It’s been a while, but I think this story was inspired by a girl I knew back in college. I’d known her since high school, along with the boy she liked. She wasn’t…a terribly easy person to get along with, despite her outgoing personality (though that somehow made it harder, like she was Bruce from Finding Nemo and you were the little fish). She was one of those people who went for the tough love on everyone and wanted to be friends with everyone but was temperamental, not all that smart, and hard to predict. I accepted all her kindness, though, happy to have it. She was earnest and good to a fault and sincere, and I thought that matter the most. I didn’t expect to see her again in my creative writing classes in college. I hadn’t known she liked to write, and I figured I would have since we had been friends and I was as obsessed about stories back then as I am now.
But the most awkward part about having her in my creative writing class was reading her writing. All of it was overflowing with poorly concealed fantasies and passionate love for this guy we both knew, who was the stereotypical tall, handsome, super popular guy who was student president two years in a row. He was basically friends with everyone, so she held that title of ‘friend’ close to her heart and then stamped that bloody heart onto paper for me to read. Of course, only those who went to high school with us could see through her poorly renamed characters and revamped romantic situations, so she was safe that far.
Why was this such a big deal to me?
…Because she was also the fattest, ugliest girl I knew…And I mean that in the most honest, plain, uninsulting way possible. She wasn’t bright, her personality was prickly, and she had terrible acne on top of it. I liked her stalwart determination to make the right choice and sincerity, but, sadly, for the majority of us, you need more than that to spark and fuel a romance.
On top of that, this guy had a beautiful, charismatic, just as popular as him girlfriend, and that made reading her writing agonizing for me. There’s a poem on my site somewhere, I think it’s called “The Girl in Love with Scott Smith–” <—I linked it here. It just seemed so awful to love someone so wonderful, someone who even I had a crush on at some point, and be trapped in a body that kept you away from them, relationship status aside. I wanted to both run my head into the dirt and lawd it into a gorgeous piece of art so that at least her feelings could be portrayed as beautiful as she wanted to be.
By T.S. Lowe
And I’m not trying to be falsely modest or cute when I say that. Nor am I saying that out of the usual teenage angst. I actually feel pretty good about myself, and my life is sweet.
But really, I am not a looker, in any shape or form—though if I had a shape, it would be “in” shape, because sports are probably the one thing I can do well (God did not educating my brain make). My broad shoulders and stocky build kind of play into that.
That’s right. I’m built like a female rugby player and short to boot. Though no matter how fit I get, no amount of hardness in my calves or abs will tighten the gobly-gook bag under my jaw that they call a weak chin. Nor will it stop my mustache from growing in, or make my wiry, constantly-look-like-I-just-fried-myself-mouse-brown hair from going down, or make the acne go away, which my nice turkey man-jaw displayed all too well, thank you very much.
Again, I’m not exaggerating. This is not emo teen esteem.
I’m ugly. It’s just a fact. I don’t even have decent boobs or butt to balance it out. I’m a square, flat sides included.
I do have nice teeth, though, which I take meticulous care of. White, straight as a line, and healthy (praise to the dentist gods). Though they didn’t do much as every time I smiled that flobby chin multiplied sevenfold and my murky brown eyes got all squinty. It didn’t matter how skinny I got, I’d always look like a grinning Buddha…with the plague.
But, for the most part, I did my best not to let it bother me. There were other joys to life.
Like sprinkling Joe’s hair with Tonya’s body glitter while he dozed in Chem class.
“Bippity, boppity, boo!” I whispered, with a final flourish. I made a ninja sign with my hands. “I seal thee.”
The kids who had managed to spot what I had done giggled. One kid snorted into his desk.
Best part was, he didn’t even notice until he stepped into the sunlight outside of the class and Rick rolled around to catch us for lunch (ha ha, Rick rolled…).
He spread his hands in front of his eyes, glitzy glam style.
“Princess! You have appeared!”
And since he hadn’t looked away from Joe’s drowsy gaze, Joe whirled around on me.
“What did you do?”
“Nothing.” I had the king of all poker faces. I could hold myself back from laughing even if Robin Williams came back from the dead screaming “I live!” like the Genie and wearing a jumpsuit of rubber duckies.
But I had a horribly over-sensitive conscience.
Joe knew that. He kept glaring.
Mouth twitch—poker face crack alert! “Why are you looking at me like that? I just put glitter in your hair. Nothing big.”
He obviously didn’t think it was anything but big, as Joe went at his hair as though his scalp had been invaded by spiders. Glitter sprayed into the sunlight, creating a mini-atmosphere about his head.
Rick rolled (ha) his eyes, grinning. “If you didn’t overreact to everything—”
“Don’t you start!”
