Yo a good girl.” Ask yo parents if you can come over. Yo too skinny. I fatten you up with some good southern cookin’.”
So, she would come over and eat the most delicious meals! She liked Mrs. Washington. She was stern but kind. Though in some ways, the racism in the school-girl saw Mrs. Washington as a stereotype, a Black-talking, large women, that cooks well, naming her dog after a famous Black woman, but she learned differently. Every week, Mrs. Washington would shake her head in disbelief because no matter how much she fed the school-girl, “Yo still too skinny. Uh, nah, it must be yo Irish girls. There is no hope for you. Yo poop all your thicc-ness out. All skin and bones.” (pinching the school-girl playfully)
But the school-girl did not understand adults. She got up and tried to look at her butt in the mirror. Her panties did not cover all her fullness, and she rather liked her butt. [giggles again] Maybe she watched too much social media where the women twerk so the girls do but only the girls get punished for acting like what they will, like, become? She thought that seems silly to punish girls for acting like women. It’s what we will become? Don’t we play at being adults?
She grabbed her one buttock and liked how it jiggled. She did not understand why Mrs. Washington thought she was too skinny. She was thin, but she thought, I have a thicc butt. The girls on social media were thin like her but they had big round butts and their assess jiggled when they twerked. She looked at herself more, posing, up on her tiptoes, and then she faced herself.
A feeling of hurt struck her heart, not, like, Cupid’s arrow, but rather Cupid is looming over her pulling it slowly back out. She saw her face, covered with freckles and her orange hair. Her mom called her unique, but she knew that was code for ugly. The truth was that she was American, not Irish, was never in Ireland, and her dad’s dad is from England where he left due to discrimination for red hair and a Black wife. He would often say, “I was tired of being treated like a white chimpanzee. They hate you more when you look more like them.” Sadly, the U.S. was even worse. In the UK, dad said, at least they had the guilt of the potato famine, Jonathan Swift, the IRA, and the paradox of Christian upon Christian conflict.
No, she was not Irish. Her grandma was Caribbean. But she does not tell people that. Though despite her seeing herself as ugly through the eyes of uninvested others, she was proud that her hair was rather curly, like her grandma’s. She may not have a thick ass, but her ass was nice enough to please the Postman at the ripe age of 9, so that says something. But at least she had the curls of a woman, a woman whose race laid the foundation for modern “democracy.”
There she stands, like, Libertas at its gates of freedom silent but so ever-present. No, her “friends” will laugh at her and say that “Carrottop is lying.” So, she paints her toenails green in defiance. I will be what I am not so that I can be who I am. This is why the neighbors call her the “Ugly-Red-Headed Child of the Family” as to remind her that she does not belong, even in her own family.
“Why don’t you just take this razor and kill yourself?” said blond-haired Kerry, handing her a razor.
Does, like, Post-it, have green and orange ones so that you can post-it on your body before you hang yourself? Because, uhm, she decided that red-oozing wrists would not look very good with orange.
It was, like, in the back of her head, you know, but she didn’t plan it. She had that oversized scarf, uhm, that is too big except if one wants to hang herself. She thought that store should have, like, a sign that says “multi-purpose” scarf, “If they won’t hang with you, then hang yourself.”
That night, she laid in bed naked looking at the canopy. Ghost-like, pale skin reflecting the moon’s gaze, she lay motionless, wondering if the canopy would support her weight. She fell into sleep and dreamt that she met all of BTS. She had a crush on all of them, and her worst fear: she was standing naked in front of them. They did not seem to notice because they were singing and smiling at her.
The background was all white, they in white, too, so that their faces and black shoes popped. Suddenly, they all turned around and started twerking! Though she was relieved they could no longer see her naked, she felt too embarrassed to look at them that way. She kept saying to herself,
“I am virginal and good.”
“I am virginal and good.”
“I am virginal and good.”
This morning, she kept the door closed. Her mother was relieved. The school-girl gathered her school books for the last time and put them at the foot of the mattress. She moved methodically, no feeling but telling herself that she would just check to see if the canopy will hold my weight. Her suicide scarf was a gift from her grandma. She did not think about that,
Her eyes seemed to be crying for themselves but the mind already resigned to the task at hand, not thinking until the airway tells it to. You know, 12-year-old girls should not know how to kill themselves. But, like, what is worse, is that she is not the one that is killing herself. She does not want to wear her BTS shirt or her yellow panties. That would seem wrong. She stays naked and thinks, I will leave here as ugly as I came.
She snapped a topless picture of herself a few days ago. She accidentally sent it to someone, and now she can only escape by dying when everyone sees her ugliness, a beautiful naked, 12-year-old that morality made sickening.
She did not mean to do it. She was just curious, but math, her worst subject, would not stay on the bed and slipped off. Suddenly, she lost footing and was left hanging. For some reason, her neck did not break because it turns out that some 12-year-old girls are too dumb to kill themselves. That is what she thought just before the panic and regret came over her.
