J is for Judged

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by Molly Peck

When you're a teenager, you have so many emotions that you don’t know the names of. The big ones don’t seem to cover it anymore. You don’t cry because you’re hungry or scared, you sob when you’re jealous or insecure, things you’ve heard the definitions of but never really put a face to the name. Being Jewish, I knew that I would be crowned a woman at age thirteen. The concept made no sense to me; as a sensible person, I knew that you had to be at least eighteen and not a virgin to be a woman. But looking back, thirteen makes you a grown woman because you feel all the emotions that a child will never face.

My bat mitzvah had passed when I went to Michael’s. He had been my neighbor for about four or five years at that point and I had suspected for a while that he had a crush on me. I decided I would dress up a little for his big day of becoming a man.

I carpooled to temple with my friend Carly, another neighbor. We sat through the service together, me showing off a little, joining in with all the Hebrew prayers, and her marveling at the different-ness of it all. Following the service, the temple always has a small luncheon to reward those who had managed to sit through the whole thing. I don’t remember how long it took Carly and I to decide we needed to go to the bathroom, but either way, we ended up there.

I admired myself in the mirror, tweaking a couple things while scrubbing my hands clean. I was surprised that my mom let me wear my chosen outfit. The heels were bold, and the top’s straps were too long, so it drifted a little lower than I was comfortable with—which meant it was much lower than my mom was comfortable with. But that day she let me off. No comments, no skeptical stares, nothing. She just saw me out the door, and I felt good.

“How old are you?”

I looked around. A rather heavy, older woman stood beside me, waiting for her turn at the sink. I knew instantly she was a relative of Michael’s. I hate talking to strangers, and I could tell that her tone was more confrontational than friendly. The sense of being grown up vanished; I was a child again as soon as I heard the judgement in her voice.

“Thirteen,” I answered. Insecurities I didn’t even know I had were rushing through my body before she even replied. Blood rushed to my head, my heart pumped, my stomach twisted. I felt like I already knew what she was getting at.

“Are you? I thought you were sixteen, the way you were dressed.” I stared at my own reflection in the mirror, to try and steady myself. Instead, I ended up noticing how much cleavage I was showing, how bright my lipstick was, how much taller I was than usual.

I shook my head, staring at my own hands in the sink. “No, thirteen,” was all I could think of to say.

“I’m surprised your mother let you out of the house like that,” the heavy woman snorted. I clam up when I’m nervous. The bathroom was full of other women, but I felt alone. Any confidence I had with my extra three inches disappeared. I think I mumbled something in reply, but I don’t remember what. All I heard was her voice playing over and over again, reminding me that I was just pretending to be an adult.

I spent the rest of the afternoon confused and unsettled in my own skin. Feeling my breasts hanging off me like weights tied to my chest, wondering why I looked like this when I was still a child inside. I had always wanted to be perceived as older rather than younger, because everyone assumed I was young based on my height, but this was so much worse. Carly said later that she had told her mother about the incident. Her mother said the woman was rude and there was nothing wrong with how I was dressed. But she had also raised Carly, and I wasn’t all that impressed with how Carly turned out.

My own mother was different. She had raised me, and even though we had wildly different opinions on subjects like what clothes I should be wearing, I knew she was smarter than Carly’s mother.

A quick note about my mother; she’s not good with emotions, and not just her own. She can make me feel better because I’m her daughter, because since I was born a hug has stopped me from crying. She looks at the facts, judges the situation rationally. She is one of those people who will tell you why you have no reason to be upset, but not how to stop feeling sad. So when I decided to tell her about this, I already knew that I would get an unsatisfying response.

“Well,” she said slowly, “Your outfit was a little revealing. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to get into an argument, and it wasn’t inappropriate, but...” she trailed off with an apologetic smile.

That was when I learned what it was like to a woman.

A young woman’s encounter with judgement that leads her to realize what it means to grow up.
— Molly Peck, on inspiration for "Judged"

MOLLY PECK is a recent graduate of Emerson College with short legs and big dreams. She is currently living in Los Angeles, where she is attempting to become a screenwriter.