Words By Gina Marie Gruss, Art By Hailey Renee
You are nine and have already furred, developed breasts, curved your way into woman. You need a bra that does more than train. It is tight; you sweat, itch.
Over neighborhood play, some ball-sport, a sixteen-year-old looks down at you, his lips curled. His blonde hair is coiled and slick like a mannequin’s. He calls you sexy.
It is the first time a boy compliments you. You believe that only their compliments matter. You hate that you internalize his comment as good.
Sexy sticks like molasses; it only attracts flies.
Twelve, the car loop outside middle school. A classmate has gummy worms. He moves too close. He smells like basketball: plastic; the gym-floor-gloss; the creeping, thick breath of a person on offense, trying to snatch the ball from you.
He asks if you want the gummies.
Sure, you say, but he retreats the bag into his chest.
Show me your boobs and I’ll give you the gummy worms, he says, grinning widely, shamelessly. You run away.
Your bile is as sour as the worms. You picture them crawling within your breasts.
Sixteen, in-elevator, post-morning trivia on a cruise, hand pressed to acne-speckled cheek. The cysts are so deep, heavy, and purple that it is an inverse constellation, white ringed around violet. You twist away from photos.
A man, face blister-red, stares at your pelvis. He smells of saccharine, stale liquor.
S’up? He asks. Wanna go to the bar?
I’m sixteen, you say, adjusting your bag, glancing out the glass wall. It rises with your pulse. Your words mean nothing.
You focus on the door. Creep closer. Half-step. The doors open.
He reaches for you. You speed away, away, away.
Whistling in the streets. Called fat, ugly, while fetishized by the same people. Tunneled into consumption.
You, twenty. Things you left behind on the bus on a long field trip: jacket, sweater, blanket.
Upon return, ready to sleep, you see an unknown item: rounded, long, glass. White streak down the side. Hot. You, clueless, think it something else—not a used sex toy. Air pump, perhaps.
You lift the warm jacket to your face, flit around sleep.
When you find out the truth, after cop’s failure to act, you summon on your knees the words of women before, spitting galactic bile into the swirling toilet-globe. You earthquake free the fear, scrub skin red, pray, pray, pray. Memory shudders into you, handprints on skin like ghosts of the men before, the ways they wished to grab, squeeze, take you.
The body muscle memories the way that it is seized, imagined, seen.
Parts blink like a hotspot. You see it in the mirror sometimes: the flickering, low and red like dying candlelight. The handprints. The heat. The itch.
The body is not yours.
But you carry the body’s memory, strengthened by it. It is not the body, but the being within; that which says and knows you are okay, okay, okay.