I remember middle school. Seventh grade to be exact. I was in that awkward transition from girl to preteen and trying my hardest to be “cool” – what “cool” meant at that time is a foggy memory, though. I wanted shaved legs (the memory of the previous summer in Colombia and the ambush to see my hairy legs still a vivid hue of humiliation), I wanted make up. I wanted a boyfriend.
Of course, my father wouldn’t hear of it. Me estaba madurando biche, or growing up ahead of my time. Like a fruit, I wasn’t ripe enough, and yet that’s what I wanted to be: ripe. After the short taste of freedom in Colombia, where I spent three months with aunts and uncles, away from my father’s gaze, and after I realized that women, in order to receive men’s attention (or, in my case, for girls to receive boys’ attention), needed smooth legs, painted lips, I sought that in my small, Westchester house. When I pleaded to shave my legs, and my father responded with a short “no,” I proceeded to sneak my mother’s razor into my bathroom and, with lukewarm water and some soap, I shaved my legs. That was my first act of rebellion, and it came with some sharp, stinging cuts. I don’t remember my punishment, but perhaps my mother interceded for me and I was allowed to continue shaving my legs. For me, it was a blessing; I was cursed with pale skin and dark hair, something that didn’t quite cry feminine for me.
When I started middle school, it was the first year that six graders would be moved to middle school, and I was in seventh grade, so I never got to be in the bottom of the hierarchy. Other seventh grade girls were showing their legs, in rolled-up or cuffed shorts, or skirts. They wore their big hair, bangs stiff with hairspray and teasing. And they wore makeup. I wanted to be like them, but when I asked permission for at least a little blush and lipstick, I was told, again, absolutely not. So I snuck it.
I took a small, private bus to school then. Camacho’s Bus Service, with Camacho being our driver. I would sit by the window and, when we were a safe distance away from my house, I would bring out the compact and lipstick. I didn’t choose anything loud. A simple mauve was my favorite shade. When I was on my way home, I’d quickly scrub the makeup off with some wet napkins and my parents never found out.