I was born into privilege—from a long line of Republicans on both sides of the family. We hated the Democrats, we hated Jimmy Carter, and my brothers and I, on long car rides, would try to outdo one another finding the meanest, lowdown shacks and say, “That’s Jimmy Carter’s house!” We didn’t know anything, of course, about politics. It was just something we picked up, something our parents laughed at, thought was cute.
That was when we lived in Texas. I was 6 when we moved there from California—just that age when you get really good at your body—running, riding your bike, swimming. All that good body stuff. It was 1974 when we moved there, and we were encouraged, forced, to play outside unsupervised. One of my mother’s signature lines was, “Go outside and don’t come back in until dinner!” I had a mile-radius roaming ground easy, with my bike, and I did everything. I explored the woods, found an ancient burial ground, caught lizards with their long, toothless mouths and put them on green leaves to see them turn green, brown leaves to see them turn brown. I dug clay out of our yard and made pots to dry in the sun. I melted my Crayons onto leaves with a magnifying glass, loving the drops of color so much I just wanted to eat them or something…something I couldn’t quite imagine.
When I was ten we moved to a small town in Upstate New York. I was a sun-tanned, gawky kid with a Texas accent who wore sneakers with skirts so I could run around at recess. It started right away. “Yvonne is a pest! Kick her in the chest!” This was recess now. A group of girls would walk around behind me chanting this, and I had no clue how to deal with it. I limped through the end of fifth grade and entered summer, thinking they’d forget about me over the months.
But sixth grade was worse—more girls joined in the fun, including my new best friend. She was my friend, but also the other girls’ friend, and so I was tied to this group somehow and I couldn’t escape. I still look back on it and wonder at that. I had no power to leave, find other people to hang with.
Seventh grade was worse still, because we moved to junior high and boys joined in with the girls. It became very focused on my body, which they picked apart with precision, but mostly focused on my chest—my flat, pubescent chest. I remember once, standing in the hallway outside my English classroom, all of them sneering at me, picking at me with their words, until one of them said, “What you got there on your chest? Mosquito bites? Why don’t you put some Band-Aids on those mosquito bites?” Everyone laughed, and it was too much, I couldn’t hold it in anymore, and I started crying, right there in front of all of them, showing them how much they’d hurt me. Hot, shameful tears.
I endured this daily onslaught at school for 3 ½ years, from the time I was ten until the night before I turned fourteen, when me moved once more.
On the dark car ride to the new town, I swore I would never allow myself to be stepped on like that again. I asked to be put back into the 8th grade, even though I’d finished one quarter of 9th grade—just so I could hide my skinny, flat-chested body among a younger lot. When the prep-girls tried to make friends with me I withdrew from them—I didn’t trust groups. I made two good friends, Tracey and Mary, and went about building my life again, being a kid again.
One day, Mary and Tracey and I were marching arm-in-arm down the empty corridor after school, chanting some silly nonsense over and over at the top of our lungs to hear the echoes. We turned a corner and met the toughest girl in the school and two of her lackeys. Diane yelled at us to cut the crap, and without thinking I yelled, “No!” Diane said, “What did you say?” and I repeated, “No.” Tracey grabbed my arm and whispered, “Shut up!” Diane said, “Come over here and say that.” So I extricated myself from Mary’s and Tracey’s arms, walked over to Diane, and told her to her face, “NO.”
There was an instant of pause before Diane said, “You’re lucky I’m wearing a skirt today or I would beat the crap out of you.”
And in that instant I knew I’d won.