“—Roxy wouldn’t feel the need to bully you so much.”
“I’m not bullying him!” I protested.
Tonya giggled. “Hey, bully, I’ll see you in Home Ec.”
I waved and flashed my zitty-Buddha-smlile. “Cya, girl.”
Meanwhile, Joe continued to flail. “Aw, jee, this is gonna take forever to get out, damn it!”
“Relax, man, don’t you know everything good in anime sparkles?” said Rick.
“Yeah, in girl animes.”
Rick mock gasped. “You watch girl animes?”
And here came the guilt after the pranks. Gall, it was like I was some kind of masochist. Why’d I keep doing this sort of stuff?
Because it was funny.
“I’m sorry,” I started. “Balancing formulas just got so boring.”
“Maybe if you actually paid attention you wouldn’t be so bored.” Another furious rain of sparkles. “And you’d be able to do the equations on your own without my help by now.”
“Isn’t that sweet,” cooed Rick. “I love it when he gets motherly.”
“She sits next to me,” said Joe flatly.
“And threatens to pop my zits on him if he doesn’t help,” I said, pulling up my phone and checking my texts. “Just shampoo real good and you’ll be fine. Tell the guys Tonya did it and you’ll get man points, kay? She’s the one who suggested it. You should ask her out already.”
That last sentence went off like a bombshell and their faces dropped. Unlike me, Tonya wasn’t ugly. Not in the least, with a nice rack to boot.
“Did she tell you that?” Joey squeaked.
I just grinned, wise Buddha that I was. “Later!”
“No, wait, you can’t just run after—hey!”
Too late. I was off and cackling as I went. If Tonya heard of this, she’d have my ugly frizz hair yanked out, but she just wouldn’t believe me when I told her Joe would be an idiot not to want to go out with her. Honestly. Girls had this thing with white lies and false praise to the point they didn’t even believe it when someone told them the truth.
Even so, my next class had a no friends policy and I ended up in a corner with thoughts I would rather not entertain and a pencil and paper that probably would have cringed with dreadful anticipation if they were sentient enough to know the abuse I was about to put them through. Like how cute Joe was when he overreacted, because it betrayed a passionate personality. If he were to ever fall in love, I knew him well enough to know it would be through and through, heart and soul, right then, right there. None of this wishy washy ‘I’m not sure yet.’ A lot of guys weren’t comfortable showing that much emotion. Because of that also, he couldn’t lie well and could be read by anyone like a book.
“Motherly indeed,” I muttered to myself as I attempted to get the still life we were supposed to be drawing to look like something other than a messy scrawl by a five year old.
Even after they decided to go out, Joe would still help me with my chemistry equations.
“Have you seen Maria?”
“Maria the Mexican or Maria the, um, the big one?”
“The big one.”
It was the same pair of girls that always dared to whisper under the silencing gaze of the art teacher. Usually it came to me as a low hissing from across the room, but I had the luck this time to sit next to them. I welcomed the distraction from thoughts I liked to pretend didn’t exist.
“She was absent for like an entire week and then came back, like, two hundred pounds lighter! Just like that!”
“That’s not healthy.”
“Sure it’s not, but she sure looks good. I mean, wow, it almost makes me wish she was fat again.”
“Did she get, like, a tapeworm or something?”
“If so, get me a tapeworm. Nah, I heard it was because she went to this place on that back block behind Rhody’s Hardware—you know, the creepy one that they’re rebuilding?”
“Someplace is open over there?”
“It’s not suppose to, but she said it was, like, this whole new building she’d never seen before sort of squeezed in there. Anyways, they say they work in making ugly girls beautiful.”
The other girl snorted. “Yay, a plastic surgery joint.”
“No. I hear it’s all natural. Besides, you know Maria couldn’t afford that. And she’s a Mormon, they don’t believe in surgery stuff.”
“Then you’re saying she could afford this?”
“Yeah. They were looking for, what do you call them, trial peeps? You know, to advertise and stuff.”
A pause as the girls looked at the still life together thoughtfully, though it was obvious they weren’t thinking about the placid orange staring back at them. Also because the teach had given them one of his wife-beater glares.
“Tapeworms,” said one, even more quietly.
“Has to be tapeworms.”
And since said wife-beater was heading over to display, verbally, how abusive he could be to students who dare speak in his holy sanctuary of art, I got my distraction taken away.
And a new one took its place.
One of the things that I felt brought peace to my soul concerning my homeliness were my friends.
I had a lot of them, for one thing. I didn’t really have any enemies, since I’d more or less figured out that everybody wants to feel good about themselves and want to be nice, so I just went with that. It’s amazing what a little patience and understanding can do, even against those so call bad kids, who smoked outside and talked about how many people they’d banged while dressing out in the locker room. If you didn’t give them a reason to hate you, as a general rule, most won’t.
