I am twelve, and Rae takes her underwear off in the empty garage apartment. Full of fear, snakes, snapping turtles, and nightsky, we ran here dripping from the pond to hide from her dad, who drinks beer and chases us around the farm. Rae rings out her underwear. Red stains now yellowbrown splotches on the cloth. Blood and dirt water absorb into the plywood flooring. We’ve been found.
I am thirteen, and I touch a freshwater jellyfish. Rae, her little brother, and I are in the boat, and it’s past midnight. It pulses electric and wants to wrap itself around me. I am scared to get stung. Touch it, Jenny Girl, touch it. It can’t sting you.
I am fourteen, and I point a gun at Rae’s head and pull the trigger. A puff of air shoots out, and the breath of the gun lands between her eyes. And it’s not a toy, like I’d thought. It’s her brother’s hunting rifle. She stares at me. Two silent minutes. Then we continue to live.
I am fifteen, and her brother punches me in the eye in the ocean at Cape Henlopen, and I fall backward. A wave covers my face, my exposed stomach. He’d seen us skinny dipping that morning. That morning I’d seen him too, his silhouette on the beach, his eyes looking at us. He’s mad at me for letting him see my body.
I am sixteen, and Rae and I search her mother’s underwear drawer and there’s a tube of lube in a wrinkled red bandana. She puts guilt and curiosity in my hands. I look over at the bed to make sense of it all. Jenny Girl, now you can’t touch your vagina, my dad’s all over that.
I am seventeen, and Rae tells Mike she won’t have sex with him anymore, and she throws out her punk CDS, and repeats words like “redeemed” and “forgiven.” Mike is pissed and wants me to take her place. Redeemed and forgiven. Dave asks me if Rae is a born again virgin, redeemed and forgiven. And I don’t know anything about that. All I know is virginity and fear. Fear of getting stung by her, by anyone.
I am eighteen, and I watch Rae convert the adopted kid at camp. If he lets Jesus into his heart he won’t be as angry. That morning he threw glass into the pool, aiming for the spot where the girls mouth the names of boys they like underwater.
I am nineteen, and Andrew from the church on Main Street puffs air from a fireplace bellow into a hornet’s nest to impress Rae. Then we’re running a quarter mile and jumping in her pond toprotect us from the stings. Silt in my toenails and weeds around my legs. At the bottom, there are old sneakers, a snow sled, her brother’s broken Playstation, some punk CDS, my necklace from last summer. There are freshwater jellyfish, too, waiting to bloom every four years.
I am twenty, and Rae marries a boy she meets on the Internet. Jenny Girl, will you be my maid of honor? In the church nursery, after the ceremony, I find her brother sitting in a play kitchen, crying at a banquet of plastic food. Rae and her husband move to a trailer in the woods in Tennessee. They don’t have a bathroom so they shit in a bucket, and when the dog gets rabies her husband points his hunting rifle at its head and shoots it. It’s name had been Sweetie. Rae tells me not to call, not to visit, not to think of her. It’s God’s plan, and I’ll see you in Heaven, Jenny Girl.