Older girls, like babysitters or a friend's sister in high school, were pedestaled beings with perfect jean jackets. They were white girls, mostly. Close-talkers with side-swept bangs who never appeared too wowed by anything because they had yet to, and might never, encounter what it means to be denied. I coveted their casual nature, believing their incuriosity was a sign of self-possession, of not harboring some secret longing to be seen. Seen not in comparison, or as "other," or through the bewildering construction of compliments that seemed to only further other.
What I always noticed first was their hands. These older girls had chipped nails like shrinking enamel continents on each finger, in colors like baby blue or black. They wore big sweaters, which they'd pull over their hands, ripping open holes like harnesses for their thumbs. On those thick digits I'd spot their silver thumb rings that seemed fastened on, the way flange nuts thread onto screws.
Even their bad skin conveyed a type of beauty that desperately drew me in because it wasn't beauty alone. It was notional. What I perceived as built-in — how do I best express this? — unhindered-ness? Like ripping and ruining one's clothes at one's pleasure. Drawing with a ballpoint pen on the rubber sidewall of one's Converse — a truly satisfying motion, actually. It was things done just because. It was uninterest. Inconceivable amounts of it. How exquisite I thought it would be to not care.
These older girls were impulsive. They dyed their hair on a Monday night. As I remember, a good number of them wanted to become marine biologists. Their copies of Sarah McLachlan CDs or Janet Jackson's The Velvet Rope were well loved and scratched, skipping in unison to the grinding bump bump bump on "I Get Lonely." I was, back then, a decade or so away from clocking my brownness and taking notice of its veiled prominence in my life. I was still a great deal away from scrutinizing my weird, even toxic, relationship to these girls' exclusionary appeal. To their ubiquity. To their immunity. I was coaxed from my stewed, and crummy, and invisible-to-me feeling of inferiority.
So, I praised these girls for the faintest reasons. I held that their overall manner was epitomized by how impossibly cool they looked when doing plain things like pulling something, anything — it didn't matter what — from their back pockets, or casually hoisting their butts onto a kitchen counter mid-conversation. Their thighs didn't seem to pancake like mine when I'd sit down; their knees weren't shapeless either. I call mine potatoes-knees. Inherited from the women on my mother's side, they're spud-cut and a little lumpy. Inelegant.
In winter, these older girls carried out the tiring ritual of unscrambling themselves from their layers with remarkable grace. Nimbly delivering their long necks from circuits of wool scarves was, as ever, a sight to behold. Like when an off-duty ballet dancer steps on the subway and everyone's head turns — she influences us to readjust our postures and perhaps reconsider our whole lives. Just like that, these older girls preoccupied me.
They were the prospect of 14. That summit age I arbitrarily picked, resolving it stood for what I now believe might be a vacant pursuit: some cooked-up idea of having made it without divining what this unspeakable "it" marks or means. Or more humiliatingly, what it proves. When I turned 14, my 16th birthday newly assumed 14's folklore. Then 18. Followed by 24. And so on, and so on. Recently, I've heaped extra faith into 33's double springs, conceiving in its future roundness the calm of an absorbed, less wobbly world where I've developed a better sense of humor and experience with less acuity, the whiplash of life's ups and downs. Come 33, I'll certainly valorize 36. I'll reason it'll supply me with securities I have yet to fathom and eccentricities that permit me to slip out of my sensible mind. That I believe some big, whopping sign might one day parachute down and alert me to my arrival, is, I realize, foolish. Yet here I am at 29, liberally investing notions of sureness into tomorrow's birthdays just as I did with those older girls.