I can get through this, I thought. It’s just a formality.
I fidgeted on the paisley couch in my new psychologist’s office, anticipating that history would yet again repeat itself and I would be flung into a world of pain and insanity from the cushion I occupied. The heavyset, white bearded man across from me sat back in his chair, browsing through my mandated psych evaluation. I’d gotten caught drinking at 20 and had been pulled over after my fateful beer. As a result, my Air Force commander had sent me in for substance abuse testing as well as a full psych testing battery, as protocol required.
I had expected to be in and out of testing; I’d been through enough of it to screen out answers that could draw attention, but as I was ushered into another room, my uniform swishing suddenly much more noisily, I realized I must have missed something. There I sat, twisting my fingers into intricate shapes as the psychologist finished rifling through my results.
“You have some interesting results here,” he began, setting the papers on his desk and turning his attention completely on me. “On one hand, you definitely don’t seem to have a drinking problem. It sounds like you were just being stupid and got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. On the other hand, you seem to have hit every single trigger for PTSD. You’re too new to have deployed, am I correct?”
PTSD. The blood began to drain from my face. Of course, I thought. Of course the military would have something in their testing for trauma; it hadn’t even occurred to me. I thought of my childhood, running the streets at midnight and countless police cars over the years, sometimes ending in my wrists bearing new jewelry. I thought of the countless transfers, starving in the wilderness off the grid, of the many nights of drug deals, addiction and exchanges gone wrong. I remembered looking out the backseat of a homeless woman’s car, watching the homeless shelter grow ever smaller as she drove me to the recruiting station to go to basic training. Somehow, it has never crossed my mind that I would have PTSD. I paused my flurry of memories, remembering the doctor had asked me a question. Fishing for what he had said, I finally responded.
“Uh, no. Haven’t deployed. Odd that I would have been flagged; is there some kind of mistake?” I had decided to try to play my way out of the test results.
The man looked at me, nonplussed. “The testing is clear. I also see that while you were in basic training, you were investigated due to unusual enlistment circumstances. Your home of record is listed as 123 Under The Bench, Traverse City, Michigan. Creative, I must say. Where are you really from? Where is your family?
My face cracked loudly into a painful smile. Why did this guy care where I was from anyways? I had decided already that rather than explain the situation to others, I would keep it simple and tell anyone who asked that my family was dead. Being a new troop though, I worried he would know it was a lie, especially with information he had on my investigation.
“I left for basic training from the homeless shelter is all. I was only investigated because it was unusual for me to ask to leave family off my life insurance and they thought I was either a runaway or had taken someone’s identity. It’s not a big deal. My family didn’t want me to join and they threw me out.” Keep it simple, I reminded myself. If this guy got any real thread to my story, I’d be doomed to dive down the rabbit hole with him. Once that happened, I recalled, people usually wrote me off. It was just too crazy.
Interest sparked behind Dr. John’s reading glasses and he looked at me with a sliver of tenderness. “Looks like you have a lot to fill me in on.” He mustered a jovial tone.
Into the rabbit hole we went.
Though no one could have guessed it at the time, the manner in which I entered the world would be a reflection of the chaos that would follow me as I grew. It would also become the embarrassing story my parents would share over the table with friends for years.
I was born in a rush, to say the least. My mother had already been to the hospital and was turned away, so by the time my father came home from work, her water was broken and they raced to the hospital. Upon arrival, I had already crowned, people were screaming and I made my first angry screams at the world.
After living for a couple years in Florida, my father was transferred to a base in Texas, where my sister was born. I am told that I was difficult child, struggling with colic and screaming nonstop. After two more years, my father’s commission was up and he decided to move us back to Michigan, where my parents were from, to begin his own private practice. We were a young and picture perfect family, if only for a bit.
My memories of those first years are few but filled with fear. For some reason, my parents had difficulty choosing which pre-K program to put me in. Though my brother was enrolled in the local Catholic school, I bounced around to nearly a dozen programs. I remember sitting with my mother in front of a few schools while she filled out admission paperwork and hiding wherever I could from the other children. For some inexplicable reason, I was terrified all the time.
