“The Girls In My Hometown Made Do” by Meagan Maguire
The girls in the small town made do. The girls lived far away from each other. Their homes were small and cramped. Their homes were surrounded by the lonely wilderness. Jagged pine trees loomed over them year after year. The girls had to squint to see their nearest neighbor’s house, if they could see it at all. They didn’t have cell phones. When something terrible happened they were all alone.
The girls made do when something terrible happened. They hid under beds, in closets, in dark basements. They hid in unheated sheds where they held weeping younger siblings and tried to stay warm as snow drifted in under the door. They repeated the names of warm things under their breath: the sun, the Bahamas, hot chocolate, Florida.
The girls in town worked eight hour shifts after they got out of school. They worked packing apples, processing fish, mucking manure, waiting tables, and cleaning houses. They made big pots of store brand mac n cheese with their earnings. The girls scooped a mound of orange noodles into a bowl and gave it to a sibling, who ate it greedily.
The girls in town barely slept. They bought a Red Bull from the convenience store before school and again during lunch. The girls in town had to make a video project for school and didn’t know anyone who owned a video camera. Teachers handed them bad grades without even a sigh of disappointment.
They lived in houses where most the paint had peeled off. They lived in houses repainted with streaks of spray paint, which is cheaper than house paint. They lived in houses that were uneven and sagging because the foundation was rotten. The girls lived in narrow metal trailers that smelled like cat piss. They lived in houses cobbled together with plywood and scrap lumber and sheet metal. They lived next to barns that were on the verge of collapse. They lived next to abandoned houses still stuffed with junk. The girls in town didn’t have glass windows, just plastic sheeting kept in place by staples from a staple gun they kept on their nightstand. They stuffed towels under the door to keep out the draft. They shared bedrooms with cousins and grandmothers and little sisters.
They’d walk around in the woods for hours. They had hidden places in the woods where they would go to be alone. They’d scrawl out their secrets in gel pen and hide the scraps of paper in a coffee can hidden behind a rock or under some leaves.
The girls were bored. They’d bike for miles in the rain and snow to see a friend. They mixed milk and juice and soda and ketchup together and dared a friend to drink it. In summer they scurried up pine trees and got pitch all over their bare feet. They got together and watched dumb horror movies rented from the Redbox outside the convenience store. They bought chips and Little Debbie Cakes and gorged until they were sick then gorged some more. They fished out half-smoked cigarettes from public ashtrays and smoked them together.
Some girls in town drove cars with no heaters. They smoked weed between classes and had a pile of Red Bull cans on the passenger side floor. On the weekends they’d take their car mudding or drive it down to the river and smoke more weed.
Some girls in town didn’t have cars. They slept with boys who did, even though they didn’t like them. The boys would drive the girls wherever they wanted. When she got where she wanted the boy would fuck her in the backseat. While getting fucked she’d would think about this and that. The girls knew it was wrong to trade their body, but sometimes they felt like they were going to die if they stayed home one more minute. They’d goad the boy to drive faster and stick their head out the window to breathe in the night air and get a notion of what freedom felt like. Some of the boys they liked. Some of the boys they loved. Some of the boys they had babies with.
The girls meant it when they said they had to get out of the house. At home there were screaming matches. There were intolerable older siblings who lost their jobs and moved back in. There were stepfathers and uncles and fathers who stuffed thick-fingered hands down girls’ pants or “visited” their bedrooms. There were beatings and drunken fights. There were holes in the wall from fists. There were heads smashed against TVs and anger that the TV got broke because someone couldn’t shut their mouth. The girls in town shot guns at tin cans and knew exactly who they wished was on the other side of that barrel.
Sometimes there were sanctuaries. There were friends who could give shelter. There were older boyfriends with houses of their own. There were days parents passed out drunk early and left them alone for the night. There were kind but frail grandparents. There was a Wal-Mart open 24 hours where you could wait until Dad had calmed down. There were days you could delay going home by going to detention.
The girls said I love you to their parents. They cleaned up mom’s vomit and helped her to bed when she’d drank too much. They gave mom their paychecks so she could pay the electric bill or prevent her car from getting repossessed. They gave their dads homemade cards and mowed the lawn without being asked to.
The girls in town knew what heroin looked like from a young age. They knew what OxyContin looked like and God help you if you tried to rip them off by trying to sell them aspirin with codeine instead. They’d shoot up in the bathrooms at school. They’d snort mashed Oxys off the back of the sink. They’d try to eat their free or reduced lunch while barely able to use their fingers. They would pass around sticky sweet Starbursts and eat them in greedy handfuls.
The girls were still bored. They snapped their gum. They swam in the pond but wore a shirt over their bathing suit because they felt fat. They gossiped. They ate ice cream out of Styrofoam cups down at the Dairy Joy. They drank warm beer. They pooled their money to rent a room at the Ramada Inn so they could use the hot tub.
The girls got angry. They bit and hit other girls. They called people whores and fuckers and douchebags. They keyed cars and threw Big Gulps as their enemies sped off.
The girls talked frankly with each other about the situation at home. One girl in town got her stepfather to buy her a new winter coat and boots because he’d raped her. They talked blankly about being choked by their boyfriends and how they hadn’t eaten in two days. They talked unemotionally about beatings and alcoholism and molestation. They never talked about how they felt. Was anything going to change if you cried about it? What right do you have to feel sorry for yourself when everyone else is hurting too?
The girls in town never complained. The girls in town made do. They got older and older and until one day no one called them girls anymore.