I am fat, shy unfashionable and dorky. I always have been, though these days I'm cool with my fat dork self (I know, there's no accounting taste, but what do you expect of someone who has a sculpture of a cigar-chomping Chimpanzee Sea Captain occupying a place of honor in their living room?).
It wasn’t always so: like many other fat dorks, my adolescence was torture. There wasn't a school day that went by where I didn't want to kill myself, and if I had a different mother, or didn't have my books, I probably would have. People often say of misfortune "One day you'll look back on this and laugh." I can't speak of its universal truth, but the saying is true for me at least, although it bears mentioning that I have a warped sense of humor. I realized this when laughingly recounting to a friend an incident in grade six when my entire class pelted me with donuts while singing (to the tune of "Ach Du Liebe Augustine"/"Hail To The Bus Driver") "Have another donut/ another donut/ another donut".
I had recently read Stephen King's Carrie, and this incident's similarity to the scene where Carrie gets bombarded with tampons combined with the utter campiness of Piper Laurie's performance as Margaret White in the movie, made me tell the story to my friend with a goofy half-grin and the odd chuckle. When I finished, I looked up and beheld sympathetic horror on her face. For a second I was a little confused. Then, when she said, "That must have been so horrible!" The humor evaporated from the memory and I remembered quite vividly the loneliness and humiliation that comes with occupying the grade school social rank higher only than the kid who routinely pisses his pants and eats paste (though it is an infinitely worse lot as the general conclusion is THAT kid is too fucked-up to mess with and whatever you inflict on him probably wouldn't make much of a difference anyway). Then again, I remember that kid, and in retrospect, he was unshakably optimistic- definitely more likable than my eleven year-old self- so maybe I'm in denial and The Pantspisser was just more popular than me.
Needless to say, I had no friends. Now I’m not saying I’m an innocent victim here: Besides being fat, dorky, nearsighted and uncoordinated, I was also unlikable, selfish, weird, and embarrassing. I probably still am, but now am at least cognizant of it, which makes a huge difference, allowing for the facsimile of likability. Back then it was a different story: The teachers would force us outside at recess so they could smoke a doobie in the lounge and I'd either stand around, awkwardly watching the other girls skip Double Dutch (an impossible feat for a fat klutz), embarrass myself in front of anyone nice enough to talk to me by displaying a complete lack of boundaries, try to look unruffled when the horse-faced queen bee walked by with her gaggle of hangers-on while honouring me with an "ewwww it's Katie" but mostly I'd read books.
Reading is too mild a word, perhaps. It might be said that I devoured them, seeking diversion from story after story after story while taking little notice of the actual writing. To this day I have to remind myself again and again to slow down and actually savor the words rather than taking them for granted in pursuit of the plot.
My favorite story was the one where the mousy protagonist was magically transported to another world, though I never approved of the ending that would land her back home conveniently on the same afternoon that she left. I would have given anything to be spirited away from the guys who made me cry and from the girls who snubbed me, but my attempt to escape by transferring to another catholic school was a failure. There are only so many Catholics in a smallish city, and they all go to the same churches. The nickname I hated, “Kay-Tor,” eventually found its way back to me. All transferring did was give a whole new set of kids a chance to hate me.
I don’t remember much of what went on at the worst of it, but there are three occasions that will always remain, reducing me to that miserably chubby little misanthrope at inconvenient moments. The Donut-pelting comes to mind whenever I am singled out for some reason, or alone at a party. A nasty-sleepover prank played by one of my supposed female friends that same year makes me wary of spending the night at someone else’s house. The final one is less an incident than the vivid memory of a terrifying alien sensation. I had tried to articulate it at the time, writing in a diary that I was floating above my body, that the world felt flimsy and unreal, that I was receding. It was as if my favorite story was coming true and I would fade away only to reappear in another world. Instead of elation, however, I felt confusion and unease. This feeling came and went, lasting for days at a time and eventually stopped. I never spoke of it, and found out years later that it wasn’t magic but Disassociation, the brain’s way of giving you a vacation from an unpleasant reality.
Over a decade has passed since then. For a long time I was very angry at those kids, then, as time marched on, the anger faded to bitterness. I don’t know what the bitterness has become; I suppose in retrospect I better understand my role as the favorite (emotional) punching bag and don’t really blame them for going along with things. If it wasn’t me, it would be somebody else, with me gleefully joining in as the day I made poor Beth cry by inciting a bunch of us to sing at her “The pervert’s back in town/ the pervert’s back in town/ the pervert’s back in towwwwwwwwwn.” (The irony of this being that I, if anyone, was the pervert and knew it.)
As awful as bullying and ostracism are, I don’t think the schoolyard will be more welcoming to future fat dorks, or for that matter, dorks of all sizes (teehee!). The fact is, Kids are initially hardwired to be self-absorbed assholes (survival) and many don’t really learn to assert their own identity (provided they can distinguish it from their group identity) until well into their teens. Nature is not egalitarian no matter how loudly we shout the contrary from the rooftops; some of us are ugly, smelly, fat, slow, unpleasant, socially awkward, or all of the above. And shit rolls downhill. The only effective action ever taken in my case was by my mother, who listened to me when I needed to cry no matter how shitty her day had been (not that I would have even thought to ask her then.) Sometimes all a person really needs is someone to listen to their troubles. That’s why Hookers and Bartenders never find themselves wanting for company.
As for me? I think I’m over it now. Being able to laugh at the donut incident is a pretty good indication, but sometimes I wonder if my intense dislike of most children/teenagers and the frustrating inability to completely trust potential friends isn’t psychic fallout from those lonely years. Lately, I’ve been thinking about going back to the hometown and having a look around. However, should I happen to meet any of the people I went to school with, despite the fact that they’ve probably grown into fine men and women, despite the fact that they probably don’t even remember all this grade school bullshit, it is doubtful that I’ll be able to look them in eye.
Which is completely ridiculous. And I don’t even like donuts.