It was summer.
The kids on our block used to gather at the “big rock” on the corner of the neighbor’s lawn. Our bikes clattered to the side as we jumped off at the corner. Merissa would stand to the side as we clambered to the top, and would remind us of my ninth birthday party. “Remember how we found a bug in the sun chips?” she loved to remind us of the bug in the sun chips. It wasn’t that she thought we’d forgotten. It’s that she wanted to remind us she was included.
I’d climb to the top of the big rock alone sometimes. I wouldn’t tell anyone. Honey rays of sun floating down, I’d sit there until the voice in my head stopped screaming at me. It was summertime when it got to the point where I wanted to hurt myself just to see if I was right.
I no longer cared whether it got better, because that’s what everyone told me—
“Look on the bright side.”
“Sometimes life isn’t fair.”
I think the words lost their potency a long time ago. It could get better and it wouldn’t have made a difference. I figured the only way I’d ever be at peace was if I couldn’t think anymore. It got to the point where I needed to know more than anything in the world.
I think you realized this pervasive urge that possessed my mind. And maybe, in a way, you did it for me… or maybe you were just selfish.
When Sara got a trampoline, all the kids on our street wanted to be her best friend.
“You be the dead man,” she’d command, her golden hair flouncing as she jumped. My limp pale hands felt like I already was. I didn’t understand why.
When we sat down in a circle on the trampoline playing hot potato, I barely caught the ball when the singing stopped—I burst into laughter, falling on top of Sara to the right of me, tackling her like how I saw the boys play.
She yelled at me to get off. I kept smiling, like I didn’t notice her shifting and glaring. I had just done what the boys do. Where was the harm?
Sara told me once that honeybees die after they sting their attackers.
“In an effort of self-preservation—self-defense—they take their own lives,” she said in a matter-of-fact, mindless tone.
She called me a lesbian a day later and refused to see me when I knocked on her door. I had to ask my friend what it meant. I was nearly ten and didn’t have any concept of what sex was. When I went to my mom crying, confused over why I was being attacked for acting like a tom boy, she called the mothers together in the living room at Sara’s house.
They chatted in hushed tones as Merissa held my hand. I remember asking my mom later how it went, and she said I wasn’t allowed to hang out with Sara anymore. I asked why.
“Her mother insisted there was some way you must have found out about ‘the birds and the bees,’” she mocked. “She can’t just accuse you of intentionally making her daughter uncomfortable. You didn’t know.”
She tugged my hand past the big rock as we rounded the corner to our street. It stayed empty the next few years until a new group of kids claimed it as their own.
I understood why she told me about the bees. It wasn’t my fault I was stinging, or pushing away the ones I loved. I was doing what I needed to survive.
When Sara pushed over my soda that the bee was hovered over and it spilled on me, there was no chance for me to run. She had walked up at the neighborhood potluck and “accidentally” knocked it over.
It had been so long since I’d been stung that I couldn’t remember the feeling. The puffy, crimson red that burgeons across a plain of skin. If they had asked me why Sara did it, that’s how I would have explained it. She wanted me to remember—it’s the only way I could’ve.
I don’t know why we were taught to sting in self-defense. I don’t know why being called a lesbian was such a dirty word in Sara’s living room. I don’t know why I wasn’t allowed to play like the boys.
It was summertime, when I found the only things self-preservation tactics keep safe are questions that shouldn’t have answers. I shaved my head 13 years later and still felt sad that I looked like a boy. I thought of you when I walked by your house the other day. I don’t push people away to survive anymore. Only you.
Hannah Anderson is a sociology student/advocate for affordable housing in Grand Rapids, MI. She wrote this story as a reflection of gender and parenting, and how sex-ed can affect a child growing up.