At age 11, I can’t swim but my new school will require me to swim during gym class. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’ll flail around in an Olympic sized pool with strange girls and boys, but for now, my mother and I share a Wal-Mart dressing room while I try on a one piece bathing suit. This one is deep maroon, almost purple and now I understand how moons are related to butts. Because at 11, I have two round full moons on my backside and my mother is suddenly aware. No, I don’t have tits to hold up the front part, it’s flatter than her ironing board at home, the one that’s draped with old stained sheets. But this butt I now have, more than makes up for all other shortcomings.
Mary shakes her head and sighs. “I don’t know where this behind of yours came from.”
Nor do I. Swimming is not fun. I take that same bathing suit to school and instead of concentrating on how to turn my head and breathe, kick my strong legs or where the shallow end stops and the real danger begins, I worry about my ass sticking out from the surface of the water like a neglected beach ball. I never learn how to swim.
Leggings are still all the rage, especially the ones with the stirrups at the ankle. But the only way I can wear mine, without Mary sending me back to my room, is with an over sized t-shirt covering my butt. For the next few years, she will tell me to “pull your shirt down over your big ass.” Mary doesn’t want me to look “fast.” Instead, I am preoccupied with the idea of hiding this “thing”. I hide it in Bermuda shorts. I hide it in knee length skirts that are hitched higher in the front because this “thing” keeps flaring out the back. After awhile Mary won’t have to tell me to pull my shirt down in the back. The message is already recorded and it plays on a loop like a record with a scratch on it. Sometimes, she lets up and says things like: “You should be lucky to have an onion like that. Men like a woman with a little meat on them.” Good, just what I need, sexuality attached to this “thing”.
I curse an oath beside my locker as I look at my pants. They are running a little snug today and my arrogance caused me to leave the house without a belt. My butt is prevents them from being the mid-rise jeans they’re supposed to be. I sit in Algebra class tugging the tail of my shirt downward, but to know avail. Baby T’s are still all the rage and it’s works against me. Maybe this is me being “fast”.
“I can see blue underwear,” whispers the boy from behind me, who’s not entirely focused on quadratic equations either. “Is your bra the same?”
My face is hot as I continue to stare at a chalkboard of numbers and x’s. This is the first and not the last time my ass attracts attention from males. I will never learn how to sashay or swing my hips because that’s also “fast”. I will not advertise sex. I will not advertise sex.
My boyfriend might be preoccupied with my butt. He’s very wonderful, kind and warm, but he’s also white and I wonder if this is now a thing. When we finish making love, he takes one large hand, covers one cheek and squeezes gently. He doesn’t say anything but I now know enough about historical context to be anxious. I know that he’s claimed something. I can’t be presumptuous to assume that this is some hot-n-tott slave auction shit, but still. . . I will never learn how to “drop it like it’s hot,” twerk or grind. This ass will always hold me back from blackness.
I strike out for a walk to a college campus to see that same boyfriend, now my husband. It’s a warm beautiful day and I’m taking a chance, wearing a pair of khaki shorts that I know are getting too short and too tight.
My husband is busy teaching, so I occupy myself in the cafeteria reading and jotting notes down. My day screeches to a halt when a man, who I know in passing, comes to my table just to tell me about my shorts. “You’re gonna get someone worked up, wearing shorts like that,” he says as he leers at my bare legs. This is being “fast”. I cry on the way back home, wondering if the cars that pass me are slowing down to rubberneck. I will not advertise sex. I will not advertise sex. I will not be FAST.
I tell my husband that I’m gaining weight. He’s unconcerned. “You look fine, in fact you look great. You’re worried about nothing.” He doesn’t know it, but I can tell that I’m getting bigger. Like Mary always said: “When you start gaining weight it’s gonna end up on your thighs, hips and that butt of yours. You’re a pear!” Haha! It was always said in jest, so I wasn’t allowed to be offended. She said it because she was an apple! Isn’t that funny? My husband doesn’t know anything about female fruit ripening, sitting sluggishly in a bowl. . . but I do.
I saw it the other day when I wore loose fitting nylon gauchos, they are not still the rage, but I enjoy them because you can never tell how big my thighs are. But I passed a window on the street and looked at the woman who was walking my same moderate pace with poor posture. And then I saw her ass. I stopped and stared. “Who’s ass does that belong to?” I asked myself.
Sticking straight out with no shame, the window’s reflection seemed to reply snidely: “This ass belong to you, honey. There’s a full moon tonight! Haahooowwwwwww!“
Hands are being wrung while I push a cart around Target with my friend. She and I are on the hunt for work-out clothes. These clothes will not be tried on in a dressing room. I will blindly pick and choose based on arbitrary letters: S,M,L,XL and if necessary XXL. Everything I pick is black and made of breathable Lycra.
When I squeeze into these clothes at home, I look like a svelte seal or at least a seal trainer. I look at myself in the mirror and slowly appraise the situation. Stomach is tucked in, breasts are high(er), and that ass. . . is more or less the same. Because I did not try on my shirt, I have picked one that’s shorter than expected. I reach around and pull downward, but it won’t stay. It’s sits on top of a shelf of an ass that could balance a tray of tea, couple of spoons and some creamer if you take it that way. The feeling of resignation is strong. The 11 year old me would be disappointed to know that I wasted so many years looking over my shoulder.
I go for a walk and listen to music that I would rather dance to. As I round the block, quickly pulling the back of shirt down, I wonder how I could have spent those waking hours thinking about my ass, more productively. In those hours, I could have learned a language. I could be fluent in French by now; fully understanding it’s complicated pronunciation.
I’m sweating by the time I reach my house. And as I sit on the porch, I heave a labored breath, thankful that the muscles of my lower pear body got me home safely. I reward myself with a cigarette and begin reciting all of the things I’m thankful for. I keep the praise body-centric and I recite this loud enough for the past me’s to hear, especially the 11 year-old me.
“In the long histories of asses, yours is rather brief and average. Your ass is no larger or smaller than the multitude of women who walk this earth. Be thankful that your ass is still in operation. That it still gets you from place to another. This ass belonged to a powerful ancestor who worried about more important things than her ass. This ass will be passed down to a future girl who you will love. She will be more than this ass, she will be known for great things. You will not carry this ass like a burden, a bag of historical context that you can slip into and pity yourself. With any luck, this ass will carry you, even propel you, to the far corners of the Earth where you’ll see and learn many things. That is what your ass is for.”