I sat beside those girls, those glossy city girls. Me, the country girl from a farm somewhere far north. I sat and they wished I didn’t sit by them. They didn’t know me. Maybe my hair smelled like hay. Maybe I wanted friends too badly. Maybe I danced like I really, really, loved it. And I did. Maybe they really saw me, in a way I couldn’t.
Who can really see themselves?
“We hate you. You are awkward to be around. Just stay away.”
Those words whispered to me in the corner of a ballet studio four years ago haunt me. They made me sick. They make me sick. Those girls gave me paints, lots of colors, and I learned to mix them just right. And I picked up a brush.
I thought I didn’t understand random hatred. I have learned. Maybe some of us have to be hated first. To learn, that is.
A girl sits beside me now, on this yellow, dripping bus. In her fist she grips a cardboard milk carton filled with water. Glasses too small for her bugging eyes hug her sloped nose, and blotches of nail-polish splatter her fingertips. Her hair is dark, an unnatural dark for her pallid skin. If I gaze long enough, its choppy, pageboy ends glow an ugly, hazy red. When she speaks, as she does to herself, ever so slowly, it is a drawling tone, a sputtering, embarrassingly eager inflection. My lip is drawn ever-so-slightly upwards at the sound. I wish I was not next to her. I had no choice. She had to sit somewhere.
I couldn’t say ‘no.’ People always said ‘no’ to me.
It was not a glorious day. Nor is she, nor is I. It was more like a performance gone flat, than one deserving a standing ovation. Performances, that’s what I used to do. Now, I wade through mud at a mediocre pace. With people like this, this, girl, I guess. Life changes. People don’t seem to.
She has placed a plastic, sparkling tiara that she won at an arcade upon her head. I saw her win it. It must pain her to take it off. She had to, though. To scratch the patch of mud she didn’t notice had taken residence on the crest of her forehead. She puts it back on. A bit of mud falls onto my tense, sore legs, and for her, life is fine again. This girl ran really slowly today. And so did I, but not quite as slow. She is placid, a cow with its cud in place, and I am anxious, a knotted aggravated mess. She funnels beef jerky into her mouth. Her natural essence of moths is choking my tight inhalations. I want her to take off her tacky tiara, and not pick her mouth, to swallow her beef jerky, and take off her unflattering turquoise jacket and put on the team one, and I want her to get up and find another seat. I want to rewind, and lie, and tell her, “The seat is full,” to be rude, and, for once, to not feel like I am the girl who is always afraid.
I don’t know her, but I hate this girl. I hate her, because I am sitting with her, because I have sat as her.
I am afraid of her. My hatred must be palpable; she had nowhere to sit because others must hate her like they hated me so many years ago. Her mere presence reminds me that am afraid of being seen for who I really am. Afraid of the mask that has taken four years to paint on with such meticulous detail…afraid that it will melt off with the slippery rain on the windows of this foggy bus. Afraid of being me: The girl that other girls have seen, through lens I see this girl.
“Of course you can sit by me.”