At my first house party, some drunk boy grabs my hand and croons that John Mayer song, the one about bodies and magic, where he can get lost in my candy lips and bubblegum tongue. I smile back thinly and start to eat away the cherry chapstick I smeared on in my best friend’s car, her mother’s Subaru, the one I’ll have to drive home because she’s playing beer pong with her shirt off below my feet.
I think of him later, those liquor-warm cheeks and kind eyes; I wonder if he actually thought nice things about my mouth. I heave and pant on tune. My body could be a wonderland, someday. I heave and pant, I empty myself, I flush the toilet. I could be beautiful, but not today. I wash my hands with the generic soap, the kind you buy in bulk from superstores, a clear bottle that reads Ocean Breeze.
I am standing with sand between my toes and dread hard and horrid in my bloody mouth. These people, they have bikinis and smiles and breasts that bounce and tan. I feel larger than the ocean. I want to melt like a fat girl ice cream cone, like a firecracker popsicle on the Fourth of July. My left hand turns the bracelets on my right, over and over, a golden crown, a golden compass, a golden seashell. I am a queen, an explorer, and a mermaid in my jewelry. I am an oozing eyesore at the beach today, though, so I run back to our condo and hide in the closet. The dark is safe. No one glares at me, dripping cruel judgement, or even worse, soft pity.
My friend, the one who thinks partying is an art form, she is a runner. She goes wild at nights, hair whipping in the breeze, laugh spilling out the corners of her smile like smoke from a lit cigarette held in shaking fingers. The next morning, though, she’ll scrape her blonde locks into a tight bun and disappear for an hour, strong legs moving throughout the little grid of our small town. She says that I should try running if I hate my body so much. My friend, she is so flippant. Her heart beats so soundly, the rhythm of her feet hitting the pavement; she doesn’t understand that I do not fear the exercise, only the looks of those I would pass on the streets. She says I have a nice body, perfectly average for a 5’8 seventeen year old.
I streak the sky above us. I span wider than our cul-de-sacs and boulevards, my arms thick as logs, my legs wide as tree trunks. You tell perfectly average girls that they are skinny. You tell fat girls they are average. I know this so intimately, but it hasn’t stopped hurting. Which is worse? A gentle lie or a blunt truth? Why do both make me white-knuckled and sore? A girl can become a bruise if she is beaten often enough, you know.
These people, these drunk boys and beach-goers, they get to pass around my body like fine wine. They sip and primp and preen around the flavors, sharing little snickers about the thickness, how rich I am. My stomach curls into itself. We are trained to hate, and then shamed for self-pity. What a cycle; it makes me swoon.
Going to house parties, and beaches, having skinny best friends, feeling lazy for not being more sick, for not pushing a little harder: a fat girl is a ghost story. She is fading in and out of the conscious people. She’s the chorus of a song between hazy, hot breath, a body that may have never really been there. She’s a shadow underneath the sun, below the ocean floor, lying flat and pale, the breeze unable to move her. She’s tucked into the dark so others can see pleasant things, skinny blonde girls running at eleven on a peaceful Sunday, a happy little small town.
How do I leave this bathroom, then? My body’s history points to being tamed. My flesh wants to crawl away from itself; the music thumps loudly through the door, but I could lay in the bathtub for a bit, count my stretch marks again, run the taste of vomit over my tongue for the millionth time.
I can still hear the music through the door. I feel the bass in my stomach.