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Today's Story by Christie Isler

Ever since I realized what my body isn’t doing, I’ve been trying to figure out what it really means to be a woman.

Running Red Lights

Waiting for change takes longer than you’d expect. It’s like waiting at the stoplight in Driver’s Ed.  I get this jonesing for reassurance that the light really is red and I’m really supposed to be just sitting here, so I watch the other cars in little sideways sneak peaks to make sure I’m not being left behind. But I feel as if I am anyway.

I am surrounded by girls who take “Aunt Flo” passes to the bathroom and spend a scholarly amount of attention to the perfect placement of their C cup bra straps. They walk past me as if I’m scenery. As if
I’m a kid on a ten-speed pounding on the crosswalk button while they cruise past in their shiny new cars. And for all intents and purposes, I might as well be.

I’m most definitely not going anywhere right now, lying here with my feet pressed into the stirrups like a tipped over cowgirl, the AC rustling my cellulose dress.

The door to the exam room opens, finally, and Dr. Rosen ambles in.

“Sit up, Alicia. I am not giving you another pelvic exam. I told you last month— and the month before—that you are fine. There is nothing wrong with you.” He sets my chart on the little computer desk and
lowers himself into the chair. I wonder how he can call himself a doctor if he thinks there is nothing wrong with a fifteen-year-old girl who hasn’t become, you know, a woman.

“I know what the problem is. I’ve been looking things up.” I try to make eye contact but can’t turn my head far enough to see him from the exam table.

“That is exactly the problem.”

“It’s got to be cryptomenorrhea,” I tell him. I want so badly for this to be true. “I have a vaginal septum and all the blood is getting backed up into the little pocket. So, it means I’ve been getting my period all along but it’s all stuck inside.”

Dr. Rosen sighs. It’s the sound of my lifeboat deflating.

“But if it is true, then someday it will overflow and I’ll go all Carrie on everybody. Do you want that to happen to me?” I wait. He rubs his eyes by pinching his fingers behind his glasses.

“Can you just check?” I ask. “Please?”

Dr. Rosen stands up. “I will examine you. And then you will put your clothes on and go home and you will not come back until you have an actual physical problem. Yes?”

I nod and close my eyes while he palpates and fingers. I breathe through the click and chill of the speculum. He presses into my belly and I pray he will find something he’s missed in all the other exams.

A lump, a hole. Anything.

He steps to the sink and runs water over his hands. He scrubs methodically.

“There is nothing wrong with you, Alicia. You are a perfectly healthy teenaged girl.”

“Exactly.” I am hardly surprised.


I hop the 44 from the clinic with lubricating jelly squishing in my underwear. I recognize the guy three seats behind me. He’s a junior—maybe a senior—one of those guys who spends as much time hanging out by his van in the parking lot as he does in school.

Two stops, and he slides sideways into the seat I tried to fill with my backpack.

“You’re a freshman at Roosevelt, right?” He has more pimples than a senior ought to have and is awkwardly skinny, but his voice resonates.  I try not to look directly at him, so he’ll think I want him to leave.

“I might be.”

“Yeah, you are. I’ve seen you around. You’re friends with that big girl, what’s her name? Karen or Carly.”

“Carla.” It slips out. She’s my neighbor, a total 95 IQer who still has kitten posters in her bedroom. But she has a car.

“That’s right, Gotta Lotta Carla.”

“That’s crass. She’s my neighbor, you know.”

“I didn’t make it up. Anyway, I’m Dave and you’re….” He’s sitting sideways in his seat and he’s got this angular bird of prey look to him, as if he’s all cramped up to perch but might someday unfold into
a magnificent creature.

He looks right at me. It makes him kind of attractive and I’m instantly terrified that I’m not.

I fold my arms over my chest to cover the fact that I didn’t put my bra back on after the clinic. Without polyfill padding, I’m as boob-less as he is.

“I just asked your name. You know, it’s rude to ignore somebody.” He smiles. He thinks he’s funny.


“Are you like an Allison or Alexis or something?”

