A CHIP ON THE SHOULDER PLANTS A SEED IN THE HEART
"The Skinny in the Cafeteria"
We moved around when I was growing up - a lot. Whenever people inquire about the reason, they assume it’s because I come from a family with a military background. It’s not. It’s because I come from a family with a background of domicile ADD and indecision. In my parents never ending pursuit of the American Dream, we lived in thirteen houses by the time I moved out at eighteen. You do the math because I stopped being good at it the minute I moved to Los Angeles, where the only math that matters is blonde + boobs = work. And, given my current cup size and UI online account, it’s safe to say I still haven’t gotten the hang of it.
Moving to a different zip code was rare however, as most of our relocations were merely around the block. To put things into perspective for you, in five years we had lived in three different houses, all less than a block away from the previous. However, there was one move that garnered us not only a new zip code, but a new area code as well.
At the start of my Eighth Grade Year we moved from Phoenix, Arizona to Houston, Texas via my father’s job promotion. One of the few things I remember about Houston, aka the armpit of Texas, was that it was humid. It was humid, and there once were eleven consecutive days of non-stop rain that made me wonder if we needed to find Noah.
Contrary to popular opinion, I happened to like Houston - seeing as my skin loved the humidity, and acne was the only thing that dictated my happiness at that age. Nevertheless, it wasn’t exactly love at first feel. No, it was more like dating a short guy who’s a really great guy, but, let’s face it - he’s short. It takes some time for you to get over… unless you discover that what’s between his legs is enough to make you forget about how short those legs are.
School started, and I was forced to endure the same awkward and uncomfortable days as the rest of my peers across the country. Moreover, I had the bonus of adding the insecurity and uncertainty that come with the territory of being the new kid. And my fellow Eighth graders didn’t look like Eighth Graders at all. They looked like my parents. Or, more accurately and less dramatic, the High School Seniors I had seen back in Phoenix. I felt like Kermit the Frog sitting at a desk made for the giants in Jack and the Beanstalk. I also sensed that, much like the unsatisfactory runt of a litter bred to meet the AKC standards to show, I was about to get shot.
Never one for athleticism or Physical Education, thanks both to my small frame and a pretty pervy P.E. teacher back in Elementary School who I’m pretty sure forced us up the ropes for the sole purpose of trying to see up our shorts, I genuinely dreaded, if not feared, this part of my schedule. I had hoped I could swap the unpleasantries of P.E. for another elective course that involved some sort of exertion enough for it to qualify as an exemption, but no such luck.
Instead, I found myself awkwardly changing in front of perfect strangers in a smelly girls’ locker room. At this point in time, I hadn’t yet gotten my period, and these broads looked like they had already nursed their first set of twins. I felt them staring at my underdeveloped body as I swapped one shirt for another, and I was all too aware of them mocking and making fun of me under their breath and behind my back. For a while, I thought it might have been in my head, until it was right in front of my face and then literally hitting me over the head.
One girl, let’s call her Mary, despite the fact she was definitely not holy - let alone virginal, was so offended by my scrawny stature she started confronting me about it. At the beginning, it was all verbal, calling me names like “skinny bitch,” “anorexia,” “bullemia,” “sticks,” or “ganky girl.” Then it turned physical. First, she’d find ways to “accidentally” hit me over the head with whatever ball we were using in P.E. Then, she’d blatantly hit or kick me whenever she passed me at my locker on her way to her next class, as if that might somehow solve the problem she clearly had with me. I dunno, maybe she thought if she caused me some swelling, at least temporarily, I’d be less offensive to look at.
It all came to a head though, when Mary literally kicked my ass as I was taking off my gym clothes and putting on my normal ones. My back was to her, and my head was just about to find it’s way through the neck hole of my new shirt from Kohl’s, when I was thrust into the lockers in front of me. I turned to find Mary sitting on the bench between the wide row of blue lockers and menacingly smirking at my startled expression.
“I’m going to really start kicking your ass if you don’t gain some weight,” she said. “Your stick figure body makes me want to vomit. I bet you vomit all the time, don’t you?” She flashed a sickening smile before disappearing out into the hallways.
What was most disturbing about the entire circumstance was that we were never alone when Mary taunted me. There were always other girls around to witness her abuse, and no one ever said or did a thing - including the female P.E. teacher, who I know also witnessed it first hand at least once. Who knows, maybe she was afraid of Mary as much as I was. Initially, I was upset, but eventually, I saw this whole thing as my ticket out of a school I desperately hated for a multitude of reasons beside just Mary.
Since the start of the school year at “Brook Creek,” I had sat alone at a lunch table and eaten by myself. You often see that in movies, and you think, “That doesn’t really happen.” or, maybe what you think is, “That would never happen TO ME.” I fell into the group of people who believed the former. But, it does happen! And it’s the worst feeling. Not even the Nerds seemed to care about making me feel welcome. I felt sets of eyes studying me, as if they were behind some two-way mirror observing an alien while trying to see how I’d deal with and react to the embarrassment of being so alone and unfamiliar. Little did I know, they were also watching to see if I actually ate. That concept would be presented to me at the next school.
Despite the fact we were outside the boundary lines, my mother was able to get me transferred to a better Jr. High in the same district. In a meeting with “Brook Creek’s” Principal, she expressed her outrage ala Beverly Goldberg at not only how the students conducted themselves, but how the adults did as well. She demanded I be transferred on the grounds of not being able to learn in a safe or protected environment. And so, I was.
A week later, I found myself at “Creek Side,” and once again eating alone at a lunch table in the center of a cafeteria. However that, at least, was short lived. A few days passed before some girls took notice and joined me where I had been sitting.
A few months after befriending me, one of the girls confessed, “You know, we’d been watching you for a few days before we came over to introduce ourselves.”
“Really?” I was flattered, as if the decision to make friends with me had been a thoughtful, heavy one, similar to that of Cassie Rhee ultimately permitting me to take her test. Only, unlike my peers in the Third Grade, these girls thought I was good enough to include.
“Yeah! We saw you go into the bathroom after you ate, so we followed you in there to see if you were throwing it up.”
To be honest, I didn't even know what an eating disorder was back then so, I hadn't the understanding of why someone would ever voluntarily throw up a meal they just ate. I sat there, confused, not knowing how to respond.
“You never did!” she was quick to tell me, as if my facial expression indicated I hadn’t known or remembered the truth myself.
From that point on, I'd make a point of eating in front of people as often as I could and holding my bladder as long as humanly possible - just so there wasn’t any confusion.
Unfortunately, this was something that would follow me around for decades - and I’m not just referring to my shadow. Throughout my life, there would be several situations where people felt shockingly comfortable commenting on my body, and eventually there would come a time when I not so shockingly felt just as comfortable defending it. Unsolicited opinions on someone’s body, whether big or small, is something that has never sat well with me. And if there were ever a reason to throw up, for me that alone is it. But, we’ll talk more about my gag reflex and just how much it would be triggered, later.