I’ve never broken a bone.
I thought I did once. I was at my best friend Megan’s after a normal day of fourth grade.
On a typical playdate at Megan’s, we played “house” in her attic. It had low ceilings, bright red and blue carpet, and it was hot as all hell, but we could be anyone we wanted up there—the mom, the dad, the married couple.
Sometimes, we’d venture out of the attic and down the street to the only place we were allowed to walk: The Coop. The Coop was the local wing joint. There were always chicken bones laying in the dirt around the trash cans out back, stray animals having picked them clean. Inside, mob movies played on the tv in the corner, but we weren’t interested. We talked and laughed and ate chicken fingers and fries or stale sugar candies from the fifty-cent machine.
The day I almost broke a bone, we had just finished playing house, or maybe we had just come back from The Coop, sticky with sugar and sweat. Either way, we bolted toward the trampoline.
Megan’s trampoline was in her backyard, right next to the broken-down shed her older sister utilized as a teenage hangout, complete with dim lighting, an old pool table, and the overwhelming stench of cigarette smoke. The trampoline was new and hardly squeaked under the weight of our young, tender bodies. Megan’s neighbor from across the street had come over to jump with us. She was a year or two younger with a permanent red juice stain on her upper lip. She didn’t quite understand social cues and was usually the butt of the neighborhood kids’ jokes.
The three of us bounced together, syncing up to one another’s rhythms, our bare feet hitting the elastic black material of the trampoline at the same time. Up, down, up, down. High, but not dangerously high. Until the neighbor girl jumped out of rhythm, slamming her weight down a second after my feet had landed—the dreaded double bounce.
My tiny body went soaring through the air. I was weightless. It was as if I was watching from outside myself as I flew in slow motion, limbs flailing. When I finally came back down, my right leg reached the surface of the trampoline first and rolled unnaturally beneath my body. The pain was excruciating.
I cried out. I tried to bend my knee but couldn’t. I tried to extend or move it at all but couldn’t. Adrenaline pumped through me, adding to my panic.
“Can you go call my mom?” I asked Megan, choking back tears.
Her car arrived shortly after to pick me up.
“It’s definitely swollen,” she said, a contorted look of worry on her face.
The doctor told us it was sprained. I would just need to keep it wrapped for a few weeks, elevate it when I could, and use crutches to get around. At home that night, I lay on my parents’ bed with four pillows propped beneath my leg and sobbed.
I hopped between rows of desks at school, the hard rubber of the crutches digging into my armpits. I couldn’t do anything when I hung out with my friends. No bike riding, no jail break, no capture the flag. The whole thing was painful and embarrassing and inconvenient. But spraining tissue isn’t like breaking a bone. A broken bone requires new cell growth. It requires physical repair. It requires help.
Tissue heals itself.
The next time I went on a trampoline was the first time I drank. I was thirteen.
By middle school, I had become best friends with the most popular girl from my elementary school—the only girl who had a boyfriend in the fifth grade. She wore chokers made of little polished seashells, she surfed in the summers, and she was adopted. All of which made her certifiably cool.
We’d hangout in front of her computer screen while she messaged boys on MySpace. She’d play “First Day of My Life” by Bright Eyes from her profile page, the slow strum of guitar chords drowned out by keyboard clacking. I’d watch and listen and revel in envy, resenting my mom for not yet allowing me to be a part of the social networking world.
One night, when a couple of other friends and I were over at her house, she led us out to her backyard in the dark. Our socks dampened as the bottoms of our feet met the dewy grass. When we reached her trampoline, I hoisted myself up and pressed my bony knees against the metal springs lining the outside of it. I had only agreed to get on if everyone promised not to jump.
One by one, we climbed over the side, throwing our weirdly changing bodies onto the cool, black material. We all lay on our backs in hoodies and short shorts, staring up at the stars. We laughed at everything and nothing. There was an innocence in our hearts, but our stretching limbs and growing bones showed otherwise.
“Hey, do you guys want a Mike’s Hard Lemonade?” my cool friend asked.
The rest of us looked around at one another hesitantly, until almost simultaneously, we all shrugged our shoulders as if to say, “Of course. What’s the big deal?”
She hopped off the side of the trampoline with a graceful ease and ran into her kitchen through her backdoor, only to return a split second later with two ice cold glass bottles. She couldn’t bring the whole case out, she explained, or else her mom would notice.
