When I say chicken veins, I want you to see chicken veins in your mind’s eye in all of their glory. I want you to imagine the sinewy texture of them, like rubber, an opaque white with chicken drumstick batter flecking the surface. I want you to imagine chicken veins in your teeth, in your hair, stuffed into the crevices in a lunchbox, in between your toes. I want chicken veins to loop around your fingers like rings.
When I say chicken drumsticks I want you to imagine cold, fleshy, battered glowing white bone. I want you to bite down on the flakiness of it. I want you to taste the deli spices on your tongue. You can’t decide if they’re cheap, or delicious, or both. I want you to lick the grease off your fingers when no one is watching. I want you to find some pleasure when you slip the bones back inside a lunchbox. I want you to feel the pleasure in being invisible with your bones and your veins to yourself.
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 we are 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. 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.
Now shifting gears with me, 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 had 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 this 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 are 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.
I may have grown up, but the veiny taste of chicken drumsticks has not escaped me. They are tough, they are sinewy, they are what carries the life through our bodies, our changing awkward bodies while we are dancing.