judy by the Forward

Are you there, Judy Blume? It’s me, Molly.

I spent my childhood summers in a small beach town near Mystic, Conn., swimming in the frigid Fishers Island Sound, catching crabs by affixing sliced hot dogs — or, in a pinch, mussels crushed beneath a paving stone — to thick white string and dangling the bait off the dock. I accompanied my older cousin on her trips to deliver a weekly newspaper on Friday afternoons. My mother had a garden stuffed with basil, rosemary and parsley, and when she cooked dinner, she’d send me out to the side of the house to clip the herbs with black scissors. I would cradle the scented leaves in my fists like treasure.

Those childhood summers were also filled with my first love: books. Each year, I got my list and took a trip to Bank Square Books with my mother; we would tell the cashier what we needed, and return every few weeks for even more brand new books, complete with bookmarks with the slogan “A book is a present you can open again and again.” I loved books, particularly those by Judy Blume, who turns 82 today.

They arrived in our house mysteriously, as if through cracks in the floorboards. I know I was assigned Judy Blume at least once — “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” — but where did those other books come from?

Peter, the main character in “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing,” had an inner monologue that reminded me of my own. He was a child, but while Blume captured the simplicity natural to that stage of life, she also took Peter seriously, as a conscious person with feelings. He fell in love with a turtle he won at a birthday party, but had the heartbreaking maturity and depth to name a new dog after that beloved turtle when his younger brother ate the turtle alive, killing poor Dribble.

I, like Peter, chugged along in a fog of naivete with the occasional burst of complexity. I decided I wanted a short haircut to look like Velma from Scooby Doo; I felt nervous about making friends and being liked; I stabbed warts on the back of my legs with a safety pin and tried to hide my bleeding skin from my parents; my sister sometimes shoved me against walls for “being annoying;” I wanted to make my parents proud of me. My grandfather accidentally killed our fish, Ollie, in the garbage disposal while trying to clean his tank. I tried, like Peter, to take it bravely, but still held a small, somber funeral with my sister in the backyard.

Sometime around fifth grade I found Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” It came to me at the perfect time. Shortly before I read it, I sat on a sidewalk curb after swim class with my cousin and one of my friends, both of whom were older, and were talking about their periods. Humiliatingly, I asked them what a period was. I rode my bike home burning with shame, and that summer, while they talked about drinking Mike’s Hard Lemonade and kissing boys, I busied myself picking blades of grass.

Then I read “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” It was uncanny: Margaret’s two friends both start to menstruate before her, a source of continued stress before she finally gets her first period on the last day of school. Her apprehensions reminded me of my own. I, too, anxiously anticipated developments of all kinds, wanting to grow up as fast as possible. I dragged my mom to TJ Maxx to get hideous puffy bras made of weird, flammable-feeling fabric for my nonexistent breasts. I would see a spot in my underwear and run to show my sister, only to be met with a gentle “I don’t think that’s it, Molls.” I practiced kissing boys on the back of my hand and then in the crook of my thumb and forefinger, because — ugh — I read in Seventeen Magazine that that was a more accurate approximation of a person’s lips.

In a moment of poetic justice, I got my period in the last week of eighth grade while taking an exam in Algebra. I had to bend over to sign myself out of class on a piece of paper at my teacher’s desk, and I knew I had leaked through my low-rise jeans; I oh-so-subtly borrowed a sweatshirt to tie around my waist to cover the stain. I was embarrassed, but mostly I was thrilled with what I thought was an incredible gift.

Margaret said, after getting her first period, “Thank you God. Thanks an awful lot.” But I had someone else to thank. I had Judy Blume.

Are you there, Judy Blume? It’s me, Molly.

Are you there, Judy Blume? It’s me, Molly.

Molly Boigon is the investigative reporter at the Forward. Contact her at boigon@forward.com or follow her on Twitter @MollyBoigon

Are you there, Judy Blume? It’s me, Molly.

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