School become a hostile place for Charley. When boys and girls started pairing off, Charley found herself on the outside. Finding no particular boy attractive, she was confused to hear girls continuously chatter “Johnny, David, or Mark is cute.” None of them were cute to her. They were just boys, no different than last month or last year. Wanting to fit in, she offered up the observation, “Robert is cute.” They snide group burst into laughter. and began ridiculing her and Robert. Apparent, the skinny red-headed lad hadn’t made the standard cute list. Sing-song shouts of “Charley loves Robert” rang to the treetops. Bashful Robert was humiliated to find himself the focus of the girls’ ridicule and fled the crowd. From then on he avoided Charley like the plague. Shame and rejection darkened her perception of herself. She withdrew and it was as though she had a target on her back. The meaner of her tormentors them resurrected stories about her mother’s madness and labeled her “Crazy Charlsie!” The torment was relentless.
The Barnes children from next door were as familiar to Charley as breathing, a bright spot n her dessert. The twin boys were a year older and Julia a year younger. They’d played cops and robbers, ball, ridden bicycles and built a treehouse together. When the darkness descended at schoole snde group she ended even more on their friendship. They were always able to take her mind off the confusing changes she faced. With Charley approaching puberty, Mrs. Barnes sought to put some distance between Charley and the boys. She forbade horseplay and physical contact, fearing it would awaken young sexuality. This abrupt change disturbed Charley further. Perhaps Mrs. Barnes saw disturbing changes in Charley and put a stop to sleepovers with Julia.
One morning Charley wouldn’t come down when Cora called her for breakfast. Cora found her in the bathroom staring dully at her bloodstained panties. “I’m dying, Cora. Why is this happening to me? You’d better call my father.” She spoke in a monotone.
“Aw Lawdy, Honey. You ain’t dying. You just got the curse. That means you can have a baby now. Don’t you let no boys be kissing you. You gonna bleed a few days ever’ twenty-eight days now till you ’bout forty. You’ll git used to it. I meant to talk to you ‘fore it happened an’ it done slipped up on us. Let me get you a pad and belt an’ I’ll show you what to do.” Cora thought she was comforting Charlie.
Charley was appalled at this unwelcome news. “I don’t want to be a woman. What if somebody finds out about this. I ain’t going to school. Everybody already laughs at me. I wish I could just run off somewhere and live by myself. I can’t stand this!” Charley wailed.
“Yes, you can! Won’t nobody know if you don’t tell ’em. Ain’t no way nobody would as long as you keep your pad changed an’ don’t slip up an’ soil yourself. You need keep a spare pad in your purse. If you start at school, you can get one from the gym teacher.” Cora continued her talk. “You can’t swim, take a bath, ner wash you hair during your period or you might make it stop. Be real careful not to go out barefooted with dew on the ground, neither. That’s the worst. I had a friend once that done all that an’ once she finally had chillun’ ever’ one of ’em had fits. You know what fits is, don’t you? You wouldn’t want to do nuthin’ to make yore pore little chillun’ have fits, would you?” Cora waxed colorful in her warnings as Charley’s spirits hit the dirt.
“Cora, I never carried a purse in my life. Can you imagine all the laughing if if start dragging a purse a few days a month? There ain’t no way I could ask the gym teacher for nothing. She hates me. How can I go to school if I can’t take a bath? I’ll just stay home if I get another curse and you don’t need to worry about me kissing a boy! I’d sooner kiss a pig than that mean bunch up at school. I ain’t gonna marry so there ain’t gonna be no kids to have fits.” Charley was working up a good mad as though Cora was responsible for the insult of her menstrual cycle.
“Charley, ain’t no use in carrying on so over God’s doing. Now you just git yourself ready an’ git on to school. Take a pad with you an’ you’ll do fine. You can put it in your lunch bag an’ leave it in your locker to change after lunch. Now, scoot!”
With a miserable scowl, Charley collected her things and stomped out the back door.