I wasn’t a fat kid. On the contrary, I was ribs and skin and sunken eyes for much of my childhood. I was long braided hair so thin and wispy, the plastic daisy barrettes would slip down no sooner than my mother had placed them. I was gangly elbows and knee caps too big for my legs. I was a jawline cut with sharp edges and the wasting that comes from sickness and hospitals and appetites lost.
I don’t remember small. I’ve only ever seen it in pictures looking back.
Here is my truth. I walked five paces behind my brother and his friends because I worried about the size of my shadow.
I made friends with Jennifer because I believed we were the same. She would understand me and her own heft and pudge would leave her no room to judge my imagined girth. She had short cropped hair like a boys, thick and black, shaggy around her ears. I don’t remember if she was teased or for that matter, if I was. I only knew that with her I was safe. We were insulated from the rest of our 2nd grade class by the mere fact that we distanced ourselves first.
I lost myself in imagination and story and seemed to all the world a perfectly happy child.
And maybe I am remembering more into my past than existed. It’s easy to look back with the insight of 30+ years and see that little girl, birdlike and fragile lying on her stomach, her feet in the air and her chin propped in her tiny hand as she fingers the pages of her favorite book, the one that’s illustrated but not on every page.
It’s easy to imagine she knew her pain. Knew that everything hurt a bit more than it is supposed to at 5 or 6.
But how would a child know how much life is supposed to hurt? How would a child know that for all her days, she had accumulated more than her share?
And what is an appropriate share of pain? I’ve lumbered through 35 years of pain and only recently pressed into it instead of pulling away.
I’ve gazed wild eyed and doused in shame for lifetimes on end. I’ve walked behind, praying to be small. To be unseen. And to be seen. Because don’t we all want both?
You cannot love when your heart is broken this way. You cannot feel anything at all but the dismal beat that reminds you it is not yet over. And you long for it to stop even as you rise and breathe and walk around in skin that never seems to cover you right.
And the smallness is gone. On the outside. But the small of me, the tiny heart that trembles, it comes often and beats crazy in my ears. It tells me I am too much of this and not enough of the other. It tamps down my voice and keeps me scurrying for dark places. It keeps me from publish or saying yes. It keeps me from brave.
And I remember girlhood. I remember my brother and his friends backs walking before me. I remember following and hanging back and hoping to be invisible.
I remember the monstrous shadow that goes before me and I hope no one else can see it.
But it’s there, slinking ahead, everywhere I go.
Only the brilliant light of truth makes it scurry behind me where I can see it no more.
We’re doing that thing again. Linking up with Lisa Jo and the #fiveminuteFriday gang to write brave and free for 5 minutes. Then we’re cheering for each other and making brave the way we do life. Join us?