Last night I groaned as I climbed into bed, putting pressure on the bruise that was forming on my knee. Tiny dots of blue had already filled up one side of my knee where a softball had bounced up and hit and the skin was slightly puffy. I looked at my legs and thought "my legs used to be pretty." Both knees are sporting blue bruises from softball hits. The patch of poison ivy on my shin has healed, but left behind a strawberry colored rectangle that resembles the state of Tennessee. I have an abrasion on my calf from banging it on the ladder while cleaning out gutters. There's a scrape up one shin from my bicycle peddle. On second thought, I realized that my legs resembled those of my thirteen year old self. I always had scraped knees and bruises from climbing trees and bicycle crashes from speeding down a hill as fast as possible.
There was a mimosa tree on the southeast corner of my parents' lot. It wasn't what I'd a call a very big tree, but it was big enough to climb with a few sturdy branches to dangle from. For years it was my climbing tree, even after I fell out of it, breaking my arm into two pieces. I can remember Dad threatening to cut down that tree then. As if that would have stopped me from climbing trees all together. I can remember begging him to not cut that tree down. I can remember sitting in that tree one summer watching the sun eclipse the moon. The moon was just above the eastern horizon and huge, in that way that the moon gets sometimes. It looked like you could reach out and touch it, it was so close to the earth. I watched the colors of the moon shift from white gold to blood red while the cicadas buzzed in the distance. Mom was mad because I wasn't inside helping her clean the house. We were getting ready for Janell's wedding and there were family coming into town. There was a large pile of wedding in the living room. Bouquets and flower arrangements. Ribbons and lace. Boxes of those chalky mints that taste like toothpaste and mixed nuts for the punch table. Mom was at her wits end getting it all together and organized neatly while I sat in my tree watching the moon.
I was thirteen that summer. Officially a teenager, but still a gangling wild child climbing trees and ducking through barbed wired fences to go fishing is some farmer's pond. That was the summer I spent weeks and weeks camped out on the couch in Randy and Katrina's house. J and I would walk down to the pool every day. We watched MTV while folding clothes or doing housework. I laid Katrina's bicycle over while racing down a hill and trying to make a turn while going to fast. My body, trapped between road and bike, slid down the road scraping up my whole left side. That was the summer I'd be putting on my first bridesmaids dress, one I wasn't happy to wear. The dress was too low in the front for my comfort and at every fitting, I tugged and tugged at the bodice. It was too low, too tight, too floral, too "girly". Katrina took pity on me and sewed a piece of ribbon in the back that I could tie tight enough to keep the front from gaping open. My shoes had kitten heels; they might as well have been stilettos. I spent hours walking around in them thinking that they'd eventually get more comfortable or I'd get more graceful in my gait. That did not happen. I felt like a hippo, clomping down the aisle in uncomfortable shoes and a dress that did not fit.
It was an in between age, somewhere between liking boys and desperately wanting to pull off the latest fashion look while at the same time climbing trees and racing down hills on a bicycle. It was somewhere between scrapped knees and elbows and lady like grace. I wanted to be both but was starting to give into the voices telling me I could not be both, that it was time to be proper and lady like. Act like a girl. Come on. We've all heard it. All of us are the same. We all climbed trees and crashed bicycles. All of us at one point were told to be little ladies. Now I hear those words "act like a girl" and it makes me cringe. What does that phrase even mean? What's so un-girly about climbing trees? Apparently I never really learned how to "act like a girl" as much as I learned to just act like me. I am almost forty and I still have the same scraps and bruises.
More like badges of honor.