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Death by Tape Measure
Blissful ignorance. It appears that, up until our first year of middle school or so, we remain unaware of numerous things: how to cross multiply, final exams, and so on, and so on. In elementary school, we waltzed through days and days of cheerful, insubstantial life. And then, so suddenly, so instantaneously that, if you take a single blink, you will miss it, the realization occurs.
The anecdote, the theme of my intermediate school career, I warn you, is such a fantastical, fictitious, and stereotypical sounding entity, that you may be reluctant to believe it. However, as real as the Civil War and the popularity of the Harry Potter books, it did, truthfully, occur:
At my desk, in homeroom, on my first day of the sixth grade and middle school, my teacher, Mrs. W, stepped into the classroom and, for the very first time, ever, spoke to us: “Middle School will be the worst years of your life.”
Although, at the time, I had resigned myself to the firm belief that this woman was one of those bitter, uncompassionate, old ladies you see at the cinema, and that there was absolutely no possible way that my perfect three years of Intermediate East and young adulthood would ever be tarnished with flawed and faulty weeks, that my middle school would ever be a less than pleasant experience, I had recognized by the end of sixth that she was correct, unfortunately correct, though she should have added more to her explanation.
When did it start? The first day, I suppose.
In science class, I had, unaware that the others of my classroom were groaning in their heads at the paper we each held in front of us, eagerly, completed the handout, you know, one of those get-to-know-you survey sheets that until about age thirteen or so, you think the teacher actually cares about or even reads; please, with 120 students, lesson plans, and a family of their own, could it really be possible that insignificant you, your ideas and your likes and dislikes, really means something? Until puberty and the years of education that go with it, we all seem to have a misguided faith in our own importance, before the angst begins.
I had offered my answer to question seven, the typical query of “Who is your favorite male singer?” “Daniel Powter,” I had replied, cheerfully; he was the only one I knew at the time, and I was bursting to participate. And then it had happened, the moment when, perhaps, everything changed, it was all altered, different than before (it was a Thursday, by the way; I have found that significant events in my life always fall on the fifth day of the week):
With the kindness of a shark, a dark headed figure, two table up from mine, had turned around to face me and smiled so genuinely that I could not have seen her comment coming (little did I know, her happiness was only for the prospect of ripping back a shred of my heart and, maybe unknowingly, setting forth a series of events that would lead to my darkest hours), five tiny words which shattered my heart:
“Please, he is so old!”
Now, I’m sure, by including this phrase, I run the risk of you dropping my manuscript at this very instance, but, please, don’t. I know I seem overly dramatic; “after all,” one might say, “it wasn’t that mean.” I am sure of that, absolutely, sure of it…now. But, you must understand that, until that time, which took me many years of pondering to realize, no one had ever truly been mean to me. And so, my introduction to this term I have come to know so well, by a peer I had met just a few hours ago, no less, was difficult. The transition into a place brewing with unkindness and spite, for me, was not cleavage, a smooth break from the grinning Earth I had come to know and love, but, instead, fracture.
It was as if, as soon as that one jostling utterance had been released, nothing could stop the jet stream that followed, nothing, nothing at all…
And it had continued and continued.
I will not pretend that the pattern that began to occur was not my fault at all, that I was always a complete innocent. No. I was not. I regret the sometimes pretentious and pompous image I gave off. I’m sorry for that, and I only wish that…maybe, occasionally, they would be sorry, as well.
There are far too many instances to select from, so, to shorten my tale, I will select but three, all which took place in my sixth grade year, but the final (I do not know if they are in chronological order; you see, it would be almost impossible for me to tell, that time is but a haze to me now):
The first, which stands out clearly in my mind, took place at the lunch table. There we were, the boys all to the far left, and all of we girls, in our obvious hierarchy of popularity, continuously moving out from there. Needless to say, I was to the far right, but, unfortunately at the time, not far enough away to escape the ambush:
“Why do you wear black so much?” Jessica asked absent mindedly, taking a dainty bite of her pizza. I hardly wore black a lot; I was never anything remotely close to gothic and only wore the color once every week or so. And if I did wear it more often than others, that was only because I had always been an Orchestra member (I play the cello) and needed it for concerts. But still, the query appeared harmless enough. How little did I know….
