When I was nine years old my mother watched me from the window of our third-floor apartment as I played outside in the school yard. All I could do was scream and cover my mouth with my hands, while letting out an innocent giggle as I saw a boy’s butt for the first time. I’m not sure where this particular boy came from, but the boys in the neighborhood were chasing my friends and me around the school yard all day. All the girls were lined up and leaning on the fence when he ran up to us and pulled his pants down. Through my scream and laughter I heard, “Azizah!”
That was my mother calling my name. Through the screened windows, I could see the anger on her face.
“Bye, I have to go,” I told my friends. I ran through the black paved school yard and into my apartment building. When I entered, my mother took me into the bathroom and closed the door. This was our secret place.
“Azizah, you have your period now,” my mother told me. I had started my period a couple of months ago. Seeing blood stains in my underwear left me in tears as I wondered if I was dying. On that day, my mother dried my tears and told me it meant I was becoming a woman. My round eyes grew with excitement at the thought of becoming a woman.
Today, she shared a different story.
“You can get pregnant now, so you have to be careful with boys,” my mother continued.
“Oh my God, I’m pregnant?” I started to cry. I told my mother how sorry I was and that I didn’t know the boy was going to pull down his pants, and I didn’t want to become pregnant. Once again, she dried my tears.
“You’re not pregnant, but you can get pregnant, so you have to be careful,” my mother explained.
“How can I get pregnant?” I asked.
My mother smiled and told me that she would tell me when I got older, but I beat her to it.
Now I was in junior high school. My aunt used to call me Betty Boop because of the curves on my small-framed body. I was developed for my age, and so were my two best friends, Julisa and Asia.
I remember the first and only time I cut school. There were groups of boys that used to hang around our junior high school and flirt with us after school. Julisa started dating one of the boys, whose name was Trevor. Trevor had a friend named Michael, who used to see me around whenever Trevor would come to our school to see Julisa. Michael asked Trevor to introduce him to me. Since I lived right next door to my junior high school, I didn’t want to risk trying to see him after school, so I decided the smartest option would be to cut school. Julisa and Asia already cut school, so this wasn’t new to them.
I was so excited the morning that Julisa, Asia, and I met. We were giggling as we walked the Brooklyn streets to get to Trevor’s apartment building. I didn’t know how much would transpire that day. I didn’t know that I would go from laughter to stomach pain from nervousness about what I had just done. I didn’t know that he would never call me again or that my best friends would start to talk about me behind my back and name me a ho. I didn’t think that I had a choice and that I could have told Trevor no.
That night, I came home. I closed the door once I was inside my secret place. This time, I was alone, and my mother wasn’t there to explain the drops of blood inside my panties. I was left to dry my own tears. I never saw Trevor again—maybe because I was 12 and he was 17. That day, I did not conceive a child. My stomach carried a burden of worthlessness. I sought to find the love I so desired. To fill the emptiness I felt from my broken home.
This was once a story that broke me, but today it is a story that inspires me. I learned to possess the power I have within. I have a voice that I now use. I have the power of choice that I exercise daily. I have the freedom of forgiveness. I can look back and say I forgive the girl I was…because she was 12. And when she was 12, she did the best she could with what she knew.
And she definitely did do her best—because just look at me now.
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