June 4, 2023

Desperate for a distraction, unable to do anything but lie still, I grabbed a novel from my bedside table. You can guess what it was.

How Margaret ended up in my room that day is a mystery. Maybe I borrowed the book from a friend or got it from the library. Maybe my sister left it for me, or my grandmother, who bolted into town while I was in the hospital. My parents were unlikely culprits; they were, understandably, distracting, and my mom put Judy Blume in the same category as Barbies: too many, too graphicnot to us.

‘Are you there, Lord? It’s me, Margaret’ was one of the first books I read in one day, breathing it in as the light changed on my bedspread.

At the end of the afternoon the principal of the school came by to see me. I didn’t really know Mrs. Murray – I wasn’t a troublemaker, I wasn’t gifted – but there she sat, on the edge of my bed, filling my room with her pungent perfume. Since I had “We should, we should, we should make our bust bigger” on the brain, I couldn’t help noticing that her blouse was so sheer, I could count the hook and eye fasteners running down the back of her bra marched.

As I answered Mrs. Murray’s questions: Did I get my class cards? Did I need something from my cubby? – I tried to ignore the parallel inquisition in my head: did she think my “Peanuts” magazines were childish? Was she grossed out by my injury, no matter how close it was to my uterus? Most pressing of all, would Mrs. Murray notice the title of the paperback I tried to hide under my palm?

I didn’t want the director to know I read about menstruation and breasts. What if she told my teacher? What if he thought I was a pervert? I’d like to think that a modern 11-year-old wouldn’t be so haunted by mortification, but trust me, the ’80s were a different time.

After drinking some of the tea my mother brought, after the three of us had a brainstorming session about crutch-friendly Halloween costumes, Mrs. Murray lifted her purse on one shoulder and got up to leave. But first, she tapped the cover of “Are You There, God?” with her burgundy nails. It’s me, Margaret,” as I gently placed an index finger on Margaret’s face.