I was eventually placed in kindergarten at the Catholic school with my brother the following year. We would carpool to school with another family and were frequently very late. I would try to slip in as quietly as I could and rather than sit at ‘circle time’ with my classmates, I would crawl under a low table and hide for hours. When we moved to what we would later call ‘The Old Blue House’ in town, we kids were ecstatic at the chance to live in a neighborhood with children, but I have no memories of ever meeting the neighbors. The ice cream truck would stop every day at the bottom of our short but steep driveway, and each day we would beg and yearningly watch as the neighborhood kids converged on the ice cream truck. As it was forbidden fruit, we never went.
Around this time, my parents had decided to build their estate. We had initially rented an old log cabin, chasing rats in the basement to my mother’s horror and playing endlessly with the neighbors on a seesaw. Those days of being poor were the best in my childhood.
First grade saw some improvement for me. I remember walking into my new classroom for the first time and seeing the other girls braiding each others’ hair and laughing together. I wondered if they would ever have room for a new friend. Our teacher yelled at us quite a bit, but for some reason it was one of the few things I wasn’t afraid of; I loved her. One day she seemed sad, so I asked her if I could talk to her in the hallway and sang her a song to cheer her up. She tearfully embraced me and I melted into her fragrant, motherly arms.
Home life to the best of my memory was boring. My mother bought a brown Suburban, explaining that we didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves and the fact we had money. I didn’t think anything of it. My siblings and I would fight like feral cats to and from school and my mother spent much of her time rolled up in her bed quilt napping. An identical twin, one of my mother’s knees had only partially developed for lack of room. As a result, she bore horrific scars on her leg and could only painstakingly walk with a heavy limp. As a result, she was unable to take part in most activities with us, telling us frequently how she felt trapped in her own body.
By the time I had reached second grade, my unchecked fear had begun to take over. I had adopted an intense terror of my parents, believing they hated me and wanted to kill me, so I would make every effort to never be alone with them. Sometime after my first Communion, my mother called me into her bedroom, hiding her hands behind her back. ‘This is it. She has a knife.’ I thought as I followed her in.
I closed my eyes, waiting for her to stab me. Instead, she pulled a tiny purse containing a rosary out from behind her back, presenting me with the traditional Catholic gift. In shock, I accepted it.
A young family moved in a few houses down from us. Both parents were doctors, but I bonded especially with Dr. Karen. She was a hippie at heart and full of love and creativity. My father sent me one day to get the mail at the end of our long driveway and as I extricated the long white envelopes, I looked over to see her painting her mailbox with her young daughter, Rowan. I wondered if I could babysit for them when I got older to soak in more of Karen’s love.
My father, working on building his own practice, was home so rarely that I forever operated under the belief that he actually lived in an apartment in the hospital. My mother, eternally taking naps, began to involve us in athletics. In first and second grade, I played soccer. Being incredibly small for my age, I was asked to discontinue playing for my own safety. I found success as a cross country runner in fourth grade, even earning fourth place during the city finals. Running was my father’s family sport and I was eager to try something that might make him proud of me. In order to better fit in with the girls at school, my mother enrolled me in Brownies without success; I was eventually asked to leave after I talked my classmates into downing their punch like shots and drawing grisly pictures of stick people at war, rather than taking bark texture etchings.
From very early on, being the wild child was ingrained in my identity. My anxiety soared at the smallest of interactions and as it went unidentified, progressed into almost complete social incompetence. Something was wrong at home but no one, including me, could identify what it could be.
I had grown used to living as a simple performer when something happened: we got new next door neighbors. Mallory and her husband, a young couple, bought the estate next to ours; they had a golden retriever named Mel. I began to beg Mallory to play with him, and it became a routine for me to go to her house to play with the dog. My mother would scream in protest as I called, forbidding me to call two days in a row, but I lived to bond with their puppy. Mallory would always meet me on the porch, often with gifts and candy and I would play hard with Mel. For an hour every other day, I had a friend. He was always happy to see me, as was Mallory. As I walked up their steep driveway every other day, I would picture Mallory adopting me and stealing me away with her contagious love. Full of indignant jealousy, my mother eventually forbade me to contact her again.
