I had been looking forward to today for months: the End of the Year Fifth Grade Swim Party Extravaganza Spectacular at the city’s community pool. I was a good swimmer who knew how to dive, and I looked forward to showing off my mad aquatic skills in front of the entire class. Plus, there was a diving board, which wasΒ so cool there was no way to begin to explain how cool it was.Β 

My eleven-year-old mind couldn’t fathom anything better than an entire school day in the water. We could shed our student masks and just be ourselves for a whole day. My wiry limbs felt like they would rocket off, they thrummed with so much excess energy. I practically leap-walked from school to the pool, along with the other kids and chaperones, weighed down with backpacks stuffed full of sunscreen, towels and bathing suits.

The line for the diving board wrapped around the pool, and we ten-and-eleven-year-olds waited impatiently as the boys did flips and the girls jumped in feet-first, squealing with that fearful delight peculiar to preteens. One after another we cycled through, climbing out of the deep water and trotting back to the end of the line, swim trunks or long hair dripping. A handful of kids stuck to the shallow end, lazing around in the waist-deep water, but really the diving board was The Place to Be.

You know those memories that are clear, the ones you can pluck whole from your mind and examine as if they were three-dimensional objects? This one is like that, deeply etched and care-worn: third or fourth in line, planning my next move (dive? or cannonball?), arms crossed against my new-ish bosom.

“What are those marks on your legs?” the boy behind me asked. He was the first boy I ever liked, with a concave chest and a perennial baseball cap on his head. I towered over him and none of the other girls liked him, but he was nice to me. This was the time before I learned to pick the not-so-nice guys, the ones who would lie, cheat and ignore me in public.

I looked down. I knew which marks he was talking about, the ones that had appeared – seemingly overnight – this year. They were an angry purple-blue, like bruises, and they made indented lines on my upper thighs, as if someone dragged a box cutter through the skin. Truthfully, I didn’t know what they were.

“Oh those? Those are scars. That’s where my sister stabs me.”

His eyes widened. “What do you mean, stabs you?”

“At night, she sneaks into my room with a kitchen knife and stabs me.” The lie came easily off my tongue. I didn’t even have to think about it.

“Doesn’t your mom stop her?”

“She doesn’t know,” I said mysteriously.

Later that day I asked my mom about them. She told me they were stretch marks, probably from my growth spurt, and that they were completely normal. Most women had them.

Despite her assurances, some instinctive part of me knew they were unacceptable. None of the other girls at the pool had those unsightly gashes.

I could say that this was my introduction into womanhood, that here I crossed that invisible threshold all girls inevitably cross when learning to hate their bodies. But I actually look back on this memory fondly. I managed to make my physical imperfections into a romantic tale of danger and familial intrigue.

I’ve always been a storyteller.


Me at End of the Year Fifth Grade Swim Party Extravaganza Spectacular


Stretching the Truth — 43 Comments

  1. Once a story teller, always a story teller. You know what? I was the only 12 year old I knew with them, too! I thought it happened from my jeans being too tight haha! Finally I found out they were normal…but GAH! Can those years be any harder??

  2. “You know those memories that are clear, the ones you can pluck whole from your mind and examine as if they were three-dimensional objects?”

    Ahhh yes. And yet, if what you went through helped to hone this part of you which writes so very beautifully, then at least Good came out of it.
    Considerer recently posted…I’m getting greedyMy Profile

  3. dang those are some pretty inventive lies to come to you just like that. I’ve always been the one that always thinks of the PERFECT thing to say– well after the fact. πŸ™‚
    christina recently posted…KillerMy Profile

  4. That was an awesome response to his question. You know when someone says something rude and it is only later on that you come up with a perfect retort? You nailed it right then and there – well played, fifth grade Natalie.
    Dana recently posted…Don’t let him downMy Profile

  5. This is so well written. You touch on all those end-of-childhood things with a light hand and deft touch. I just love that you were almost inadvertently empowering yourself right from the very beginning of all that awful body stuff. It also reminded me of the time I convinced the tough kids from down the street that my softball inflicted black eye was the result of a fight. They looked at me with new respect after that. πŸ˜‰
    tinsenpup recently posted…Flash Fiction Challenge | The Rhythm of His BreathMy Profile

  6. I loved swim classes (at my school it was in 4th grade), and begged my teacher to make me a shark and not a dolphin (dolphins didn’t get to use the diving board). She finally relented after I out-swam all the kids in my group.

    I was overwhelmed, however, whenever I looked over at a girl in a bathing suit; and completely lost my ability to swim properly. A girl with knife scars? That would’ve been too much for me. Good embellishment.
    Chris Plumb recently posted…I Was Writing the Most Epic Blog Post Ever, Then Something Happened That Completely Blew My MindMy Profile

  7. While it’s hilarious that you on-the-spot made up such an awesome fib about your sister stabbing you, it also makes me sad to think remember that even young girls already are so aware of wanting to be “perfect.” I think I was about 10 when I wondered whether I was fat. I wasn’t, but I wasn’t bony, either. One day, we’ll find a way to raise kids who don’t see all of their imperfections. I hope, anyway.
    Kristi Campbell recently posted…You will love your retarded baby (and we don’t say retarded anymore)My Profile

    • I hope so too. It is sad that I started thinking that way so young. I think my first “hate my appearance” moment came at age six when I wanted blonde hair, because I thought brown hair was ugly.

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