By Rayne Lacko
Twelve Years Old
The rain falls outside. A rainbow of possibility punctuates the length of Twelve’s windowsill (poised for action): Sorbet-colored ponies with magic-infused birthmarks and long curling hair, a croaking wooden frog, a blue-grey shark with an epileptic motion-activated light in its belly, a hand-painted ceramic turtle, plastic robots presumably programmed with highly-classified onboard tech, zombie-eyed mutants, a trio of glass birds representing a trio of bestest friends from a long-ago birthday party, an unplugged lava lamp, Star Wars minifigs retrofitted with mismatched uniforms, who’ve swapped weapons, a carved granite bear, a solar-powered hula dancer wearing a plastic grass skirt and smile, stilled by the clouds, a papier-mâché volcano, a custom model car with an award-winning paintjob that snagged second place in a race, a blue, winged alien, a gang of videogame characters revealed from mystery-boxes; the hyped “rare” personality still at large. Sprawled on the bed, among stuffed animals representing over a dozen genera, Twelve watches a Youtuber explain how to complete a complicated video game level. The rain falls outside.
Girls Before & After, Part I
I visited her, as a baby-- Big hazel eyes, bigger forehead, chubby legs and curious hands. I see her world as she does: the pink flowers, big as the spool of garden hose in the backyard, cut from a ream of wallpaper and stuck to the blush pink walls. Waiting on the pastel carpet with books and stuffed rabbit, everything is up: the towering change table, crib, a window to the world she’s eager to see. She leans onto a box of diapers, bellybutton high, and pulls herself to standing. I watch her waddle away from the pink sedation. I see her brothers’ bunkbed through her curious eyes. The twin comforters have a circus pattern with clowns dancing and western-styled letters arcing in rainbows. She reads the word, “Lemonade,” and tries to say it, but her baby mouth only coos and babbles. In the yard, the dog is whimpering. He wants to come inside. I watch her climb a chair in the kitchen, crawl across the breakfast table, clamber onto the black marbled countertop, consider a heavy-lidded ceramic container of fresh-baked cookies, then pull a swag of paper towel. She retreats to the floor by the reverse path and manages to open the backdoor. She wraps the dog in her arms to comfort him, wiping tears from his eyes with the towel. I wonder whether I should tell her sad dogs do not weep; maybe she knows better than me. She discards the wadded paper on the grass. She lets me cuddle her squirming body. I kiss the expanse of her round forehead and smile with her. I walk about the sunny morning yard with her on my hip, going nowhere in particular, stopping to marvel at the ordinary: a thick, stiff hedge marking one side. I let her touch the leaves and she giggles when the branches poke her fingers. I wish I could tell her to remember how wonderful she is. But the past is done. I’m only visiting to tell her I love her.
Girls Before & After, Part II
I visited her, in fourth grade-- She’s been told enough to know her hair is disappointing, so she plugs in Mom’s curling iron and makes up styles until her arms grow tired. Mom won’t help with her hopeless hair. At school her goofy smile tells me she thinks something is funny, but no one in her classroom is laughing so she keeps the joke to herself. I watch her tuck bitten fingernails into pants pockets when well-meaning adults warn her she’ll regret her bad habit later. I wish I could praise her for the stories she’s writing, and the script she’s copying and distributing to her hand-picked cast. I smile when everyone accepts their part if only for the promise of fun. She’s written scenes requiring the actors to wear pajamas, and the cast relishes the opportunity to wear PJs at school. Their infectious enthusiasm is the only promotion she needs to garner a grade-wide audience. She’s heavier than other kids and I know it bothers her. She isn’t allowed to wear dresses because Mom wants her to cover her shape, saying if she’s going to play with the boys, she might as well dress like them because she’d only ruin a nice dress. Loose pants and shirts argue with puberty, the too-early houseguest Mom tries to shoo from her door. She is warned to remain in the playground where puberty won’t find her, and if it tries to wedge its way in, to tell it to go away and come back in a few years. I introduce her to the baby she used to be and let her hold her. They smile at one another, and I smile at them. Fourth grader sees how wonderful she was, and I want to tell her she is perfectly wonderful now. I wish I could tell her to embrace her body, to honor it by standing tall, to join the dance classes Mom says she isn’t thin enough to take; to stop turning off her own light. But the past is done. I’m only visiting to tell her I love her.
Girls Before & After, Part III
I visited her, in eleventh grade-- Closetful of experimental styles and colors, and only an inkling of who she wants to be. Often mistaken for a grown woman, she tries the clothes of adulthood, attempting to cross the finish line of becoming herself. I watch her select a bottle of wine from a shop, complain to the clerk about running short on time to get groceries before picking up the kids, and the clerk forgo asking to see an ID. She hates high school and thinks her hometown is too small. She wants something beyond her front door but she doesn’t know what. No one knows her, not even her. She commits to several boyfriends at once to avoid getting close to any of them. They think they know her but they don’t; she behaves differently in the presence of each. Mom and Dad are angry with her, every day. She either tries and does extremely well at school or doesn’t try and fails spectacularly. There are no B’s or C’s, only A’s and D’s. She upholds a theory that if she worked hard enough to earn A’s in every subject, then every subject would taunt her as a possible college major. I want to argue the merits of this theory, but she argues first: “More options mean more sacrifice,” she tells me, and she is afraid of the cost of sacrifice. I want to tell her the cost of not finding her passion is greater. I introduce her to the baby she used to be, and the fourth grader. She cuddles the baby in her arms, and marvels at her adorable chubby legs. Her own legs are still chubby, but she thinks the baby’s are lovable. I want to tell her that her legs are lovable too. She remembers writing in fourth grade and pulls out her AP English notebook to show her younger self. There are poems, stories, song lyrics, and drawings wedged between class assignments, and her younger self is delighted. She tears out the secret alphabet she invented so they can send one another coded messages. Snuggling the baby, she’s troubled by how long it’s been since she felt loved, noticed, cared for. I want to tell her she’s perfectly wonderful. I want to tell her to listen to her intuition to find out who she is. I want to tell her what I believe she’s capable of achieving. But the past is done. I’m only visiting to tell her I love her.
Rayne Lacko believes music, language, and art connect us, and she explores those themes in her novel, A SONG FOR THE ROAD, and DREAM UP NOW: the Teen Journal for Self-Discovery.
She’s helped writers and teens cultivate creativity in Writers Digest, School Library Journal, DIYMFA.com, ParentMap, and GERM. Her short fiction appears in Gravel, Mixtape Methodology and Skyline. Her story, “Like Father, Like Son,” won Best of 2015 for its category at Wordhaus literary magazine.