I've been keeping a journal now for almost a full year. Actually, I have three journals. One is for dreams, one is for important stuff like this, and one is a list. My list journal is called "Things I Need to Know to Be a Woman."
First I wrote in "woman." Then I crossed that out and wrote in "girl." Then I crossed that out and wrote in "woman" again. I still can't decide.
I'm assuming I'll turn into a woman someday whether I know anything about being one or not. I think Amber Whitman already has, because every month she goes to the nurse with a mysterious stomachache. We learned all about that in health, and everyone saw the movie. So Amber's not fooling anyone.
But being like a girl (or womanly or girlish or feminine, whatever you want to call it) is something you definitely have to learn.
Girls probably don't even know they're learning it. It just gets absorbed into them while they are sleeping. But on this for certain is that it has to come from a mother.
And a mother is one thing I don't have. Not since I was three years old. Too long ago to miss her. Too long ago to even remember her. So I keep a list.
My dad's girlfriend two years ago came over once to make veal scallopini. She took this skinny meat, dipped it in egg, and then into flour, and then into bread crumbs. Then she cooked it on the stove. I wrote that all down on my list.
Another one of my dad's girlfriends used a comb to tease up her hair and make it look fuller. She actually lifted her hair on top of her head, held it up in the air, and sort of combed it backward. I saw her in the bathroom when the door fell open a little. She got mad when she looked in the mirror and saw me behind her, watching.
"A little privacy, sweetie, please," she said.
And she knocked the door shut with her foot, because her hands were too busy with a comb and a big wad of tangled hair. She only came over that once, though, and I already had the information for my list.
But watching Cleo Bloom is better than it's been with anyone else. Cleo is into this "open" thing. My dad hasn't dated anyone else but Cleo for almost a year now.
Cleo caught me watching her, and she didn't even say anything. She was standing in the kitchen rubbing hand cream into her hands. First she squirted a little bit from the bottle onto the backs of her hands. Then she massaged it all around, into her fingers, even her fingernails, and then up her arms to her elbows. When she saw me staring she just laughed.
"Old elbows," she told me. "A woman's elbows always gives her age away."
Then she held the bottle out to me.
I shook my head. I had known Cleo for all these months but I had never hung out with her before. I wasn't used to her yet. Usually she and my dad went out and I stayed home with my brother, Ian. Lately, though, she is around a lot more.
I just checked out my elbows in the full-length mirror inside my closet door. My elbows are different from Cleo's. Cleo's are more wrinkly, like there is extra skin puckering out. She isn't so old, though. I think maybe thirty-three or something. My dad is forty-two.
My elbows still look young, I guess. I'm only twelve.
"She's coming and she'll cry." Lynette leaned over her desk till she was practically dropping out of her seat. She had already said the same crazy thing three times.
Lynette was strange and extremely unpopular, which probably was the reason she was making such an effort to talk to me. Since I, of late, had been nice to her. The truth is, I felt sorry for her ever since this little fourth grader on my bus told me that Lynette had been hit by a truck when she was a baby in her stroller. Nobody was supposed to know that, but this little kid heard it from her cousin or something, and she told everyone. She told me last week, on the way home from school. The sun was already low, trapped behind the Catskill Mountains, leaving us a cold, gray ride home.
Copyright Nora Raleigh Baskin 2001. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of the publisher, Little Brown & Co. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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