Things were going to change, and finally on an autumn day in fifth grade, my parents sat me down with my brother and sister; they had news. My father had become famous in his field over the years but had realized he was missing out on watching his kids grow up, so he announced he was slashing his hours to spend time with us. My older brother and little sister cheered wildly; I stared blandly at him. As far as I was concerned, he was some stranger who would yell at me and tell me what to do. I wasn’t especially excited about the news. Unfortunately, there were more changes to be had.
My parents had made some big decisions about our education. As a result, my siblings and I would be leaving school at the start of spring break to begin homeschooling. My father was to take us skiing in Vail, Colorado for a week and when we returned, my mother would have the house ready to take us on as students.
I hated going on trips, especially skiing adventures with my father. It involved waking up extremely early in order to don heavy, chafing ski boots. My father would take us to the resort, determined to get every dime of worth out of the ski passes. He didn’t want to pay for hot cocoa or food in the lodge, so we rarely had the opportunity to rest or warm up. On one trip, my little sister had developed a small case of frostbite, but being a doctor, my father insisted it was fine and took us on two more runs before calling it a day. We would collapse into bed completely exhausted and sore only to again wake up, put tape over our bleeding feet and do it again.
It wasn’t long before the day came to say goodbye to my classmates, who had put together a goodbye poster for me. I said farewell to my classmates. I had made a few friends but had a feeling that since their mothers were not fans of mine, I would see very little of them in the future. As I left school on my last day, I had a feeling that I was walking into isolation and misery, but I had no idea how bad things were going to get.
The following year, my brother and I continued to home school while my sister was admitted into the Talented and Gifted Program at the public school. We were incredibly lonely, skating through our work, taking advantage of my mother’s unending naps. As the year progressed, I moved into an Algebra course and for the first time, began to struggle in school. Try as I might, I simply did not understand mathematical concepts. My brother began to beg to go back to school. Relenting, my father enrolled him in the local nondenominational Christian academy. Soon, I realized, I would be entirely alone with my books in my family’s estate.
There were never any neon signs indicating something was steadily becoming more and more off about my family, but from time to time indicators would crop up. I cried for hours when my father slowly beat an invading chipmunk to death in the garage; I later committed many hours to catching them in my butterfly net so I could safely transport them to another neighborhood and set them free. We had a puppy for a single week, which my parents suddenly and without explanation gave away. I had a hamster named Cheerio, whom I quickly became fixated on. He was a sweet little guy and his affection warmed my heart; the contrast of his affection against the controlling, cold affect of my family fertilized my desperation for love. As expected, my mother hated my little friend and became convinced that I was setting him free around the house. It became a daily event to hear her screaming about my little hamster, but I loved him too fiercely to give him up. One morning as I went to his cage to cuddle him, I found him cold and slowly dying for the second and last time. He died on Christmas morning, almost exactly two months after adopting him.
Over the years, something had begun to change in me as well. I began to realize that usually I was punished through the things I showed interest in, so I began to lie. My child’s heart, devoid of affection, decided to start getting love in its own way. Trusting no one and completely addicted to running away in books, I began to lose my honesty with each punishment.
After months of what felt like fruitless begging to my parents to allow me to attend the Christian school with my brother, they relented. I remember hollering and throwing myself into the couch with joy, knowing that the intense isolation would soon end. Excited as I was to attend school again, I had no idea what a catastrophe it would be.
My parents started me out on the school basketball team. The day before practice began, I laid out my clothes for my first day of school, waking every morning to stare at them excitedly. It was a simple outfit of khaki pants and an Old Navy shirt. The shirt had a navy blue star on the chest and navy blue sleeves; compared to my mother’s lost style and my partial colorblindness, it was the coolest outfit my mother had ever permitted me to wear. I had spent the last year grovelling for a pair of boys’ cargo pants, leading to an all out clothing war. I liked dressing in loose, boyish clothes and my mother would hold lacy, revealing clothing up against me in department stores, cooing about the cuteness of her imagined look.
