If I could tell this story as my former self I would. If I could tell it in your words. But I can't. I hardly know you anymore. I hardly know the place you come from, the place you live, the place I loved once. If I could tell the truth, I would do that too. This is my truth—not yours. You would have kicked and screamed at some of the things I will say about you and your native home, about your parents. No, you were not a screamer. You would have grieved quietly, and alone, as usual. You might have—maybe—written an enigmatic sentence or two in your journal and then laid your head down for a restless sleep.
What haunt me are the things you will never know. You will never know that the woman I am now wants to tell you, it's okay, you're okay. I need you to believe me.
Houston. September, 1992. The football boys were already lined up around the edge of the pool, their feet dangling in the water, splashes shattering into the air like fireworks. They were a happy bunch. Rachel hissed into your ear, Oh, GOD, this is going to be embarrassing. Look, look. Mike is right in front of the diving board! Rachel let out a squeal that annoyed you. It seemed childish, and on this day you wanted to be anything but a child.
Your new bathing suit had padded lining, so your boobs, at least at first glance, appeared to stick out further than your rib cage. You tugged at the elastic edges, already self-conscious about having a significantly larger backside than other 15-year-old girls. Only three weeks earlier Joe Kleinfelder told you that you looked like a pear—little on top and big on the bottom. You wanted to be mad, but deep down knew he was right. It's okay, he said, the black guys will like you. Your biggest fear that day, besides being a child, was being too much of a woman. You couldn't imagine anything much [End Page 7] worse than your ass hanging out the back of your bikini for the whole free world to see.
You and her friends had planned for this day—you all knew it was coming. Drill team initiation. No one could dance during football season, unless they went through this process. The current members of the team prepared you: you learned a special dance, a song to sing, and a certain way to swing your hips, the perfect form to use when jumping, in full straddle, from the high diving board. Each girl was to dance, by herself, around the deep end of the pool where the players eagerly anticipated the show, climb up the ladder to the high dive, and sing the required song before jumping. The players formed a fence around the deep end and stared toward the diving board, awaiting this performance; the sweat of their muscled shoulders gleamed; their lower legs disappeared into the water. We all went through it, the elder girls assured the freshman, it's supposed to be embarrassing. You'll survive, said Allison Cauldwell. Allison was your "big sister," a sophomore, so she had already been initiated last year. Like you, Allison had a crush on Mike McCormick, but she also put hand-decorated picture frames and a gold-and-black teddy bear in your welcome basket that morning, so you didn't confide in her that Mike walked you to your locker every day after sixth period, and that sometimes his hand slid across your lower back when he left you.
When you first arrived Coach Ryan greeted you. Howdy, little one. Where's your mama? You told him she was at a swim meet with your brother. Coach Ryan was friends with your mother, who taught down the hall from him in...