When I say chicken veins, I think of chicken veins in my mind’s eye in all of their glory. I imagine the sinewy texture of them, like rubber, an opaque white with chicken drumstick batter flecking the surface. I imagine chicken veins in my teeth, in my hair, stuffed into the crevices in a lunchbox, in between my toes. The chicken veins, they loop around my fingers like rings.
When I say chicken drumsticks I imagine cold, fleshy, battered, glowing, white bone. I think of biting down on the flakiness of it. I taste the deli spices on my tongue. I can’t decide if they’re cheap, or delicious, or both. I think of licking the grease off my fingers when no one is watching. I find some pleasure when I slip the bones back inside a lunchbox. I feel the pleasure in being invisible with my bones and my veins to myself.
Growing up, I was, what one would call a nerd. I stood at 5’9 by the time I was in middle school as a regular girl giant. I believed hair gel was essential to every ponytail, I had baby fat despite my growth spurt, and I loved doing history homework. In this description of my middle school self I am ignoring my blue wire rim glasses, and the love poems that were scrawled into all of my notebooks, because I am too embarrassed to incorporate those things. If only I could tell my fifth grade self that Derek Klingaman turned out not to be so cool after all, maybe I could have stopped scrawling his name onto every available inch of paper.
Now, you have to take into consideration how middle school girls are by definition. They are mean, and it is a cruel, wild world. In the cafeteria I was afraid to throw out my trash after lunch due to the sheer fact that I would have to walk in front of the entire cafeteria to do so.
My lunch was always packed by my mother in a blue insulated lunch box. All of my friends got to use paper bags. My mom told me that it was important to not be wasteful. I told my mom it was important to survive middle school so that you could move on with the rest of your life.
Often in this blue lunchbox, my lunch would be comprised of chicken drumsticks from Felpausch, the local grocery store. While my mom thought this was a special kind of lunchtime treat, I found it horrifying. Yes, you guessed correctly, the chicken veins. These veins infiltrated the very existence of these chicken drumsticks. They laced through the batter. They wound around the bone. In my fear of throwing out food in the cafeteria, these chicken veins found their post lunch home within the insulation of the lunch box.
After school it was my duty as a young girl to attend dance class. Ballet, Jazz and Tap were the best ways for all of us to spend Monday afternoons together. Our mothers decided this. This was before I actually loved dance. This was when dance leotards were literally the worst thing ever invented. I went to dance with the same group of girls that I grew up with, and they were the same group of girls that tortured the hell out of me on a regular basis. I never could understand why our parents insisted that we were friends.
While I took tap class the rest of the girls got to sit on the wooden bench in the lobby that was inside of the girls’ dressing room. Their mothers didn’t make them take tap like mine did. My mom told me it’s important to try everything. I told my mom that it’s important to survive dance class so you can move on with the rest of your life.
On that fated day I had chicken drumsticks for lunch along with their veiny counterparts. Those girls had figured out that I hid the veins in baggies in the corner; they had found my next weakness.
I left the resin filled dance studio to rejoin my “friends,” untie my tap shoes, brush my coarse pony tail out, put on my boots to go home. As soon as I pulled the brush through my hair and began to slide on my boots the group of girls erupted into laughter.
I remember my face getting flushed. I remember self-consciously going over everything I had just done to find an error in my actions. I remember the constricting of my throat, the rising heat through my body.
Lucy called, “Chicken veins,” and they all laughed as if chicken veins in their stringed glory were the worst possible fate for any food, or in my case, girl. I remember the first tear that slid out, like hot embarrassment, like the way that chicken must have felt in the slaughterhouse.
The girls filed out, their soft ponytails bobbing. I pulled chicken veins out of the bristles of the hairbrush, out of the soft corners of my lined boots. I sat there with the chicken veins on my lap. I was able to fully cry by then, alone in the girls’ dressing room.
Miss Tricia heard me. She was my dance teacher then, and the epitome of everything any of us wanted to grow up to be. She was sweet, patient, and graceful. She was like the light at the end of the tunnel for us in our awkward changing bodies. She saw the chicken veins, she saw my tears, and in a fit of anger that I had never seen Miss Tricia display she whispered between tight lips, “They’re just jealous Kate, they’re just jealous.”
I threw away the chicken veins on my way out the door. They made a satisfying swish noise as I dropped them into the tin trashcan. I walked out into the snow, I got into my mom’s mini van, I went home.
My mom looked at me as I strayed in the hallway near the kitchen. In the way she tilted her head she let me know that she knew I wasn’t trying to guess what she had made for dinner. She opened her mouth and then closed it. I walked upstairs to peel the layer of dance leotard off my body before she could say anything else.
I like to think that she would have told me that being different was in my best interest. I like to think that I would have believed her, then.
I may have grown up, but the veiny taste of chicken drumsticks has not escaped me. Those veins are tough, they are sinewy, they are what carries the life through our bodies. This rare, blood mixture of who and what we are that highlights our differences, yet at the same time is our common thread.
I remember once sitting on the floor of the dance studio examining the veins in my feet while I pointed my toes. I now like to think of the veins in my changing awkward bodies while I was still a child dancing. I like to think that it was supposed to happen, like that.