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"When I Remember How it Felt to be Thirteen" by Beth Mulcahy

I think of the night I decided I couldn’t wait to not be thirteen anymore. It wasn’t a far drive; I only lived a few blocks up the street. Earlier that day, I had walked down to babysit but it was dark now so the mom told the dad to drive me home. He was a quiet man and in the loud silence of that summer night, the only conversation in the car was the one in my head. I heard the car sounds: key turning, engine starting, the click of our seatbelts. The radio came on with Wilson Phillips' hit that summer of 1990, telling me to Hold On for one more day. The air in the car smelled of leather interior, cologne, and beer with a hint of chewing gum mint. The blast of air conditioning made me shiver as goosebumps dotted up my arms and legs. I felt the leather passenger seat sticking to my thighs as I tried in vain to tug my shorts closer to my knees. I didn’t know what to do with my hands - I folded them in my lap, then twisted my hair around my fingers, cracked my knuckles, and picked at my cuticles. Finally, I folded my hands back in my lap, looked at the clock and then out the window. The dad stared straight ahead as he slowly drove us up the street away from his patch of the earth, where he was growing brats he hated, to mine, where I was growing boobs I hated.

In the rearview mirror, I caught a glimpse of a shadow of the child I used to be. She still needs a babysitter herself, I thought. Out the window, I saw my thirteen-year-old face reflected back: freckled, pimpled and bony. I tucked my hair self-consciously behind my too-big ears and shifted my gaze away from myself. I felt like something in the middle of emerging, not who I was anymore but not yet who I would be, stuck in a body that was becoming a stranger.

In that car, on that night, in those agonizing moments, I was frozen in a space that seemed like it would never end. But I knew better. So did Carnie Wilson, who insisted from the radio that things were gonna change. I’d lived long enough to realize that last year I was 12 and next year I would be 14. I didn’t know how much better it might be than this, but I couldn't bear to think it could be worse. At least I wouldn’t be in this car anymore and thirteen would be in the rear view. Someday I would be someone to whom this man had something to say and I would have something to say back. At the end of that drive, I would be home. It wasn’t a far drive. I couldn’t wait to not be thirteen anymore.

Beth Mulcahy is a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet whose work has appeared in various journals. Her writing bridges gaps between generations and self, hurt and healing.Beth lives in Ohio with her husband and two children and works for a company that provides technology to people without natural speech. Her latest publications can be found here:


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