“Because it’s slimming,” her friend Celina answered before I could speak my reply. And then, they all laughed, everybody, every one. I tried to smile my hardest; I didn’t wish for them to see me as a bad sport or something, but for some reason…this time…something felt different, so very different. It was like, they weren’t laughing with me, they were laughing at…me. Me.
Because I was…different?
The second time was slightly dissimilar. There were three of us, in the girls’ bathroom before Play practice. Just three.
I had not even had to use the toilet, but Amy and Jessica (the same one as before) had not wanted to go alone and had told me to come, commanded me to come, and, of course, I had obeyed. Perhaps, even though before this point in time, they had hurt me so terribly, shattered my heart in so many instances, I did what they had told me to because I secretly hoped for their friendship.
“Hey,” Amy inquired, suddenly, as I emerged from the stall, “Have you gotten your period, yet?”
This really startled me, I do believe even more than any other interrogation I received before or after this. Why did they want to know? Why would anyone want to know?
“N-n-no,” I had stuttered in shock. My mother later scolded me for this, so often I would never be able to calculate. She yelled, when I had told her of this in misery, that I had given them something to taunt me with. Something, which made them more powerful than me, which bolstered their confidence and esteem, yet hindered mine. I lied, and, rather ironically, confessed to her that I could not understand why blood made somebody more powerful than I.
But the whole truth was, when I saw that grin, that evil, malicious grin she had given me when I had told her I hadn’t (just before she had bragged that she already had hers and praised Jessica for having her “stream of blood” since the fourth grade), I knew that I had been defeated, that I had lost this battle.
It’s almost funny how, something I have come to know as uncomfortable, painful, and bothersome, could make anyone so proud…yet, somehow, by a crazy “miracle”, it had….
Was it because, then, if they had their periods and I didn’t…I was different?
Cheerios started my spiral. Or rather, what is found on their side. Or instead, even, what sparked my interest in those numbers and their meanings.
It all began when someone asked me about the term I have come to know as unspeakable to the female kind. The S-word. Yes, you know the one syllable entity I am speaking of (or do you?):
It had come during the beginning of the seventh grade; I know that much at least. Just after lunch, I had been asked a query along with several other girls. We were lined up in a perfect row for the attack, collecting our books and other supplies from our lockers and then it came.
Amy (yes, that one) and Keri came gallivanting back from the cafeteria, having a fierce discussion, like always, it seemed. And then came the awful trick I had never expected. They swiftly flew down on me like The Birds, squawking out their question so fast I answered without pause, without thinking. Nearby, I could hear Jillian whisper, “It’s okay. They’re asking everyone, but you don’t have to answer it.”
“A seven in pants. Or a five or a four, it all depends, you-.” I was not a five. I was a seven.
“Jill, what are you?”
“A two,” she replied, quietly.
And then, later, as we sat down for science class (it was never my best subject), I heard Keri’s voice coming from just behind me as she conversed with Amy:
“God, I feel so fat, now. I’m a five.”
Its hard to imagine, let alone write, how you feel when someone kicks you in the stomach, breaks your nose with their fist, and snaps your wrist, all at once. Maybe, because for that one instant, that very second when it all occurs, you just feel hollow, numb.
Because I was different, they didn’t like me, not only that, they hated me.
If you’re honest with yourself, you can understand why I believed what I did. I mean, after all the trials they had put me through, isn’t it obvious what my objective was to gain freedom from this consistent bullying.
I had to change.
But what did I have to change exactly?
Hmm, I’d always been good at math, and math has patterns in it. So what, precisely, was the pattern in this reality I was living, or at least, what did they torture me with the most?
My waist, they didn’t like the size of my waist, they despised how disgustingly fat I was.
Yes, this was the only justification my mind could make, the only item I could grasp or latch on to. This was why they hated me.
And so, if I shrunk its circumference, if I became skinny, they’d automatically like me…and the thinner I was, the more I would be liked….yes, the tinier the better….
In December 2007, during the Christmas break of my seventh grade year, I took an interest in calorie counting, or nutrition, as I liked to call it. I first asked my mother, a former nurse, to explain the nutritional information on a box of Cheerios.
