Mary was twelve. For as long as she could remember, she wanted to be twelve. It seemed like the perfect age: Harriet the Spy, Amy March, and that motherly Boxcar Child all seemed to be magical during that year. Mary felt powerful and magical.
Three weeks into the sixth grade, Mary’s world was rocked. She’d been twelve for two-and-a-half months. Waffles died. Waffles was the family dog that her parents bought to test out whether or not they wanted children before she was born. They wanted children. He was named after a dog in a movie, which is why she named her stuffed rabbit Velvet, after the Velveteen Rabbit. It was the only rabbit she knew, though she hoped she’d be healthier than the owner in that book. She knew a lot about references and how things like that worked. After Waffles died, she held onto Velvet so tightly it was embarrassing, but now that she knew tragedy, she could relate any story of hers to any story belonging to someone else. It would make her a good friend.
When asked by grownups, her favorite subject in school was math. She was excited about Algebra and the number of checks she could put on her page before turning it in. Check, check, check; I’m twelve, she thought.
Five months into being twelve, she broke her first bone. Her wrist snapped in two while she was doing something embarrassing, so she made up a different story. She’d never lied before and wondered if somehow the reflection of her face in people’s eyes told the story differently: “I didn’t fall off the trampoline doing a double back flip; I fell off my desk while playing a solo make believe game I invented for myself when I was sent to my room.” She couldn’t sing, but she felt like someone else could probably write a song about her life. It was meaningful.
Seven months into being twelve, Mary cried for what felt like an entire night. She couldn’t stop crying, and it wasn’t even about her. See, she wasn’t selfish. There was a new girl at school, and she was ugly. She had actually been there for a few months, but she still acted new, which is what was so sad to Mary. Nobody would sit with her, and she got her period all over her pants. Mary wouldn’t have the opportunity for that to happen to her for three more years, but she felt so deeply for this girl that her head hurt for the next three days. Why won’t people be nice to her? is what she wailed to her mother. The next day at lunch, Mary sat in the same chair at the same table she’d sat in for the entire year. She walked from class to class with the same girls. She waved at the new girl and almost thought about extending some sort of invitation her way. She laughed instead, and her friends never knew about the crying.
Twelve times two is twenty-four, Mary said twelve years later. She hated her first-rung-on-a-ladder-to-who-knows-where job and still had to babysit on nights and weekends to afford the life to which her friends were accustomed. She didn’t have time to dry her hair, and she never learned how to paint her own nails. Her friends had always been the same, and she was lucky. She stared at the child getting into her car and back at the one in the car seat. Off we go, she thought to them. “Homeward bound,” she said out loud.