Mom was too busy cooking to know that her child was hanging, gasping for life, like, 50 feet from her. It would have been mother’s intuition if her dad was a mother, but dad, who often looked forward to greeting his beautiful daughter, felt something was wrong. “Why is that door … [panic setting in] FUCKING GOD DAMMIT …
He was back in Fallujah in a support role with the sniper team. He knows the smell of death and of suicide. He tried to kill himself because the abuse by the sniper team and the horrors were too great, even for a seasoned Marine.
In terror’s slow motion he ran toward the door, feet weighted down by the reality of his dying daughter, the one person he loved more than himself. He fought through the weighted waters of love dying and jetted to her room. Opening the door was not an option. A large man, standing 6’4,” the door seemed to collapse in terror of his approach yielding to a father’s love. There with eyes larger than Anime’s was his daughter, staring, hanging, arms and legs flailing, totally naked. He recalls the first time the nurse laid his daughter’s naked body on his chest. He covered her with his t-shirt, soaked in father’s worry but warmed by a parent’s love. This, he thought, this, was worth hellish Fallujah! His combat-ridden arms, 7 tours, and a purple heart liberated her as Libertas liberates us … from death. He clutches her body; his baby becomes his buddy cut in half by an IED, fatigues soaked with blood, and he runs. He runs and runs. He runs from the house to the field, from the field to the road, and there he goes, with naked daughter in his grasp, scarf dangling in the air but no longer threatening but now keeping her voiceless neck warm from the March coldness.
He sees the Postman coming, headlights flashing. In constant motion, the Postman speaks to him. His eyes wide with fear, but a Vietnam Veteran himself, so they understand life’s craziness and tragedy. There is no conversation. His lips are moving, but … no sound. Dad loads his child, wife, who just seems to appear suddenly, and he in the back, while the Postman delivers the town’s packages on the muddy side of the road. Mom wraps her baby’s body, tears of sadness and anger streaming down her face, with her own jacket. They are off … the Postman’s delivery vehicle was now his American Bell UH-1 Huey chopper taking incoming fire. He, back in the Navy, knew that the Marines preferred Army pilots because they had more balls, more than the Air Force, but he was one of them and not one of them; this mission was too important for that to matter.
The school-girl wanted to speak and to say, “I am okay. I won’t do it again,” but the hanging took her voice and she was struggling to breath, esophagus almost crushed to death. As the nurses, all in white, like BTS, gently tossed her in bed, she went out, like a light; her heart stopped.
I, listen to me! [eyes glaring, dangerous] I would not have it, so if I am your girl-god, I did what Mrs. Washington would do, I kicked her little thick butt right back here, and said to her, “You will get cut down many times in life, keep getting up, but don’t you ever, ever take that catastrophic-like shortcut.” [crying, lips quivering]
The young intern, the one that, OMG, was told a Black woman could not be a doctor because she was a woman, and even worse, she was, like, Black, brought her back toward Nirvana and away from eternal dukkha. Black hands pressing a white heart to life, breath to a youth-lost hope.
Months later, like wow, here was the school-girl trotting down the street with Mary Janes, black stockings and a retreating skirt a bit above crotch length. With a trinity of pigtails decorating her head, she walked confident, ladylike, and decked out with sunglasses. Her glittered bookbag spoke to the child of the past, while her forward motion, the trotting of her feet on the ground encouraged her genuine feeling that she overcame something horrible. Her thoughts in time with her feet, I’m okay; I’m okay; I will be okay. She simply looks stunning. A day previous, Kerry came to her with flooding eyes and quivering mouth, and said, I, I, I’m … m … m sorry.” The school-girl hugged her.
They now decided to be friends, the school-girl’s first.
She grabs her grandma’s scarf and crosses it across her forming breasts and she thinks to herself, Damn, I am beautiful! She sees the Postman heading toward her. Sliding her glasses down her nose, she peers at the Postman smiling at her. She holds up one end of her multipurpose scarf and waves while smiling with confidence.
The Postman, this time, waves back, thinking with satisfaction,
Editor’s Note: Read the previous chapters here.
Earl Yarington (LMSW) is a social worker and school bus driver. He taught literature and writing for nearly 20 years and spent 3 years working in forensic social work internships with offending populations, including work at Delaware Correctional facilities and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He has a PhD in literature and criticism (feminism/women writers) from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Master of Social Work from Louisiana State University, and an interdisciplinary Master of Liberal Arts from Arizona State University, where he studied the impact of visual image and girlhood in media/social media. He also has an MA and BS in English from SUNY College at Brockport. The opinions and analyses that Earl writes are his own and are not necessarily the positions or views of his employers, the agencies he supports, or that of his colleagues. Reach out with comments or questions.