And then, abruptly, interest…became obsession. Everything counted. I couldn’t be one bite-sized pretzel over my limit, or the sky would fall and the world would burn. I would cut my calories in half and then in half, once more, and so on and so forth. It appeared never ending. And then, when that wasn’t enough, I found exercise. I began exercising daily, sometimes two or three times a day. I spent my free time searching for sites that could tell me my bmi, my body fat percentage, how many calories I burned doing this, and how thin would I have to be to become a model. I would cry hysterically if I thought I looked fatter or if I had gained a pound. I wore only loose clothing, afraid and mortified to show my figure. I would constantly, in secret, write phrases like “you’re so fat” on my arms and palms, to keep me from eating. If I ate too much, I began to seriously consider taking the knife that had buttered the roll to my throat. It was as if someone had challenged me to become skinnier than any other girl on the planet. When America’s Next Top Model came on the television, all I could do was compare myself to them and do sit-ups and pushups right there while I watched. If a Feed the Children ad was printed in the magazine I was reading, I could not feel sympathy for them, only jealousy at their diminishing waists. I would never be skinny enough! I would always be fat and-!
“Thirteen pounds,” my doctor said at my next visit. “That’s a lot of weight you lost. Were you sick?”
“Yes,” I lied. “I was sick.”
Suddenly, I hated being thin. I absolutely hated it. But, somehow, I still loved it.
It was awful because, again, I was different, people thought I was weird. I was embarrassed beyond belief by this, yet, still, somehow, I wanted to be thin and keep getting thinner. I wanted the control. I craved the obsession.
And so it continued on (meanwhile, to others in school, I became almost invisible, both literally and as a presence; it was like I wasn’t even there), I lost seventeen more pounds. My period was gone (I had gotten it a few months after Amy had inquired).
The only time when I ever really got any attention during that period of time in my life was the day I came into class, in a tight outfit my mother had forced me to wear, looking so rail thin compared to the others (most had gained weight in seventh, while I had shrunk). Noelle, a new student who had never seen me “fat”, began to inquire to the others as to if I had always been so skinny. And, she had even asked of me if I had used to look different.
“Yes,” I whispered, “I used to be a little chubby.”
And then it had come out, one of the worst betrayals I had ever witnessed (not by her, but by those whom she had interrogated, those whom less than a year ago had teased me for being “huge”).
“Well, from what the other kids in our class told me, you were always really, really thin.”
I felt, then, as bad as if they had called me fat. How could they deny what they had previously told me so often? How could they? How could they pretend that the months our heartbreaking, relentless teasing had never happened? I hated them with even more passion. And so, my declining waist size, wrist size, and thigh size refused to stop.
However, then, one ordinary day, while I was exercising no less, I heard a story on the news, about a girl who had died of this thing called anorexia.
And then…all I was, was scared…afraid out of my wits....
Immediately, I began to search for books and websites about this disease, and so, I learned everything I could. I educated myself on the suicide I was committing.
But I could not stop just yet, although I had dropped thirty pounds and become a size zero. I needed the control, I desired to be the one steering my weight and, in turn I believed, my own life. It took every figment of my self to be able to raise my calorie limit by 100, and, I found, I was only able to do this when I was sick or tired, when my will was at its lowest (for some reason, this all occurred on Thursdays, like I said before).
I began to throw fits and tantrums, fighting myself to win over control of my diseased brain. I would beg and plead with myself to release me from this curse. I was, unintentionally, losing weight…and fast.
And then, the second Thursday of eighth grade (one of my luckiest days ever), it stopped. I threw a single fit, a horrible tantrum, one larger than ever before for my mother, just after finding out that I had shed another six pounds, and, then, abruptly, with the confidence and sheer exhaustion that had come with this school year, it ceased.
I was free from the bonds that had held me fast and tight for nearly ten months. At last, and I was happy, the most cheerful I had been in a long time.
I had always known that, felt that, in my case, I had gotten myself into this horrible and addictive habit, and I could get myself out.
For the first time in what felt like forever, my heart was light and airy, breezy even. Why?
Because I loved somebody I had never been allowed, myself and others had never allowed me to love before…