The skirt was a Home Economics class project. The hem ended up uneven, the waistband was a joke, and the pattern of green and black checks stretched into fun house mirror waves over my hips. It was too tight. But I liked that. I liked the press along my belly. I liked how I had to wiggle the skirt down my legs when it rode up.
A pack of girlfriends had snuck into an over-eighteen event. All of us wanted to face the dance floor, so we crowded our chairs together at a table and waited. The waitress placed our beers in a semicircle in front of us. We pretended to talk to each other, but mostly we peeked beyond our glass fencing to notice if anyone, any man, was looking at us or walking close or might ask us to dance.
Soon, one of them approached. He wasn’t too old, not creepy, and had a blush on his cheeks. We all had our individual, awkward, fourteen-year-old reactions. One of us stared straight at him and smiled big. Another pulled a strand of hair over one eye, pushed it behind an ear, pulled it over her eye again. Another kept her head turned and fake talked with another of us who was holding her breath. As soon as he got close, I looked to the side of him, looked far into space, so I wouldn’t have to see when I wasn’t chosen. I was never chosen.
The staring-straight-at-him girl tapped on my arm, then tapped again harder, then dug her fingernails in. I refocused from my long practiced long stare and mouthed “ow” at her. She stared at me and then her eyes darted towards the dance floor, towards the boy. I looked at him. He had his hand out. He asked if I would dance with him. He shifted his weight from side to side and had to gulp halfway through the short sentence. His uncertainty satisfied a just that moment discovered need inside me. A hot thrill of power lit up my skin, stretched my shoulders back, and jutted my breasts even farther out over the table.
I nodded to him. And then I had to look away in order to gather up my crutches from where they were lying on the floor. I slapped my arms into them, lifted myself to standing, and kicked out first one leg and then the other so the knee locks on my braces would snap into place. Then I had to tug the skirt down past the leather thigh straps and buckles of my leg braces.
When I looked back up, when I was ready, for a second I saw his mouth. It was a perfect Saturday morning cartoon character’s circle of impending doom. Then he turned and ran away. I watched as he bumped through the other dancers and disappeared. Each of my friends, at different angles away from me, away from each other, stared into the distance. I pulled on the spring releases for my knees, sat back down, and joined them.
A quarter of a century later I’m at a classic late eighties lesbian feminist potluck. Pasta with pesto made from the basil crop of one of our gardens, brown rice with stir-fried vegetables, and zucchini bread are served up on the plates we balance on our laps. Our glasses of hibiscus tea sit on the floor beside our chairs. The newsletter committee is looking for somewhere to put on a fund-raising dance. Suggestions of various church halls and bars fold into a discussion about the dances of our past. One of us, an ex high school cheerleader, remembers sexual objectification. How bad it made her feel. How it still affects her relationship with a lover. Around me there are nods of agreement and mutterings of “assholes” and “damaging patriarchal crap.” One woman tells her own story of a mother who pushed her daughter’s looks forward as a way of jumping class. I stare into the distance. I think about the damage of growing up without having ever been sexually objectified. How can I explain this?
“Hey,” I begin, “Objectify me. Talk about my great tits and my perfect nipples and the thoughts they make you think. Say you wish my shorts were just a little bit shorter so you could catch a glimpse of the good stuff. Moan and hoot when I bend over to pick up this glass of tea. Really, objectify me.”
Sandra Gail Lambert writes fiction and memoir. Among the places her work has been accepted are Hippocampus, The Weekly Rumpus, New Letters, Water~Stone, Brevity, Human Parts, Sinister Wisdom, and the North American Review. The River’s Memory, her debut novel, was published by Twisted Road.