Don’t worry about Simone. She is going to tell on you, not because she wants justice but only out of pure spite. On this day in the sixth grade, she will tell Miss Jackson, who had left the room, of how you slapped Jory, the boy who seems so blameless to everyone else, in the middle of English class. You will have slapped Jory Martin, occupying a space on his face. Everyone knows that you slapped him, but Simone is the only one unafraid to tell on you when the teacher returns to her desk. Do not let your power scare you or bring you any shame. The cost of detention is well worth it, because this large, bright red hand print on Jory’s fair skinned face is one of the biggest marks you’ve ever left behind.
You will never forget being recommended Jenny Craig and Weightwatchers as a means not only to lose weight but to lose the best parts of yourself too– your joy for life, your passion for art, your ability to bring laughter to anyone. People glare in bewilderment when the gleam of your smile fills a room. They stare as if to ask “If you are your size, how are you so full of joy?” Because you lack maturity and certainty, you let these looks discourage you. Your smile fades and absorbs into your face. While you’d like to forget these moments brought to you by strangers and friends, you won’t. You won’t forget the moments when you realize that joy, for fat people, is sealed off in a highly monitored space that you are not allowed to access. You won’t forget because these cases of stolen joy and zapped confidence are more retrievable than some of the best days of your life.
His skin is flushed unnaturally red and a black or purplish blue welt will probably form, but your skin is a concern, too. Your skin is thin, yes, but don’t you know what you can be? Your fragility puts you at a disadvantage since you can’t handle the true details of your body. It makes you uncomfortable when people call you what you are and point out what you see every morning when you accidentally glance at your reflection. Surely, the truth in their words hurts more than the actual name-calling that batters you, leaving emotional bruises that you feel but cannot see. You will grow out of having such a sensitivity to their words because if you were forced to go around slapping people left and right every time someone calls you a name, you might need an automated slap machine to help you fight all the bad guys.
There are many bad guys.
People will call you by many names, but infrequently by your own. Even your own name they will mispronounce. You tell them, “it’s Desiree,” but they will say, “Desiray.” You teach them phonics and all about long e sounds in words like tree or bee, but they do not try to learn. They will give your name one or two tries and they settle on misidentifying you because capturing your essence will never be as important to them as it is to you. Throughout your adolescence, starting in your freshman year of high school, you will shorten your name from Desiree to Desi to sound cuter and to make it easier for others to recall. In college you will shrink your nickname Desi to an even shorter nickname, Des, to sound more mature and to sound like you don’t need to be cute. You do this as if you’ve outgrown the anxiety of being a missing person, a Jane Doe to even the closest of those who call you friend, yet do not know the fullness of your name, a name that means wanted and desired. You will try to shrink yourself in other ways, too. You will squeeze yourself into friendships, relationships, and spaces that don’t fit you, whether too big or too small.
Growing pains will have long days and nights with you and it will hurt all over. You will feel emotional twinges in your oversized stomach. You will wake up to a missing thigh gap, and even if you never had one to start with, suddenly you notice based on the current standards of beauty. Instead of a conventional aperture separating your thighs, you have lovey-dovey thighs that enjoy such a fondness for each other. To your offense, they rub together when you walk and meet slightly even when your legs are parted. Shoes cannot contain your oversized feet which are bigger than most other boys’ in your class and the whole length of you aches as the muscles and bones that compose you seem awkwardly strung together by ligaments and tendons that were rudely awakened by puberty. This awkwardness will incite feelings of your presence and words coming off as utterly purposeful mistakes. How can you have confidence while feeling so unsure?
The slender girls at school don’t take into consideration your feelings. Some of them think that you are ugly just because you are fat. Fat and ugly are the same things to them. Simone will tell you that maybe boys would look your way if you weren’t such a pig. She will call you the three letter word, fat, the worst word to you, and at twelve all of this will resonate with you. Though it should feel natural for you to like Kevin, a boy in your 6th grade class, because you are fat you cannot show interest. You shouldn’t look at Kevin. He is a whole foot shorter than you. Simone and Kevin are secretly dating— whatever that means. Despite your raggedy condition of ugliness from her perspective, you cause her to feel threatened, which is amazing because you have yet even to stroke the precipice of your power.
