From ages three to ten, I dressed up as a bride for Halloween. Each year I wore the same lacy white dress that hung loose in the chest, laying flat against the anticipatory flesh that would eventually become breasts to fill out the fabric; and each year I had to pin the dress up so I could walk, although as I grew taller the pinnings became smaller. Every year I knocked on the same doors and the same faces smiled at me and the same shrill voices said, “Honey, it’s the child bride again!” and the same wrinkled hands stuffed the same wrapped candies into my trick-or-treating bag. My friends asked me why I continually dressed up as a bride on the one day of the year I could be anything I wanted, to which I coolly responded, “Exactly.” My adolescent counterparts wanted the glory of being a turtle that fights crime and the thrill of political irony when they dressed up as “Dick Cheney: The Cowboy,” carrying a gun and donning a feathered hat. I wanted something real; I wanted love.
When I was eight my father abandoned my family. We had been living in Hell’s Kitchen, in a two-room apartment with a door that inevitably slammed when it was shut. My mother had found a bigger apartment in Forest Hills, Queens, with a view out the window other than that of the adjacent brick building. We had agreed as a family to move, and the first night in our new apartment my father snuck out, taking advantage of our new and quiet door, leaving his keys under the doormat. There was no note, but he left his cologne, and the next morning I sprayed it in the bathroom and inhaled and exhaled.
A few weeks later I contacted him, emailing him to let him know how upset I was. What gave him the right, I asked, to just leave like that? Why had he been ignoring my calls? I blamed him for leaving. No one else was in the wrong. One thousand words later I grimaced and hit send. He responded a few days later, telling me that if I submitted my email to a fiction writing contest, I would be sure to win. He said to leave him alone forever and he wanted his stuff back, or else he would report it as stolen. My mom filed for divorce the next day and now he pays child support when he feels like it.
When I was twelve my only grandpa had triple bypass surgery and then suffered from a stroke. He lay unconscious in an ice bath for a week and when he woke up, he was no longer a brilliant physicist or an empathetic man who assumed the vacant space of father figure in my life. He opened his eyes and became an old man aged by bad luck, who could not walk or sit up or swallow solids. Now he sits in his wheelchair and tells me stories of days that never happened.
When I was fifteen my favorite uncle was riding his motorcycle to the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts where he worked as an emergency room physician when a commercial truck hit him and killed him at the scene. He had called me every day since my grandfather’s stroke to ask me how I was, and each time before he hung up he said he loved me and called me “bella,” the Italian word for beautiful. His gray tombstone lacks his charisma and his casket is biodegradable because the environment was his friend. Now he shows up in my dreams but every time his voice has a different texture because I don’t remember what he sounded like.
In sixth grade I was infatuated with a boy named Adam. He had blond hair fashioned like a mushroom and crystal blue eyes and aspirations of becoming a rock star who would follow a strict herb diet of cannabis. He wasn’t particularly smart or attractive, but I liked that when he hugged me I felt protected and so he became the focal point of everything I did. He laughed when I made mistakes in class, so I pretended to be stupid for the rest of the year. He liked girls who played sports, so I went to the basketball court near my house after school every day and practiced shooting and dribbling and looking tough. I read the books he read and listened to the music he listened to and pretended to be having fun whenever he looked over at me. I was miserable; I lost my appetite and stopped caring about my health. He took advantage of me and I did his homework and gave him back rubs. When I told him I liked him at the end of the year, he said he “figured” and he “didn’t feel the same way” but we could still be friends because he thought I was “alright I guess.”
In seventh grade it was Laurence and in eighth grade it was Jonathan. Ninth grade was Charlie and tenth grade was Alec. Each year it became worse; their faces devoured my thoughts and instead of doing homework I would spend time doing the things they liked to do, so that maybe the next day when we “coincidentally” bumped into each other while I waited outside one of their classes we could talk about it. To outside observers it was clear that I was chasing them and they had no interest in me and instead took advantage of me, but every time I made eye contact with the boy of my affection my mind would run wild and I would be wearing that wedding dress because he loved me and wanted to marry me and so I hoped for a better tomorrow and vowed not to give up.
In eleventh grade I objectify men. They are red clay deities that I mold to fit my needs. I look at Thomas’ skinny jeans and notice his use of the word “harlot” as if Shakespearean insults are in style and the confidence that percolates out of his pores. I listen to Jake’s voice and wonder if it will be soothing and reassuring as I give birth to our third child. After a minute of standing within twenty feet of any given male in the room I have already decided whether or not he will make me happy in my old age. Death and loss have made me a needy silhouette of a woman. It’s a vicious cycle and I don’t see a way out.
No boy is safe from my lovesick mind. No boy is safe from the girl who wants to be loved so badly that she’ll do anything for a sliver of his affection. No boy is safe from the girl who loves him the way a bomb loves a crowd, the way his mothers warned him about. No boy is safe from the girl whose dad abandoned her and whose grandpa is a vegetable and whose uncle is dead. No boy is safe from the girl who is looking for a father and a lover. No boy is safe from the girl who dresses up as a bride for Halloween.
Age 16, Grade 11,
Hunter College High School