Belts and brown bangs.
It had become worn and tattered splitting apart after holding me together for many months. I headed out to buy a new belt, one that would be a size smaller. Feeling pretty good about myself I strutted proud as a peacock into the woman’s store where I would linger looking at the belts until finally choosing the one I liked best.
I saw her standing across from me, she could not have been more than 11 or 12 and I smiled at the sight of her brown bangs and stylish green glasses perched just above her button nose. She would not look at me though, and I dismissed her as shy and timid. I turned and rounded the corner where I stopped to look at pastel colored spring sweaters, which seemed like they belonged in an Easter basket with fake grass spilling out everywhere, not exactly my style. In a split second I was hit, they shot around the room destroying everything in their way, the words that poured from the young girl’s mother left me frozen standing among the cotton blend Easter egg sweaters which became my only protection.
“I am embarrassed to be in this store with my own daughter. You are so fat, and if I have to come to the fat store next time we go shopping for your clothes then I am cutting holes in your bed sheets and you can drape those around your fat ass, because it is disgusting how big you are and if you think I don’t know you sneak the Girl Scout Cookies that I bought for those of us in the house that are not gluttons your are WRONG!” The last word came out with such force, I dropped the belt and felt my heart racing. Paralyzed my feet would not fall forward, until finally I managed to stagger a few steps ahead seeing the girl, it was as if she had an invisible glass dome placed around her, the words did not penetrate her walls of shame, this was standard operating procedure it seemed. The girl said nothing back, no smart mouthed retort, nothing under her breath no dirty looks, she kept her head down and obediently took the double helping of humiliation handed to her. She had that look, the disconnected broken look of despair, like the one I have seen in Tristan so many times. She looked hopeless. I felt helpless.
Memories of my own past quickly spun a web of images and palatable moments of disdain. I suffered the same abusive words from teachers, doctors, and strangers but never from my own mother. Unable to do anything I felt like I had failed that little girl in the very moment I should have been able to make a difference for her. Instead I ran. I ran out the door as fast as I could, down to the corner past the Starbucks, past the Sunglass Hut and around back were I was shaking and crying and eventually puked next to the dumpster. I have been reflecting on this for weeks now, writing and re-writing this post. In the end no good would have come from me confronting her mother, it would have made the situation worse, especially for the girl. In a world where societies ideal weight and picture perfect images are often only achieved if you become kissed by the air brushed strokes of impossibility, where teen suicides are all to common and bullying is a way of life for so many kids, there has to be a better way. I have thought of her each day over the last several weeks, and I have nothing to give her but some strung together words and immeasurable understanding.
To the girl with the beautiful brown bangs,
I see you. The beautiful you that can not be defined in the numbers on a scale, or the small fabric tag displaying the size you wear on the clothes that cover your mother’s shame. The words will hurt, they will break your heart over and over, but you are stronger than the demons you fight daily. You must know this one thing that will get you through, and that is this, not everyone is cruel. Seek out the people in life who see the world and the people in it with a lens of compassion and kindness. They are there and they will walk with you, they will love you unconditionally and they will help you see how amazing you are. Even though you will never know, I am thinking of you, I am rooting for you and I carry your pain with me in the hope that it can somehow magically ease your burdens.