Erica: a tale of best friends, childhood, and loss of innocence

 Some of you have read this memoir I wrote some time ago. I had yet to put it on here because it is a bit graphic and I was apprehensive at having family and friends read such things when they have not perhaps experienced that sort of honesty from me. Yet I was reading it today and I think it needs to be shared. I’m hoping we can all gain something from my experience. And if any of us have young daughters, I hope that we are good to them and also teach them to cherish their childhood and enjoy it because we will become woman very quickly. And once there, we can never go back. BUT DON’T READ THIS IF YOU FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE ABOUT READING GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS OF PUBERTY AND OTHER SEXUALLY EXPLICIT DESCRIPTIONS!

 ***

She was my best friend from third grade through sixth. I wanted to be her because she had nicer clothes and fewer rules to abide by. She got to stay up until 10:30 on school nights when I had to go to bed at 8. She got to watch rated R movies and I was limited to PG. She started puberty before me.

I remember how jealous I felt standing in the girls restroom at Preston Elementary School, Erica lifting her salmon-colored sweater, exposing her turquoise training bra with two swollen nipples pushing out against the surface of the cotton material, pointing at me as if I were the only one who hadn’t yet started to change.

That was in the 4th grade.

I remember going to her house and watching her talk on the phone with Licelle Rios or Colin Nelson, the two boys of whom I had crushes. She told me how they liked her because of her butt and I turned, twisting myself around to look at the small round curve of my own, and wishing that it would do the same; then looking back up and  saw her dad lurking around her door way. He carried a heavy presence. And even though he was nice to me, I somehow felt nervous around him. He was always making sure Erica was doing what she was supposed to, making sure she wasn’t being too silly or not silly enough. It made me feel insecure about the way I acted. Was I too silly? Too serious? Did I eat the foods I should? Was I smart enough? Did he like me best out of all of Erica’s friends?

In 5th grade, Erica and I took a bath together—once. That was when I got to see her pubic hair, dark and course, not full like my mother’s, but there just the same, just smaller and thinner—like the grass we grew in paper cups in the second grade for our dads on Father’s Day. She asked me if I used panty liners and I asked her for what.

                “For discharge, silly,” she responded as if it was a well-known fact and again, I had not known.

I remember reflecting back to the weeks before when I pulled down my underwear to use the toilet and found a whitish, slimy residue moistening the crotch of my lavender briefs. I scraped it off with my finger and brushed it onto my leg, smearing it in, wondering if it was like lotion, only to find a dry, flaky patch left in that same spot the next time I used the bathroom.

                “It is your bodies natural cleaning system,” Ms. Ivy said during 5th grade Sex Ed. And she passed out those pink boxes to all of us girls–the ones with sample pads and panty liners and a little calendar to record our menstrual cycles. The one I kept under my bathroom sink years after fifth grade, waiting, until 8th grade, when the calender in the pink box expired and I gave up, throwing it away along with the hope that I’d ever become a woman. 

But Erica’s discharge didn’t look like mine own. We both lay in the bathtub, she on one end, me on the other, our legs a tangle in between. She raised up her hips, I watched her patch of hair break through the surface of the water and then, she reached under, placing her finger under the surface again  right below her pelvic bone and pulled it back out with a large glob of pure white goop. I jumped backward, kicking my legs under me to pull away and she laughed out loud, throwing her head back.

            ” I thought you said you get it too.”

            “Yeah,” I said, “but not that much.” Seeing that scared me. Even at that age, I felt something was wrong. I didn’t take a bath with her again and turned around every time we changed into our pajamas when she or I spent the night.

Erica began changing around that time. She came to school meekly after being gone for a week because her dad “made” her go on a business trip. She put a baseball cap on and tucked her long brown hair into it.

              She said, “Call me Eric, I don’t want to be a girl anymore.” Then two days later, she showed up to school with her eyes lined in black kohl. She even put the eyeliner on the inner part of her eye. Diana, Marybel, Maricella, Lupe and I asked her why but she just put her head down.

             “You look ugly,” we said. But I really felt jealous because again she was doing something I was not allowed to do and secretly, too afraid to try. She even acted older when we watched rated R movies in her living room. Her dad made her watch The Accused and she told me it was good, so she watched it again, but with me too. I sat next to her, pulling the blanket up over me, covering my face and hugging her arm as we sat together on the recliner.

              “He’s got a cute butt,” she said, and I looked out to see the rear end of a rapist, thrusting into Jodi Foster, pinned against a pinball machine by 6 or so other men, and her screams muffled by a chanting audience. It scared me, and I wondered why it didn’t scare her.

I suppose I wasn’t the only one who picked up the feeling that something wasn’t right, although at that time, I didn’t know it was her father. So I was still quite upset the day my mother and stepfather told me I could not spend the night at Erica’s anymore.

             “She can spend the night here, but you can’t spend the night over there anymore,” Daddy Nick said, his beady black eyes narrowing and stern. His looks were ambiguous, and I often misinterpreted his stern eyes for anger. I felt I had done something wrong.

              “But why?” I asked, tears burning my cheeks.

               “There is something about her Dad we don’t like,” He responded.

And that was it. I don’t remember if I ever told Erica why. She asked me here and there if I could spend the night, and my parents instructed me to always respond with “why don’t you spend the night at my house instead?” I think she asked more often to spend the night at mine, although I didn’t understand why then. There were much more rules and I had chores that she often had to watch me do before we could play. Still, she’d spend time asking my mom questions about beauty and dieting. Daddy Nick would always joke around her and make her laugh. We were good friends and practically like sisters then.

Then my family moved to Alta Loma, a city only 20 minutes away from Rialto, but to me seemed like eternity. It was in this new town that I struggled hard to find friends. No one understanding me or loving me the way Erica did. We talked a few times on the phone. I got a card from her in the mail; the words smeared with tear stains. And then I called our mutual friend Diana to find out how to get a hold of Erica because her phone number wasn’t working.

            “You don’t know?” She asked, seriousness to her voice that made adrenalin rush through my veins within seconds. “She moved to Texas and her dad is in jail. He had been molesting her I guess. Even began raping her and gave her STD’s. She came to school one day with bruises all over her. The day before, her Dad caught her kissing Jamal. I guess, he didn’t like black boys.”

I was in seventh grade at this moment. And the last time I even thought of rape was when I watched that movie with Erica. I sat there in the hallway of my home, back against the wall as I tried to find balance, feeling cold and tasting the metallic flavor of  fear in my throat, listening to Diana go on about the details of the arrest, the rescue, and the move— news that both surprised me and didn’t.  Somehow, deep in the subconscious of my mind, I knew, yet it seemed like that just intensified the shock because with that, comes no denial to rescue me from the pain and turmoil of reality. I hung up the Garfield shaped phone and laid down right there in the hallway on my stomach, feeling the rough carpet rub against my face and I studied the memories flashing through my mind. They now seemed to make complete sense.

That night, I dreamed that Erica was strapped down onto a pinball machine at Straw Hat Pizza Parlor. I knew she was there, but I just kept eating my pizza, frightened and alone. That image still resonates in my mind, and with it, a new perception of the struggles some girls face growing up. All my childhood, I wanted to grow up and be a woman so much.  When I woke up from that fitful night of sleep, I couldn’t get the dream out of my mind. I won’t go as far to say that on that particular morning, I had become a woman, but I definitely was no longer a child. While it was Erica in my dreams who was violated,  I too had lost something protected and sacred that night . And now looking back at it all, how I wish I had stayed a girl much longer.

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