Daddy had promised me I could come live with him anytime, so my underdeveloped thirteenth year was spent in East Texas with my father and stepmother. I was skinny and flat-chested, but wore a padded bra my mother had bought for me. My deepest wish was that my period would start before I left New Mexico. No such luck. It descended shortly after my arrival in Longview.
The upside of this hormonal landmark was that my breasts grew infinitesimally. The downside was that Daddy had my stepmother tell me I couldn't wear a padded bra. "Bad girls wear those," she said. I couldn't fill the smallest size cotton bra, so I was cursed to have a wrinkled mess under all my blouses where the new unpadded but good-girl bra tips folded over. My survival instincts kicked in, and I filled the empty space with Kleenex.
The other downside of puberty was that the hair on my legs thickened.
I was caught between two worlds: for my mother, being attractive to men was a primary goal. To my father, the rules for women he was attracted to didn't apply to his daughter. The transition from being Daddy's Little Girl to growing up had begun.
On Sunday mornings, I snuggled next to my daddy while he read the paper. He'd hand me the comics without a word. Part of our morning ritual was the quiet. Occasionally, he'd reach over and give me a hug or pat my leg. At some point he began to idly pull the hair on my legs. It was an affectionate and absentminded gesture, not aggressive in the least, and I liked it.
But he wasn't the only male who enjoyed the hair on my legs.
Eddie, the good-looking boy who sat in front of me in my 9th grade history class reached behind his desk every day to do the same. He'd stroke and massage my calves, ending in a sensuous tug of the hair there. He seemed more focused on the process than my dad and often failed to answer when the teacher called on him. Perhaps my leg tensed and signaled a change because he'd retract his hand as if an electrical charge had traveled from me to him, sit up straight and attempt to answer the teacher's question.
All the other girls in 9th grade shaved their legs. Many of them had also begun to date and shared stories of stolen kisses when their mothers' backs were turned. One of them, Priscilla, encouraged me to shave. She'd also given me intimate advice on inserting tampons, "Relax. Drink a shot of your daddy's bourbon first."
One night, I borrowed my stepmother's razor and eradicated the fur on my legs. At school the next day, Eddie reached behind to stroke my calves, as usual. He stopped and turned to look at me, open-mouthed, questioning. I smiled, smug.
My father was another matter. The following Sunday we settled in on the couch. As usual, he reached over to tug the hair on my legs. My new silken smoothness registered and he dropped the paper to stare at me. His lips parted, but he didn't speak. His expression wasn't as shocked as Eddie's had been. He looked at me as if I were a stranger he was sad to meet.
Equations in Dogtime will be published in the Huffington Post in the Spring.