August 19, 2010

Don't look at me

Once, when I was maybe 12 or 13 years old, my grandmother sent me on an errand. She didn't have a drivers license and my grandfather was sick, so she gave me $7 and sent me to the drugstore to pick up some medicine for him. taken at isaiah zagar's magic garden, phillyIt was less than a mile's walk and the weather wasn't too hot or too cold. It's strange, I can't tell you if the sun was shining the first time I kissed a boy or what the temperature was like when I went to the senior prom. But this one insignificant day ... I could describe absolutely everything to you.

I took a shortcut up a one-way street and cut through the library parking lot. I was in front of the Methodist church, right next door to the CVS, when I heard someone call out:
"Hey fatty! Why don't you go eat some chicken?"
Two kids whizzed past on bikes - I didn't recognize the voices, but they sounded like boys. I remember my first thought being "Isn't chicken a lean meat?" and I continued on my errand. But once I got back home, I went straight to my bed and sobbed.

It's actually kind of amazing, because this was the first time anyone had ever called me fat or made fun of me for my size, at least to my face. taken at isaiah zagar's magic garden, phillyI had always been pretty autonomous, sticking to my friends, family, and schoolwork, and not really caring one way or another what anyone else thought. I wasn't the most popular girl but I wasn't socially awkward, either. I had always thought that people were okay with me, and I was okay with being fairly invisible.

By the beginning of eighth grade, I was about 235 pounds; by the end of high school, I was just over 300. In the meantime, my personality changed quite a bit - I was still very academically minded, but I also had a seemingly permanent attitude problem. I guess I figured that if people were going to hate me, I'd give them a reason. When they're slinging insults, "fat" is usually the first thing that rolls of their tongues. I decided "bitch" was better, and I made sure I deserved it.

Behind the tough exterior, though, was a very weak little kid. I was obsessed with what everyone else thought of me. It would have been so easy to go for walks around the block or down to the marina, but I was so scared of someone else yelling at me from a bike, a car, their yard. At first I started walking around my backyard, doing laps of the fence around the pool - after about a week, the grass was packed down in an obvious path. Eventually, though, I gave up entirely and just sat at home, my problem worsening.

Every now and then, I feel reminders of the terrified kid that I once was. At the gym, I always pick the machines closest to walls or corners. On the bus or the train, I turn up my iPod and pretend that the music is the only sound, because I automatically assume every whisper is a comment about me.taken at isaiah zagar's magic garden, philly At the grocery store, I race through as fast as possible so no one can see what's in my cart and judge me. Even when I'm eating sensibly, I worry that someone will look at what I'm buying and think judgemental thoughts - look at her, spending all that money on Weight Watcher meals! Does she know you're only supposed to eat one at a time?

David Sedaris describes 12-year-old males as "a demographic group second-to-none in terms of cruelty." It's hard to accept as an adult that such strong fears are based on nine words shouted by a couple of immature young boys, kids who undoubtedly never thought for another second about the exchange. I'll never be able to completely forget what they said, but I can try to use it for motivation instead of allowing myself to be paralyzed by fear.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

I too remember the first time I was ever picked on for my weight. It was in middle school gym class. The kicker is, the person that did the bullying was probably only about 10lbs lighter than me. I often wondered if she picked on me as a defense mechanism for being picked on herself.