Literary Orphans

Figure 16: Blueprints of the Teenage Girl & Associated Vocabulary by Mary B. Sellers


We are sixteen and not so sweet. We are girls with careful narratives of how we want our lives to go. Here—these are the blueprints to our futures. Look through them if you’d like, but keep your hands gentle. Keep them steady. You might even want to hold your breath. They’re our destinies after all, and destinies are known for being skittish.


We like partially cloudy days and too much cream in our coffee and we’re still trying to convince ourselves that coffee will add sophistication to our lives. We swallow suggestions whole, and our crying jags have been known to fill up entire rooms. We’re capable of entire oceans. We lack complete traction in this world, and our hearts still galumph between our ribs. We are kittens in cages growing in our teeth. But this will change. Soon, we’re told, we’ll forget how to be slippery, in-between things, and we’ll shed our girl-child skins. We will watch them fall to the floor like cellophane.


So instead of opening our backpacks on afternoons after school, we stretch the length of our friends’ beds with quilts worn into comfort, all footprinted with time, because they are old, loved things with the distinct smell of girl: a witch’s brew of lotion scents and the sharp smell of a child’s regret, the gummy residue of night sweats brought by bad dreams we wake from in the steady burns of our nightlights. We roll into these scents. They are familiars in lives that are growing foreign to us, that distance themselves from us as months speed by like solar systems. We try on ill-fitting lives, too loose in some places and too tight in other, newer, surprising ones.


Observe our diaries and journals and the meticulous ways we handle our self-consciousness. Read through last fall’s entries: how our dogs and cats died; the way our hearts broke into prismatic pieces at least three times a week, how by practice, we learned to break them like bones so they’d grow back stronger, with tough exoskeletons. Read on about how our best friends disappeared with that/those/some boy(s), leaving us alone with the sharp angles of our thoughts. We pulled on our sweaters, rubbing static all in our hair like lightning storms.


Eventually, we learn what it’s like to be cruel with our silences. This is when we remind ourselves of our mothers. We are just now learning about the weight of words, how the proper way to use them is by examining each of their long and short ends before placing them on our tongues, delivering them to the world, our mouths all metaphor and pearls.


But is this the grey area, we ask each other, with its neat purgatory of empty-bucket color and constant waiting that is familiar and growing more tiresome with each new month’s milk-green moon, each shatter-glass sky? We’re impatient about this as we try to rub the growing pains out of our skin. We are ready to pull the zippers down our spines.

And because we are perceptive girls with detailed diaries and jewel-bright minds, we will watch the dying sun’s red death, the afternoon’s suicide, and we won’t look away. It will be colder afterwards. We will grow accustomed to being haunted with practice. And then we’ll step into ourselves, back into the stretch of hours we use as measuring cups for our teenage lives.

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Mary B. Sellers is pursuing her MFA in Fiction at Louisiana State University. Originally from Jackson, MS, she now lives in Baton Rouge with her dog, Daisy Buchanan. This past year, she was the editorial assistant at The Southern Review. Important activities include: drinking wine and eating tacos on a regular basis. She wants to be a mermaid when she grows up.

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–Art by Kaia Pieters