Learning To Love You More




Assignment #14
Write your life story in less than a day.

Heidi O.
New Hampshire, USA



The first thing I did after birth was make my mother cry.
I was a preemie baby, born about a month early, and the result of three days in labor. My mom bawled a lot, those three days, until eventually the doctors decided to do a C-section and cut me out -- a technique that also failed, so after that they resorted to what was essentially a baby vacuum cleaner and sucked me out by the head. They put me in an incubator and sent my parents home, saying they could come get me when I was normal-sized. Thanksgiving was a few days later and Mom cried through the whole dinner.
In fourth or maybe fifth grade someone told me the superstition that, if you were a large baby, you"d grow up thin, and vice versa. Oh, I thought, that explains it. Being a four-pounder when I was born must have fated me to be a tall, chubby girl. It wasn't my fault, I wanted to tell Dr. B, that I was a hundred twelve pounds at the age of ten. I was genetically determined at birth to be overweight. So you don't have to stand there, I wanted to say, in your own plus-size white coat, and tell me in front of my mom that I am fat. "Heavy" is what Mom called us, as if our bodies were swollen with the weight of living or something. And weren't they? A born romantic, I'd had my first crush in kindergarten (Dennis of the clip-on ties) and had since feared I was destined for loneliness. All I wanted was to be an adult already, the actress or singer or story-writer I was clearly going to be, with a real-life boyfriend and a dog. But I was a chubby blond girl, "chubby" being my euphemism of choice, and if even Dr. B -- who was bigger than my mom -- could see it, what chance did I have? I tugged at my shirt hem nervously and often, usually when comparing my size to that of others around me. When I got lunch at school I only put two items, at most, on my tray: the main food and maybe a side. Because to heap your tray was okay for skinny people, but embarrassing if you were already big.
If you can't tell, I was a shallow kid.
When I wasn't worrying about my appearance I read, did musicals, wrote, sang, took karate classes, and danced (awkwardly, but with genuine enthusiasm). The list of things I wanted to be kept growing: actress, singer, writer, dancer, fashion designer, film director, photographer, artist, then cartoonist once I faced facts and accepted my meager drawing skills. Sometimes I watched TV, half-studying how the characters emoted. In tenth grade a friend told me I copied actors' facial expressions when we watched shows, something I'd never realized. This same friend later pointed out I flirted with just about everyone: another thing I'd never noticed. Mainly, I waited for my life to start. Because I lived in New Hampshire, and let's face it, what ever happened there?
But of course, things happened all the time; I just didn't see the significance at the time. Like in second grade, when I returned from the bathroom to see the chair was missing from my desk. "Heidi's going to sit here now," my classmate Margo was saying to our teacher. "We want to sit together." Apparently, in the three minutes I'd been gone from the classroom, Margo decided we would be best friends. I didn't really know Margo, but day after day she told me about her "awful" little brother and, being an only child, I felt bad for her. So then we were friends.
On some level, this was a mistake.
Not to say she couldn't be a good friend. She could be a great friend. Ninth grade, I went through a very hard time and she was there for me. But in the end, her negative attributes outweighed the good -- she was competitive, for example, so that whatever I did/read/saw/heard she said she'd already done/read/seen/heard. Once in high school, I told her about a library book I checked out and she immediately claimed it had been her favorite book since seventh grade. I could recognize her lying voice, as always, and a week later, when over her house, I discovered the same library book on her floor. (I had returned it the day before.) She walked into the room and looked frozen for a moment. "Rereading?" I asked jovially.
Our friendship didn't last much longer after that, at least not on a real scale. She invited some mutual friends over to her house and didn't mention it to me until I heard about it later, from one of the others. I decided she was a bitch and began remembering all the slights she did to me when we were younger: our one big fight, a monthlong ordeal in fourth grade, all because I hung out with someone else at recess; how in the end, we had to make a recess schedule with that someone else; how, in elementary school, she cut me off from my other friends. How she bitched at me when she was frustrated, even when it had nothing to do with me, but only in private. The one time she snapped and bitched me out in public, a few weeks earlier at Disney World. How I let her.
We never had an official "So I guess this friendship is over," "I kind of hate you" conversation, and it turned out she had the same lunch period as I did. So, despite the complete halt of phone calls and house visits and moviegoing, we spent the last two years of high school pretending -- at least for sixth period -- that we were close.
My other friends, however, have always been honest with me. Perhaps more so than I want. When I lamented my (eternally) boyless state, for instance, they said it was because I had high standards. That, plus a combination of cluelessness and low self-esteem.
"You have to say that, because you're my friends," I would answer. "But we all know it's because I'm fat."
In the meantime, I bought a lot of CDs and wrote a lot of crap. Short stories, long winding novelettes that involved legs in traction or people in pools of blood, bad poems that earned me honorable mentions in statewide contests and thus assured I could never live them down -- I wrote them all. I decided officially to be a writer of novels. Hopefully, at the rate I was going, I could get a book out before I was eighteen and be a prodigy. When I was nine my teacher, naive and twenty-three, encouraged the idea by trying to get my stories published by Scholastic -- which of course never happened, but just the attempt gave me a sense of my own genius (an idea I've tried to quash ever since). Winning my elementary school's spelling bee, at the age of eleven, didn't help things -- at least not until the Scripps regional, where I finished fourth due to the word "uncomfortable." It was an easy word, and ironically that was why I lost; cocky, believing too much in my genius, I spelled too quickly, and my mouth skipped the T. I'd just barely begun to pronounce the A when, horrified, I realized my mistake and the buzzer sounded. In the end, a fourteen-year-old named Shawn Delahunty won the bee and I sat in the audience, furious with myself, as he received his trophy.
I never did become a prodigy, by the way; I'm twenty now, and after twenty you go from "young genius" to "youthful talent," if even that. Not that I mind how my life turned out. I go to a good college, a geek school where awkward dancing is encouraged. I have the first draft of a novel written, even if it is messy and needs tons of revision. And I'm going to Europe for the first time this fall -- studying abroad in England. So really, things turned out nicely. Relatively unspectacular, but there have been highlights. Last November I met David Sedaris, and last February I was a bridesmaid in my friend's wedding. In April I finally asked a boy out on a date, after fifteen years of crushes, and it didn't even matter that he declined because I did it. It was like all the boys I'd longed after before -- the couple of boys who had messed with my head, made me wonder if we were starcrossed, Harry and Sally for the new century -- were nothing. The way they talked to me about me, the way the words "cute" and "innocent" would stream out of their mouths in lovely, patronizing wisps that made me want to kill them -- what did that matter anymore? I met David Sedaris and kept my cool. I helped someone get married. I write stories about sex and love and apocalypse that get me detailed, personalized rejection letters from literary contests. I ask people on dates, now. No longer am I the ten-year-old wanting to die in the doctor's office, listening to a pediatrician lecture her on weight. When I look in the mirror I see a twenty-year-old mistaken for twenty-five, a girl gone back to blond after a long dalliance with brunette and a shorter tryst with pink, hit on only occasionally but always by foreign-born older men. A writer who would rather write about other people than about herself. But a writer who, this time, found writing about herself to be surprisingly easy; and that must count for something, right?