They cut my hair off
a tomboy – thick knees
everyone is looking.
At the Y it never bothers
me, but when I was in
the fourth grade, little
girls whispered, and
even then my body
never looked like theirs.
Oh sure, there was
Margaret, she was
chubby and her face –
round – her eyes small.
Carol was perfect -
Carol with the perfect
hair. And then that boy
Case, he was a ladies man
even in the fourth grade.
He sat with black shoes
tied, not like those brown
shoes the other boys wore.
Here I have flip flops
borrowed from my friend
because I never wore shoes
with something between
my toe! And, my hair – I
don’t really give a damn –
as Scarlet would have said.
My thighs, if I were not
here at the Y swimming I
am sure they would have
fallen below my knees.
In the halls at school we
had to form lines and then
touch the cold cement walls
my fingers rubbed its’ edges
as we were told to keep our
arms to our side. The air
raid drills – when we sat
on the floor – cross legged
and then bent our head
forward to touch our thighs.
My voice I can hear my
whisper to the children to my
left, and right, “Is it real?”
And, no one knew – no one
told each other they feared the
yellow thing on top of the roof
of our school.
Well, the water is perfect and
at my age, no one cares about
my body, it carries me around
and right now all it does is
test the water. Toes first, so
why do we take a cold shower?
Well, my body is wet, my legs
are moving and I am stretching
and doing stretches to touch
the rough cement wall of the
pool. Knees up, head down
and hold in your stomach and
breathe in and out. I close my
eyes and float some where else
and open them, near another
Joey is laughing but he is trying
to be so brave – he laughs at
Nancy – she’s afraid. I know!
And he turns his head, flirts with
Marilyn. My legs are hurting,
like when I try to do a split, or fly
into the sky like my friend in ballet
class. But they hurt because we have
to stay so still with our head
I begin to move in the water, as
if I were dancing again – and it’s
easy here at the Y. A woman asked
what it was I was doing, and I told
her jogging. How wonderful to
run in the water, move my arms
back and forth, pushing the water
The air raid drill is over. All of
us stand – my hands straighten
my dress, fluff up my hair – and
I glance at Joey, he’s not looking
at me. But someday I will tell
him how much I loved him – but
my friend, she loves him too –
and it’s not fair! You see, we
both took the bus downtown to
Woolworths, and I had this heart
engraved, it was gold, and on
the front it read, “Joey” and on
the back, it read, “I Love You.”
I wear this bright blue harness
at the Y when I do those work
outs in the deep end of the pool.
They don’t know how difficult it
would be for me to remain up above
water longer then a few minutes,
and moving in those odd directions!
Touching knees to chin, I’d sink. . .
Look at those men in the hot tub,
soaking up the bubbles before
going to work. I know my friend
will pass by, any minute, motion
for me to go into the hot tub –
and as I exit the pool, my legs will
feel like lead, each weighing about
two hundred pounds, but that
will pass. All I have to do is cling
to the handles at the top of the
step, only for a moment.
We all always in line – before
every class in a line – until our
teacher counts our heads to see
if we are all here. In line for a show
in the auditorium. In line for recess,
gym, music, and in line for the
nurse and the doctor with the little
black box to examine us. Us girls
we cross our arms in front of our
chest, we are not hiding a thing!
But, it felt good to hide that part.
Boys didn’t have to worry about
I wonder who is watching my
clumsy walk over to the hot tub?
The closer I get the more heads
I see in the tub – I return to the
pool – close my eyes and hope
no one talks, and more people
leave the hot tub.
My mommy told me not to talk
to strangers, so I don’t. We
leave school – those wide halls
with wooden floors – they shine
like glass. At Christmas they
have a giant tree near the
principals office and all the
colors reflect on glass floors.
We all make ornaments and we
sing around the tree, as our
eyes search for the ornament
we made; I never found mine.
All the boys laughed at the
tree singing, as the music
teacher started off with “Deck
The Halls,” I was never a good
singer – never even made
chorus in grade school.
I am slightly lighter then before
as I climb from the pool, enter
the hot tub, and my girlfriend
is there. I think of all the body
sweat landing on me, and we all
have sweat glands. All of the
powerful jets are taken.
I am on my way home, and
alone. I hear sounds – a boy
just tossed a ball in my
direction. I am waiting, to see
if mommy is home from work
and is standing on the corner
with her hands on her hips.
She was the only mommy who
did that and I never new why –
I didn’t talk to strangers.
You know, some strangers at
the Y are nice, like the lifeguards.
The first day they ask your name
and remember it! And the lady
who cleans the locker room, she
is nice. One day she told me she
had twenty minutes to clean both
locker rooms, and she looked tired.
It’s safe here, in my room – at
home. Lying on my bed, on the
flowered spread. I stare at the
baby dresser my grandmother
gave me when I was born. Mommy
hung my dresses in the small door
which opens, all pressed and all
starched. Now, my clothes are
too big for that part of the dresser.
Now she uses the closet, but I
can’t reach them. I am too small.
I can’t see the faces, or the bodies
bubbling at the other end of the
hot tub. I have to tell them later
it’s because I am blind, only far
away, but I don’t wear glasses in
the hot tub, and that means close
up, I am blind in both directions.
Everyone is a stranger. And,
where is my girlfriend?
Nancy Duci Denofio
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