The first time I grew up,
I was ten years old.
I was wearing a blood red dress
And a wide-eyed, prepubescent smile.
My mother bought me ice cream
from a sunburnt, yellow-toothed man at a store.
I did not see him staring at my lips,
I was busy licking cotton candy sweetness
that trickled down my little hands
Onto my skinny arms onto my hairless legs.
But my mother noticed.
That day, she sat me in a dark room,
Braided my hair,
Threw out my clothes,
Gave me full-sleeved, high-necked, ankle-length jumpsuits,
Placed a scarf to cover up the breasts that hadn’t come in yet.
“You are a woman now,” she said.
“This is how you must present yourself for the rest of your life.”
The second time I grew up,
I was thirteen years old.
I heard one of the girls I was playing with whispering with the other,
In English so I would struggle to understand,
“She’s so dark.”
And so I learned,
From girls who shared my identity,
That my skin color was something to be ashamed of.
The third time I grew up,
I had just turned eighteen years old.
My eyes wandered with hope,
Widening for the first time since I was ten.
I jumped out of bed,
Yelled with glee,
Waited to feel different.
And I learned the absolute truth:
I am a prisoner to this skin shell.
This last time I grew up,
I am nineteen years old.
I am decorating my skin shell
with pretty flowers and good friends,
with a boy who paints smiley faces on my delicate skin,
with poetry pulled from my heartstrings,
with love filled to the brim of my sanity,
with one million ugly words
crossed off of my