I am rather slender.
Or, in another word, bony. All elbows and knees and sharp edges. Nothing feminine and curvy. I didn't get boobs until college, and they are still rather disappointing. In short, not only am I lacking in social niceties, but I look awkward too.
No time was this more apparent than my freshman year of high school.
I had the trifecta of dorkdom going on: long, stringy, what-do-i-do-with-it hair that I roped into a tight ponytail atop my head 30 seconds after emerging from the shower, glasses in subtle giant ovals (before hipsters made it cool) and orthodontia from hell. I mean, braces and a Herpz appliance? Really? That appliance looked like shock absorbers in my mouth.
But once I got it out, I kind of missed it, because then I didn't have a tangible excuse for why boys weren't kissing me.
Not only did I have the trifecta of dorkdom glaring like a beacon to bullies, but I grew about four inches over the summer. Upward. And since I'd started being a hardcore cross country superstar (I couldn't even type that phrase without wheezing. Pausing this post for a gatorade break.) the rest of me hadn't quite caught up with the new height.
Now I wasn't just a bony, four-eyed, bracefaced dork. I was a bony, four-eyed, bracefaced skeleton.
My first day of school I arrived twenty minutes early, to be certain to find my Art 1 class on time and get a good seat. So of course I wandered around with increasing panic and urgency until I found my class with less than 30 seconds before the late bell. I ran in (because GOD FORBID you be late for a class in high school) and found only one seat left.
I sat directly in the middle of a table of wannabe gangstas and a handful of ultrajocks.
They were going to gut me with a paintbrush.
But Art 1 turned out to be an almost welcome relief from the rest of navigating high school. They mostly left me alone to my work, too busy talking about "their bitches" or "getting high" to tease me. When I did venture to ask them a question or contribute to their conversation (I think my first contribution was: Hey guys, what's a shank?) they eyed me warily like maybe I was a narc in dweeb's clothing. They would respond briefly and go back to what they were doing. After a couple weeks, they realized I wasn't taking first period Art 1 to ease off a hangover, but because I was actually INTERESTED IN THE SUBJECT (oh the shame) and they started asking me questions (uh, hey R. Grace, who's Picasso?) and admiring my work.
The rest of the school day was not as full of diversity and harmony.
Somehow, the zoning change between middle school and high school placed all the jerks that teased me on the bus in my high school, and all my friends and comrades in another high school across town. The jerks were never the most popular kids, being to fat or pimply or stupid to reach the top-tier. They were hanger-ons, only kept around for their jester qualities for the reigning social monarchy. And jesters need a target.
"You're really skinny." A jester peered over at me in the cafeteria the first week. "Too skinny. Are you anorexic?"
It took me a minute to respond, as my mouth was full of double-stacked peanut-butter-jelly sandwiches.
"What? No." I had snuck a second Little Debbie Marshmallow Supreme in my lunch. Haha Lady Mum making me pack my own lunch. Dessert is its own food group.
"I don't think you can be that skinny without being anorexic. You should eat more." And so it began.
The jesters were convinced I was an "anorexic" and would call me out on it. Frequently. And loudly. This was never done out of concern or worry about my well-being, but thrown around like a slur. Another thing to make me a freak, a weirdo, clearly something WRONG WITH ME.
These accusations were best when I was eating a bag of cheetos. Meanwhile, Princess Barbie could be eating celery and carrot sticks two tables down, and what is she called? "Totally Bang-able."
Jesters would harass me at lunch, give me all their gross leftovers and tell me to eat because I was too skinny. On at least two occasions, after I went to the bathroom during lunch a jester asked me if I'd just puked up my lunch. And make retching sounds at me.
"Oh guys, stop it!" Princess Barbie or Skipper would roll their eyes if the boys' teasing got above their general background hum of superiority. "Stop picking on her. Honestly." Condescending but significant glance at me, as if they were doing me SUCH a favor and if I had a problem I should REALLY get help.
To which my response should have been: Bitch, I will make a shank out of your carrot sticks and skewer you. I know how!
But back to Art 1. I actually enjoyed my table between the talkative thugs and jocks. Ninety minutes of not being picked on every morning! When the first 6-weeks ended, people were given the opportunity to shuffle, but most of us stay where we were.
Ron was the most detestable type of jester: A hanger-on of the hanger-ons. Pale, scrawny with a belly, mousy hair, and no discernible skill or talents (he didn't even live in a cool neighborhood, gosh), Ron rehashed everyone else's jokes to try to create some puny self importance.
Ron moved closer. And one morning, decided to start in on me.
"God, how much do you weigh / Like eighty pounds / Do you never eat / What a freak / Why don't you eat more / what's wrong with you / You're way too skinny / You should eat / No really how much do you weigh I bet it's less than 80 pounds / What is wrong with you?" And on and on, in a nasally, obnoxious voice. I bit my lip. Now the "Haha R. Grace is an anorexic" joke would be on the thugs/jocks' radars and they would tease me too. They've both certainly spoken ruthless about dem btichez before. My 90 minutes of peace and occasional lesson in street fighting and the drug trade would turn into the rest of the school day: A tirade of everything that was wrong with me.
I didn't notice anything unusual at first. One of the football players stood up. HUGE guy, star of the team, definitely in art to waste some time. I thought he was going to turn something into the teacher.
"Hey yo, Ron?" He asked, towering above. Ron smirked and I steeled myself not to cry. Great, here we go, the approval that feeds the cycle of jackassery. Goodbye, prison tips and hello skinny freak girl.
"Don't you EVER ask a lady about her weight. What the hell is wrong with you, man? You never, ever, talk to a woman about her weight. Some people have serious problems with it and you could make it worse. God, didn't your parents teach you nothin? You treat a lady with respect and you don't comment on her weight."
He sat down and returned to his work. I wanted to applaud.
Ron shut up for the rest of the semester and the "anorexic freak" rumors stopped almost immediately.
I went back to my artwork and lessons in ebonics and sneaking an extra snack pack in my lunch.