I think it actually helped that I was so ugly and unoutstanding. I had nothing to intimidate or to make others jealous. Even on the playing field I didn’t overshadow anyone. I was a happy medium—not pro
athlete that made all the other moms cry, but by no means useless. I think that was because I changed sports every season or so between soccer, basketball, and water polo.
I guess you could have called me ‘popular’ in that sense, but that made it sound way more dramatic than it was. I wasn’t friends with everyone. I just didn’t have any enemies. Or bullies, for that matter. Kind of took the fun out of bullying me when I’d treat any abuse as though it were just a joke or sarcasm, and even if it didn’t start as such, it soon became so as the kids relaxed around me. Really, bullies are just uptight kids, I think.
The idea that kids could just be plain mean didn’t even cross my mind until a few days after when I ended up leaving the locker rooms last since I’d taken a nasty spill into some mud and ended up enjoying the endless hot water of the shower a bit too much. The water heater at home was a joke. At the same time, I could hear the players from the boys soccer team, who played next to our field, jogging in with all the uproarious thunder which were happy teenage boys.
I could hear them as a sort of white noise rumble, muffled by the brick walls, as I lathered myself up with deodorant and got dressed. Just as I stepped around the walkway to leave, I heard Joe’s voice and my step faltered without meaning too.
“—I am not asking her out with roses, that’s so tacky.”
Ah. So he was actually going to go through with my suggestion. I smiled, pleased with my efforts and too used to the cold stone dropping in my gut to care. I took another step.
“Weird, I always thought you’d go out with Roxanne.”
I froze at the same time a few boys made various weird noises of disbelief or disgust.
I knew I should walk on. I knew, for a fact, you never got off good listening to people talk about you, but for some reason I couldn’t move. Maybe it was because Joe’s voice intertwined in a subject I knew I could never, in any normal circumstance, be a part of.
Then Joe’s voice peeked out above them all.
So passionate, even in his refusal. Always so passionate.
“Man, that’s cruel,” said another guy. “I know she’s, like, fugly as hell, but ain’t she your friend?”
“Yeah, exactly. My friend. Dating her would be like dating one of you losers. Ew!”
“Aw, Joe, that hurt me in my tenders.”
“Don’t wag your dick at me like that, sicko! Ew!”
“Man, you freak out so easily.”
My feet fell into motion again. The tiles of the locker rooms finally fell behind me, replaced by the linoleum of the school hallway. I made sure to walk quietly, even though I knew there was no way any of them would think the person walking could be me.
My mom wasn’t pretty either. When I got home, I looked at her from behind for a moment, wondering if I wanted her to see me. Even if I made it a point not to be a weeper (crying made people uncomfortable), she was my mom. Mom’s had alien super powers of deduction when it came to their kids.
She was…well, she was fat. Her butt hung over the hard edges of the computer chair and her elbows were dimples in her arms. Since she’d divorced dad, she hadn’t bothered trying to be feminine or otherwise attempt to attract the opposite sex. She’d even chopped off all her hair so she wouldn’t have to worry about doing it every day. Since she worked as a nurse in butt ugly scrubs, I guess she could do that.
Despite that, I didn’t know anyone who was more loving and kind than my mother. I think she’d even give Mother Teresa a run for her money.
Which was why it had taken her so long to divorce the a-hole, absentee of a husband my father was.
And also why I inevitably decided I was going to take a shower before showing my face to her. I didn’t want her hanging on me and calling me her beautiful little angel just because some boys were saying what I already knew. Even though I’d taken a shower in the lockers and was still damp from them, the sound of the water always worked to calm me. It was my zen.
She came knocking when she heard the shower, though.
“Sweetie, is everything okay?”
Oh gall, super powers indeed. “Yeah, I’m fine, Mom.” And because I didn’t even want to try and lie to my mom, I stopped there.
“Is there anything in particular you want for dinner? I just went shopping today.”
It was her day off, after all. Nurses had the weirdest schedules.
I asked for something meaty and she trundled off. The stairs creaked loudly as she left.
I did my time, got out, popped some zits (had to get some satisfaction out of being a leper), rubbed anti-acne medication on them (one prescribed by the dermatologist as a last result before we went straight out pills and acid), and got out. I felt I had become composed by then and faced my mother with confidence.
Mom didn’t disappoint with dinner. Steaks.
“Dang, did you find these on sale?” Fine beef like this cost toes, man.
“Clearance,” she said cheerily. “You always get the best stuff if you’re willing to go first thing in the morning.