One Day They Landed
by Jennifer Dickinsonfrom The Selkie
The judge asked if I remembered getting the scissors that morning. This was the catch, where my lawyer told me to lie. I did remember getting the scissors because I always kept scissors in my purse.
But I shook my head and rattled my eyes around for good measure. I coughed and stood up straight in my tight, high-heeled shoes, purchased on the way to the courthouse. My mother called them ‘taupe’ and said they looked good with the linen dress I wore.
My crime was not a felony. The judge referred to it as Trespass and Vandalism. I wouldn’t be charged if I sought therapy and worked off my restitution where I’d committed my crime – the mall. This had me giggling as soon as the sentence was announced. My lawyer elbowed me. I could tell I wasn’t his type. He tried to engage me in a conversation about the Jaguars and their new season the first time we met. I told him I hated the people who painted their faces and got interviewed on the eleven o’clock news.
“It’s not the circus,” I said. “It’s football.”
He shook his head. “I disagree. I really think it’s the beauty of the sport. Football brings out the wild side in people.”
Football brought out the wild side in my gynecologist. The first time I saw Dr. Blumentstaff on TV wearing that aqua makeup, sweating thick black streaks beneath his eyes. This was a man who looked inside my vagina for diseases yelling, “I am a Jaguar and I roar! Roar! ROAR!”
When he found out I was a virgin, he was so excited that I thought he might take a picture of me and hang it on the wall, like the orthodontist had done when my braces came off.
Before I began picking up trash at the Westside Mall, I met with a psychologist who suggested at the end of our first session that high school hadn’t lived up to my expectations.
“What did you want from high school?” became Dr. Moelle’s favorite question.
“I wished I’d been class president,” I told. “Or star cheerleader. Lead soprano in the choir. Except I can’t sing.”
Dr. Moelle wasn’t convinced. It was like she could smell my lies.
“Dig deeper, Charlotte. Your answer might unlock your unhappy heart. What did you want from high school?”
I wanted to make passionate love to Avery Donaldson on the white carpet of my bedroom floor, but I couldn’t tell her that. My fantasy took hold when Avery announced in the middle of an American Politics discussion about Donald Trump: “Men have always been such fuckwads to women. He’s disgusting. What’s wrong with us?”
No one at school had ever said anything like this. Kids went to the Mar-a-Lago for Spring Break. Even my parents still had a Trump-Pence sign in our front yard. I thought I was the only liberal person in Florida. I’d never spoken up about my beliefs. I got teased enough because of my curly hair and inability to serve a tennis ball. No one knew I thought Jeff Sessions was the devil. My parents would’ve taken away my computer if they knew I faithfully watched The Colbert Report. Maybe Avery thought late-term abortion should be covered by health insurance, too. Maybe he was like me: trapped in the sunshine state.
Mr. Phillips told Avery to simmer down. No one agreed with him. Except me. But I was too much of a chicken to speak up. I decided Avery should be my first lover. But how could I make it happen?
My big moment arrived near the end of senior year when we got stuck alone together in a broom closet during a school shooting drill. I could smell his T-shirt – Tide and something else – salt air, maybe. I knew he lived near the beach.
For a few moments, all we did was breathe. I didn’t know how to bring up the subject of deflowering me. Maybe I should start by telling him I hated Donald Trump, too. But before I could summon my courage, Avery whispered: “Boo.” It was such a surprise I drew in my breath. We both started laughing. I’d never laughed with a boy before. I’d never been that close to a boy before. I’d always thought Avery’s hair looked sweet and clean, but now I wanted to bury my face in his armpits. I wanted him to be mine.
I’d only kissed one person in my life – a man in my mother’s choir group named Edgar. I even let him put his hand up my shirt, but I refused to touch him. He felt guilty and we ended it after a Christmas concert.
