(content warning: rape)
You are a girl. A young girl. Naked in front of your bedroom mirror, you run your finger down the barely perceptible indentation between your undeveloped breasts. You are not yet ashamed of your body, but you are aware of it and what it lacks. Sometimes you stuff ping-pong balls in your swimsuit top and pretend. You already view your body as a cornucopia. As an immortal entity of lush seeds. Your future self is invincible. You are sure.
In fifth grade, the boys are sent to another room. You listen with eagerness as a nurse explains the facts. How each month you will bleed. She makes it sound exciting yet ordinary, not daunting or uncomfortable. You wait expectantly for it to happen, but you will have to wait four years.
Some of the other girls already have theirs, and lots of the other girls are already wearing bras. You are a pariah. You stand alone in comforting dark corners. You are a piranha. You devour flesh.
You are a girl, and you wait. Finally, a growth spurt. You reach the five-foot mark. Sixty inches, according to the nurse’s measurements. Small mounds grow in proportion to your body. You wear a bra, though you hardly need it. You have a period. You are a woman.
You are a woman, but it’s not like you imagined. You fight your way through a thicket of snapping twigs and rigid expectations. How to behave, how to look. Your world blows up, becomes smaller. You disparage your breasts, belittle them for growing unevenly. You hide them under loose T-shirts and sweatshirts because you want boys to look at your face and hear your voice. You want them to listen so that you don’t have to scream.
But you scream anyway because you also want.
You want your breasts to be cupped in the palm of someone’s hand just right. You buy tight tops that accentuate your cautious curves. But you never wear them because now that you’re a woman, you are too fat and too thin. Your mother tells you to lose a few pounds. Your father tells you to eat more. You are Goldilocks in search of just right, and everyone is a bear.
The mirror becomes your enemy. You hold your belly in, sucking your breath into your feet until you are light-headed. You imagine what you would look like if that belly weren’t there, if your thighs were half their current size. You judge the other girls, the ones who eat too much, the ones who don’t eat at all. You judge yourself until there is no air left in your body and you pass out. You are a balloon that fizzles and flies across the room.
You paint your mirror black.
You are a woman. You have sex. Your friends talk about the weddings they will have. Unrestrained abundance. They seem to find love so easily. But you. You are lost in the mystique. The push, the panic. You are old at twenty-three. Your mother says you are too picky. Your friends say you are too picky. The men you turn down say you are too picky. You are missing out, and your body threatens to dry up, diminish into nothingness. Your circle is too small. Too few fish in the sea. You cast your hook and reel in whatever you can.
There is a nineteen-year-old boy. A month-long fling. You break up with him in his bedroom. He asks why, cries compulsory tears, and pulls out photo albums of when he was a kid. He says how often he was alone. How his dad was never home. You listen for a while but say sorry, I have to go. But then it’s let me kiss you one last time, and when you say no, he blocks the doorway, sweat pooling in anger on the bridge of his nose.
You are trapped.
And then it’s you better finish what you started, and when you say no, his fist goes through the drywall, exposing the two-by-fours underneath. Damn it, look what you made me do. His hair is greased back, too much gel. He reeks of cologne and barbecue sauce. You stare at the ceiling, your shirt up around your neck, your bra pulled up above your breasts. You hold your breath. You wait.
Afterward, you are ashamed, and the shame pierces you like a lit match on skin. Angry heat fills your cheeks, your breath, your heart. You are filled with glass, nails, and gunpowder, ready to explode.
And every time you run into him, he smiles, says hey, like everything is a-okay, until finally you believe it must be. You believe that nothing happened and if it did, it was your fault. You didn’t fight hard enough. Surely you could have pushed past him and walked out the door. Surely you could have kicked him, bit him, scratched him. Surely you could have screamed, even though no one would have heard you.
You wait for the anger to pass, to flee your body like a ghost, half living, half dead.
You are a woman.
Jessica Klimesh is a US-based technical editor and proofreader with an MA in English from Bowling Green State University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Cedar Crest College. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in TIMBER, Star 82 Review, The Cafe Irreal, FlashFlood Journal, and elsewhere.