I really, really, really like Dale. He’s cute, and adorable and sweet and his pimples only sometimes gross me out. The only problem is that he’s my brother’s best friend. So what? Chris is always going after my friends. Just because Dale is almost 16 doesn’t mean he’s too old for me. I’m almost 14 for God’s sake. I know he likes me too. I can tell.
My parents adore him. “Why can’t you be more like Dale?” they ask my brother all the time. “Dale gets good grades, always says ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir, and smiles and says please and thank you without being asked.”
One day he was over, waiting for my brother to get home from football practice. My parents were still at work. We sat on the couch clicking through TV shows: The Brady Bunch, The Price is Right, MASH. Dale leaned over and kissed me. This wasn’t the first time. There had been a few kisses between board games, or even more fun, while running around outside playing Kick the Can when he spent the night with my brother. Just quick pecks really. But one day, this day, he wanted more.
This time when he kissed me, it was different. He kissed me hard. His braces didn’t hurt as much as I thought they would. His pimples disappeared, as we got close, so I could almost ignore them. I liked these kisses. He did too. When things started to get “hot and heavy,” (I know now why they call it that, as my heart was beating hard and heavy and I was feeling hot) he said, “If you don’t, I’ll get an older girlfriend.” Did that mean he now considered me his girlfriend? “OK,” I said, desperate to please him, and to hear the word “girlfriend” again. I also wanted to show him that I was mature enough to be his girl.
I was so scared. We moved to the floor in my room. I don’t know why we were on the floor. He started to kiss me again. It felt sloppy, and wet, and rushed. It wasn’t comfortable. He started to open my zipper and take off my shorts. I tried to be cool, but it was hard. And so was he. I had never seen THAT before. I was scared, and I changed my mind.
I said, “NO.”
He said, “Too late, you already said ‘Yes’.”
And it was.
Letter to 13-year-old Tammy, from Tammy in 2013
Why did you let him do that? Why were you home alone with him? Where were your parents, or any adult? Why did your brother blame you? “It’s your fault, you teased him, you deserved it.” That’s what he said? That’s wrong. It’s not your fault, and you didn’t “deserve” it. It is a word so small to mean so much. How did you feel afterward, when you went to bathroom and saw the after effects? You had not even started menstruating yet. What made you want to grow up so quickly?
“You are not allowed to use the stove when we are not home.” Your parents told you at 11. So you emptied a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup into a bowl and ran the faucet till it got as hot as you could get it. You mixed the water into the bowl, but it never made the soup hot. Oh how you wished you were older. To this day you still think of soup as comfort food. Maybe that is a good thing, as you found it within yourself.
I am Tammy Jennings, and I have a story to tell. In my adult life, I have worked with many young women and encourage their voices, their self esteem and self love. I have worked as a counselor and massage therapist to girls with anorexia and bulimia. I am a Doula, and have worked privately and with the Teen Intervention Program, at Kapi’olani Hospital in Honolulu, providing doulas and advocates for teens giving birth in hospitals. This program gave girls a voice and enabled them to make choices in their births, where before they were seen as “perfect patients for every intern in town to come practice on.”
I am presently a lecturer in Hawaii, and have been a teacher for over 30 years, from elementary schools through university. In a middle school, I started a course called “Girl Talk,” which gave young teen girls the space and encouragement to voice their stories, opinions and needs. Above is a bit of my own writing, an excerpt from a memoir on being 13. One thing I hear from girls again and again, is how they didn’t have enough parental guidance and support when they needed it. My parents loved me, but were gone a lot, like many parents, working. They assumed I could look after myself from a pretty young age. This is something I would like to be clear about with new parents. No matter how competent young girls may seem, the guidance and support they still need from adults is vital to any young woman’s coming of age.