When I was 13 I thought the world, the universe, and God specifically, had it in for me. Either I had done something in this life to deserve the name calling, the threats, the laughing and the ridicule that I met with every day, or I had been born defective in some way. It was not unusual to hear “There’s fat Wendy” as I walked through the junior high hallway. It was not unusual to hear that or worse. This was my lot in life due to genetics or fate. Less than other people and never going to be good enough. That’s what I thought.
When I was 14, I thought the same. Fifteen, same. And for every year after that for a long time. Punished for something I couldn’t understand, I carried a shameful secret and was treated that way in return. Always chunky, awkward, bookish and shy, I was the perfect target for cruel children and teenagers. At first I cried easily and often. And then I learned how to live in my own world. There was an alternative; I kept that in back of my mind. But I learned to pretend, fantasize, disappear. And eat. I ate to cover my mistakes, the hurt. When I was laughed at on the bus, I walked briskly home from the bus stop. I did’t cry. I dropped my books on the stairs, ran to the kitchen. I lifted the lid on the heavy ceramic cookie jar, feeling the vibration of its scraping the lip of the jar, reached in, replaced the lid, leaned back. Ate. At last, I was okay.
I believed in God from a young age. I was scared of Him. Certainly, I had manifested some offense to deserve this treatment. I learned to make deals with Him, to hide from Him. Please, please don’t let them be waiting for me at school today, and I promise I’ll be good.
In high school, I was the fat friend. I was a good friend, this is true, and I had friends. But I was sad and lonely and wished I could trade places with my pretty friends. Even for a day. I was not as good as they, and it was not hard to find people to remind me of that. I was the third wheel on dates because my friends felt bad for me, but the boy always looked at me with disdain in his eyes. I was smart; I knew what was going on. It was so much worse that way.
We often hear people speak of their past, a past that might have been unhappy or unfortunate, and they say they wouldn’t have changed a thing–because all those things made them who they are today. I would change everything. I would in a second. I spent my thirties trying to undo my teenage years. If I could be pretty, thin, funny, popular enough now–it would erase who I was then. The things that happened to me. It won’t matter to whoever it is we think keeps score of these things. I’d come out even or ahead if I could just get it right.
I say that. Yet I know who I am today. I feel a great deal of pain for other people. I care if someone is being ridiculed. I am not perfect, and I have done my share of harm at my weakest, most insecure moments. It is easy for me to join a group in gossiping about, or worse, ignoring another woman. But I try to let empathy and compassion guide me more and push me harder than fear. I am competitive and have a deep need to be recognized, to win an unseen, unknowable prize. Everything in me shakes at having to back off, but I am learning in a very real way that supporting others opens all the good in the universe. It comes back to me tenfold. I trust there is a loving Creator. And that he hasn’t singled me out. I struggle, but I come back, slowly, eventually, to a place of faith, however weak. I don’t want to be a source of pain; it matters to me that I might make someone’s day easier by holding a door, smiling, sharing a burden. It is my ideal; it is not always my reality. This familiarity with humanity, which has come at a cost, is the instruction, the gift of my past. It is the thing, if pressed, I would not change.
This post is an entry in a writing contest at Suess’sPieces. The prompt I wrote from is “When I was 13, I thought…”