My motorcycle is often a stand-in for a therapist. While riding home from work today, I was so deep in the clutches of memory that it seemed like I must’ve made it home on autopilot. Does that ever happen to you?
When I was in 7th grade, I was an awkward, gap-toothed girl with frizzy hair. I’d always had friends and people who were nice to me so I moved through my life blissfully ignorant about the commerce of beauty. I did not yet know that beauty was a power that could be wielded ruthlessly or traded to satisfy your desires. I didn’t know that it could provide definition or that it was a way for other people to determine your value. No, I didn’t know any of those things. In 7th grade, I was just a girl. A naïve girl.
While taking the bus to and from school, kids would hold court. You’d cover all the hot topics of the day: who you sat with at lunch, who passed you a note folded like a football, who kissed who, who wore what, what you’d wear the next day – all the important stuff!
My time in junior high was during the late 80s. In those days we didn’t wear seat belts on the bus, or stay seated or do anything that resembled a safety precaution. We were just hurtling towards the 90’s without a care in the world.
One afternoon on the way home from school, I stood in my seat with my back to the window, my arms on the backs of the high seats. To my right was a freckle-faced boy named Stanley. He was also standing up as the bus bounced along. When I turned and looked at him, his face betrayed no sense of malice, no sense of humor, it just wore matter-of-factness. He looked at me and said, “Damn. You are ugly.”
That was it. There was nothing further. No explanation, no laughter, no sense of teasing. It was just a statement of the truth as he saw it. My insides shattered into a million tiny pieces but like many of my childhood hurts, I just stood there and silently took it.
Little did I know that at 41-years old, I would still carry around a junior high war wound on my heart. You don’t know you’re ugly until someone else tells you so. And then, you can’t forget.