“Or something.”

“Nice to meet you, Allie. You’ve got this whole mysterious thing going on, so I’ll leave you alone. I just wanted to get your name.”

He says all this like it’s a line from a chick flick then scoots out of the seat and back up the aisle.

I’m torn between thinking him sweet or slimy. He seems nice enough, but at the same time, he’s giving attention to me, a prepubescent high school freshman. A girl. Maybe he’s some sort of burgeoning pedophile and I’m right up his alley, I think. Or worse, he could be one of those shameless optimists who keeps climbing down the ladder knowing that somewhere, there’s got to be somebody who’ll do him.

By the time the bus rounds the corner to my stop, I’ve begun to wonder if he hasn’t reached his final rung.


The next day—Thursday—is one of the days Carla picks her brother up from soccer practice, so I can’t catch a ride home from school.  I follow the salmon en mass toward the bus loop pretending I’m a piece
of driftwood caught in the current and not an actual freshman dependent upon the school bus. I prefer the public transit system to the school bus system. On the public bus, people who reek and pick their noses with their calculus pencils don’t know your name.

I hear my name called across the crowd.

“Allie! Hey, Allie Or Something.” Dave—from the 44—waves to me from a clot of guys. My arm leaps up to a half wave before I can censor it.

He sees and makes a one-arm come hither move, then turns back to his friends. Am I supposed to go over? I don’t really know anything about them except that they’re upper classmen, they have cars and a couple of them have managed real facial hair.

I continue to stand—a rock in the stream—thinking about how ridiculous I am to be hesitating at what is most definitely a cosmic invitation.

What are the chances that this guy has noticed me twice in one week? It has to be an atomic push and, being desperate for any sign of change, I accept it.

I flush and look at Dave’s back facing out of the knot. He hasn’t turned back to look at me. I walk toward him anyway with a kind of warmth inside me. Maybe this is it.

I butt him in the ribs with my shoulder as I pass.

“Hey Something, how’s it going?” It’s a stupid nickname and he thinks he’s being cute, so it kind of is.

“It’s going,” I say. “You guys plotting world domination over here?”

He laughs. “You don’t usually come through here. Gotta Lotta out sick?”

I try to scowl, but for the first time, the name is kind of funny. It comes out like a facial twitch. “Naw, I’m bussing for kicks. It’s like going to the zoo, you know?” This strikes his friends as snot-shootingly hilarious and they all do these wheezy little nose laughs. I try to keep my stance casual but my underwear feels hot.

“You can only do the zoo so many times in a day, I think. You might want to find a different way home.”

“What, like walk?”

“How about I give you a ride? I’ve got a van. It’s like a bus, but without the cranky driver.”

I force myself to think about it, to not look over eager. “That’d be okay,” I tell him.

Dave’s van looks as if it were the hot kid at the party forty years ago, and since then it’s been wandering from state to state trying to hold a job. The back windows are curtained in faded zucchini-colored plaid and Dave is already saddled up in the driver’s seat talking to his posse through the open driver’s side door.

“Climb on up, Little Miss Something,” he hollers.

I sit down. It feels as if his passenger seat has tiny people inside who are petitioning to get out with pointy sticks, but it’s still better than the bus. “I live out by The Oaklands. I hope that’s okay.”

“No problem. I guess it’ll take a little longer to get there, is all.” He winks at me, conspiratorially, and flips on the radio to a metal station.

We pull out of the parking lot and shudder along familiar roads until Dave announces he knows a shortcut. Soon, I don’t know where we are except that it looks like we’re on a back road in Rutherford Park.

The van angles into a pine-needled parking spot between two trees and Dave cuts the engine.

“Yeah, when I said I live by The Oaklands, I didn’t actually mean I live in a tree house.”

“Hey, you seem cool. I thought we could, you know, talk.” Dave reclines in his seat and pulls that moronic yawn-and-stretch move so his right hand falls on the passenger seat. He doesn’t actually touch me, but I feel the heat of his skin just behind my ear.

