Image © Samir Bhimji 2019
|by Kathryn L. Hall
|May 3, 2019
When it starts, it may be hard for you to understand. Talking about it can be uncomfortable because these things usually stay hidden. It’s awkward, a hassle, and can confuse you. It might even cause you to act out. However, this is essential to talk about. It happens to everyone. A physical change that occurs when a child is ready to become an adult, one that is capable of reproduction, the basis of life. The years between ten and seventeen can be a lot of fun but also very puzzling. If you are reading this, it means you are about to or are already experiencing changes. This book is designed to help you through this challenging, awkward time in your life. It may not answer all of your questions or solve your problems, but after reading, you should know more about what is happening. It may seem like forever, but trust that this is a temporary state.
See Brody. A boy. He is fifteen. Brody has grown a lot over the summer, some other boys in his grade are still smaller and have not hit their growth spurt; this is a side effect of puberty. Gangly, he dangles over people in the hallways with his vibrant mop of ginger hair and copious freckles; he is a giraffe among the other teens. In a blue and green long-sleeved top and black Vans, he clomps around and chews the inside of his cheeks like he is munching on branches.
See Lana. A girl. She is fourteen. Lana is dainty; small for her age, she hasn’t grown into her hips yet. Tiny: wrists, waist, thighs, and chest. They are in development. Not like some of her other friends who grew into their breasts a few years ago; this is a side effect of puberty. She has light brunette wispy bangs with hair that reaches her shoulders. Lana slouches down the halls in her short green dress with white polka dots, matching Keds, and her arms covered by her pink cardigan. She keeps her arms crossed.
Brody will experience wet dreams. Lana will get her period once a month. Both will hear changes in voice; Brody’s will be more prominent than Lana’s. They will both shave. Both Brody and Lana will have primal urges of arousal. These are all common side effects of puberty and are nothing to fear. But you see what begins to happen? They go through these changes separately, and they interact with one another in a homogenized school environment. Let’s see what happens to Lana and Brody when they bump into each other in the hallway.
See Brody talk to Lana
Brody and Lana have a few classes together. They talk to each other in the drama program but have different circles of friends. One day, after school, they meet each other in the corridor, having just packed all their books in their bags. Lana closes her locker and leaves while Brody hops to catch up.
“Uh, hi, Lana.” His voice cracks; this is a side effect of puberty. He hates this side effect. His confidence is blown.
“Hi, Brody.” Lana pushes a stray hair behind her ear.
“What’s up?” Brody turns his body slightly to face her. That’s not a question, Brody.
“Nothing much. Just going home.” Brody notices how pretty Lana looks in dresses.
“Right, right.” This gets him nowhere.
“What’s up with you?” Lana looks up into Brody’s eyes. He almost walks into a garbage bin.
“Oh just…” Brody needs to think of something cool and quick. However, this isn’t going how he wanted it to at all. “I’m going to the pizza place on the corner.” Not bad, Brody. Did she buy it?
“Cool. They have great pizza. I gotta go, my dad’s waiting for me. He hates to be kept waiting.” Brody doesn’t realize that they have reached the school’s entrance. “Bye!” Lana patters down the front steps to a dented silver SUV. Brody’s mission has failed. His coolness shatters. This is a side effect of becoming an adult.
See Lana talk to Brody
Brody catches up to Lana after she closes her locker.
“Hi Lana.” His voice cracks; this is a side effect of puberty.
“Hi, Brody.” Lana puts a stray hair behind her ear. Her palms are sweaty. That’s when Lana wonders, why is he talking to her? She knows he only does it on rare occasions. They aren’t friends, after all.
“What’s up?” Brody turns his body slightly to face her. What is she supposed to say?
“Nothing much. Going home.” Lana’s light green dress swishes as she walks. Why does Lana say that? She always says the wrong things.
“Right, right.” Brody scratches his head.
Lana likes his hands and his forearms; his left one has a scar on it. She wonders how he got it. A bike accident, perhaps? This silence is uncomfortable. Lana should say something. But what? “What’s up with you?” Lana looks up into Brody’s eyes.
“Oh just…” Brody begins.
He is so cool. How is he so collected? Lana wishes she had even half his confidence.
“I’m going to the pizza place on the corner.”
He’s going with friends. He must be. Lana wants Brody to be her friend. Lana, invite yourself along. You can do it, girl! They have reached the school’s entrance.
“Cool. They have great pizza. I gotta go, my dad’s waiting for me. He hates to be kept waiting.” God, she barely got out alive. Why must she rush off? She always does this. Bolts. He wasn’t going to hurt you, Lana. “Bye!” She patters quickly down the front steps. Wait. He was inviting her to get pizza, wasn’t he? Lana rushes over to the silver dented SUV. No, he would never. She brushes the thought from her mind. But he was, Lana!
See, this is the problem with puberty. This is a side effect of becoming an adult.
Do you see what happened to Lana and Brody? Take notes of these side effects. They will happen to you, too! Even once you are out of puberty, the side effects linger. For example, let’s see what happens when Brody bumps into Lana ten years from now.
See Brody and Lana meet
Downtown. A beautiful spring day. Brody is feeling good. His TA position just finished and Dr. Barrett had recommended him to a friend in city planning.
Lana has to look twice to make sure it is Brody that she sees walking towards her. He doesn’t recognize her, does he? Dare she say hi? Of course. What could it hurt? “Brody?” Lana says too quizzically and with a little too much enthusiasm.
He gives her the strangest look, one that is a bit taken aback and confused, and almost upset. “Yeah?” Brody doesn’t know who she is. But – wait. No. His eyes grow wide with his smile. “Lana? Is that you?” He is more ecstatic than Lana. It is Lana. She has grown up.
