A Lesson in Femininity


Written in the style of Sherman Alexie
 – Elizabeth Hunter

4 Years Old

My best friend, Joy, lives across the hall of the two bedroom, low-income apartment I share with my parents, my grandmother, and my two brothers and two sisters.  Joy’s glorious collection of Barbies tops out at over fifty, each one with delicious honey locks and more clothes than I have ever owned. She spends hours a day amongst her haremchanging their outfits and combing their hair. Joy imagines a universe of scenarios for each Mattel goddess to perform, most of which involve Ken, a horse, and a sunset.  Through her role-play, she is learning to become a woman.  My lessons come in a different form.

6 Years Old

Probing the edges of my white panties, Lisa outlines dozens of the tiny blue flowers before sliding her hand inside the cotton.  I close my eyes and count to 20 over and over again. “Hold the picture up!” she snaps as she shifts her body for deeper penetration.  That is my job; I turn the pages of my father’s thick, sticky porn magazines, while my 14-year-old babysitter acts out each scene inside me.  She is always the man, and as she’s told me many times, I must be a better woman.

My parents are either at school or one of the three jobs they each have.  My older sisters and brothers are gone, as usual, and Lisa has just put my baby brother down for a nap in the tiny bedroom that the five of us share.  Per tradition, she has dragged me to my father’s broken down orange van, where a pile of blankets hide his stash of violent porn.  I do not enjoy Lisa’s games, but I am grateful that her fingers do not resemble the terrifyingly huge phalluses from which she takes her inspiration.

Before bed, it is my eldest sister’s job to give me a bath.  She scrubs mercilessly at the ever-black stains that cover the entirety of my knees.  “I swear to god, Liz,” she snarls, “I don’t know how you get so fucking dirty…”

8 Years Old

My father has a girlfriend with two sons; big sweaty boys, with pale skin and too-red cheeks.  The boys are bullies; they tease me and call me names, spit on me and gloat about their basement full of televisions and video games which, they say, “girls ain’t allowed to play.”  Seeking refuge, I creep up the stairs, but my father and his girlfriend prefer to be alone.

“Flirt with them,” my father tells me. “Tell them that they’re handsome and strong – they’ll be nice to you.”  

“But they aren’t,” I complain.  “They’re gross and mean and I hate them!”

“Hate is a word that young women should never use,” he scolds me.  “Now go down stairs and be nice to the boys.”

I am a mouse, creeping down the stairs silently. But the boys have cats’ eyes, and they begin their chant as soon as they spy me. “Did the baby run to Daddy?” I race at them, with every intention to strike, but I’ve learned from the daily fights with my older brother that my fists will have little effect.  At the last second, I change my plan of attack, and instead set myself gently on the older boy’s lap. He begins to giggle self-consciously as I curl my finger through his dishwater mop of greasy hair. Confused and apprehensive, I reach my other hand out to brush the splotched chubby cheek of the younger brother who has just begun whining for my shared attention.  The boys are all sugar now, and I wonder why I still want to cry. Swallowing the fierce nausea that threatens to expel itself all over my new brothers, I rest my head on the older boy’s chest and reach for the Nintendo remote.

11 Years Old

Main Street is packed for the Fourth of July parade. Frightened by the manic crowd, I franticly search for my older sister. I find her friends instead, varsity football players, who claim that my sister is already on the way to one of their homes.

When we arrive at the tiny trailer, someone hands me a two-liter bottle and dares me to drink.  The boys are rough and vulgar, and the alcohol only lubricates their juvenile testosterone. A tall boy, with perfect hair, pulls out a gun and starts waving it around.  The boys shoot holes in the wall; they fire at empty beer cans.  Growing bored, one boy decides on a new game and places the barrel of the gun near my left eye. As they play Russian roulette on my temple, I think of how much the tall boy looks like Joy’s Ken doll.

“Be nice to the boys.”

My father’s lessons echo through my mind as they pull me to the piss stained mattress in the back corner. Five boys take turns, cheering each other on and high fiving as they steal my virginity.  They bruise and scar my flesh with stains my sister will never be able to scrub away.

Hours later, my father will not look at me.  He tells my sister to take me to the doctor –  slams the door on the way out.  After that summer, my father and I never speak again. No one confronts the boys. My lessons are never mentioned. Eventually, the bruises fade. The scars do not.

14 Years Old

My education is nearly complete.  I have just been expelled from middle school, but I care very little.  I know that science and math have nothing to do with my role as a woman. Barbie doll girls go through high school and college.  They grow up to be interior designers and nurses. They get sunsets and happily ever after.  Girls like me do not.  My 29 year old boyfriend picks me up in a stolen burgundy truck.  His violence is reflected in the cast on my right arm; his sex, in the child growing in my belly.

I pray every day for a son.

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