“Red Rover, come over come over,” they’re screaming from the other side of the line. It’s like tackle and you’re thirteen, just starting to develop. You’re wearing a training bra that your mother got you. At Jefferson on the lower field they have a grass green sea and all the neighborhood kids are there, playing.
You eye Zachary and he’s eyeing you back.
All of a sudden you realize he is going to tackle you, and he’s running aiming straight for you, much bigger and he does, his superhuman boy strength flips you and you land on your tailbone.
You’re just lying there in a daze for a minute.
Years later, remembering back he was the cutest one. You thought so anyway. He was the tallest one. He’s extending his hand to help you up and this is how you will first learn about boys and the fact that they are stronger than you. Seventh grade has started and it’s 1970 and it isn’t that you are thinking about boys so much yet. It’s more like you are trying to be as courageous as they are, or they seem to be. You aren’t shy yet around them. It’s still just the edges of your childhood and you call it “tomboy.”
You rub your tailbone to see if there is damage. There wasn’t but it was really sore for days after that. You never played that game again, did you?
Seventh grade seems like the best thing that ever happened. You are free to take as much art as you want. There is going to be a school dance too, and you tell your mother that you want to go. You spend hours looking through her closet for something and you picked one of her tunics. On you it was a dress, and you picked out some sheer gray stockings and you bought yourself your first pair of adult shoes with little heels and grey roses made of ribbons on top of the toes.
All your friends were going to the dance.
It was the most grown up thing, ever, and you had already practiced dancing for hours by watching American Bandstand on television. Your mother called a cab for you to go to school, like she always did, and that night there was so much excitement in everybody’s eyes. All the girls had on dresses and the boys were dressed up too. The girls taught you about lip gloss and Love’s Baby Soft. Your grandmother had given you L’Air du Temps and you had dabbed a little on as she had shown you.
You were all so innocent weren’t you?
“Ma Belle Amie” was your favorite song.
You met her that year. Your best friend. She said she spotted you in the crowd and for awhile you were friends with another girl too, Michelle, but the two of you broke away from any packs. Nobody was a closer friend than she was. She remembers that you told her you were going to be a writer, years later. The two of you were in Woolworth’s looking at books and buying lip gloss together. Daintyness in dime stores. In your mother’s bathroom were her colors of lipstick. You tried those on secretly when she wasn’t home because she didn’t allow you to wear make up. Not like all your other friends mom’s did.
Your mother wears pink and fucshia and Shalimar.
You wore shell, then. But soon you’d choose your own signature. Pinkish-red. It stays with you for years, across brands and brands and brands. Whole eras can be defined by lipstick colors. Whole eras can be defined by scents and music.
Mostly you dance separately to the rock and roll songs, don’t you?
Every so often they play something called a slow song. It’s during that one that a ninth grade boy comes up to you. He was staring at you from across the room and he was Latino. You always looked older than you were, didn’t you? He came across the room and he swept you up against him holding you too close. Too close for comfort. He kept following you and it gave you a weird feeling so you went in the girl’s bathroom after that and took a long time in there, longer than necessary because you didn’t want to dance with him again. He was too old for you, just about to go in high school.
You watch the Brady Bunch on television at night. You’re watching Marcia to see what she does.
You carry a denim binder and you use your pen to decorate it with little flowers you draw. “Flower Power.”
Inside are the poems you have begun to write in secret, and sometimes you show them to your mother. She loves it when you do that. You’re reading Seventeen, almost religiously then. Fashion means everything. It’s just like in your mother’s world. You’re going to the library and absorbing every book you can. Books mean everything to you because they are full of clues and you liked the novelists and poets best.
The dance is winding down and everyone is going home and you’re getting a ride from one of the parents and he’s still watching you from the shadows, that boy who was too old and who pressed you too tightly to him when you danced. You just learned a lesson about navigation in the world of boys. The same lesson that Zachary taught you on that field. They’re stronger.
After the dance, you watched boys from a distance. It’s the only dance you ever went to, because all of a sudden it wasn’t cool to go to dances. It was cool to be serious. It was cool to think about things you were reading instead. It was cooler to be friends with the girls who were publishing your poems in their little alternative newspaper, and you were.
It must have been what you wanted, even then, reading Jong’s poems and Ms. magazine at the library after school. You spent hours in there collecting words instead of playing at red rover and flirting like you watched the other girls do. What made you different from a lot of your friends was that you saw boys as equals. Feminists told you that you were just as good as them, and just as powerful. Feminists were your “belles amies.”
“redrovers” — copyright 2011 — all rights reserved
*author note on music! xxoo! <3 a fav song from my own 13th year…