“Do you feel better?” he asked me.
“Oh, yes, so much!”
I left the library on top of the world.
The sixth grade ended, then summer break. Mother and I worked our butts off in every farmer’s field we could find that would let us have some corn, or some snap beans, or string beans for us to can for the winter. We put up tomatoes, soup base, corn, beans, everything we could get our hands on. Last winter was hard and Mother swore that we would have enough to eat this coming winter. She stole mason jars and lids from neighbors’ back porches and a canning pot from somewhere. Mother and I sneaked out at night and stole stuff, sometimes we had to steal food so we wouldn’t dip into our winter stock, once or twice we siphoned gas for our old car.
We lived in a small, three room shanty house on the edge of town. That old car broke down often, and we had an old washer and dryer that broke down along with it as if related. The neighbor lady would let Mother use her washing machine and Mother would hang our wet clothes out on her line. Mother would bring her a jar of tomatoes or something for the use of it. The lady didn’t appreciate how precious that food was to us. She would look at that precious jar of tomatoes, turn it over in her hand and smirk.
Then it came time for me to go to middle school, the seventh grade, way across town.
There was much I had to adjust to. I had a locker in a hallway now. That was easy enough. I had to go to different rooms for classes instead of staying in the same room. That wasn’t so hard either, except for the first few days having to find everything. What was hard, was all the new faces. With all the new faces came new rounds of jeers, more queer calls.
The second day, when I got off the bus, there was a group of older boys not far away.
“Faggot!” one boy yelled from a group of boys on the sidewalk. They all wore the same jacket. I later found out they were athletes and those were “letter jackets.” No one had ever called me a faggot before and I had to look it up later. It was an offensive name for a male homosexual. One of boys broke away from the group and mocked the way I walked and carried my books, sashaying his hips back and forth.
“Fucking girl!” they all laughed.
Okay, we’re back on familiar ground, but with the “F” word thrown in. I quickly ducked inside the building. The “down” staircase was at the far end of the hallway. I walked briskly, glancing over my shoulder.
“Are you wearing a pink sweater?” a girl asked me. She walked beside me. I barely noticed her out the corner of my eye, but I stopped. She was taller than me, long dark hair. She wore much makeup. “You’re a seventh grader, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” I said and tried to smile. By this time two of her friends were with her. One blonde and one dark haired, and they were all taller than me. They all wore skirts, knee socks, and blouses.
“Is that lipstick? Are you wearing lipstick?” She broke out laughing and pointing, her other hand over her mouth.
I was so embarrassed. I had tried on Mother’s lipstick this morning and forgot to wash it off.
“SISSY!” she yelled. “He’s a sissy!” Her voice carried down the hall.
All I could see was the end of her finger pointing between my eyes. All three girls were around me, laughing and pointing, and I start pivoting around in circles. The girls had me surrounded.