“Guys never just talk.”

“We could mess around. I got a mattress.” He looks right at me with an intense one-eyebrow-up expression. I think he intends it to be suave but it reminds me too much of Mr. Shuyler in American History.

His hand drops to my shoulder and his voice drops an octave. “And a condom,” he adds.

All this feels rather like a science experiment. I’m curious. How far will he go? How far will I go? What, exactly, does a condom look like when it’s on? I’ve only seen them on skinny cucumbers, and then
only in a video. But maybe sex isn’t supposed to proceed like a lab titration. Sure, you release a little at a time, hoping to see how the chemicals change, but in chemistry, there’s always someone telling you what to do.

Dave volunteers to take the lead by popping off his seatbelt and launching himself at me like some sort of jumping spider. He gets one hand beneath my shirt and the other scrabbles at my neck. There’s something firm between my legs—his knee maybe or an elbow—but he kisses me so I can’t turn my head to see. I am his ResusciAnnie and he’s forgotten to call for help.

His lips are on my chin and my nose, he’s grunting and I feel spit pooling in my mouth. I taste his recently eaten Doritos.

“You make me real hot,” he pants, pulling back for air, then his face lands on mine again. I close my eyes. This feeling that I always use to get as a kid—as if I’m trapped in a high tower with no way out—starts to creep over me. I can always tell him to stop, right? I think about where I can knee him, just in case I decide to wimp out.

He jams his hand farther up my shirt until I feel torn calluses sanding my chest. His hand maneuvers to squeeze my boob and the bra padding pulls away. Even he realizes he has a handful of polyfill,
not breast. His tongue pauses.

That’s when I panic. Is he beginning to realize what I’m not? Will this be my moment of high school notoriety? Maybe there’s some kind of hormonal sensor that he can taste or smell and he knows he’s feeling up a little girl. Maybe he won’t care.

He launches forward again, in a new direction. He leans his weight onto one knee and reaches down along side the seat with one hand, while the other slides to my lower back. And lower. Should I offer
to unbutton something? Is it too soon?

The seat snaps back because he’s pulled some lever and we tumble backwards together. His knee jams itself into my crotch and even though women aren’t supposed to have external anatomy that matters, I
feel impaled. I gasp and squeak. My eyes are wet.

“You okay?”

“Yeah. Just watch where you put your knee, will you?”

He looks embarrassed and I worry again that he might decide to give up. Despite how desperately awkward this all is, I don’t want him to stop. This feels important, as if I’ll feel older at the end of it.  Experienced.

Ever since I realized what my body isn’t doing, I’ve been trying to figure out what it really means to be a woman. Obviously, it’s hard for me to know, having never been one. It’s like trying to define what it means to be a giraffe or a coffee table. But there’s got to be some gateway, a signal that turns the light green. It’s not fair that menses should be the only one. Pipsqueak sixth graders bleed and have no sophistication. Are they still women? Real women, I mean. And then there’s Carla who packs diaper sized maxi pads into her purse and lets her boyfriend grind against her while they watch TV, but she
undresses in the bathroom stall before gym because she’s afraid that we’ll see her. Is she a woman? Is it sex, is it blood, or is it one of those stupid Zen games where you don’t know what it is until you’ve
found it?

Just like I can recognize the giraffes in their savannah at the zoo, I see women everywhere. They are bold and graceful. They are powerful, confident and beautiful. Some of that power must come from what they have endured. That just begs the question, what must be endured to a woman make?

I am powerless to wrench my hormones into position—I might as easily rearrange the constellations—but I can endure the bump and grind of Sir Doritos-breath. And just maybe, I think, while I wait for him to produce a condom from behind the seat, it will stir in me some deeper kind of knowledge. It sure beats waiting around at the childhood stoplight, where I no longer want to be.


Christie Isler teaches ten-year-olds during the day and writes poetry and short fiction around the edges. To date, she has published both poetry and short fiction, in a variety of online journals.  Her online home at thetriptakesyou.wordpress.com.


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