When I left for my first basketball practice, I was clad in simple shorts and a tee shirt. It hadn’t occurred to me that I was the only flat-chested, non makeup wearing girl who didn’t shave her legs. I was determined to foray into the new school and have human connection again.
My first year was a disaster; before I stepped into the school it was clear I was simply not equipped with the social skills I needed to exist in middle school. Over the course of the year, I was locked in a locker and the principal had to come let me out as scores of high school seniors watched and laughed. I was punched in the face and served detention for provoking the girl I’d tried to speak to before being struck. I was tossed in the trash can countless times by a boy who also happened to be a music prodigy. At one point, one of my classmates filled a yogurt container with soda and threw it at me. He and his friends laughed uncontrollably as the container exploded all over me. What broke me that year, though, was a single night when my parents called me into their bedroom.
Having built our house, My father had ensured they had a marble fireplace in the master bedroom, which he leaned casually against as I crept nervously into their room. Still incredibly tiny for my age, I rested my skinny frame on their bed. Oddly enough, my parents had taken the time to luxuriously furnish their entire house save for their bedroom; their bed sat on boxsprings on the cheaply carpeted floor and my father’s nightstand consisted of a packing box, even after many years.
“We have been watching your math grades, as you know.” my father began.
“There’s no way a child of ours would have so much trouble in school. We are smart so you have to be, too. Getting a four percent on your last math exam makes no sense.” My mother continued. They had a way of bouncing off each other that made me feel like they had practiced many times in advance.
My mother, being softer than my father, was cut off before she could deliver the cutting point.
“There is something wrong with you. We think you have a learning disability because there is no way you aren’t learning this math. We are going to be taking you to a psychologist for testing and treatment” My father finished.
My world spun. This was the first time I had been blatantly differentiated from my increasingly cold-hearted siblings. On holidays I had always been made to go last for everything, but this was too in my face to ignore. I remembered how my brother had pulled my fourth grade reports and compared them with my own, dancing in my face that he had gotten better grades. I thought of how my mathematics prodigy sister had been solving binary equations before she learned cursive…but me? I had gotten a four percent on my math exam the same day I had gotten second in the school spelling bee. In spite of hours of begging for tutoring and laboring late into the night on my math homework, I had fallen short. My father’s statement hadn’t been a question; it was a demand. What would happen, then, if his idea didn’t solve the problem?
Life was about to get medicated and crazy.
My head whirled. My father had decided I must have some kind of learning disability and I was doomed to visit his colleague therapist for a diagnosis. I wondered what would happen if my grades went up on the medication; would they drug me up even more? Why didn’t my brother and sister have this problem? Was I the stupid one? I recalled a moment in my childhood that I will never forget: My father sat the three of us down, carefully telling us we were their retirement investments in the same voice he used when showing us his rare loving side. Was I about to be a failed investment? Tentacles of panic began to spread.
I thought of all the times when my father had raged against me. He would seize my arms and force me to do the things he wanted that I had refused to do. If I spoke out, he or my mother would grind a bar of Dove soap into a nub against my teeth and throw me a toothbrush to finish scrubbing out my bleeding mouth. What would happen if he drugged me up and I still didn’t improve? Immediately I understood the precariousness of my situation.
If my grades didn’t spike after treatment, I was hovering over the edge of something unknown and terrifying. I had seen what my father was capable of and this would push him past it. Numbly, I nodded at them, feeling the blood drain from my face. I knew if my math grade didn’t improve, something terrible would happen that hadn’t yet happened under the roof of my father’s estate.
My mother drove me to my fathers’s friend’s office. He was a local psychologist who looked more like a pedophile to me, and the testing began. They ran an ADD test and a clinical IQ test, the results of which my mother tucked into her pocket, telling me my value didn’t hinge on grades. I rolled my eyes; my entire identity with them hinged on my performance. I was diagnosed with ADHD and the medication began. Still spending hours every night on my algebra, though, I continued to struggle. I was in for something terrible, and I knew it.
