When I was ten, all I wanted was to shave my legs.
Not a bike. Not an autographed Kirk Cameron poster. And certainly not the pink portable stereo with an AM/FM radio and tape deck that my parents bought to appease my incessant request for permission to remove the unwanted forest growing on my legs.
I’m not exaggerating. I had a canopy of hair so thick that I didn’t know the color of my legs. For all I knew I was a Smurf under all that foliage. It was horrifying.
It was the fifth grade. And the only thing I wanted more than hairless legs was a boyfriend. I had several candidates scoped out. There was Nicaraguan boy named Carlos, which was my first kiss. He was not at all that attractive, but his persistence on wooing me really won him points. There also was Serafin. Although I never kissed him, I did let him grab my ass everyday after school. He was the hairiest boy I knew. Not only did he have serious fuzz over his lip, he also had arm pit hair that rivaled my father’s bush. But it was Anthony, the tallest boy in the whole school, that I was after. He was handsome and sweet and had a really nice mullet. I never kissed him or let him grab my ass, but, we did talk. We talked all the time. About all sort of things. Mainly about his best friend Michael. Anthony had an eye for noticing cool shoes and the weird habits of teachers. He was also the first to talk to me about the Bougainvillea growing all around my Bermuda shorts. He was sweet about it, though. He did it in the same way you would tell someone that they have a small breadcrumb hanging on the corner of their mouth.
I was devastated. And more than before I was determined to take a blade to my legs. Determined to go against my parents ridiculous rule of “no shaving until your fifteenth birthday.” I wasn’t going to let them kill my chances with Anthony, Serafin and/or Carlos.
The night before the great shave of 1988, my mother pulled me into the bathroom for a talk. I must have softened her heart with all my begging or, like me, she was truly disgusted with the sad, sad state of my legs – or she read my diary, because she took me aside to talk me off the ledge.
She told me of the dangers of shaving. How it causes stubble and bleeding and ingrown hairs. But she had a solution. Something that debilitated the hair, making it fall off from the root, which meant that eventually hair would no longer grow on my legs. And, out of a bag, she pulled out a pumice stone.
“Shave with this,” she said. “Rub it on your legs every day when you shower, but only from your knees down. Don’t go any higher than your knees.”
The next day I came home from school and shed all my clothes in a mad dash to the shower. I was in there rubbing until the water went cold. Once out of the shower, my legs were a bright pink and I took it as a sign that it was working. I repeated this routine for a week, sometimes twice in a day. Getting dirty on purpose, just for a chance to rub my legs.
Drawing blood, I thought, was a normal part of shaving. It was the pain that I wasn’t prepared for. The permanent rug burn, the stinging and the scratches caught me totally off guard. With legs that looked like they belonged on an amateur skateboarder and just as much hair as when I started this process, I grew frustrated and pulled my mom into the bathroom for another shaving pow-wow.
I’ll never forget her face when I showed her my legs. I thought she was going to fall over. We agreed to discontinue the use of that stupid rock.
Once healed, my mom pulled me into the bathroom for the last time. “Pray that your father doesn’t notice,” she said as she smeared a depilatory cream on both my legs from the knee down. In five minutes, she wiped a bit of the cream off with a towel and for the first time I saw my bare leg. It was one of the most important moments of my adolescence.
The next morning I left the house in a skirt, right under my dad’s nose. At school, I marched right up to Anthony who did notice – my hairy knees.