We have a special treat this week on Weird Tales! The ridiculously talented Kelly Kathleen Ferguson has agreed to share an excerpt from her book, My Life as Laura: How I Searched for Laura Ingalls Wilder and Found Myself. You’ll want to pick up a copy from your local bookstore real quick-like after reading because it doesn’t get any realer than this. Class pictures, training bras, and reproductive diagrams, oh my! If love is a battlefield, puberty is war.
The Glory Days
by Kelly Kathleen Ferguson
I knew childhood was over the day my mother came to my bedroom, hurtled a gray missive, and slammed the door shut. Spooked, I held the book at arm’s length—Attaining Womanhood: A Doctor Talks to Girls About Sex, by George W. Corner M.D. (Implied subtitle: There Will be Blood). At first, I merely puzzled over the black doodles of Little Lulu morphing into June Cleaver, but the situation quickly turned horrific. Headless torsos and butchered body parts. Cross-sections of ovaries with grenade eggs spilling out. Fallopian tube nooses curling. My reaction was immediate: No way.
My mother acted as if she had pawned off a dead body, and I disposed of the corpse accordingly, burying the book beneath an equally disturbing eyelet-lace training bra. But there was no avoiding fate. The diagrams, the Fig. 6s and Fig. 7s, the charts, and line drawings of public hair kept resurfacing from the murky depths of my dresser. A floater.
For the most part, so far I had managed the girly stuff just fine. I outfitted my Barbies in fashionable clothing and looked cute enough myself in one or two dresses. Strangers pinched my cheeks. Womanhood glowed on the horizon as my Easy-Bake Oven cakes emerged one after the other, perfectly risen and moist.
Then puberty hit and I didn’t grow up so much as grow in, like a toenail.
I started when I was ten.
At the zoo.
Are you there, God? It’s me, Kelly. Consider this our final conversation.
At ten I was not equipped for the pressure of procreation. I shot up to 5’ 3” by sixth grade, 5’ 7” by eighth.
“Look at you, all big and grown up!” my parents’ friends exclaimed.
“Big” and “grown-up” were a one-two slug to the gut. When I heard other girls described as “little” or “darling,” I crumpled, knowing I would never again be adorable. Like many girls who get too tall too soon, I hunched and tried walking with bent legs.
A son can be popular based on athletic prowess, money or talent, but a daughter in 1980s Alabama had to be pretty. I knew looking good was the key to success, popularity, and fame. I tried. I woke up each morning to my arsenal: hair dryer, hot rollers, tweezers, eyelash curler, Maybelline Bloomin’ Blues, Cover Girl Pro mascara, Kissing Sticks, eyebrow pencils, eyeliner, lip wax. Perched on the bathroom counter, I painstakingly mimicked the makeup charts from Mademoiselle and Glamour, assessing the shape of my face, carving cheekbones with powder.
School pictures are the cold, hard evidence of failure.
Sixth grade: Greasy hair yanked back by two barrettes, cayenne peppering of forehead acne, braces, orange macramé necklace to offset the pallid pink terry cloth shirt.
Seventh grade: Perm on top of henna results in Orphan Annie catastrophe. Insistent wearing of new monogrammed sweater in ninety-degree heat causes line of too-dark orange foundation dripping down the neck.
Eighth grade: Feathered wings plastered with White Rain, apricot blush applied like spackle. Brown frosted lipstick pinched from Mom gives me forty-year-old lips. Attempt to appear dramatic results in facial expression that makes the subject resemble the victim of a bad taco.
Oh! My friends will say. Surely, you didn’t look that bad, but if I show them, they turn quiet and change the subject. The tragedy is that these pictures aren’t funny bad, like disco dancing, but sad bad, like botched harelip surgery. When these photos were returned in homeroom, I held my breath, hoping to unveil a contact sheet of Charlie’s Angels. Reality crushed. Who was this blotchy, defeated lumphead? Womanhood was a mystery to me as I sat alone for hours, locked in the bathroom with the Tampax diagram, trying to make sense of the situation. All I knew so far was that growing up felt pretty miserable.
Kelly Kathleen Ferguson is the author of My Life as Laura: How I Searched for Laura Ingalls Wilder and Found Myself (Press 53, 2011). Her work has appeared in mental_floss magazine, Poets & Writers, The Gettysburg Review (for which she received a Pushcart nomination), McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Brevity, among other publications. She has an MFA from the University of Montana, and is in pursuit of a PhD in creative nonfiction at Ohio University.
Kelly is a Libra, Cancer rising, Aquarian moon. She is Irish/French/German, lapsed Roman Catholic, and right-brained. Kelly once received a minority scholarship for a machinist certification program at Durham Technical Community College. When Kelly was four, she ate a mothball and had to have her stomach pumped, or she would have died.