Ocean in the Twelfth Year
My mother is forever blonde with legs that will always be skinnier than
mine. In a picture from ten years ago, I mistake her for a movie star
and think, Oh my god, my mother is beautiful. In the picture, all her
teeth are showing and she is wearing jeans and a black t-shirt at the
county fair. Next to her my little sister holds up a baby bunny. The
day was sunny and it glints off my mother's hair like the sun has been
looking for her, its single target, and can finally truly glow. I can't
tell her all the ways I am sorry for everything that came before and
after this moment—how sorry I am for not noticing her beauty,
always too caught up in my searching for my own.
My body at 12... has just started the menstrual cycle that will take seven
years to become regular. In the bathroom of the Florida house, I scrub
sand from my scalp, rub scratches from my bikini, and drip blood on my
hand. Afraid of tampons, I use pads and don't get in the water; I
change them every hour. After the fifth time my cousin, who is older
and has had many periods, says, "There's no way you needed to change
again." I say, "Next time you want to come see?"
When Dad first takes me to the beach, he peers out and says, "This
isn't what I wanted your first look at the ocean to be. I wanted you to
feel how big it is."
He doesn't realize that at twelve the ocean is everything to me, the
whole universe. The ocean will not be enough for my father. It will not
wash away a farm rotting to mud, five surprise kids, a million farm
equipment loans. The ocean won't bring my granddad back; it won't save
anyone from anything. It doesn't make him feel small. He feels big in
his worry and responsibility. Each wave the ocean brings to shore
reveals how empty are its pockets, how little are its needs.
Kayla Thomas is in the MFA Fiction program at the University of Indiana. Her work has appeared in Day One.
Detail of photo on main page courtesy
of Andreas Manessinger.
Read KT's postcard.
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