During the weeklong Health class we learned about our bodies and what was going on with them. Apparently, it was perfectly normal to stink, but letting someone smell the stink or see wetness on your shirt was ghastly. On the first day, we all took turns practicing putting on deodorant with a huge wedge of Old Spice. It was the same one my dad had at home and it was an odd mix of comforting and normal and usual with a definite strain of doing something you shouldn’t, like going through the things behind the mirror in my parent’s bathroom. In retrospect, I’d like to say eeew. 120 kids all using the same stick of deodorant? And shouldn’t the girl’s have had something, oh I don’t know, more girly? Like, something strong enough for a man but made for a 5th grade girl?
On the second day we learned about menstruation. All the boys had been carted out to the other classroom where I just knew they were learning secrets I’d never get to hear. I wondered if they were being shown a poster of their insides and if they were going to need cardboard sticks with cotton balls inside. At home, we had many large boxes of ‘women’s products’ on the year-supply shelves. I had peeked in there before to see what all the fuss was about. I couldn’t figure out what those 10-inch long pads (with no sticky side! And little belts to go with!) had to do with being a woman.
We girls were told about how hair was going to grow in new places on our bodies and that we might want to shave it. One of the teachers brought an extra pair of high heels and let us try them on. Because, you know, that is what a woman does – wears heels.
Some of the more petite girls in my 5th grade class looked adorable while they teetered and giggled and walked back and forth in the too-big-pink pumps, their blond curly locks bouncing up and down. However, being born with one of the last remaining strains of Amazon that still existed, my feet fit those shoes. Barely fit, and my pinkie toe was squashed against the side and it hurt. And it wasn’t cute to see me jerk haltingly while trying to balance my newly expanded height of 5’7′ in front of an entire room of my peers atop tiny 2-inch stilts. And! we had just weighed ourselves, again in front of the entire class, the day before and I was the ONLY girl that weighed over 100 pounds. I was 103. And I thought it was the end of the world. Oh, to be only 96 or 94 like my two best friends. How could they even want to be friends with me anymore? For the life of me, I didn’t know. I accepted that my life of loneliness and isolation due to my great height and obese-ness would be the best a person like me could hope for. I would get four cats and a rocking chair and let my hair turn gray naturally and pile it in a big bun on top of my head and drink herbal tea in the evenings and give the paperboy an extra big Christmas bonus to the tune of $5 for bringing the paper up to the doormat and not tossing it from the street and having it land in the rose bushes where it would scare the cats and I’d have to heave my huge, misshapen body out to retrieve it in completely flat shoes where the neighbors would see me and point and laugh.
Then we learned about our breasts. Only one of the girls in the 5th grade had boobs. And they were already size B. We were all fascinated with her and how her shirts fit her. We (and I mean other girls since I didn’t even own a training bra yet) would stuff toilet paper and socks in their bras and pretend to be Grace with the Big Boobs. I would try to place a well-bound sock in the correct area and arch my back to keep it there but it would just fall to the ground with an embarrassing sound of failure. So, I left it to the petite girls with bouncy blond curls and training bras and tiny feet to play that game and I took out my pocket dictionary and pretended to be more interested in words like ‘precocious’ than boobs. Which, kind of, I really was.
But none of the benefits of having boobs were covered in Health class. Only the downside of BREAST CANCER. It was the dawning of a new era and breast cancer awareness was just coming to the light. And things like breast exams were being shoved down the throats of 5th grade girls. I sat in horror as it was explained that you must do the checks religiously and also all the time and regularly or you would get nodules and not know it and then surely die. I spent time in the shower over the next few weeks trying to figure out which nodules were the bad ones. I found many. And had many restless nights wherein I went through all my belongings and prized possessions and gave them to the most deserving. Oh, I was so selfless in death by breast cancer. I always gave the best stuff to my little brother. Even the girly stuff. Because I figured he deserved it more than the girls who just pretended to be my friend because I was tall enough to reach the Frisbee that landed in the top of the tree branches. All I was to them was a giraffe. But to my little brother, I was a hero with a Benji Poster in the barn. He thought I had coolness dripping out of every pore. Yes, he could have my smurf collection. I bestowed it to him with dignity in an official death scene where I lay in bed at the ripe old age of 10, coughing delicately into a fringed hankie, with dark circles under my eyes and two sunken holes where my nonexistent breasts had once been. It would be a sad, sad day and my parents would rue not letting me build a swimming pool in the back yard that summer that I offered to dig it out myself. They would weep. I would sigh. And that would be that.