“I don’t know,” my mom said. “Talk to Marie. I’m off to the store. I’ll see you for dinner. I love you, honey. Have a good day.”
When she shut my door, I lay back down on the bed with vigor, ready to relish every single extra minute of sleep.
Sometime after eleven, Marie barged into my room and said, “C’mon, we’re leaving.”
We went to three stores and I tried on twelve pairs of jeans. Some were too baggy, some too tight, some came up too high on my waist.
I tried on the twelfth pair and came out of the dressing room to see Marie staring at me, bored senseless.
“They look fine; just get them,” she said. She was wearing head-to-toe Abercrombie & Fitch. It was the turn of the millennium. All of New England was wearing head-to-toe Abercrombie & Fitch.
“They look weird in the butt,” I said, staying perfectly still.
Marie stared at me, as if she expected something.
“Are you gonna turn around so I can see if they are weird in the butt, or what?” she finally said.
I turned around.
“They make you look like you’re wearing a diaper,” she told me.
“That’s what I just said.”
Marie rolled her eyes. “Hold on.” She circled her finger in the air, indicating that I should go back into the dressing room. And so I did.
I had just pulled the last pair of jeans off when she threw a pair of faded straight-leg ones over the top of the door.
“Try these,” she said. “Joelle wears them and she has a big butt like yours.”
“Thanks a lot,” I said, grabbing the jeans from the door.
“I’m just trying to help you,” she said, and then I could see her feet walk away, as if the conversation was over simply because she wasn’t interested in it anymore.
I unzipped the fly and stepped in. I had to shimmy them over my hips and suck in the tiniest bit to get them buttoned. I stood tall and looked at myself in the mirror, posing this way and that, turning my head to check out what I looked like from behind.
My butt was growing shapelier by the day and my boobs seemed to have stagnated. I had read enough of my mother’s Glamour magazines to know that this was referred to as “pear shaped.” My stomach was flat but my hips were growing. Olive was starting to gain weight in her boobs and her stomach and I wondered if I wouldn’t prefer that sort of figure. Apple shaped.
But, if I was being honest with myself, what I really wanted was all that my mother had passed on to Marie. Medium butt, medium boobs, brown hair, green eyes, and thick lashes.
Instead, I got my father’s coloring—hair neither fully blond nor fully brunette, eyes somewhere in between brown and green—with a body type all my own. Once, I asked my mother where I got my short, sturdy legs from and she said, “I don’t know, actually,” as if this wasn’t the worst thing she’d ever said to me.
There was only one thing about my appearance that I truly loved. My freckles, that cluster of tiny dark spots under my right eye. My mom used to connect the dots with her finger as she put me to bed as a child.
I loved my freckles and hated my butt.
So as I stood there in the dressing room, all I wanted was a pair of jeans that made my butt look smaller. Which these seemed to do.
I stepped out of the dressing room to ask Marie’s opinion. Unfortunately, she was nowhere to be found.
I stepped back into the dressing room, realizing I had no one to make this decision with but me.
I looked at myself one more time in the mirror.
Maybe I liked them?
I looked at the tag. Thirty-five bucks.
With tax, I’d still have money left over to get teriyaki chicken from the food court.
I changed out of them, headed to the register, and handed over my parents’ money. I was rewarded with a bag containing one pair of jeans that I did not hate.
Marie was still missing.
I checked around the store. I walked down to the Body Shop to see if she was there buying lip balm or shower gel. Thirty minutes later, I found her buying earrings at Claire’s.
“I’ve been looking all over for you,” I said.
“Sorry, I was looking at jewelry.” Marie took her change, delicately put it back into her wallet, and then grabbed the tiny white plastic bag that, no doubt, contained fake gold sure to stain her ears a greenish gray.
I followed Marie as she walked confidently out of the store and toward the entrance where we’d parked.
“Wait,” I said, stopping in place. “I wanted to go to the food court.”
Marie turned toward me. She looked at her watch. “Sorry, no can do. We’re gonna be late.”
“The swim meet,” she said.
“What swim meet?” I asked her. “No one said anything about a swim meet.”
Marie didn’t answer me because she didn’t have to. I was already following her back to the car, already willing to go where she told me to go, willing to do what she told me to do.
It wasn’t until we got in the car that she deigned to fill me in. “Graham is the captain of the swim team this year,” she said.
Graham Hughes. Captain of every team he’s on. The frontrunner for “best smile” in the yearbook. Exactly the sort of person Saint Marie of Acton would be dating.
“Great,” I said. It seemed clear that my future entailed not just sitting and watching the fifty-meter freestyle, but also waiting in Marie’s car afterward while she and Graham made out in his.
“Can we at least hit a drive-through on the way there?” I asked, already defeated.
“Yeah, fine,” she said.
And then I mustered up as much confidence as I possibly could and said, “You’re paying.”
She turned and laughed at me. “You’re fourteen. You can’t buy your own lunch?”
She had the most amazing ability to make me feel stupid even at my most self-assured.
We stopped at a Burger King and I ate a Whopper Jr. in the front seat of her car, getting ketchup and mustard on my hands and having to wait until we parked to find a napkin.
Marie ditched me the minute we smelled the chlorine in the air. So I sat on the bleachers and did my best to entertain myself.
The indoor pool was full of barely clothed, physically fit boys my age. I wasn’t sure where to look.
When Graham got up on the diving block and the whistle blew, I watched as he dove into the water with the ease of a bird flying through the air. From the minute he entered the water, it was clear he was going to win the race.
I saw Marie, over in the far corner, bouncing up and down, willing him to win, believing in him with all of her might. When Graham claimed his throne, I got up and walked around, past the other side of the bleachers and through the gym, in search of a vending machine.
When I came back—fifty cents poorer, a bag of Doritos richer—I saw Olive sitting toward the front of the crowd with her family.
One day last summer, just before school started, Olive and I were hanging out in her basement when she told me that she thought she might be gay.
She said she wasn’t sure. She just didn’t feel like she was totally straight. She liked boys. But she was starting to think she might like girls.
I was pretty sure I was the only one who knew. And I was also pretty sure that her parents had begun to suspect. But that wasn’t my business. My only job was to be a friend to her.
So I did the things friends do, like sit there and watch music videos for hours, waiting for Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” video to come on so that Olive could stare at her. This was not an entirely selfless act since it was my favorite song and I dreamt of chopping off my hair to look just like Natalie Imbruglia’s.
Also not entirely selfless was my willingness to rewatch Titanic every few weeks as Olive tried to figure out if she liked watching the sex scene between Jack and Rose because she was attracted to Leonardo DiCaprio or Kate Winslet.
“Hey!” she said as I entered her sight line that day at the pool.
“Hey,” I said back. Olive was wearing a white camisole under an unbuttoned light blue oxford button-down. Her long jet-black hair hung straight and past her shoulders. With a name like Olive Berman, you might not realize she was half-Jewish, half-Korean, but she was proud of where her mother’s family had come from in South Korea and equally proud of how awesome her bat mitzvah was.