“Puberty, I Hardly Knew Thee,” by Ali Kashkouli

Jul 31st, 2019 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

Every school year would end the same way. Signing yearbooks. Exchanging telephone numbers. Telling people that we should totally hang out over the summer and then never seeing or speaking to them again. I would look my peers in the eye while saying my goodbyes and think, “This is the summer where I break the five-foot barrier. You wait and see.” And every summer I would return from break to find that the exact opposite had happened; everyone had sprouted upward and I had remained the same size. Year after year. The same thing. Everyone seemed to have some sort of pituitary tumor but me. My classmates looked like Andre the fucking Giant and I was still the same monkey boy everyone remembered from the previous school year.

This sort of thing can have a tremendous effect on the psyche of a child. Requiring a step stool to reach a can of beans was the last thing I needed for the rest of my life, but as time passed this very scenario was likely becoming a disturbing possibility. Worse yet, had I been raised in the era of heightened standards of car safety my height would have legally required me to be in a child safety seat until the 7th grade.  One can only imagine how that would have played out on a first date.

[Walking cautiously to the door. Door opens]

Hi! Is Jennifer home?

[My date’s mother calls for her. She scampers down the stairs]

Ready to go?

[We walk to my parent’s car and I open the door for my date.]

[I get in the car]

Hold on while I strap into my car seat here…okay…almost there… [buckling myself in] Got it. I’m all set.

So… you look really pretty tonight…

It’s really a good thing I grew up when I did, a time during which child safety was an afterthought and regulators apparently had no problem with things like leaded gasoline and small children hurtling through tempered glass like pre-pubescent missiles.

Also fortunate for me was the fact that this sort of situation would have been impossible. That would have required a member of the opposite sex to actually agree to go out on a date. Sadly, this was not in the cards…nor would it be for several more years.


I was 16 years old and finally a senior in high school. The term “senior” obviously being used in the loosest of manners since I still thought razors were only useful for 5th period art projects and my height was now such that I could finally ride the Teacups at Disneyland. I had yet to have my first encounter with puberty, but unbeknownst to me it was just around the corner…and I didn’t even see it coming.


I awoke at 7 A.M on a weekday morning in the typical fashion, still exhausted and completely unprepared to face the day. But at least I was up. I didn’t need an alarm clock since our home was just off the third hole of our local golf course so I could always count on errant shots and exclamations of “Fuck me!” to wake me up in time for first period.

With my eyes half closed I somehow made my way into the shower and proceeded with the daily morning ritual of cleansing my still hairless body. Seriously, I was a year away from college. It was starting to get weird. I looked like one of those human batteries in The Matrix, except with a better tan.  Normally there would be nothing interesting about this. But on this particular morning things felt a little different.

As I lathered up the Yardley of London soap, which my mother could not help but buy, I noticed two things. One, I was going to, once again, be the only boy in school who reeked of floral lavender. And two, there was something a bit odd going on with my right nipple. It was tender. And…and there was a small lump deposited right behind it. After sufficiently feeling myself up I lowered my hands and reflected for a moment. I racked my brain. As I stood there in the shower I closed my eyes as I slowly reviewed all the knowledge I had accumulated from years of watching “Growing Pains” reruns and reading Choose Your Own Adventure books.

I reached back up to my chest and pinched again with a little more concern. And there it was again. The same mass that, to my knowledge, hadn’t been there the previous day.

I had no idea what this was or what to do. At the time it wasn’t like I could Google “boy nipple lumps” and get a meaningful response and I was too embarrassed to bring this up with my parents or a medical professional. I would have loved to figure it out on my own, but the research capacity available to me at the time would have involved a card catalogue and possibly a microfiche so my chances of discovering the cause of my malady were limited. So, of course, I did what came naturally – freaked out and relegated myself to being a teenaged male breast cancer patient. You know, the obvious choice.

Now, the stages of grieving have been well established. But I completely turned the model upside down with my reaction to perceived plight. Skipping right past denial, anger, bargaining, and depression, I went right to acceptance. I was 16 years old and had resigned myself to my fate. I could see the headlines in the school paper already. Hairless virgin dies of breast cancer. Moment of silence to be observed between PSAT registration and Battle of the Airbands.


I went to school for the next week with that sore nipple and a heavy heart. Heavy, yet somehow oddly contented.  The world seemed like a more beautiful place now that I had diagnosed myself with a terminal illness. The air smelled crisper, the days seemed brighter. I learned to appreciate each day as if it could be my last. And when I reached up to my left nipple one day and noticed a similar sore lump, I could only assume the disease had metastasized and my time on earth was even more limited that I had anticipated…or puberty had finally called upon me and this was completely normal for a boy my age. Yes. It was puberty. Not cancer. Something tells me I should have paid more attention during sex ed.


defenestration-ali-kashkouliAli was raised in suburban San Diego and, over time, realized that he had no discernible skills outside of memorizing lists and thumb wrestling so clearly the pursuit of medicine was the obvious choice. He currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and is a physician by day and a 90’s alt rock connoisseur by night (he’s never met a Weezer song he didn’t like). He writes in his spare time would like to thank his parents since, without them, he would be far too well adjusted to write anything remotely interesting. He currently lives with an undersized cat named Stevens and a fish named Sugar who live together in an increasingly shaky truce.

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