Summer came. I had passed my Algebra class by the skin of my teeth, but I was finally beginning to understand the concepts behind it. The damage, however, had been done; I was regarded as a lower class than my siblings. My father would take my brother and sister out without me, giving them reasoning for leaving me out that I never learned. Whatever it was, though, it worked.
As school loomed closer, I tried to remind myself that even going to school was better than staying at home. I was still a ‘wild child’, not knowing how to push through my anxiety and fear to connect with the other girls in my grade. I was reputably unpopular, Catholic and incredibly awkward. Additionally, I had taken up the habit of fibbing to make myself sound cooler. My unlearned efforts at making friends; all of them; had completely backfired. Home life was reproving and hostile at best, so I turned to the woods for peace from the criticism. I would spend entire days exploring the forest around my father’s estate, building myself forts and various refuges from the stones coming from all sides. As the summer drew to a close, basketball practice began.
Though I was great at guarding and catching in basketball, I couldn’t make a shot to save my life. Vastly smaller than any other players, I stood no chance. As we began practice for the season, my nerves soared. I would have nightmares of practice and being left out intentionally by the other girls. I knew I was hard to be friends with, but try as I might, I didn’t know what being a normal friend looked like.
In order to salvage my friendless, chronically bullied state in my class, I tried something drastic: I ran for class president. It was a terrible mistake. As I walked to the front of the class to give my ‘election speech’, the three class clowns booed me down before I could speak. Fighting tears, I tried to wait it out without success. Returning to my seat, I requested a bathroom break. I wanted to hide my shame and pain, but I was denied. Swallowing the sobs heaving in my throat, I forced myself into a cracked, good-natured smile. My experience of that day would serve as a reflection on my eighth grade year. Still dumped in trash cans, trapped in the lost-and-found box and blamed loudly by my English teacher of hiding my midterm exam until she found it in her briefcase, I was ridiculed time and again before my peers.
The day that crumbled my self esteem into rubble came partway through the year. Still coloring true stories with many intense (and false) details, I never expected the truth to come out. My sister had left her talented student’s program for homeschooling, but had opted to take mathematics class with my peers. Somehow I had hung onto my advanced math placement, so most of my peers sat in class with my little sister. I had put up a fight with my parents about it to no avail, but I never imagined that it would backlash on me so heavily. The class after my math hour was Bible study and as usual, I took my seat. One of the girls in my class stood from her desk and accused me of lying. She had asked my sister if it had been true that my father had been mugged and shot in the leg in Vegas. My father had indeed been mugged, but he had not been shot. My sister, overwhelmed with questions from my classmates, had only responded with yes or no answers. This answer had been no. The entire class erupted into attack and I hunkered down in my seat, knowing there was no response I could make to save myself.
For the remainder of the year, I was completely outcast. Nowhere was safe for me. I never knew where to eat my lunch or who was safe to speak to. At home, I was met with complete hostility. My brother, also dealing with bullying, took his rage out on me. My sister, infuriated at me for putting her in such a position, barely looked at me. I knew better than to turn to my parents for comfort; their growing disdain for my math grades, in spite of my plethora of A’s in every other subject, had led them to believe I was intentionally sabotaging my own grades.
Through the summer leading into ninth grade, I was a broken kid. I spent much of the summer in a small sailboat, soaring away from my life with the sun warming my face and in the woods, where I had finally settled on a spot to spend my time reading books and customizing my own little living space, complete with my pet chipmunk that I creatively named “Chippy”.
Basketball practice was about to begin again. I hadn’t grown an inch since seventh grade and looked to be around eight years old. It wasn’t until years later that I would learn that intense stress delays development; for the first time, I was beginning to wish I was again homeschooled so I would only have one enemy to hold against.
On the first day of practice, I dressed myself dutifully and went upstairs for breakfast. My mother made a comment about how chunky I’d become. My mother, forever obsessed with dieting, was trying a new tactic: keeping very little food in the house. She would joke about it with friends and they would laugh, not realizing she was serious. As I looked through the pantry, it WAS serious. There was nothing to eat. Shrugging, I got in the car and waited for her to take me to basketball practice. I was deeply engaged in fortifying my mind against spending time with a coach and girls who so disliked me that I barely noticed when my mother turned off the road early, stopping in a nearby park.