Invisibility is what would get you through all of this grade school conflict without a delay, but it’s too bad for you that invisibility isn’t your skill. Kevin notices you of all people and truly senses a special something in you that is worth befriending. He sees your pure joy and carefree moments as rainbows in a partly cloudy sky. He sees warmth and the light of Christ in the form of human friendship. How can Kevin like you and Simone at the same time you wonder. Even though she isn’t all that, she will get to “date” him. They’ll date but only as much as 6th graders with no jobs, no money and no vehicle can. Jealously threatens to consume you, but it won’t. Even if a tiny part of you feels forsaken.
It’s wildly unusual that, despite confirmation of a good bill of health from your family doctor, despite your healthy heart, blood sugar levels and and systolic blood pressure, despite the possession of both high emotional and intelligence quotients, people will allege or even insist that you are completely unhealthy. You will be stunned by the ignorance of others when it comes to your eating habits. That you eat more fruits and vegetables than them. That when you were growing up, your mother didn’t let you eat candy or sugary fruit snacks like other kids you knew. The family elders that whisper to your mom at family gatherings, “What have you been feeding that girl?” You will make out the words and understand and say nothing and that’s okay because even if you could say something, you wouldn’t know what to say. It’s not your job to say something. It’s their job to say nothing.
Today is a concrete moment on your rocky road to confidence. Today is beautiful because of the mark you made. The mark you made causes everyone to see you. Jory is surprised that you finally made a move, and a powerful one at that. He is shocked and embarrassed and he himself is so amazed that you’re not taking any more shit. You will not try to pass this violence off as anyone else’s doing, nor will you want to. All sixteen of your classmates will know that it was all your doing because only your giant hand could leave a slap mark so large. Miss Jackson will not know why you did it. To her and the class it will all seem so erratic and unfounded. The frozen silence proceeding your rising is what marks the isolated slap as an action well worth detention and the subsequent rumors of disillusionment. It’s worth the ensuing spread of the fact that you are the wrong sixth grader to fuck with. They won’t understand, but maybe they would if they could see you every night, if they could see how before going to sleep you faithfully kneel at the foot of your bed and pray to God to make you invisible, or maybe skinny. You barter with your maker that either one would be fine. What if they could comprehend how difficult it is to shrink and not to take up too much space? If only they could carry the weight that is yours in trying to hold it all in, all your emotions wouldn’t boil and rise to the surface just as you rise majestically from your seat in preparation to do something. You don’t yet know what that something. When you pace across the room and see the whites of Jory’s unsuspecting eyes, it clicks for you.
You are fat. And you will be unsurprised to know that years later, you are still fat but you will have lost 50 pounds, which is literally a small person. By your sophomore year of college, you will lose a small person and many inches from your waist, thighs, ankles, neck, and your face will be more defined. You will visit your high school and people will tell you of how good you look and how they barely recognized you because of how “different” you look. You will not feel different, though; in fact, you are going to feel more the same. Looking back, no one will be familiar with the reason for that red palm print on Jory Martin’s face. They won’t discern that it is all because he used a three letter word to describe you. A word that has no negative connotation but because of the world you live in fat feels like needles plucking you and sometimes bricks on your shoulders.
It’s good that you slapped him. Even if you somehow get a chance to relive that day, do everything the same. Talk to your best friend Taylor Walker and tell her that joke that probably was not that funny that makes both of you laugh loud and carefree and reminds everyone in classroom that you exist. Do everything the same. Slap Jory Martin. Slap him harder and when you get in trouble and Miss Jackson tries to make you apologize, tell her that your word is impeccable and you don’t apologize for doing the right thing. Hear me when I say that no one will ever again call you fat, to your face like that without feeling something afterwards. The word fat won’t ever leave any more marks or indications of affect on you than it will on those who say it to you. No one will call you fat as if it is your name again without having to answer for it. You are powerful not because you slapped a boy. You are powerful because you left your mark. You are powerful because invisibility was never the answer and you learned to live by simply allowing yourself to occupy space.