I couldn’t put a tampon in when I was thirteen, and I sure as hell can’t put one in now.
I sit on the edge of the shimmering resort pool, dealing with the consequences of the half-correctly dealt with tampon and watch the children run around. One has a cartoon mouse-shaped chocolate ice cream bar and then… oh, nevermind. He stares at its quickly melting coagulated form, the artificial chocolate shell stretching into sugary, slick oblivion and only eaten by chlorine, not the child. He begins to sob and I just watch him.
I slide into the chemical-treated pool, which is filled with spit, bandaids, and character-themed beach balls. I pray to the fly buzzing next to a dropped slice of extra cheesy pizza that this cotton stick stays put inside me. The pool is filled with ankle-biting toddlers, teenage girls dragged on family vacation against their will, and middle-aged men convinced that this vacation is going to fix their issues back home. That’s what my dad did at least, brought my mom, younger sister, and me on this trip in order to flee a vague workplace disaster back home. He’s a middle-aged man with a bald head, dark skin, and a tacky TAKE ME TO FLORIDA shirt on. He’s sipping a beer under an umbrella, arguing with my currently red-head mom (she keeps dyeing it), who’s holding a bottle of sunscreen in her pale hand. My little sister, who is my half-sister on my mom’s side, slices through the water flawlessly: slender body, her white skin glistening in the yellow sunlight. Tori. Who is so much cooler than I was at fifteen.
“Vivian! Make use of the pool! Swim some laps!” Dad shouts.
My slightly inappropriate comparison to my little sister is not to say that I am ugly. I actually can’t tell how I look in society’s burning eyes, but I know that I am at least okay to look at. The comparison comes from the fact that I am just not Tori. When I was fifteen, I wanted to look like her. Hell, I probably still do, but at least I embrace my darker skin and curly hair now. I have an average body. Yes, that’s the word. Average. It’s fine. It is a body at best and a body at worst. I am not wow-ing anyone. At least, I don’t think I am. No one’s made a point to tell me if I do.
I’m laughing now. Across from me is a teenage midwestern-America-looking couple floating in the pool. They’re using one another as pool floaties…They’re all over each other. The girl’s hopping into Mr. Snorts’ arms (he keeps snorting, I’m not sure why). She climbs all over him. Mr. Snort grips her the way a child grips their favorite stuffed animal, and then they kiss. A lot. I eye the cute lifeguard to see if he’ll tell them to “Cut it out, there’s children around!” but he does not. God, this freakshow performance has dragged on for centuries. I say try them as adults for this crime.
“Viv, what are you looking at?”
I spin around in the crystal water to face my Pacific Ocean-eyed sister.
“Nothing,” I say quickly.
Too late. She’s already followed my stare.
“Ew!” she giggles, pointing and laughing. The couple turns to stare at us before the girl bursts into tears. My heart sinks through the pool drain. Tori keeps laughing because for some reason, she thinks this is a show and they can’t hear her.
“Bully!” the girl screams.
“Bully!” Mr. Snort bellows.
Cute lifeguard springs into action. What I secretly wished was his eyes taking notice of me turns into an accusatory finger and a voice telling Tori and me to exit the pool. As we walk away, I notice the lifeguard’s eyes linger on my sister’s backside.
Packing for college is not as fun as packing for vacation. It takes a millennium and must be “practical,” as my mom puts it. Every time I try bringing one of my funky lamps or a huge stuffed animal, she cocks an eyebrow, code for “Is that really necessary?”
I’m rummaging through my underwear drawer when I come across a bra I’ve forgotten about. I think I bought it a couple of years back, thinking that by now I’d have someone to wear it for. I think eighteen-year-old me was expecting that by now I would’ve had my first relationship. When I look at this lacy piece of fabric, I think I’m mortified. I shove it to the back of my drawer and snap the drawer shut.
I think of how the other college girls probably don’t shove their colorful undergarments in the back of their childhood dressers. They probably wear them for fun, a symptom of their natural confidence that I wish there was a pill for. They probably packed their bras on the top of their suitcase, triumphantly, without cringing at the thought of what it might look like on them. They pack it next to their delicious-smelling perfumes and a diary filled with stories of past lovers.
I’m friends with my roommates. They know how I feel about college relationships, my hesitancy towards hookup culture, and my disappointment that the sweet boys written by women in the pages of fantasy books are not real. They also do not get it. They’re all realists, they diagnose me with anxiety when I express concern toward dating.
“Viv! Let’s go for a walk!” Tori suggests after we’re done moving my stuff into the suite– style dorm my friend-roommates and I will be sharing. Tori and my parents always help with moving in, which I really appreciate.
“A walk?” I gasp.
We’ve just moved my mini–fridge. Tori, being a student-athlete, has the endurance that my sporadic Sunday morning jogs do not give me. Our parents nod, and then collapse onto the sofa.
Tori and I start down the nearby nature trail. Sure enough, couples litter the path.
“The year hasn’t even started!” I groan.
“Are you being a hater?” Tori asks.
I do not like this.
“No?” I say, defensively.
Listen. It’s not that I haven’t tried. I know rejection like the back of my hand. If I’m hating on anything, it’s my inability to find success or to get anyone to notice me.
My friend-roommate, Meredith, decked out in athleisure, gives me a sweaty hug. I hug her back. As soon as we’re caught up, she asks me a question that I want to say no to.
“Can Ruby come over this weekend?”
I try not to make a face. Ruby is Meredith’s cool friend who looks like me except not at all. And she’s cool. She drinks and smokes. She parties until the wee hours of the morning. Men would line up for her if she told them where the line starts.. She’s gorgeous. She can probably put a tampon in.
Tori’s eyes light up because she’s heard the tales and likes Ruby. Tori wants to be like Meredith and Ruby when she grows up. Not like her older sister who is still trying to understand herself. I am not Tori’s mentor of perfection.
“Sure,” I manage.
I say goodbye to my little sister and family, then my roommates and I get ready for a party. Meredith suggests I wear a crop top with a low scoop to “push me outside my comfort zone.” I lie to her and say I’d be cold in it. She makes a face, eyeing the fans we have running. I go for a T-shirt with a big, silly frog in the middle of it.
We never make it to the party. Ruby shows up at our front door with twenty people, several of whom clearly have the hots for her. They pour into the living room, they start touching all my favorite stuff, start using my favorite bathroom. It’s out of control. They blast music, they dance on each other. I don’t know who Meredith is anymore. Or maybe I don’t know who I was supposed to become.
I shut myself outside. I think of how lame Tori must think I am.
I can’t wait for life. I have to hide from it.
When my vision stops spinning, everything is clear in more than one way. I think of the stuffed animals on my bed, my childish shirts. I feel like a little girl whose childhood has been cut off too soon. I think I could’ve played with Barbies and daydreamed forever. Here I am, a child in my twenties. Robbed of childhood and not ready to give it up.