Balls, Bras, and Bracelets

This piece of writing is from my Introduction to Non-Fiction class in 2018. In class, we dug deep into the memories that were visceral and painful enough to be on page. The strain is enough to warrant sharing, and with my obsession with Eight Grade (the movie) and all its awkwardness, the time is right to share stories from my terrible middle-school years. Hope you enjoy.

I made my way down the hall that smelled like onions, passing by many classrooms filled with other kids my age. I forced myself not to glance into their windows to check the fly-aways from my long hair and the state of my black bottom-lid eyeliner. I was on my way to my math tutor which I dreaded because of the boys.  

I was hyper aware of the mistake I made getting dressed that morning as I walked through the quiet halls. I had on my skinny jeans, studded belt and black Chucks. My top was too low and would give them way too much clearance this time. Before entering the small room, I pulled my pink tank-top up and adjusted my first padded bra which was never comfortable but was the standard.

The boys were already there, along with one other girl who was wearing a t-shirt and looking down at her papers. The boys looked up at me and said something flirtatious, something I didn’t know how to respond to. “Hello Devon,” I said, tempered but smiling a little. The boys were giggling at something and I thought it was me. They continued their personal jokes as I got out my algebra binder and flipped to distributive property.

“Aren’t those sex bracelets?” Devon asked, looking at my wrists. I shrugged. I didn’t know they had a name. I probably saw them at Claires and thought they were fun. Devon reached over the table and tried pulling at one. “Blue means oral.” They continued to make hand gestures that I didn’t want to look up at. I pretended to not care but felt the blush quickening on my cheeks.

Devon and I probably became friends on Facebook in 2007 when social media started infiltrating middle school. We had no interactions online. We only interacted in the tutoring room or other classes that I dreaded. Other girls were excited to be in the same room as him. In fact, as we grew older, I learned that more girls than I thought had crushes on him at some point in time. I turned out to be one of few who didn’t fall for it—something I held with pride.

He had smooth dark skin and an okay smile underneath his Invisaligne. He dressed most often in a blue North Face zip up and regular jeans, sometimes accessorizing with a baseball cap and sunglasses indoors. He always had the faint shadow of a pervy mustache lining his upper lip and he smiled with with his glassy, bloodshot eyes.

Girls loved posting screenshots of themselves video chatting with him—screenshots of him wearing a nude bra over his white t-shirt, making funny faces in the distorting filters, and ones with his index and middle fingers held in a peace sign against his lips, his wet tongue sticking through them. If my computer screen could be left with any residue from his old photos, it would have long slippery tracks of his saliva, like slug trails, running up and down.

I remember waiting outside as he took Sydney, the pretty new girl, down the hall to a locker room to “de-prude” her. Five minutes later, he left and she emerged from the hallway. “How was it?” someone asked. She wrinkled her nose and stuck her tongue out in disgust. She described his kissing form as what was then known as “Washing Machine Syndrome.” A year later, at the eighth grade graduation party, my best friend emerged from a make out space with him, saying he tasted like strawberries. I didn’t believe her. I knew the honest truth about Devon. He wasn’t all that.

Malvia, our tutor, a wonderful Jamaican woman with a thick, harsh accent came in the room. The boys settled down in front of her as she started the lesson. She asked us what we learned that week in math class and what we were having problems with. She flipped through her notes and handed us sheets of practice problems. We were to finish the first section by ourselves and then review our answers when we were all done. We bent over our work in silence as Malvia stood up to write some problems on the chalkboard. As her back was turned, the boys rubbed their palms together and picked up the little balls of paper already prepared and sitting next to their work. They threw them once or twice before we finished our word problems, each time the balls bounced off of my tank-top but never made it into the crevice between my boobs.

That sweet crevice, often known as the triangle, seemed to dominate seventh grade. Everyone was hyper aware of the developments occurring at the time, the canyons and the boulders that formed and needed to be explored. Some girls made sure to emphasize it like a billboard. They posted various video-chat screenshots of them on Facebook holding up their hands, thumbs pressed together and pointer fingers pressed together to create their secret signal, the triangle, which I later decoded. Somehow other boys like Devon were in on the secret meaning of the triangle before I did.

Malvia sat back down to go over our answers to the math problems, most of which we got correct. The boys got a little over excited. “Cha!” Malvia said to shut them up. They listened to her. So, we practiced again in silence. Malvia went back to her chalkboard. Devon and his friend threw more balls of paper at my chest and all I could do was ignore them or pretend it was funny. There I was, just a docile basketball net, my body an immobile stick with a net thrusting out of me. My chest a hard backboard to make rebounds off of, to make a score.

It wasn’t okay to go digging into my chest to pull out their balls of paper. It wasn’t okay for me to touch my body because that meant pulling my shirt down lower for them to see. That meant touching the parts of me that they wanted to touch. In those moments, I wished I were like Malvia, able to shut them up with one word. Even though I know that when I turn my back, they’ll make gestures to simulate fucking me from behind, like one kid did to me behind stage at our eighth grade musical rehearsal. Instead, I waited until the end of the period, went to the bathroom and fanned my tank top and bra out, letting the paper balls drop to the floor.

***

I went into school wearing my mom’s fitted Folk Festival t-shirt in sixth grade. I felt covered and comfortable. I almost never felt this way in my clothes. From sixth grade through twelfth, I dressed in over-sized shirts that were almost dresses; I wore stretchy leggings and huge cardigans that hung below my butt. I shocked a few people into thinking I wasn’t wearing pants under the long shirts—the only bit of sexiness I graced others with, a shock, a hope for a peak underneath.

Or maybe my sexiest time was when those bracelets were wrapped around my wrists in sixth-grade, full of colors that indicated blow jobs, anal sex, double penetration. Full of potential. Asking to be ripped off. I didn’t know.

At the tenth-grade lunch table, a boy named Kenny told me I should show off my body more with tighter clothing. He was the same guy to outwardly acknowledge my tenth-grade weight loss—i.e. to openly acknowledge, without really saying it, that I was now valuable to them.

It was under those baggy clothes that I stopped wearing padded bras. Victoria’s Secret and Free People provided me with four memorable failed attempts at hoisting up these developments. The first, a purple silk padded push-bra which I wore to my first house party—”CEOs and Office Hoes” themed. The second, a lightly padded black lace bra with hot pink lining and a halter hook on the straps that eliminated the triangle space by squishing my boobs together. It was also best for exacerbating back problems. The third, a hand-me-down silk and lace cream colored bustier style with no padding that was two sizes too small. The fourth, a sticky bra that sucked itself onto my boobs and bore little beads of sweat on the tacky inside when I ripped it off my chest. It was only worn once or twice on prom nights, along with blistering high heels and caked makeup.

I was making my way up the stairs to sixth-grade History class in my Folk-Festival t-shirt when Jamie called my name below me. I turned around and he bent down sideways to look at my chest. “Oh okay,” he said and walked away laughing. I looked down and everything was in place, my boobs not totally filling my bra, the shape of the cup lining peeking through the shirt as always. Everything was where it should be. He wordlessness indicated there was conversation elsewhere about my boobs and I would never know it. It was my absolute nightmare—my body, gross and strange, in the mouths of people my age. Every part of me, under a hidden microscope that I couldn’t see.

In my paranoia, I recalled a moment earlier that year outside of homeroom. The pack of us were talking while waiting for our teacher to arrive. Imani, a tall and stylish girl, towered over us, smiling, and her boob was scooped out of her bra and the real, ovular shape was showing through her white shirt. No one told her it was out—it wasn’t okay to talk about them yet. Sixth grade was too soon for playing games. It was just okay to look at them.