Another group of girls stood around the park. In spite of my young look, I knew they were roughly my age. My mother turned around in her seat to face me.
“We have decided that you and your siblings are going to go to the public school from now on. This is the cross country team you’ll be running with.”
My mother got out of the car and indicated she wanted me to climb out too. Numbly, I exited the Suburban, standing awkwardly next to her. She introduced me to the coaches, got in the car and left. I was alone, again, surrounded by strangers. I felt myself go numb. In that moment, I realized I was my father’s property. What I said and though didn’t matter. For the first time, I gave up the mental fight to keep my identity.
The public schools in my hometown were demonized by the private schools, so I watched the girls and clung to the coach warily. They laughed and joked with each other in a sense of freedom and diversity I hadn’t seen before, so I relaxed enough to do sprints with them. Being in Michigan, there was water everywhere so the girls opted to run a trail that threaded along a huge bay. Some of the more intense runners ripped off their shirts, tucking them into their shorts and rocking only sports bras. I stayed with the slower runners and listened to them joke and make light of their pace.
At the end of practice, I was struggling to breathe. I had spent most of the summer curled up with books in my room, avoiding all disastrous human contact and opting instead to connect with characters who took me into another world and gave me respite. The coach chuckled at my panic, advising me to drink more water before practice. When I looked up from my panting, my mother’s Suburban was in the parking lot, waiting on me.
There was no dialogue on the way home. Betrayal had grown from little episodes to unwarned life changes.. My mother and father had reminded me many times a week that I was lucky to have the incredible parents I did, so there was nothing I could think of to contest their claims. Unhappily, I concluded the issue must have been with me.
Cross country practice continued. I was surprised to find that the girls were kind. They didn’t mistreat me for my awkwardness and what I wore. I ran with them, wheezed with them and our sweat formed some kind of bond. The first running meet fast approached, as I was late to joining the running training season and to my dismay, my parents had decided to come.
The team met several hours before the race to walk the route and make sure they knew all the turns and hills. I walked with the team, water bottle swinging in hand, making note of my father’s loud comments as he strode well behind us about how small each hill was. I wasn’t supposed to run during the meet, as I hadn’t had more than five practices under my belt so I walked assuredly that my coach would stand next to me.
After we walked past what would be the finish line, I heard my father loudly balk at how short the run was and that his girl could handle it. I cringed, knowing what was coming. Fast forward an hour of arguing with the coach, I was set to join the race impromptu. The other girls had been steadily hydrating throughout the morning to prepare for the race but expecting that I wasn’t going to run, I had not. Coach Sign pushed me to drink as much water as I could in the thirty minutes before the race and I obliged.
Standing on the start line, I began to panic; I wasn’t ready! The gun went off and in my fear, I threw myself forward. I ran as far and as fast as I possibly could from my shouting parents, but my strength began to wane and I fell from the front line of runners. At a jog, I began to complete the track. I was dehydrated almost immediately, falling back with the non-varsity runners. The wheezing began, as did the pain. I had no way of knowing that I was having joint issues; my focus was on the potential ramifications if my father caught me walking during the race. I stayed at a jog, working my way through each mile. I would picture a tree ahead and earnestly try to come up with a convincing plan to run into it so I wouldn’t have to finish the race, but then it would be behind me and I would have to choose a new target. Using this method, I found a way to complete the race. After crossing the finish line, my father clapped his hand on my back and I immediately felt like his personal racehorse. I extricated myself as quickly as possibly from him to find some solace in my equally suffering teammates. I didn’t want to see my parents.
Two weeks before classes started, the cross country team hosted a two day running camp. I packed my camping bag as small as I possibly could, worried I would look like a diva with too many bags. My mother dropped me off at the high school with the team. I still did not know names or faces very well and was the last one to be assigned to a car out to the campsite. I rode with a senior, her sister and another girl. The car vibrated to Alicia Keys as we drove. When we arrived, I clambered out of the car and seized my duffel bag, ears ringing. The girls were already splitting up into groups to sleep in tents. Before I knew it, all the tents were full and I was left standing with my bag in the middle of the site, unsure about how to handle my new plight. I was terrified of annoying the girls.