I couldn’t work up the nerve in the broom closet. I started sweating. I worried my breath smelled like hot dogs. He asked Hadley Norman-Deville to prom, and I cut up a rack full of prom dresses at the mall. Broke a dressing room mirror, too. It all felt very cathartic.
Dr. Moelle told my parents I should be on suicide watch. I couldn’t take aspirin or set the table. A padlock was put on my mother’s sewing box.
My parents had their own theories about what had happened. I heard them late at night.
“Clearly we’ve misunderstood her bookishness, and underneath it she’s in a rage.”
This was my father talking. He always thought he had the answers because he could solve plumbing problems and do the taxes.
“Yes, and what do you think the dresses symbolize?”
Mother had watched enough Lifetime movies to write one.
Ellen, my nineteen-year-old cousin who was six months pregnant and living in our guest house, suggested I begin smoking cigarettes.
“Charlotte, you need a release. You cut up those dresses because you’re stressed out! You wrote too many papers!”
It was true. I had buried myself in work getting straight As until I was accepted to Northwestern and Stanford. Unfortunately, once the schools heard about what had happened at the mall, they told me I would need to wait a year and reapply. I’d had a chance to get out of Florida and I’d blown it. I was terrified I’d be stuck forever in a place where every May the thick guts of lovebugs coated the windows of our cars. So much so that a woman had careened off I-95 to her death. ‘Lovebug apocalypse’, the news had called it. What if I died in this hell?
My mother agreed I should take up a vice. Diet Coke, mini-golf, Zumba.
“Not cigarettes, Ellen. I don’t want her endangering her health.”
Instead I began stealing bras.
The first one was a test, and after that I was hooked. Each afternoon, I changed out of my mall uniform into Ellen’s clothes – stuff she wore pre-baby. Jeans and one of a plethora of her country concert T-shirts. I dotted on strawberry-scented lip gloss and straightened my hair, which took nearly an hour because of the rat’s nest on my head.
I hit Nordstrom and Macy’s first, sneaking into the dressing rooms with a handful of bras, only trying on the ones with gels in the cups that could stand up entirely on their own. In the Juniors department of Macy’s, bras had silly patterns on the cups – tanned girls in hula skirts playing ukuleles, grinning monkeys in palm trees. I tore the tags off with my teeth and put the new bras on over my old ones.
Then Eruption opened.
The day they cut the velvet ribbon, I was eating my lunch of orange chicken and Cherry Coke. I heard clapping and walked over to join the crowd of people circling the store. Tucked between Starbucks and Claire’s, Eruption was decorated entirely in black and gold. The first day I entered the store, I was greeted by Helga, who wore a nurse’s uniform and gave me a card to fill out with my sizes.
The bras were called Quake. On the wall was a picture of the moon and the words written in scrawly white script: ‘One Day They Landed’.
I handed Helga the card and she looked at my chest.
“No, dear. You are a 34F.”
“I’ve always been a C.”
She handed me a 34F and told me to try it on.
I usually wore a sports bra. In school I wore oversized shirts to conceal the size of my chest, embarrassed in the locker room because my boobs weren’t small and perky like everyone else’s, tucked inside their tiny cotton bras.
I’d never worn anything with ribbons and lace. The cups were turquoise. The straps were thick and black. Helga yanked open the curtain.
“Bravo, boobies,” she smiled and clapped her hands.
My heart leapt as if indeed an earthquake had erupted inside my body.
My stealing days were over. These bras weren’t for lovesick high school girls; they were for women who made things happen in their lives. I handed Helga my for-emergencies-only credit card and skipped out of the store.
I was shy at first, only trying on the Quake at night and modeling it for the mirror on the back of my bedroom door. Then one day, Hadley Norman-Deville showed up while I was cleaning off tables in the food court. She sat with another girl who’d been expelled our senior year for selling coke. I didn’t notice them until Hadley said hello. I looked up and thought: P.E. Ninth grade. You threw the volleyball at my head. Then you fucked my dream lover.
