In third grade, my dark-haired friend Anika had a genius older brother whose parents let him turn his bedroom into a chemistry lab, his treehouse into the place he slept at night. We weren’t allowed in the treehouse, Anika and I, but we went up anyhow, lifted his air mattress to find the magazines that showed us our future selves: how our breasts might someday drape along our ribs, what a man might do to us, or two men, or a woman along with the men. So many openings. Anika’s fingers quivered when she flipped pages, and something in their shape—nails bitten so short the angry underskin showed—loosened a space behind my navel. I liked the feeling. Like a downhill drop riding in the backseat. I watched her fingers do other things—move checkers, divvy saltines, dress Barbies—but when I said, Your hands make my stomach feel shaky, she dropped the paper she was folding into a flapped pick-a-color fortune-teller and balled up her fingers. That’s weird, she said.
Fifth grade, Karen, greasy blond hair and a legato way of doing things—running, walking, speaking. She even blinked in slow-motion. Her breasts were the first in our class to form triangular peaks beneath her T-shirts, until one day the triangles were half-spheres. In the girls’ bathroom she lifted her shirt: white, white, and in between, three tiny flowers with colored centers—petal pink, sky blue, mint green. The thrill of finding Easter eggs tucked in a tree root. At a sleepover I asked if I could try on the bra. Only if you let me try your retainer, she said. We made the exchange, me imagining her breasts attached to my chest and my saliva in her mouth, though she washed the retainer with soap and hot water before pressing it into her palate.