The Bearded Girl by Wendy Vardaman

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy


                                  Fort Smith, Arkansas, 1974

I remember the bearded girl at school —
junior high — I think her name was Ruth — and I
can see her — big eyes, brown hair. She didn’t
wear make-up, though most of us wore gobs. I did.
Mascara, eyeliner, shadow, lipstick, blush.
I put mine on mornings before going
to school — it took at least 15 minutes
sometimes more, and if I went out later,
I’d do it again.
                                          Ruth — let’s call her that —
dressed plain, too. Not boyish but it didn’t
look like she bought clothes at the Mall. She was
always alone in the cafeteria,
in the halls. I spent whole years alone too,
but never talked to Ruth. Never sat with her.
Even I knew better than that.
                                           It wasn’t
a beard, really, but two patches of stubble
on each side of her chin. Enough to notice,
enough that girls and boys — if they noticed
her at all — would mock those tufts, that bit of
fluff, which would have weighed nothing, added up
to nothing — measured together — more than
an inch laid end to end.
                                           Back then I plucked
my eyebrows. Worried about the dark hair
growing on my arms when most girls were blonde
and bleached it for awhile. Shaved my legs after
being made fun of once. You didn’t have
to tell me something twice.
                                            Ruth kept to herself
in class too. Never spoke up. Did any
of us? I don’t remember her last name.
If I did, I’d Google her. Just to see
that she’s ok.
                                            I tell my daughter that back
then we didn’t have categories for
non-binary gender, but we did. It was weird.
And if it got near you, you’d shrug it, shake
it, step on it quick before it stained your
polyester skirt or messed with your face.


Photo of Wendy Vardaman

Photo of Wendy Vardaman

Wendy Vardaman is the author of Reliquary of Debt (LitFest Press 2015) and Obstructed View, co-editor of Local Ground(s) — Midwest Poetics and Echolocations, Poets Map Madison, and founding co-editor of Cowfeather Press. She is one of Madison, Wisconsin's two Poets Laureates (2012-2015). Follow her on Twitter: @wendylvardaman. Click here for her Tumblr blog: live art(s) art live(s).