“Break any mirrors lately?” Hadley asked.
She and her friend dissolved into laughter. I wanted to dump their plates of pizza into their laps. Instead, I left my Windex and paper towels on a table and went to my locker. I took out my purse and went to the bathroom. Inside a stall, I pressed my face into the plastic smell of my new bra and cried, feeling more pathetic than I ever had in my life, even in high school.
I’d told Dr. Moelle I had cut up the dresses because I hated mall culture, but she suggested I did it because I didn’t have a date to prom. This was partly true; I’d been forbidden to go to prom because of my Trespass and Vandalism. The night of the dance, I’d lain in bed for hours crying, picturing in graphic detail Avery and Hadley Norman-Deville making love on the carpet of her bedroom.
I pulled off my shirt and changed into the Quake. I immediately felt better. I’d spent so many years wearing ugly sports bras, my arms perpetually crossed. And why? My breasts were pretty. I kissed the tops of them.
I peeked out of the stall and made sure no one was around. Then I admired myself in the mirror, twisting and turning, mimicking the girls in the posters around Eruption. I applied lipstick – one of the many I had swiped from under Mother’s sink. I unbuttoned my uniform shirt so that a bit of cleavage showed.
I finished up the afternoon in the food court being eyed by pimply teenaged boys and their fathers. I decided to stop at the grocery store on the way home to buy a container of Chunky Monkey. I wanted to sit in my bed in my bra and eat.
I forgot about my chest until I went through Leonard’s line. His eyes went from the pint of ice cream to my face and then down to my boobs.
“How are you?” he asked.
“This is a good flavor.”
When I got home, Ellen and Mother were making wheatgrass smoothies. The kitchen smelled like horses. I’d spent the last six months watching them become best friends – buying matching fake-silver necklaces at Chico’s, making a cottage garden. They gave each other pedicures and talked late into the night about names. Ellen liked Magenta. My mom thought she should be more subtle.
“Name her after something pink.”
“Like Cotton Candy?” Ellen had asked.
They spent time in the nursery, too, which was so many shades of pink it looked like someone had chugged a bottle of Pepto-Bismol and thrown up.
“How was work?” Mother asked. I’d buttoned up my shirt, so as not to cause alarm.
Still not allowed to venture into the flatware drawer, I asked for a spoon. I opened the pint of ice cream and told them I was going to my room to rest.
“Charlotte, don’t let the ice cream melt all over your sheets!” Mother yelled as I walked up the stairs.
I’ll do whatever the fuck I want, I thought, remembering how powerful and hot Avery had sounded when speaking his mind that day in class. But instead I said, “Okay, fine.”
I returned to Food Party every day in my Quake and a low-cut shirt until Leonard asked me out. I told him I would come over to his house. He had the kind of parents who were always on vacations in the summers that didn’t include him. I parked on his street and changed clothes. I applied dark red lipstick and mascara. My hair was still wet from the shower.
I’d barely knocked when he answered. He looked less serious out of his green grocery store uniform. We hugged and he asked if I liked steak.
“You made steak?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I like to cook.”
We ate on the porch furniture behind his house. We talked about high school and graduating and our plans. He didn’t know anyone who went to my school, which immediately put me at ease. Leonard was going up North for college. He’d won a full Entomology scholarship.
“Well, then, I guess you don’t mind,” I said. “But these mosquitoes are killing me!”
The wine was making me talk like Mother. He brought out Skin So Soft and applied it to my arms.
“You forgot…” I pointed to the tops of my breasts which jumped up from under the shirt.
When he touched me, I shivered. I grabbed him and kissed him long and deep. We moved to the sofa in the living room, forgetting to shut the sliding glass door. I thought about the mosquitoes while we kissed, imagining them taking over the house. When Leonard’s parents returned from Brazil, the bugs would be everywhere – stuck to the soap dish, the pans in the sink.
His fingers danced all around my chest until finally I had to take his hands and place them under my shirt.