“You remember me?”
“I almost didn’t recognize you. You look different.” Brody takes her in; she wears a tight business skirt and a purple blouse, no frills. Lana has a real straight A-line haircut and cheekbones. Boy, does she have cheekbones. “I mean, good. Not that you didn’t before.” He laughs. Lana blushes.
“What have you been up to?” Lana is so happy to see him again. He grew into his height and looks effortless. He still has an effect on her, one that makes her weak in the knees, one that makes her feel, even still, not equal. Because even if you escape high school, you cannot forget it.
Lana is more confident this time, and Brody notices. She is different. Less quiet. Why hadn’t he asked her out ten years ago? This is a side effect of being a man. “You know, I got a real job. Blessed I don’t have student loans to pay off!” Shit, what if she had student loans. He is such a dick. What was he thinking? Change the subject, quick. Ask her out. “Hey, how about we get dinner sometime?”
“I’m free tonight.” Lana feels an immediate regret. This is a side effect of being a woman.
See Lana and Brody date
Brody and Lana meet at an excellent brewery by the water. The sun is going down, couples and friends are on the patio and pedestrians walk past, enjoying the ocean view. Brody orders an IPA while Lana takes a long island ice tea.
“Why ask me out?” Lana was grinning and couldn’t stop. Their smiles were stuck to their faces for the evening. At a distance, a perfect couple.
“Because I wanted to hear what you’ve been up to for the past six years.” So, Brody thinks, he can find out what she has been doing and see if he can befriend her, or more. Preferably more. “I didn’t get to ask you out in high school, so now seemed a good a time as any.” Should Brody have said that? She might find it endearing. Right?
“Really? You know I had a crush on you in high school.” Lana blushes deep. “Quite a bad one, actually.”
“Is that so?” There is a connection. This is going exactly how Brody hoped. Steaks arrive, and they carve into them after a clink of their glasses.
Lana gets to overthinking again. She wants to go home with him. But does she? Would this end well? She doesn’t want to fuck this up. I mean, this is Brody. THE Brody. Lana can see committing to him. Maybe she should hold out.
“Do you want dessert?” He was devilish. Lana could just sleep with him. That would satisfy her. But she would like something more. Does he?
“I could go for dessert.” Lana picks up the menu and flips to the back to look at the sweets.
“I’m thinking the tiramisu.” Half of his third pale ale is done. Lana is suddenly unsure about continuing. This is a side effect of being a woman.
“What about you? What do you want?” Lana looks to be concentrating hard. She’s become quiet. What does Lana mean by that? Is Brody doing everything right? He thought he was. Brody was sure before. But now he wishes he knew which way the date was going. This is a side effect of being a man.
They decide to share a tiramisu. With two forks they devour it by candlelight. While they wait for the bill, Brody adamantly decides he will pay. It’s the least he can do. He knows she will try, but she liked him in high school. He could have asked her out. Brody can do this.
“Let me pay.”
“No, I insist I pay.” He places his hand out for the bill.
“I don’t want you to do that.” Lana knows she is not forced to sleep with him if he pays. But she will feel guiltier if he does and then she doesn’t sleep with him. Besides, why must he pay? Does he want to assert dominance?
“No Lana. I’m paying. Relax.” Lana is not relaxed. This is a side effect.
Brody and Lana walk together down the gum-speckled sidewalk. Lana loves fresh walks at night. A car alarm goes off, a baby cries, and two men get into a loud disagreement. Lana doesn’t know what part of town they have wandered into. She is concerned. Vehicles rush by with lights flickering between the couple intermittently. They are close to Brody’s house. Lana doesn’t know that. Brody sweats, wondering if he should invite her over. This is a side effect.
“This is my place.” Brody itches the back of his head, nervous. This is a side effect.
“Really?” Lana stares up at the apartment building. It looks creepy. She glances back to Brody and her fear fades. She likes when he itches his head. She wants to see the scar on his left arm again. A side effect.
“Do you wanna come up?” Brody sees Lana wring her hands the way she does when she is unsure. She did that in drama class before performing. “For coffee.” Should he have said that? A side effect.
Lana separates her hands. He has a great smile and eyes. Side effect. “Sure. Yeah, I’d love to see your place.”
Lana is nervous. Side effect. Brody is nervous. Side effect.
See Brody and Lana have fun together!
See Brody never call. See Lana never call. See them avoid each other six months later on the street. See them try. See them fight. See Lana regret trying. See Lana mess things up. See Brody mess things up. See them date other people. See them perform the same routine with other people. See them marry other people. See one of them divorce, then both. See them never see each other again.
Do you see how messy puberty is? You see how complicated girls are? Do you see how complicated boys are? Do you see how complicated adulthood is? These are the awkward, difficult changes you will go through. What a mess. What awful life-hinging side effects. No, this is not a side effect, this is just it, this is living. That’s all there is, ladies and gentlemen. It all happens, and then you stop. These are the side effects of being human.
Kathryn L. Hall is from Vancouver, Canada and writes short fiction along with book reviews. Her work tackles how humans relate to one another and internal conflict. She is a graduate of the University of Victoria with a BFA in creative writing. Her work appears in Saltern Magazine.
Samir Bhimji is a Vancouverite and a graduate of the creative writing program at the University of Victoria, where he specialized in fiction and drama. He draws pictures and sometimes they’re actually pretty good. His comic “Laundry Days” can be found in This Side of West Vol. X, and his short story “Gaddha” received an honourable mention from Glimmer Train and was published in Geometry’s fourth issue. He also did some other stuff too.