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Sticks and Stones

 

Even now, an entire lifetime later, it is hard to admit that I was bullied. I said nothing. I told no one. Bullying was usually accompanied by severe warnings: tell and you will be sorry!

 But I was already sorry, just for being me, the youngest girl in the seventh grade, the skinniest too, who had earned the nickname: The Stick. While most of the girls were already maturing and menstruating, I looked like a refugee from a third world country, bony and underfed. I woke up each morning nauseous and fearful with a case of dry heaves. Sometimes, I feigned sickness so to stay home from school, but my mother looked for a fever of 101 to make that decision. Sometimes I made it to homeroom only to go immediately to the nurse’s office where, after one look at my jaundiced face, she sent me home. My grades suffered, I fell behind.

The bullies were a few girls the others called…the hoods. They looked a lot older in their tight skirts and fitted sweaters, like grown women. One or two had gotten pregnant, halfway through the year, and had to leave school. Most took beauty culture classes, and walked around all day with hot pink hair, sometimes wearing big rollers and lots of black eyeliner and pale lipstick. Part of me wanted to be just them- to feel empowered. I hated when they surrounded me by my locker, teasing me for my looks: my mousy, flyaway hair, my concave chest, my double- decker braces.

Once, when I opened my locker at the beginning of the school day, what seemed like all the silverware from the cafeteria came spilling out on top of me and onto the floor. Of course, it was the humiliation that was always so painful, the being sorted out for being what? Small? Timid? Shy? Miraculously, I got through this time, the difficult transition to junior high, with the help of some other girls that enjoyed mothering me, and so they took me under their wing. There were advantages to being small, and I learned quickly to use those to my benefit. But just when I thought all the teasing had ceased, a big package arrived one afternoon at our front door. The box was from Saks Fifth Avenue, a store we never frequented. It was addressed to me, but my mother was truly excited as she ripped open the tape surrounding the long rectangular box. A note card simply stated: To Sticky…enjoy! Inside the box, tied in red satin ribbons, were enough sticks to make a small barn fire. Like me, they were brittle, and broken, and dry. I had the opportunity to tell my mother then, but I never did.