A few minutes later he asked if he could unhook my bra.
I bolted upright. “But you haven’t seen it yet!”
When he looked puzzled, I pulled off my shirt.
“Have you seen anything like this in your whole life?” I asked.
“Wow,” he said, tracing the underwire with his finger. “No, I haven’t.”
I stood up and walked around the living room. I asked him about the deer’s head that hung over the mantle.
“That’s Wally,” he said. “My dad killed him in Colorado.”
I grabbed a chair and stood on it to see the deer better.
He said, “Be careful.”
I said, “He’s cute.”
Leonard dared me to French kiss its dusty mouth, so I did. Then I climbed down off the chair and back into his arms.
A week later, he was officially my boyfriend and came over to eat dinner. My parents loved that he wore thick glasses and was going to college. Mother recognized him from Food Party and made jokes about all the bottles of wheatgrass and bags of beets she’d bought since Ellen moved in.
“We’re gonna make sure that baby’s as healthy as possible,” Mother said.
“Be careful,” Leonard said. “The child might come out green!” Everyone laughed. Except me and Ellen, who had recently confessed in a whispered conversation that she wished she’d never gotten pregnant. When I asked her why she didn’t get an abortion, she told me to never ask such a disgusting question again.
Leonard confessed after dinner that he was a virgin and wanted me to be his first. We were on the porch waiting for my parents to go to bed so we could make out.
“I mean, I think I love you, Charlotte.”
Leonard loved my breasts and I loved the way he looked when he touched them. But that was it. I hated that he liked bugs. I thought it was horrifying that he had drawings of them on his wall and bug skeletons in his closet. He tried to take me to the insect museum, but I told him I couldn’t because I had my period. I couldn’t even rest my head on him because there were tiny knobs on his shoulder blades. He said his mom called them ‘love bumps’, but to me they were a deformity, another reason Leonard was all wrong.
But when Leonard touched me, I was liquid fire. Invincible. After scraping gum from under the tables in the food court, his lust was what I needed. So, I agreed to have sex with him. But only if we did it at my high school.
I went back to my school the next morning. Summer school was in session. The campus was completely outdoors, and I knew every hiding place. I went to the science department, then the language department, past all the locker bays, the senior courtyard where I never hung out but dreamed I would someday. That would be the ultimate place. So many times I’d stared at Avery there, wishing I could be with him, my head in his lap while he wound his fingers through my curls.
But the courtyard was too open. If the school employed security guards at night, they’d catch us. And I couldn’t risk getting caught and having to spend more time at the mall.
My tour ended where I spent all my seventh-grade lunch periods: in the bathroom. I sat on the toilet and remembered my near-crucifixion: I hadn’t been able to understand why in Florida, where it rarely dropped below 60 degrees, the girls paraded around in rabbit hides during the winter months. So I had ordered PETA pamphlets of bloody carcasses and hid them in their coat pockets. I had thought that maybe they’d see how wrong it was to wear a helpless animal. That maybe I’d become so popular that I’d run for class president. But that hadn’t happened. Word had spread it was me, and there went my chances of ever being invited to beach parties. The girls had written ‘ugly loser’ on my locker and refused to let me sit beside them in chapel. For the rest of the year, I’d hid in the bathroom to eat my lunch, a stick of vanilla incense pressed to my nose to cover the smell of pee and puke.
It would be the perfect place for me to be deflowered. But what if it was locked?
I stuck a paper clip into the rusty lock. It took me a few minutes, but like everything else at my high school, the lock was old, and I figured out how to get in. I practiced until my time was down to thirty seconds.
We wore black rain ponchos I’d ordered off Amazon over our jeans.
“Charlotte, this feels strange. Couldn’t we be charged with breaking and entering?”
Leave it to me to try and get deflowered by a guy whose favorite thing in life besides bugs was Criminal Minds.
