At Thirteen, It Was

At Thirteen, It Was by Jillian Schedneck

At thirteen, it was rolling up our uniform skirts in the ladies’ locker room, passing around old copies of European history tests in the cafeteria, and hanging out at the Junction for pizza on half-day Wednesdays. It was walking to the A&P and counting the number of honks our skinny legs and tanned arms could collect from the anonymous Hondas and Fords speeding down Laurel Avenue. Seven was average, fourteen a record high. My friends and I would call the drivers pervs and psychos, but we put ourselves on display nonetheless, risking scraped knees from overgrown branches and coughing fits from car exhaust fumes. At thirteen, we settled for someone to notice us.

After school, we would gather in the living room to watch countless music videos: Janet Jackson’s Again, Mariah Carey’s Dreamlover, S.W.V.’s Weak. Those songs didn’t just express ordinary love, the kind my parents and teachers must have experienced, but a tormented, soul-shattering, life-defining, can’t-eat-can’t-sleep-can’t-breathe kind of love. John Sencio’s top twenty video countdowns gave me a vision of the kind of adult world I imagined for myself. Those women sang about lives led by the beating in their chests, that pulsing deep inside I had yet to experience. The closest I came were the obnoxious beeps that sent jolts through the core of my body.

So we walked. Our bodies were finally bored with lying around the living room floor, flipping through the Delia’s clothing catalogue, listing the homework we wouldn’t open until late that night. Outside, my sister, our two friends and I passed the quiet, two-story colonial houses of our neighborhood and took a right onto Laurel Avenue, walking ingle file on the narrow sidewalk. I was last, and gazed at the girls stomping along the dirt path and duck under low branches. Their bright tank tops and jean shorts were already covered in a fine film of dust.

We called to each other over the din of speeding cars with comments about the rings of sweat on Mr. Attridge’s collared shirts or the thermos of vodka Gary Maxwell was rumored to bring to homeroom every morning. We only had change in our pockets, enough for a fifty-cent soda and maybe some lip gloss from RX Drug if our friend was working the checkout counter; she usually charged us a quarter for the makeup we placed on her conveyor belt. After walking half a mile, the road widened and the trees cleared away. We were on display. The men who beeped at us drove too fast to notice our age, Danielle’s freckles or Sonya’s chubby cheeks, or the identical brown eyes of my sister and me, our dark, tangled hair pulled back in loose ponytails.

I felt gangly and unattractive everywhere except for that strip of sidewalk. I could have been anyone on that portion of Laurel Avenue, one of the tormented souls on Janet Jackson’s music videos, walking away from or approaching a new lover, admired and sought by scores of men. I knew that those honks were demeaning and primitive, a gesture made by vulgar men, but I still delighted in the noise, its deliberateness and anonymity.

In early winter our excursions ended—too cold, too dark, too busy with basketball practice. Yet on dark December nights I still wondered about the men who had honked and called out to us. I imagined them as immature boys without girlfriends, middle-aged losers, or old degenerates. We had made fun of these men as we plodded along; better options awaited us, those who would be drawn to our particular charms, whatever those turned out to be. As I stretched out to sleep on those winter nights, my calves sore from running up and down the basketball court, I dreamed of those jolts of excitement in my chest and the adult world of all-consuming love awaiting me.

As a twenty-something living in Jamaica Plain, Boston, and then Morgantown, West Virginia, I would receive more honks and calls from men in their cars. My body inevitably jerked from the sound, registering it deep within my chest as a sign of potential danger. Focusing straight ahead, I walked briskly toward my destination.

Then I would remember that thirteen-year-old girl who equated those crude appeals for attention with desperate love. I wondered what she could have been thinking, how this could have been thrilling to her. I recalled all the drama and tears I longed for back then, as I told myself stories about romance as a young woman. I’m sure I would have been a disappointment to her. She couldn’t have imagined the ambivalence, the lack of longing, nights of convenience rather than lust.

At thirteen, it was those honks that made me feel connected to adult sexuality. As an adult, those calls only signaled menace, a manageable, inevitable threat. But sometimes I would turn to the passing car and try to glimpse the face of a boy who just got his license or a middle aged man with nothing better to do than shout out to me. That familiar curiosity would return, along with the hope that some of those joys and heartaches still lay ahead of me.


About Jillian Schedneck

Jillian Schedneck is the author of the travel memoir Abu Dhabi Days, Dubai Nights, which was published in 2012. Her work has been published in many literary journals in American and Australia, including Brevity, The Lifted Brow, Redivider and The Common Review. She holds an MFA in creative writing from West Virginia University and a PhD in Gender Studies from the University of Adelaide. She lives in Adelaide, Australia with her husband and daughter.


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