In my sleep, I cling to the star-crossed lover I’ve been wet-dreaming of for some two odd years. I am confused and scared about sex, and my subconscious mind is working hard to puzzle things out for me. The lover of my dreams changes with the hues of the night, and presently has been overtaken by a purple that is foundationally red and the color of all the wines I’ve yet to taste. He—for the lover evokes an earthy, bookish masculinity—does everything I tell myself I can’t. He moves so I don’t have to. He breathes for me. He bears down, into my poor little soul and in other ways. He is overcome with my unspeakable grief. He cries out, then dies away with the coming of their voices.
My parents would answer any one of my questions and be glad. I am their fourth daughter to go through puberty. But I’m too cold to get into it. My eyes feel swollen. I’m naked on the bed and they are in their pajamas. It doesn’t matter that my body is changing or that my urges tend toward the carnal. They have to dress me for school now. And just like the rest of the county’s disabled students, I have to catch the designated bus: a squat yellow death-trap that chugs along the mountain roads before dawn. It reaches my house at half past five. I’m wearing a teal Cosby sweater and the ripped jeans my daddy would’ve cut up for rags had I not saved them.
I am fifteen. I am perpetually furious and sensitive and artistically predisposed but undisciplined. I am in real physical pain from all the sitting I do and from all the operations I’ve had. My sisters are either away in college or experiencing the pangs of freedom after college. But I don’t really keep up with them because I get so alone. I am selfish. I am a star student. In front of classmates and teachers I exude an eccentric Southern gentility that is mostly performative. And if I didn’t have my head buried in a trashcan on this particular Friday morning—if the bitter, clear fluid that my mother calls “just nerves” would stop rising into my tightened throat—maybe I could make it down the hill in time to meet that good-for-nothing bus. But I don’t want to go.
For liability reasons that are suspect at best and fictitious at worst, the school district employs someone to accompany me everywhere: to class, to the lunchroom, the bathroom, outside. Miriam’s Helper is her unofficial title, and she bullies me. She has started a rumor that I urinate on myself. The already not-great school lunches are rendered inedible after she has poured three, four packets of salt over them. So I don’t eat during the day. I don’t understand. She is a middle-aged woman. She has a teenager of her own. But I am different because I am troubled. I apologize to my helper regularly. The high school administration doesn’t believe me when I complain that she won’t let me finish a single test without challenging my answers. I am paranoid. She is making me that way. I am ugly because my beautiful hair is falling out. I think about dying. I think about sex. I want release.
The bus is waiting. My parents are at a loss. They’re annoyed I’m crying again, and this time so hard that snot is running into my mouth. I’ll stay home today. Sleep it off. This part of my life won’t last forever, you know.
(artwork by Miriam McEwen)
Miriam McEwen maintains a personal blog (melancholycomedy.com), where she writes about disability and female autonomy in the South. Miriam is currently earning an MFA in Writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work has appeared in Killjoy. She is a native of South Carolina.
Miriam wants you to learn more about Days for Girls, an international organization increasing access to menstrual care and education by developing global partnerships, cultivating social enterprises, mobilizing volunteers, and innovating sustainable solutions that shatter stigmas and limitations for women and girls. Visit daysforgirls.org.