But I had something else he loved. I lifted up my poncho to reveal my new Quake – tan, slightly see through with pink flowers.
Leonard shuddered. “Okay.”
I let him drive and went over the plan.
“Just follow my lead,” I told him. “I have a flashlight, but I only want to use it if absolutely necessary.”
I looked down the poncho at my cleavage. My breasts were beautiful. Maybe I would feel beautiful, too, lying underneath Leonard on the cold floor.
When we got to the school, I directed him to a side street a block away.
“We need to be as inconspicuous as possible,” I said.
“This isn’t very sexy.”
“It will be.”
The hallways were dark and scary, and the heavy rain reminded me of all the 80s slasher movies Ellen loved so much. I fought the urge to scream as loud as I could, scaring Leonard, my lover who walked behind me. He had a slight case of asthma and I could hear his breath catch in his throat.
When we reached the bathroom door I turned around and whispered: “Leonard, I want you to penetrate me.”
“I want you to pen-e-trate me.”
I stuck the paper clip into the lock. Leonard was breathing hard now.
“Use your inhaler,” I said. “It’s okay.”
It was taking longer than thirty seconds. What if I couldn’t do it? Maybe this was completely stupid, and I’d have to do it with Leonard in his bed or in the backseat of my car. It’d be like Mother’s favorite movie, Say Anything, and Leonard would shiver in my arms. Yuck.
“How’s it going?” he asked.
“I don’t know if I can do it.”
“Let’s just go back.”
“I’m going to try again.”
“Give me a good luck kiss,” he said.
I rolled my eyes but let him pull me close. I touched his love bumps. Then I tried again. It worked.
“Score,” he said.
He switched on the light and I switched it off.
“No, we can’t. Leave the flashlight on. Take off your clothes.”
We spread the ponchos down and he immediately pawed at my breasts.
“I’m leaving my bra on,” I said. “And my shoes.”
“What – why?”
“I saw it in a porno.”
“You watch pornos?”
I rolled my eyes and told him to undress. He stripped down to his boxers and I took off my jeans and underwear. I pulled a small bottle of wine from inside my poncho pocket and poured some into my mouth, and then down his bony chest. I licked it off.
“This is wild,” he said.
“Take off your glasses.”
“But then I won’t be able to see you.”
I took off his glasses and climbed on top of him, feeling him grow hard underneath me.
“You have condoms?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “But I need to put my glasses back on.”
I stared at his back, imagining I was with Avery. How would it have been different with him? For one thing, he wouldn’t have been using an inhaler or giggling. He would have grabbed me and pulled me into his arms. With Avery, passion would’ve overtaken us, and we would’ve been panting and sweaty by now, the room spinning.
Leonard lowered himself over me. It felt slightly technical as he searched for the right place, first pushing too low and then too high. But then he found the spot – bingo – and I wrapped my legs around him, the taupe heels from my court date rocking back and forth. He squeezed my breasts.
“Do you like it?” he asked as we moved.
“Oh, yes,” I moaned, even though it hurt.
Ten seconds later Leonard fell onto me.
“Charlotte,” he sighed. “I love you.”
I pushed him off and went to the stall and peed. The room wasn’t spinning. I wasn’t even sweaty. But I did feel different.
“What do you think about abortion?” I asked.
“I used a condom,” he said. “Remember?”
“I think it’s wrong.”
I opened the door. I glared at him with my best glare. “If your baby’s inside me, I’m going to get rid of it.”
I wanted to shock him, but he just looked nervous. He took a hit off his inhaler.
“Did you hear me?” I asked.
Rain pounded the roof. Leonard put on his clothes and I did, too. We rode through the storm in silence. I felt rageful again, like that day in the dressing room at the mall, the torn fluffy dresses at my feet, the mirror cracked. But this time, I didn’t want to cut up or break anything. This time, I wanted to make a plan.
First thing to do: reapply to Northwestern and get the fuck out of Florida.
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