bridges — a chapter from my feminist memoir “whitegirrrl” #amwriting #teen #girls #feminism #female (70’s)

There’s this bridge between you and your best friend.  It’s not an easy bridge to build because it’s going to last years.  You don’t know this when you are thirteen.

There is something about her, something about the way that she cares for you, or she cares if you are going to be a girl or not, like those times when she knew how you were feeling or you knew how she was feeling and you wanted to help each other.

Sometimes your best friend can be a boy.

You walked on beaches full of dreams together didn’t you?

Your friendship is like driftwood that floats through all the different years but always lands back in the same place between the two of you like a path between rocks by the ocean.

The two of you wear shell necklaces and her father collects turquoise jewelry and so all her fingers are wearing those rings and fire opals.

“Labet mabee sabee,” you say when you see the newest one.  It’s so full of light, glimmering with sparks all purple blue into diamond fire colors.

You wish your dad was there like hers is, don’t you?  But he wasn’t.  Thirteen was the year that your mother broke up with him for good.  She’s getting divorced.

“He was the only man I ever loved.”

This is what your mom is saying and you’re thinking to yourself, why did you leave him then?

Thirteen is the year she gets that boyfriend that you don’t like.  He’s trying to step into your father’s shoes.  He’s trying to tell you what to do.  He goes in your room and into your bathroom when you aren’t home and checks everything out.  He’s not even your dad and he thinks he can tell you what to do.

Your mother likes to go to the beach every weekend when you are thirteen and that was the year that two things happened, well more than two, but you had to be a grown up girl and figure out what to do, didn’t you?

White girls are strong girls, just like every color of girl is a strong girl.

Your mother likes a beach called Butterfly because of the big sea wall she likes to sit next to.  The parents gather and her boyfriend Bud has this leather bag full of kites that he flies.  He’s nothing like your dad at all.  He’s not even a swimmer is he?  You lay out your towel a distance away from them because you don’t want anything to do with him that year.  He’s part of your family now.  He’s living there and you are supposed to accept this and just go on as if it’s okay, aren’t you?

The monarchs are all along the beach flying and fluttering their mahogany wings.  You’re like that too.  A girl emerging with her own thoughts and her own mind and her own heart.  You’re learning to make up your mind about things, on your own.  Like what to do if a boy swam up to you.

Nobody was really watching you swim out that day.  You saw this boy looking at you from down the beach.  He kept looking and looking and looking and then he nodded his head like “let’s go,” and you were pretty sure that he meant that for you and so you got up, wondering if you looked cute or not and walked slowly to the water’s edge and watched him from  the corner of your eye.  He was doing the same thing, wasn’t he?

He was like twenty feet down the beach from you and both of you were starting to jump waves as you waded out, little by little.  Finally you were swimming, just looking at each other from a distance kind of treading water and this went on for a long, long time.  In a way it was like two little dolphins who were just checking each other out, wasn’t it?

“Hi,” is what he said as he cocked his head and grinned.

He swam over to you so you could talk.  He was older, maybe fifteen, and you realized this as he got closer.  He was too close like that boy at the dance was.  It wasn’t scary.  He was just close and he was just a boy and he was treading water and the two of you were talking in the waves just offshore from your mother and his parents and then he reached over inside your bikini top.

You swam backwards immediately to get away from his hand, didn’t you?

You swam backwards because he wasn’t supposed to be doing that to you and you knew that, sort of, in a way that thirteen year old girls are beginning to know things about things going on around them.

Years later you remember another boy from that summer.  A safe boy.  You knew him because your mom went to parties all the time over at their house and she took you with her.  You knew him pretty well by the time you were thirteen and so it was okay to hold hands with him as he helped you climb up the cliffs from the beach to his grandmother’s house.  It was huge and vacant and he wanted to show it to you.  You really had to go to the bathroom and you told him and he said “I know a place,” and the two of you climbed the cliffs until you got to the garden gate and let yourselves in and you went through the old vacant abandoned mansion and he led you to a bathroom.  He was safe.

He showed you all around the rooms, remembering his grandmother.  He was sad because she was gone.

“It’s so cool in here.”

“My grandmother loved this house.”

“I’m sorry, Evan.”

You took his hand in yours and the two of you went through all the rooms looking at the afternoon light coming through the windows.  He was grinning at you like he always did, in those days.  At the parties the two of you stuck together as if you were glued to each other.  Friends.  All through your teenage years.

You were learning how to understand boys in those years, weren’t you?

You were learning that you came from a long line of mermaids, too.  Your mother told you that even when you were very little you just ran to the ocean as if it were your home.

It was like a bridge every summer.  Its watery constancy made bridges for you, like some people go to mountains and rivers for that.  You were a sea-girl, born out of the foam weren’t you?

When the safe boy held your hand you could feel sweetness coming from his heart.


“bridges” — copyright 2011 — all rights reserved

*author note on music

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