Issue 1: Nonfiction
I wear men’s shirts and pants lately as an aesthetic informed by the tough girls I knew in junior high. They wore their boyfriends’ undershirts and brothers’ oversized Dickies held up with their grandfather’s suspenders, ready for a fight at any given lunchtime. They were impeccably groomed, with semaphore eyebrows, pearly eyelids and lips the color of blood. They painted their nails candy-apple and if anybody messed with them they flexed, saying Come at me. See what happens.
Meanwhile, in junior high I wasn’t just small, I was white and underdeveloped as a grub. I skipped third grade making me ten years old in sixth grade, taking gym class and changing in the locker room with girls who had periods and breasts and a few even pregnant bellies burgeoning under the men’s flannel shirts they buttoned to their necks.
We had to take showers after gym, a communal humiliation I hated especially since a constellation of acne scattered my chest. Not that anyone ever said anything. Any girl who commented on another’s body would open herself to the same attention so we all kept custody of our eyes in silent, mutual agreement.
Still, the pimples were an embarrassment especially when the dermatologist eyed my bare chest with a magnifier and told my parents that my sort of acne was rare. He asked if he could take a biopsy for an article for a science journal he wanted to write with me as a case study.
My parents were as pleased by the doctor’s attention and though I wasn’t forced there was no real choice but to say yes for science. The doctor laid me out on the table and scooped a divot from my skin as I cried, and after stitched me up with wiry black threads that stuck out like spider legs.
The next day at gym class I stood in the showers surrounded by my classmates in various stages of the girl to woman highway with a big band aid cross on my middle like a bulls eye. But I was not a target. The shower was still the one place in the entire school where no one spoke or cursed or fought. No one said a word.
The wound left me with a tiny puffy white cross and it is so stupid and I want to say I never let my body be acted upon again without consent and I want to say I learned to be tough, but neither would be true. I can say that I remain inspired by the girls I knew in the early eighties in my Pittsburg, California public school. I can say that I cultivate their fierce grace when I need strength.
I can say that when I look down at the white scar it is those classmates I think of, and to the bullies I face now I flex and say, Come at me. See what happens.
Maureen O’Leary is a writer, teacher, and Ashland University MFA candidate living in Sacramento with her husband and two daughters. Her short fiction and poetry has appeared in Esopus, Scoundrel Time, What Rough Beast, Shade Mountain Press’ anthology “The Female Complaint: Tales of Unruly Women,” and Soteira Press’ anthology “Monsters We Forgot.”