Sweet 15

There she was, on our late afternoon walk back from El Llano Park, on the terrace of San Matia’s Jalatalco Church in Oxaca. Her cascading pink dress flared around her feet like the bell in the tower, ringing for her.

There she was, beautiful to behold, flanked by generations of the women in her life, being presented to her world. A 15 year old fresh bud, now prepared to be plucked. As she stood there looking petulant and annoyed, the entire street of people passing by witnessed her glorification. Castilian male musicians in dramatic gold and black brocade costumes played, as the younger one danced, spun, jumped, and somersaulted before her.

She stood, unsmiling, wooden, tolerating this ritual, as a giant flower might be resentful about its own beauty about to bloom.

The dancer and band finished. The virgin was quickly whisked away in a long white limo as the bell tolled 15 times and the plaza emptied.

How I wished I had gotten that kind of reception for my own coming of age. As I stand there on the empty plaza, I recall the scene of my own debutant rite of passage. It does not take place on the Plaza of our parish church, St. Andrews, in Pasadena, California. It takes place in my bedroom at home.

I am 15 and am awakened to my parents holding me down on the bed. As my father holds my arms, my mother beats me with a leather belt. There are no words spoken. I know what this is about. My mother continues with her full force until I am unconscious. I re-gain consciousness on the floor next to my bed to the sound of the doorbell ringing. My parents are gone and therefore do not answer it. 

I open the door to a girl in a pastel yellow uniform from my carpool, Lisa Sloman. I see her father parked out front in the vintage black Mercedes, engine running. I tell her that I’m not feeling well and can’t come to school today. From the look on her face, I can tell she knows it’s more than that.

From then on, I am no longer completely in my body. I ride my my bike to and from school everyday, and everywhere I go. I do not realize that the need to not get in their car again and have them see me up close, comes from shame.

The incident is not mentioned by me or my parents ever again. And my real coming of age celebration would never come to pass.

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