This Poor Girl
I’m at the local Panera Bread on Valentine’s day, pretending to read. The woman at the table next to me is talking with her two friends about her daughter’s boobs.
“I’m already having to buy bras,” she says.
“What,” asks her friend, “you mean like training bras?”
“No. Bra bras. With underwire.”
“How old is she now? Twelve? Thirteen?”
“Oh no,” says the other friend. “What are you going to do?”
At this point, I am invested in the conversation. And by the way, I don’t consider this to be an invasion of privacy; they’re being loud enough to make it public domain. Besides, her friends have such horrified looks on their faces, I simply can’t help but feel lucky to be sitting so close.
Yes, I think, what are you going to do?
“I don’t know,” she says, then pauses long enough to make me wonder if she’s trying not to cry. “I guess we’ll figure it out.”
“Ten is too young,” says the first friend.
The other friend, the fat one, stares into space and rubs her temples. The whole table is downright gloomy.
At first, I can’t imagine what the problem is. It seems possible I have made a mistake, that these glum ladies aren’t talking about boobies at all, but are lamenting a ten-year-old girl’s fight with leukemia, or a brain parasite, or a massive, irreparable heart hole. And maybe, because there’s some scar tissue on my right eardrum (or more plausibly, because I am a creep), I have heard “cup size” and “underwire” instead of things like “interferon injections” or “years of radiation therapy”. But then I get an answer.
“She got like ninety Valentines,” says the Mother.
“God bless her.”
“Brought them home in a grocery bag. She got one from every boy in her class, and a bunch from the fourth- and fifth-graders. There may be some from the sixth-graders in there, too. I didn’t recognize the names.”
And there it is. This poor girl.
Everything she has ever known is finished. For one halcyon decade, she’s done nothing but jump rope and collect stickers. But then her chest gets puffy, and all of a sudden she’s deluged with love notes from a hundred jittery little monkeys, most of whom probably don’t fully understand why they’re going to all the trouble. And now there’s no turning back. This poor, innocent, overdeveloped third-grader will be fending off the wet-mouthed savages for the rest of her days.
Yes, I think again, what are you going to do?
“Fuck my life,” the woman says to her friends, and maybe to me.
When I was a preschooler, my Mother pulled a jug of blue liquid out from under the kitchen sink. Don’t drink this, she said. If you do, your blood will turn to acid and you’ll die. I needed no further convincing, and steered clear of the sink for years afterward. To this day, I think of my kitchen as a place filled with poisons (as evidenced by my own cooking).
All in all, It’s not difficult to teach your kids the difference between Kool-Aid and anti-freeze. But how do you protect them from the chemicals stewing in their own bodies? How do you save them from hundreds of thousands of years of animal instinct? How, how, how do you keep the mad monkeys at bay?
I have no idea. But if I ever have a daughter, God save her Valentines.