Eventually some girls were bullied into including me in their tent. One girl had filled the space with little pieces of furniture, leaving me to sleep at their feet across the muddy exit. As we broke into dinner around the campfire, a call came in to one of the coaches; two girls from the high school had died in a car accident. The girls were devastated save for me; I didn’t know the victims and feigning concern had never been my strong point. As I munched away on toasted marshmallows, the team cried.
Once most of the girls had gone to bed, five of us continued to stay up. The girls began to speak about guys, and then sex in the most profane possible manner. Completely taken aback, I tried to joke along but without success; I had no idea how to mimic their dark humor. One girl, Brianna, was especially both funny and dark. Unable to connect, I gave up and retreated to my sleeping bag, which had accumulated dirt and mud on every thread. I numbly ran my way through the rest of cross country camp, failing time and again to find ways to connect with the other runners. The girls began to make fun of me and leave me out. By the time camp was over and my mother came to pick me up, I was in tears. I begged her and my father for hours to let me quit the team, but they would have none of it. I was stuck.
I began classes on the worst possible note. After being assigned to my locker, I scurried to my first class of the year. The school housed seventh, eighth and ninth grade students. Being in ninth grade and thirteen years old, I found my locker, entered my code and put my coat inside. My mother had made me wear a hideous bun scrunchie made of human hair in addition to a banana-yellow shirt and jeans. I nervously moseyed to my classroom and found a seat.
As English class kicked off, the teacher noticed me sitting in the front right corner. In front of the class, she sympathetically clucked her tongue and gave me directions to the seventh grade wing. I shriveled into my chair as I quietly told her I was thirteen and in the correct class. The room echoed in laughter.
Lunch was even more intimidating. My class was so large, it was split between three cafeterias. Try as I might, I could find no one to sit with. I would sit alone for a few months before my table was overtaken by another group. For the rest of the year, I would stand against the wall and listen to music as I wrote poetry. Still struggling socially, I hadn’t made any new friends. To my surprise, cross country running practice was fast becoming my sanctuary.
The girls on my team were hilarious and kind, ignoring my social ineptness once they got used to it. They would tease me on my way to meets for falling asleep in awkward positions, and the affection they gave me awakened a terrible hunger in my heart. I was beginning to realize how unloved I was by my family, and after small samples of it, I was ravenous. I had tasted love and affection and I would do anything to get more.
A day came when we piled into the sports bus to leave for a meet, and there wasn’t enough room for everyone to occupy their own bench. Brianna, the girl I had watched at camp, tried to oust me from my bench as freshmen got lowest priority. She caught me in an bad mood and I barked my dissent; from then on we became friends. It wasn’t long before we were inseparable. She attended the high school but I was still in the ninth grade building, so we only saw each other during practice. I shared my poetry with her; my parents had forbidden me to write as my poems were dark and broken journal entries, but Brianna found a connection with them. She was my first close friend and the longing for being held erupted so powerfully in me that I was ready to lie, cheat and steal to be held even once.
Before entering the public school, I had known something was wrong with my family. I had felt as empty and unwanted as a failing machine. My math wasn’t up to par, I was becoming depressed, I didn’t know how to dress myself according to trends and I had no idea how to keep friends. Anything I confessed to my family was manipulated against me, so I began making efforts to manipulate my world in response to get what I needed.
Roughly a month into the school year, it became apparent that I had lost a great deal of weight. My ribs showed and my eyes began to sink. My mother’s constant concern about weight, compounded with my team showing concern spurred me into an anorexic state. Switching to braces made it far more difficult for me to chew, but it was no issue as I never had a lunch to bring to school. I had since switched to standing against the wall in one of the three cafeterias, as I didn’t have any friends in my year and there wasn’t enough room for me to sit.
Brianna asked me one day if I had an online journal. Baffled, I told her no. She shared the link to hers with me one day and I began to read, going slowly back in time. Eyes wide, I found an entry about me. It read:
“And all the tents were erected…