Your hair had just grown long enough to develop waves. Your glasses were thin, wire things that accentuated the metal in your mouth. You were the only girl in your grade to wear pants exclusively. A few well-timed lies implied your period, bra size, and physical and emotional mileage with the opposite sex. It only made sense that you should be shaving your legs—at nearly thirteen, you were surely on the cusp of womanhood. When you asked the question that had also been asked in the car and over dishes and after school, your mother replied wearily: Ask your father if you could take a swim tonightafter you finish working the yard. Swim? Were you going to shave in the family pool? You shivered through your lonely evening dip, dragging the cover back over the green water after you’d been submerged for a good forty minutes, and still your mother busied herself with laundry, feigning ignorance of your pact as you dripped behind her. Part of you wondered if she was scared to see your body in the tub. Back before the changes, she’d look away as you stepped into your towel. It started off easy enough. You took fistful of cream from a canister and smeared it on your skin. You had to reapply it once you let your appendage drop lazily into the bath (you could barely be trusted to take charge of your limbs in any body of water, so how could you shave in the shower like in the commercials?). The razor, bright pink and from a ten-pack, stopped and started more than it glided up and down your farmer’s tan. You were not yet aware of the concept of rinsing your razor, so you removed the hair from the blade with the flesh of your thumbs. It was always the sideways swipes that split your skin three ways. You yelped the first time it happened, losing the razor in the rapidly-cooling bath, but seeing as your legs were still blanketed with a socially-unacceptable layer of Polish fur, you persisted. You waited until the razor became so clogged that you had no choice but to break skin. Wasn’t beauty pain, after all? You wondered why your mother, or your aunts, or even your friends had withheld this crucial information from you, leaving you to build yourself into a woman all on your own. Had you never looked closely at their thumbs? What happened when they shaved? Your mother laughed nervously when you confided in her—she was dumbfounded that you’d cleaned the razor so strangely. How would you know otherwise, though? If the puberty books that magically appeared in your room had said anything about proper shaving techniques, you’d glossed over it, choosing instead to devour the sections on breast development and violations of personal space. Your own mother’s hair removal practices were kept strictly out of your line of sight, even into your adulthood, when a bottle of wine would reveal her forays into bikini waxing, not that this was information that you’d been meaning to seek. Even though your father shaved only his face, you hadn’t noticed that between long, cool swipes towards his chin, and thin, staccato strokes under his lower lip, he swirled his razor in the sink water three times, emerging with a nearly hairless blade. And you? You’d sliced yourself open. Your thumbs wept the reddest blood you’d ever seen, thick and serious, blood that was more brow-wrinkling than spine-chilling. You stared your beauty down. You went to swim practice that summer with errant hairs on your preteen legs and two Band-Aids on each of your thumbs. The blood-dotted strips would come off in the pool and elicit disgust from your classmates. They were good girls, your classmates, and they could swim without goggles and butterfly stroke without asthma attacks. These girls had boyfriends and texting plans. These girls had mothers who braved the humidity of the indoor pool and sat in the stands, flexing their painted toes in heeled sandals as they chatted about this or that. Your own mother would most likely still be asleep by the time your three-mile bike ride brought you home—at least she wasn’t driving you anymore. After class, these girls scampered down a green-tiled hallway and communed in a hairspray haze that made you cough and splutter, your hand stuck to the concrete wall as you tied and retied your sneakers. Your breasts, not restricted by patterned underwires or cast-iron sports bras, bobbed lazily under your cotton camp shirt. Girls like Leah dabbed vanilla body spray in their navels because Seventeen advised it, and girls like Colleen applied up to three layers of mascara in the single mirror, the task easy as homework, hair elastic mouths contorting. Delicate freckles, soft elbows, the sheen of properly conditioned ponytails. Each of these snapshots pinked your cheeks and collarbone if you let them repeat, which was why you always toweled off and dressed so quickly and, still damp under your summer clothes, inched through the horde of mothers at the entrance to the locker room: the girls’ final refuge before they opened the door and became daughters again. While your head was down, you studied legs—the mothers’, the swim instructors’, the custodians’, the girls’—though not out of scrutiny, or inadequacy, or any other inexplicable charge. You just wanted to learn how to dive.
-- Elijah Tomaszewski is a Philadelphia-based nonfiction writer who dabbles in fiction to protect the innocent (friends, customers, past lives, etc.). He received his bachelor’s in creative writing from Susquehanna University and his master’s from Rosemont College, where he edited nonfiction for Rathalla Review. His work has been featured in [apt],RiverCraft, Tacenda Press, and A Collection of Dance Poems. When he isn’t reading submissions for Hippocampus Magazine or misplacing notebooks, he’s either working at his day job in the suburbs or whipping up sugary concoctions in his kitchen.