BY VIRGINIA KANE
after Olivia Gatwood
I rolled my kilt the way Serena taught me,
turning the waistband out
before collapsing the fabric over itself
until my hemline crept
from the birthmark beside my knee cap
to the unshaved region of my upper thigh.
Before she instructed me in this careful art,
she explained the stakes of her wisdom –
that you could separate the girls who spent lunch
sunbathing in sports bras on the hoods of their Jeeps
from the ones who snuck cafeteria trays into the library
by where their skirts fell relative to their knees.
I could practice what the classroom taught,
humble myself before God, but only
one hierarchy mattered, grounded in
who had begged her mother hard enough
to pay a tailor to chop off a hand’s worth of cloth,
then later, folded and tucked and disappeared
the extra inches even the seamstress deemed too far.
All my life I had heard about good and bad girls
in vagueness, but now, there was a right way
to be a good girl, and the right way to be a bad girl.
If I wasn’t unscathed enough to be the former,
I’d better prove I deserved to go down as the latter.
I hiked my kilt as high as I could without choking
my ribcage, but all that time I spent
inching towards rebellion, I knew I was an imitation.
So far from the girls who walked into prom
with GoGo Squeez pouches of vodka
duct taped to their inner thighs, then showed up
to Monday homeroom with a fresh silver hoop
clutching the crescent of their cartilage, and I couldn’t
believe Zoey had really done it, lost her virginity
on a hiking trail, told us at play practice the morning after
Valentine’s Day like she was answering what she ate
for breakfast, then scurried up the rafters to position
a spotlight, our mouths agape at how changed
and unchanged she could be in the same breath,
which meant she must have been marked that way
from the start, which meant maybe we all were,
though none of us knew what for, exactly.
When the final bell rang, I would linger
on the porch of the common room,
studying the window where girls once engraved
their initials and class years with their engagement rings
on their last visit to campus before their weddings.
No one talked about what became of them after.
Except when Marley installed an art exhibit
in one of the bathrooms leftover from the days
when girls boarded, stretched a sheet
of aquamarine cellophane over the dugout
of a bathtub then Sharpied the outline of a woman,
like she was submerged in the crinkly plastic water,
and you couldn’t tell if she was bathing or drowning.