The lockers were stained a deep, dark red the way a pomegranate stains your hands. The red blurred by as I rushed to sixth hour. Sliding into my seat, I set down my Vera Bradley bag. I glanced around the room to make sure I wasn’t too late, or too early. Only losers got to class early.
Class was starting; I finished re-tying my Sperry’s as everyone talked to each other. A girl tossed her perfectly-straightened hair and laughed. She looked over at me and coolly complimented my shirt. It was $50 from American Eagle.
“Thanks…” I blushed, trying to think of how to continue the conversation. By the time I found the right words, she’d already turned away. I’m so stupid.
My cheeks burned. I stared down at my desk, wishing I could be like them. Popular.
* * *
Sitting down by myself, I scanned the cafeteria. Is there anyone I know? Sighing, I came to the conclusion I always did. With no one to talk to, I started eating alone. I looked down.
This happened every day. Alone at lunch, I would pull out the iPhone my family could barely afford and try to distract myself with another game of Doodle Jump. And usually, it worked.
A few girls walked by, Abercrombie-clad and laughing at an unheard joke. I tried to smile at them; I wanted to invite them over. The smile never quite reached my lips.
* * *
It was the summer before freshman year. I stood in my bedroom, waiting with bated breath. Any second the door would open and slam shut with a gust of wind, bringing my mom inside with it. I tried to puzzle my words together like a Rubik’s Cube, considering the most convincing combinations. I finally left my room and paused at the kitchen doorway while my mom started cooking dinner.
“Hey mom?” She didn’t look up. “Could I have, like $30?” She set down her knife and sighed. I tried to look anywhere but at her.
“You know that means we won’t be able to buy all of our groceries this week?”
I didn’t respond. We both knew the answer.
That summer, the few friends I’d made during eighth grade had invited me to go to Theater in the Park. I couldn’t say no; saying no meant they might not ask me again. They might not like me anymore. No wasn’t an option.
I shrank against the doorway while she left to get her wallet. She placed the crumpled bills in my hand and walked away, staring straight ahead, eyes unfocused. I looked in my hand; there was one $20 bill and one $10 bill. They felt dirty.
* * *
The car lurched forward as I adjusted my striped backpack beneath my feet. It had been a long time since I’d thrown away my Vera Bradley, old and stained. I brushed off the tops of my Levi’s and tucked a lock of damaged hair behind my ear. My 17th birthday had been three weeks ago and my mom had gotten me a new hair straightener. It was $150. Everyone at school had shiny, straight hair. I had to have it, too. Eventually my old straightener burned out from constant use.
“What’s your address again?”
I mumbled the answer. I’d needed a ride home from school, so I’d had to ask a friend. I hated asking friends for rides, but it was my only option.
We passed Prairie Village, Mission Hills. The houses decreased in size and value as we approached my house. We drove on through Fairway, the neighborhood where I usually told people I lived. We finally reached Roeland Park. The grime on the houses was noticeable; creepy figures and busted cars littered my street. When we reached my house, I leapt out of the car. On my way to the door I didn’t look back. I was humiliated.
* * *
Words and faces blended together as I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed. Girls at parties, brand new cars. Over and over. But one face stuck out: laughing, wearing an oversized sweatshirt, with a head of unruly hair. No riding boots or Lilly Pullitzer in sight. It was Sophie.
Inseparable in preschool, Sophie and I withered through five years of going to different elementary schools before reuniting in fifth grade. From there, we enrolled at Indian Hills together.
For weeks we would pass each other in the hallway. Smile, try to talk. But as seventh grade went by, I would see Sophie talking to other people in the halls. New friends, people I would have embarrassed to talk to. We talked less and less. And then, we stopped talking.
Sophie had moved on. She was comfortable, she was happy. A girl living her own life. And I wanted what she had.
I closed my laptop and looked around my room. My Sperry’s were on the floor, my Patagonia on the bed. And I realized they weren’t my things at all. They were everyone else’s.
My favorite sweatshirt sat in the back of my closet, worn and stained. I’d never worn it outside of the house. Imagining the ridicule was almost painful. And yet, it makes me who I am.
The next day I went to school, sporting my sweatshirt and with my hair in a braid. My curls spilled out near the front, but I didn’t care. I was tired of living with shame.
Accepting myself is a challenge. But it isn’t impossible.
Comments are closed.