She sprang up overnight, grew grapefruit breasts, perfect hips. She had skin like milky tea and almond-blonde hair. She told me she had gotten her first period and I wondered if she meant something about grammar. Angela was already getting wolf whistles from construction workers when I still hadn’t made it out of Algebra one.
I wasn’t going to get any whistles with my flat chest, so I started wearing a black hoodie and my brother’s boy scout pants and learned how to smoke cigarettes. Angela played the piano beautifully, so I took up guitar. She spoke French, so I took Spanish. She listened to Jewel, so I chose Marilyn Manson.
My parents were left scratching their heads. I’d gone from a sweet-faced ballerina to an angry skater in three months. My grades were slipping. They decided to enroll me in fencing. Sometime active, something social. Good for a homeschooler. Angela’s parents thought it was a marvelous idea. Active, social. They enrolled Angela too.
We were deposited on the steps of a gym in the middle of nowhere, Kansas. We were handed electrically-wired jackets, mesh masks, and weapons. We were taught how to stand, advance, parry, riposte. We were taught to go faster. We were taught it was okay to be angry. We were taught it was good to be angry. “Your dad hates you,” Coach Butter would mutter in my ear before a bout. My opponents didn’t stand a chance.
Active, social. My grades started to creep back up. My dad showed me his old fencing trophies from college, and sometimes, after dinner, if he was in a good mood, we’d joust a couple bouts in the backyard. The neighbors watched, wondering why my parents didn’t send us to school.
Eventually Angela and I were ready for international tournaments. We drove in rented vans to Texas and Indiana. Coach Butter always let Angela sit shotgun and choose the music. They probably had lots to talk about I reasoned; she was his administrative assistant. Sometimes when I opened my eyes in the dark, I saw them holding hands. It was to keep him awake at night so he didn’t crash the van, she told me later. That made about as much sense as anything else adults did.
In the backseat with me was a twelve year old who called himself Anarchi. He slipped me mix tapes labeled “Filth, Crass, Screeching Weasal.” I slipped him my hand to hold.
Active, social. In Plano, Texas, Coach Butter was black-carded for verbally abusing a judge in one of Angela’s bouts. Anarchi showed me how smoking a joint before a tournament made the whole winning-losing thing seem arbitrary. Coach Butter’s son Geoff started singing a song that went, “Coach and Angela sitting in a tree.” His wife never smiled in the three years I knew her.
Shortly thereafter, my dad got the feeling that things had gotten too active and social. He paid a visit to Angela’s parents and soon we found ourselves enrolled in Tai Kwon Do.