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Don't Call Me Pretty
"No, I'm not," I murmured as I shied away from praise.
"But you are! You just need to let your hair down more."
I stood pressed against the wall, against my will. My hair which had been tamed in a loose ponytail now was flung wildly about my face, concealing my eyes. I felt a faint, throbbing pulse behind my ear where the skin was probably turning bright red. I wearily scanned for gaps between limbs, but finding none, I took up a defensive position preparing to shield my face in an instant. Never let your friends do a makeover. Ever.
I gave a tossed my head a few times and my hair lay smooth as before, save for the bun. I needed my sight to escape. That annoys my friends now, how I can have perfect hair without having to do anything. Though I'm sure they are the ones that influenced me to wear my hair down. One friend held the band lightly in her hand, challenging me to take it, but I knew better. I was encompassed on all sides by my friends, blocking my flight until I swore an oath to never wear my hair up again. Yep, my friends assaulted me for a hair tie.
We had been strolling nonchalantly through the hallways and as one wet-oiled machine they yanked the band, some clumps of my hair, and my dignity. That moment in seventh grade scared the heck out of me so much that I can never sport a hair tie again without constantly looking to see if anyone is going to jump me. I'm not sure why they took that exact moment to drag me to the ground, though I'm pretty sure the more important question is why I'm still friends with them now. Yeah, I don't know either. Getting back to my story...
"You’re not going to get this back. You can't hide your prettiness in a ponytail," my friend holding the band lectured.
"So I'm only pretty when I have my hair down?" I mocked.
"No, it’s not that," one responded. I laughed and at that moment the bell rang, letting me snatch back my hair tie and vanish into the milling students.
I let them have their amusement, gushing for a few days about my hair being unhindered by a band. Soon their compliments declined and the only thing left to mark the event was my hair, now ironically obscuring the side of my face, and some lingering memories that previously had been concealed in the confines of my mind.
No, it's not my friends manhandling me, though I got to say, that's not my favorite thing to dwell on. No, these three memories that had resurfaced, they continue to fester, unappeased.
I'm in third grade again, sitting intently at my desk. The teacher, I'll call her "Miss. Brown", was requesting us to share the writing prompt that we had scored. Everyone had someone else's piece, but we didn't know who had ours. I was particularly proud of my work having put in a considerable amount of effort.
"Who would like to share the piece they have in front of them? Also tell us the grade you gave it," She asked us. A hand shoot immediately and "Katy" is chosen. She starts off with an indistinctive voice, but soon it clears. I at once recognize my piece; however, it is not the way I had thought I had written it. Blundering and incompressible, the story had been woven by me, though I could scarcely understand the words I had written, spoken. A deafening roar of laughter assaulted me and I sank low in my seat. At the conclusion of my story, some people were in tears and I, close to them. I had but to wonder then, “What was the purpose of reading an awful paper? What can people take, but its mistakes?”
"Can anyone tell me why that this received a one out of five," Miss. Brown questioned the class even though Katy had yet to announce her judgment. Blunt insults rather than criticism burst out of mouths, eager to affront any work that was not their own. I twiddled my thumbs, seeking distraction.
At the end of the lesson our papers were returned. I could see from where I was crouching, that my paper was scribbled sloppily in bright crimson highlighter. The colors seemed most concentrated in the core, where numerous problems had occurred. Some sentences had been gone over with the highlighter so countlessly that clots formed where the bits of marker, that had been excessively and eagerly abused, had broken off. The highlighter, while indicating the many flaws of the prompt, lacked any explanation as to why or how to fix. In fact we never went over how to repair it, only to make evident the mistakes. "What were we being taught," I pondered. I could only grasp that we were being taught some concept. The other thing I couldn't comprehend was that someone had used a dark highlighter to bring to light, defects. It rendered the paper illegible.
Inquisitive to see who could ever contrive such a catastrophe, kids peeked out from the corner of their eyes towards Katy. My cheeks were abnormally pale, as I extended out my pallid arm to receive the red paper. Snickers and snorts bombarded my ears, and my breathing became shallow intakes.