There was a quiet, but crisp cracking sound as someone twisted the cap off the first bottle, then the second.
I had run an endless number of lemonade stands as a kid, so the drink would be no stranger to me, I thought. I’d made so many signs on poster boards—LEMONADE $1, COOKIES 50₵—and taped them to the front of folding tables. I’d pour the powdery mix into a pitcher, fill it with cold water, and stir, taste-testing the result with a spoon. I’d finish it off with some ice cubes and carry the pitcher out to my table, setting it next to a stack of small, Styrofoam cups. My highest paying customers were always the garbage men, who parked their smelly trucks in the company lot at the end of my street when their workday was over. They’d smile and tip and say thank you, before chugging down the lemonade in two refreshing gulps.
I’m not sure who took the first few sips before handing one of the Mike’s Hard Lemonades to me, but once the bottle was in my hand, I clutched it confidently by its neck, the way I had seen people do in the movies. The condensation sweat into my palm. I raised the bottle to my lips and took a swig, pretending not to be shocked by the stinging aftertaste. It didn’t taste sweet like the lemonade I made as a kid. It tasted bitter. It tasted like growing up.
I looked around at the girls as we sat under the moonlight. Their skin seemed to glow more beautifully than it had moments before. I felt a warmth crawl underneath my skin and flow through my blood. My muscles tingled. It felt as if I might lose feeling in my feet or my hands, like my bones might go numb if I kept drinking.
I laughed and took another sip.
My first kiss was with a girl on a trampoline.
We sat across from each other, our legs crisscrossed, knees barely touching. The nighttime air was crisp, and crickets sang around us. I raised my shaking hand to push her hair back behind her ear and leaned in close, hovering my lips in front of hers, like a magnet waiting to catch its opposite. We kissed softly at first and my legs ached—this time from longing rather than injury. Then we kissed harder, like we were desperate to taste each other, afraid we might never get the chance to again. I smiled into her mouth, before pulling away to catch my breath.
This is the lie.
But perhaps if it were true, I wouldn’t have spent my teenage years so intent on being anyone but myself.
My real first kiss happened spring break of eighth grade. At my school, if you hadn’t made out with anyone yet, you were “prude,” and you had better get “de-pruded” soon, or else you’d go to high school an ugly loser.
It wasn’t with a girl, and it wasn’t on a trampoline. It was in the cold basement of an old brick rancher in the middle of the afternoon. My mom had dropped me and a friend off at the house of one of the most popular boys in school. He played on the town’s football team and his skater friend, who joined us in the basement, was just as popular. After a couple rounds of Truth or Dare, we stopped using “truth” questions to help us stall and got right to the point. I was dared to kiss the skinny skater boy whose wandering attention span seemed to be his most charming quality. Everyone thought he was funny, in a dumb sort of way. He laughed a mindless laugh and flipped his curly hair out of his face.
How easy it will be, I thought, to answer when people ask who de-pruded me.
I stood up from my spot on the floor, my heart nearly beating out of my chest as I approached him. He stayed in his chair. I leaned down and our faces met in an awkward position where our braces knocked into each other. It was quick and wet and full of tongue—nothing cute or romantic about it. It was not like the cinematic first kiss moments I had seen in coming-of-age movies. It was more like an item on the to-do list of my adolescence, and I checked it off efficiently, with someone notable. And though it didn’t spark butterflies or puppy love, it did give me a sense of pride that I carried like a shield.
After that, I kissed boys all the time. In the backseats of cars, under the boardwalk, on my front porch in the middle of the night. I built a suit of armor out of them. I kissed as many boys as I could, so I had something to talk about at sleepovers in bedrooms full of girls. I wanted so desperately to feel the same things they did, to never have to acknowledge a difference between us, between our desires. So I kissed boys and I gave pieces of myself away, until my body wasn’t mine anymore.
I spent so much time pushing something down that would inevitably come up, it would take years and years before I found out what it meant to be myself, to be comfortable in my own skin, to have my outer shell fit my skeleton, rather than stretch to be something it wasn’t.
In the meantime, I built my truth out of a shame I could hardly identify.
But I know now, if I could go back in time, I’d kiss a girl on a trampoline. I’d kiss like I was aching with longing. I’d kiss to feel happy, not proud.
If I could go back in time, I’d break every bone in my body to make the lie come true.