I stood in front of my new fifth grade class while the teacher introduced me to the students. Their tiny faces stared at me, a new student to their class that had been together since kindergarten, and they analyzed me like an animal at a zoo. I was wearing a bright yellow baggy polo tank top and a jean mini-skirt, pink socks, and my hair was in pigtails. My teacher told everyone I was from public school and they shuddered as if she had told them I had just gotten out of juvi. I grinned wildly and didn't say anything when she led me to my new desk.
The girl who was sitting next to me was coloring her arm hairs individually with a yellow highlighter.
"Why are you doing that?" I asked.
"If you shave your arm hair it usually gets stubbly and gross, but if you bleach it, it just practically looks invisible." She looked over at my arms. "Here, you should try it. Maybe do your armpits too."
I had never thought about my arm hair before but as soon as she mentioned that a burning horror crossed my face and I quietly took the highlighter from her. I had just started growing body hair and was turning into a furry little monster so gradually that I hadn't noticed that it was disgusting. No one had told me that people weren't supposed to have body hair, but while I began coloring my arms, I reflected that my mom was hairless, had she highlighted herself? Or was she born that way? I knew for certain my dad wasn't highlighting any of his hair, why didn't he have to do that? It was the first time I had been confronted with gender roles and I was embarrassed and scared and awkward as I threw myself into them.
My desk mate was named Felicia and when I was assigned the desk next to her it was like she had said "Okay, I guess we'll have to be best friends now." She invited me over to her house that night and we watched My Best Friend's Wedding (my first romantic comedy) and she put makeup on me, my first time even seeing makeup, let alone allowing my face to be toddlers-in-tiarras made up. In one day I was forced to confront the impending difficulties of puberty and I developed an intense fear and embarrassment for my natural physicality.
The second day of class when I sat down there was already a note on my desk. It read:
"Hi Barbara! I love you! You're beautiful! Also, how old are you? When's your birthday? love, Andrew."
I guess that everyone in that class had prematurely sexualized themselves. Only recently aware of my body, and not entirely sure of what Julia Roberts would have done, I just wrote down my birthday on the back of the note and handed it back to Andrew.
"Um, you're older than me?" he said with audible disappointment.
"I don't know," I answered. "Is your birthday after the date I wrote down in chronological order?"
"Then probably, yes."
Andrew was a few weeks younger than me. Since then I have hooked up with gentleman ranging from two years younger than me to nine years older, and have come to the decision that it does not matter at all. At that age I felt embarrassed and guilty, like I had done something wrong by being born so prematurely. I decided it was wise to ignore Andrew for the rest of the day, which turned out to be pretty easy. Towards the end of the day we were getting up to go and Andrew randomly leaned over to touch my arm.
"Eeek you're hot!" he yelped.
"I'm warm?" I said.
"Yeah, warmer than me," Andrew replied. "Your skin is so warm."
"...I'm sorry," I mumbled, genuinely ridden with real guilt, I left the classroom. Andrew and I didn't talk for the rest of the year, but whenever it got really warm I was self conscious of my body temperature, and my newly acquired ability to sweat. I used to stretch out my t-shirt over the metal back of my chair, so that the cold metal was against my skin to cool me down. I'm sure I looked like a complete idiot but somehow I thought that was less weird than getting overheated.
After Fifth grade I never saw Andrew again. Eventually more men tried to hold my hand or touch my arm and I became accustomed to the phrase, "holy crap, you're so cold! Your hands are like an ice fish, girl!" And I would think, yay, finally.