For months after, I became shy and reclusive. Mock me for my feeble constitution as you may, but a 8 year olds rocking horse is high and to teeter it even so slightly, risks getting bucked from the saddle. I still yearned to work hard. I endeavored, but try as I might, my memory of that could not fade. It still hasn’t.
Several weeks later, Miss. Brown informed us of the superintendent's impending visit and drilled us with the various parts of the classroom. I never had an interest before in where one poster was in relation to another (who has?), but I attempted to absorb everything she told us. Calling on me, she ordered, "Where are the principles of learning? I have a suspicion that the superintendent will go to you, so you need to know where they are." I twisted my spine, one hand clutching the back of the chair and one hand the seat. My mind had already begun to draw a blank. I panicked, thoughts racing, but each slipped out of my grasp before being reached.
Chortles once again assailed my ears. "Go to the back of the room and look for it. You can't miss it," Miss. Brown commanded to me. Drawing myself on shaking legs, I accidentally stumbled, tripping over my chair leg which I had unintentionally ensnared my foot in when I had to rotate earlier. I wondered in the back of my head if I imagined the emphasis on you. Probably not. The class had been deathly silent, their eyes boring into my back as I tread up to the wall. I wouldn't turn my head to face them even though I yearned to tell them to stop staring. I didn't want to give them the satisfaction or amusement at seeing me on the verge of tears. Instead I confronted the wall searching for any principles with blurred vision, but found nothing. Laughter was now audible, but my teacher silenced them with a sharp reproach. She summoned me to report back to my seat. Then as if apologizing for my stupidity, she projected to my fellow classmates, "We will have to move on and this is taking too long. Sometimes we can't see everything in front of us." Oh crap.
I sank lower and lower as the class grew louder and louder with their howls of laughter. How could they not see what this was doing to me? My fists were clenched to the seat, trying to stabilize myself from trembling more. The infuriation I felt caused me to wreathe in my seat, my blood boiling from indignation. Furies were raging in me. I was concentrating not to yell at them all to get out of the room and leave me be. If I could, I would have told them to go to Hell, but I didn't know that word. However, I knew what it felt like to be there. In Hell, you hunger to strike out against your punisher, every breath a scorching intake. However, terror constricts your limbs. The fear of getting another burn inhibits any action. The degradation, the injustice, the anguish tormented me with each cackle I perceived, but I persevered appearing apathetic, uttering nothing, suffering everything.
My last reminisce still takes place in third grade. (Bear with me here.) I'm at a party at an ice skating rink. The party room was petite and warm, a stark contrast with the freezing rink that I had observed earlier. The room was far away from the rink so that was to be expected. I was invited by a friend that was also in Miss. Brown's class, now "Mrs. Smith’s" class. Unfortunately for me, the subject of conversation somehow ended up on Mrs. Smith.
"How did Mrs. Smith get married?" Alexa asked to no one in particular. It was just a general question.
"I don't know," one girl responded.
"Why would anybody marry her. She's so mean!" another girl added.
Comments flew of her cruelty and harshness. We were all in consensus that she was a witch. Suddenly one girl piped, "She is pretty." As one, the girls nodded their heads in agreement. The question had been answered. I wonder now if they knew that they were admitting that people can be exonerated from anything if they’re not ugly. I don't think they did. The girls regurgitated the same sentence in different phrases lacking diversity: "Yeah, she is pretty" and "She's very pretty." I recalled the pallor of her skin, the limp hair that clung listlessly to her neck, and the hooked nose that could make Snape proud. She wasn't. Yet I was expected to mimic one of the sentences like all the other girls so I did reluctantly. We weren’t even at the rink yet when I felt a shiver run down my spine. I was already cold.
Occasionally I am reeled back to these memories by a word or a certain snicker. Everyone has those kinds of recollections, leaving you stagnant for a few moments before you resurface to reality, but those moments of paralyze are brief for me. More than half a decade has passed and I still can't help but contemplate whether her new students think she is pretty. I also speculate on whether time has weathered her face or some other decaying source has constructed wrinkles. No matter if she remained unchanged or not, I sure as hell hope I’m not as pretty as she is.