Gimme Shelter & Watermelon Tall Girls
1. Gimme Shelter
It’s 2005, and I am twelve years old, wearing a black concert tee shirt and ripped jeans. I am two feet taller than my friends and about twice as large. Puberty has hit me like a bag of potatoes—graceless, unforgiving, hard to stand upright.
You can only make out half of the band’s name on my shirt. Every second letter is missing its diamond applique. “RLING STNS” is now emblazoned on the front. A stuck out tongue stretches wearily across what I deem already too-huge breasts. Bra shopping makes me uncomfortable, so I wear tankini swim tops instead.
I spent a whole Saturday bleaching the jeans and tearing at them with a seam ripper. My parents still have dial-up internet. While the other girls are learning how to properly apply eyeliner, I am circling my own eyes with a black pencil, owl-like.
I treat my unruly, curly hair like a burden, straightening it, still wet, with intensity. Causation isn’t equal to correlation. I can’t see that the frizz is partly due to my obsession with forcing the strands to lay flat.
I cross my arms in photos and cry in dressing rooms. I want to fit in but hate the people I’m meant to fit into.
Mr. Ani is a beautiful man with delicate features. His eyes are heavy and glisten a little when he talks. Even in the sixth grade, I am attracted to gentle, slight people. People so different from myself. We all love Mr. Ani. He crouches by my desk one day and asks about the Rolling Stones. What’s your favourite song, he wonders.
I don’t actually know any of the Rolling Stones songs. I just thought that it made me look cool. My heart races. I mumble I don’t know, gliding my fingers up and down the epoxy desk, which they cleaned with vinegar spray because it was less toxic than the alternative.
Poser, one of the boys in my class hiss. He listens to System of a Down and taught me what headbanging was. I shrink in my chair as much as I can with my already-adult body forced to squeeze into childish chairs.
After Mr. Ani returns to the chalkboard, I am still running my fingers against the epoxy. I could bore a hole in it. Poser, poser, poser.
2. Watermelon Tall Girls
We’re drinking watermelon-flavored tall boys in brown bags and wandering Winnipeg’s exchange, aimlessly exploring each other and this city I love, the one that people promised I’d hate. It’s a weekday and we’re nearly old enough for careers and day jobs and pensions but instead –we’re a summer day, drinking, laughing, sharing all the inane details of our lives, the things that made us who we are without realizing it. She tells me about the blue Betty Boop t-shirt she used to wear in high school and wonders what she did with it.
She touches the soft part of my wrist and whispers in my ear, we wouldn’t have been friends back then, would we? And I wince, remembering a bedazzled shirt and a man with beautiful wrists.
We clomp on cobblestone and eventually sneak into a changeroom at the Bay downtown to have sex until a woman with a French accent knocks on the door and asks if we need help with anything. Jo has a gap between her teeth and wiry hair and this way of snapping her teeth together when she doesn’t like something, which isn’t often. Shame melts on her face at the rattle of the door.
I need help with everything.
He's shaped like a triangle and tells me that stretching after exercise isn't as important as everyone thinks. I’m skeptical. We've been sleeping together for six months in a stretchy, yellowish area of time where nothing seems to matter. Still, the world is simultaneously warm and comfortable, bobbing and floating in the amniotic fluid between youth and adulthood. It's usually just sex, but sometimes he makes me dinner, and we stretch our minds together to fill the gaps in the air.
In the same way I would hate for him to reflect, dwell, or share stories of my softness, my body’s coiling expanse, I won't spend much time on his. He is very strong. He goes to the gym a lot. I think that must take a particular type of patience, the two or even three hours every day. Patience isn't something I have ever been privy to.
We both work in the service industry. I wear tight tops for tips by the slot machines, and he shakes margaritas for older women who cackle and purr at the flex of his bicep. I try to tell myself that we are making the most out of this thankless suburb.
As our knives scrape against Dollarama cookware, he tells me he wants to get out of the bar and study animals. He wonders what that study is called, and I think of my best friend. I tell him she studies marine biology. Tell him about her research. He could even consider specializing. He nods for a minute, silently considering. I think I would like that, he says, but for dogs instead—Dogology. I don't laugh at him. I will later, over wine with the same friend I've told him about. Maybe I'm mean.
Instead, right now, I ponder his thoughtful face for a second. How uncomplicated. At that moment, I think his life must feel easier than mine. I know that isn't fair, and I should give him permission to be himself. But I'm not gentle. I'm irritable and anxious.
We've started watching Suits together in the past few months, and I will sometimes observe him watching. There is nothing behind his eyes. He's only watching. What must that feel like?