This was after my best friend Carrie ran away with our remedial math teacher Mr. Palladino, and after the list of top ten loosest pussies was found in the boy’s bathroom. I was on the list. But I’m not going to tell you my rank. Both of those things caused a major scandal and the school asked Ms. Bayless, our English teacher, to talk to those of us who were on the list and other girls in our remedial math class who hadn’t been chosen to run away with Mr. Palladino and Riley Martinez, who was six months pregnant and didn’t even know whether the baby was going to be black or white. Basically the school wanted to know why we were all such sluts.
I was pretty pissed. My best friend was gone and they had taken away my lunch. They made us all sit in beanbag chairs, and I laughed at Riley because she was so fat that she could barely lower herself into a beanbag and we all saw her butt crack when she did it.
Ms. Bayless was really into vaginas. She passed around pictures of hundreds of different vaginas: black, white, old, young, fat, freckled, hairy, long-lipped, pierced, saggy. We passed them wordlessly. Ms. Bayless clapped her hands and would say, Oh gosh, here’s a beautiful one! Isn’t being a woman a beautiful thing?
Then she asked us to go around and say what animals our vaginas were. Riley said a ladybug and Tara said a panther. Doula said a pussy…cat and we all laughed and Ms. Bayless said, all right, all right. When it came to me, I said, whatever this is stupid.
Now Risa, Ms. Bayless said, this is just an exercise that gives you a new way of thinking of your body. As something belonging to you and not everyone else, something that you have power and pride in.
I said, okay my vagina would be a skunk.
Why is that? Ms. Bayless said.
Because my queefs smell real bad, I said, and then everyone laughed really hard and Ms. Bayless shouted settle down! Settle down. And then she made me talk to her after everyone left, and she said, Risa I’m really sorry to hear that you have so much hatred and animosity toward your body. And I was like, I really don’t and I don’t know why I need to be here. I know who wrote that thing about me in the boy’s locker room and he is just a creep. And Ms. Bayless said, please write a poem about your vagina and read it for us all tomorrow.
Which is like basically fascism if you ask me. But so here’s the poem I read.
My vagina is like a beautiful garden
Full of beautiful flowers.
My period is a cooling rain.
My queefs smell like roses.
So I won’t let Brian Fillipano stick it in there
Anymore (or my mouth, or my butt).
Would you believe that Ms. Bayless loved it? And from then on I was basically her favorite in the class, and she let me “graduate” early and go back to lunch. And she gave me an A- in English that semester even though I never rewrote my paper on Ethan Frome. So that goes to show what good self-esteem is all about.
Emily Jones lives in Missoula, Montana and is getting her MFA.