You will attend a Bar or Bat Mitzvah every Saturday for the next six months. Your mom will tell you to go to the service before the reception. You will beg to only go to the party, but she will drop you off outside the temple early. She won’t understand it’s awkward to wear your dress inside the temple, your heels, looking the way you look in your evening makeup. You wear her shawl over your shoulders. You sit in the back row. You try to follow along in the Torah, the big blue book tucked into a mesh basket in front of your seat. You open it. You try to make sense of what’s happening, but end up getting passed a handful of candies from Christina Riddler, who you hate. “You throw them when they’re done reading,” she says. You don't believe her. She’s wearing a tight silver dress and a pair of her mom’s heels, she tells you. “We’re both a size seven.” You think of how you never do this with your own mother. Your feet are so small, you still have to buy kid’s sizes. You put the candies in your mini Kate Spade purse and wait until it’s over.
Your closet has a section of black dresses for all the parties you’ve been invited to. You buy them from a store at the mall that sells Brazilian clothing. You can’t pronounce the name, but the saleslady is named Madonna and she treats you like you’re her daughter. The Town Center Mall in Boca Raton is your favorite place to be. You love eating Chinese food from the food court and carrying around your to-go cup of Pepsi with extra ice. Your mom buys you a chocolate from the Godiva store, a raspberry starfish. Your mom gets something with caramel filling and takes a bite, says she doesn’t like it, throws it in the trash. She is always taking you shopping and buying you whatever you want. You once begged for a crimson colored dress to wear to Zachary Benson’s Bar Mitzvah and she obliged. You were so out of place that day in red. It was the first time the boys at the party asked you to dance.
You want chicken fingers from the kid’s buffet. You want to escape the Bar Mitzvah and go to the playground. You want to kiss a boy, any boy, but it would be nice if the boy was Adam Green. Christina Riddler grabs your arm and drags you over to where Gene Fruchtman has formed a crowd around him by the slide. You don’t understand why she’s being nice to you, showing interest, but you know when you’re back at school on Monday it will be like it never happened. Gene shows his penis to a group of girls. He holds his testicles between his fingers and makes it look like a shell. He calls it the “slug.” He laughs. It looks so weird, the fleshy area of his boyhood. You wonder what it feels like, the skin. You want to touch it; you want someone to touch you too, but not Gene. He puts it away. Some of the girls are laughing. Some are pretending to puke. “Doesn’t it hurt?” Christina Riddler asks. “No, he says, “It actually feels really good.”
The rest of the boys are inside the party stealing liquor from leftover cocktail glasses. You get the nerve to ask Gene if there’s more.
“What do you mean?” he wants to know. You ask if he can make any other shapes, or if it’s just the slug.
“I can make a few more, if you wanna see.” He says and reaches into his dress pants. “I can do the Eiffel Tower, a one-eyed snake…I'm still learning, but I can kind of do a cow face.”
The girls in your grade are giving blowjobs and hand jobs and getting eaten out and fingered. Some of them are having full on sex. You felt a penis once, but just from the outside of Drew Carter’s pants. It was after school. You were usually first to get picked up from the carpool line, but your mom was late that day. Drew corned you in the doorway of the art room and put your hand on his crotch. “You gave me this boner,” he said. You ran away and never spoke of it again to him, to anyone. Years later, he invites you to his house to smoke pot and you drive over in your new car. You’re supposed to be home by 11:00pm and you get so high you’re not sure how that’s going to happen. He puts his cell phone on the table. When someone calls it lights up the whole room and you think it’s the cops. You grab your keys and run outside to the car. He hops in the passenger seat and you drive and drive until you hit the main road and see a Walmart in the distance. You park and walk in together. He buys you a candle. He apologizes when he realizes it was just the light on his phone. You laugh about it and that’s the last time you see him. You wish he could have been your first, if maybe the lights didn't dance across the room and scare you so bad. Maybe you ruined it. Maybe you never had a chance.
Christina Riddler pulls you away from Gene and asks if you want to dance. You do, suddenly feeling bold, and go to the dance floor where everyone is playing Coke and Pepsi. You take off your heels and leave them next to your purse. You put on the socks your dad forced you to take for this very reason. As you run back and forth across the dance floor, you wonder how you’re expected to be a woman one minute, and the next minute you’re expected to act like a kid. You don't know which way is the right way to be. You wish you did. When you dance, it’s silly, easy. You feel so separate.
Someone’s mother is always taking photos of you and the kids who are supposed to be your friends. You don’t see the pictures until twenty years later on Facebook, and they’re pictures of pictures. In the photos, you see your sadness, your anxiety. Your arms, thin. Your nose, bumpy. Your hair, always big, fried from the straightener, but never fully straight. You know the other kids got something you didn't. They were winning a game you weren’t even playing. They’re all smiling and laughing in the photos. You wonder what was so goddamn funny.
Gene Fructman, the boy with the penis shapes, grows up to be class president. On a field trip to Washington, D.C. he asks your best friend to rub his cock with her foot on the bus. A “foot job” they joke at dinner in your country’s capital. You watch her, sprawled out in the last row of the bus, her sneaker on the floor while her socked foot rubs his dick. The look on his face: happiness, pleasure, satisfaction. He will tell you your skirt is too short when you wear a denim skirt to school on your birthday. He will date Margot McKey for three years because she has big boobs and her dad is rich. He will never have the right haircut, and he will go on to college, to marry a woman, to have a child. You will remember him when years later you watch a video online of a man making figures out of his penis. The man is naked and explains into the camera how to twist the testicles to make a bow, how to hold the shaft and arrange the tip to look like a hammer-head, how to hide the balls and make an elephant trunk. You will watch the videos until they finish. You will not understand why it’s so hard to look away.
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