Tuesday, August 21, 2012

My Name


I didn't even know his name—and I guess that's kind of my point.  He was an outcast like I was, but much further out, circling the other kids in that literal no-man's-land that exists for the kid who has not a single friend.  I hadn't thought of him for more than 30 years until today—when I saw the man he might have become through the window of a Hallmark store.

I remember his round face.  It was sweet and innocent and sat beneath a shelf of sandy-blonde hair.  His cheeks were always ruddy, like the Campbell's Soup kid—the way that a fat boy's cheeks are year-round.  And he was fat, the biggest kid in school by far, the kind of big that's never going to play football or go to dances.  I remember that he wore overalls every day and I also remember thinking this wasn't really by choice but rather necessity.  Back in the early 80's, I don't think there was a "Big & Tall" shop for boys. Levi's made their "husky" line (and I know this because in elementary school, I wore them), but there was nothing out there that would accommodate a boy of his size other than overalls.

He was in my homeroom and sat by himself at one of the large Biology lab tables.  He was quiet—in fact, I'm not sure I ever heard him speak.  And while I don't remember anyone specifically picking on him, I'm sure he caught hell from the other boys.  I imagine him in gym class dreading the showers, dreading the demeaning towel thwumps he must've suffered, the stinging humiliation of it all.  But mostly I just remember his face and the sadness that lived there.

This was 8th grade-- a brutal time for many children, including me.  It seems some of us existed only to serve as fodder for the popular kids, another reminder of the complex hierarchy that existed long before we walked those halls and undoubtedly echoes there still.  And as much teasing as I endured, as much humiliation as I felt for being unattractive and as much as I ached, literally ached to be accepted, to be "popular," it just had to be worse for him.  I was lonely and mostly alone in school, but I did have friends.  We huddled together at lunch time and between classes at our lockers—watching the popular kids lead better lives, the way we now watch the Hollywood starlets doing it. But Chris—and for some reason as I write this, I think his name was Chris—he was really alone.  I saw it and I pitied him and I wished for him that life would get better, get easier… but I didn't befriend him.

And as I stood in the aisle at the Hallmark store and watched the man who could be him 31 years later, I was wracked with shame.  Shame at how easily I shunned him—him and many others—the same way that the kids higher in the caste system shunned me, unless they needed answers at test time.  Shamed to know that my parents raised me better than that, that they taught me compassion, that as much as I like to think I'm a good person, I never reached across the divide and offered him a kind word.

I remember dreaming of being a cheerleader, or even Homecoming Queen—all those things that are emblazoned on a young girl's heart in
 Texas.  The wish list I had… but would never see realized.  Because curly-headed chubby girls with bad teeth, well, we may learn to touch the hearts of our readers, but we'll never be the Homecoming Queen. At best, we learn to tame our hair, get our teeth fixed and fight the battle of the bulge.  But the damage of Junior High, the damage that was done before we even had time to know our own worth, it's still there.  It lives below the surface, where it's not readily apparent, but there nonetheless. 

And on those nights when sleep won't come, the nights when The Boy sleeps with his back to me, the hours where my mind tells me over and over that I'm not good enough, I've never been good enough… I wonder.  I wonder who suddenly remembers my face across the chasm of time, and why he never bothered to learn my name.

2 comments:

  1. Jennifer Lyons SerranoAugust 22, 2012 at 7:14 AM

    Andrea, I never knew you felt like that, you always seemed so confident and together and I've known you since second grade. In high school and college I was even a little jealous of how full of life you were. If I ever did anything to cause you pain along the way I am truly sorry!

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  2. You made me cry! Love this :)

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