” I have a woman’s body and a child’s emotions.” – Elizabeth Taylor
I loved myself at eighteen.
I arrived to the tiny Catholic college sure of my skills, my love of writing, my mind. I was proud of my scholarship. I was proud to have a student parking pass.
Then I took my first sip of freedom, and it tasted like hot Pabst.
That first night I decided I should make friends.Three hours from home I’d need new company in this foreign land of libraries. Within minutes some older boys sauntered up, invited me and my dorm mate to an apartment party. They reeked of dime store collogne and hair gel and the sheen from metallic graphics across one boy’s shirt made me squint like staring at Jesus’s glory halo with mere human eyes. One burped while the other texted. One told me I was “hot enough to hang” while the other crookedly stared at my crotch. These co-ed cassanovas were slobbering drunk and completely against all that I stand for and paying attention to me.Naturally, I was smitten. So I muffled the list of ten reasons “hot enough to hang” was morally and gramattically askew and nodded like a puppy anxiously waiting for a treat. Lead me to your frat friends, Master. I might have wagged my lonely little tail a bit. That was the night I discovered that in this small corner of the world I was considered hot. That was the first night I ever cared.
That year I maintained a flawless GPA. I worked on hugely-funded side projects with impressive professors. I took on twice the number of course loads as the average full-time student. I taught dance part-time to fifth graders and spent spare evenings waiting tables at a barbeque joint. My parents were so proud.
My own pride was doused in glitter and hunch punch. I’d started that first night proving I was “hot enough to hang” and it’d become a social mission every night afterwards. You could find me scantily clad, slamming shots, hollering some Garth Brooks lyrics the loudest across the shoddy bar. I was surrounded by classmates who loved me, celebrated me, desired me. So I kissed everything with a weiner, made each appearance more outrageous than the last, and-for the love of Garb!- I kept my body and makeup in check. Eighteen was a year of fine-tuning abs and picking the right 1/2-yard of hot pink spandex to properly fashion a mini toga. Eighteen was a year I loved myself because a whole host of nameless, frat-hatted faces loved me, too.
I hated myself at nineteen.
That year I was diagnosed with a condition I was too young to understand. I was told I wouldn’t bare children, but I was too busy staring at my hands, blistered and scarred from a freak allergic reaction to IV tape. I was told that my eggs were scrambled, but all I heard was that my steroid-packed perscriptions would most certainly make me gain weight. I spent mornings vomitting from a new ailment, a health hangover with none of the perks of a party the night before. I spent afternoons mourning the loss of my hotness over gallons of ice cream and nights mourning the loss of my place in life. I gained weight. My silly little world ended.
As my waist line expanded, the fawning crowd I’d grown so accustomed to shrunk and withered and, before I knew it, disappeared. A few close girl friends let me cry on their laps. I was suddenly shocked and disgusted by myself. If I was no longer in demand then who was I? Supportive girls told me I was smart and funny, caring and pretty. One mentioned my bright academic future to which I sobbed because “OMG! WTF? You like, so, like, totally don’t even get it”. I was quickly morphing into the cocky quarterback from high school, desperately clinging to his field goal glory days as he reached level 114 on some Ninento game without ever taking a pee break or leaving the futon in his mama’s basement.
Later that year, I went to a party on campus. I’d fretted much about this night, painstakingly picked the perfect tent of a dark dress to best diguise my ballooning figure. An older boy approached and something told me he would not suggest I was hot enough to hang. But I was relieved when he acted excited to see me, even invited me to sit with him and two wide-eyed freshman newbies. For a minute there his gesture felt like a hug, a reassurance that I was still in some form of “it” crowd, that my puffy cheeks and inability to rock that Scottish school girl costume from last year was ok. I was so happy he would still know me. He rattled off legendary tales of the mystical Tori of yesteryear: Record-breaking beer pong scores and the title of Hook Up Queen I’d impressively earned just a few short months into my career as a sorority slut. The young boys were awestruck, wanting to meet this bewildering, pink-bra-ed Tori he spoke of.
“Now, you gotta understand, Tori used to be, like, super hot,” he stated as plain as a weather report. The young boys laughed, coughed on all the awkward in the air, and then just stared. I’d learned to get funny as I got fat. I laughed through a quivering chin, called him the “god damn Girth Gestapo”, realized these kids don’t understand jokes and large words. And that was the night I learned I wasn’t hot anymore. And that was the first night I heard aloud the heavy shame I’d felt for months.
I’d spend many hours over the next years lamenting how I wanted to go back to eighteen. Where did that girl go? I just wanted life to feel like a touchdown dance again.
Recently I thought about that first year, that time when I was skinny and that’s what mattered. I realize now that eighteen was taut and toned and a total trainweck. She was one spray-tan away from the Jersey Shore. She acted dumb to win the hearts of the dumber. She spent more time doing crunches than research papers. She centered her world around the god damn Girth Gestapo.
They were fools to love me then.
They’d be fools to hate me now.
I love myself at twenty-five.
Today I have a son we made from my scrambled eggs. I feel happy, mostly good, and mostly strong. Today I have the same two eyes, two scarred hands, even the same two feet I had at eighteen. I have a clean bill of health and a husband who celebrates me regardless of brain or boob size. I can see now that in gaining weight I gained a clear perspective. It was the most uncomfortable and image-shattering gift I’ve been handed. It was a hurtful vision. I thought I made a lot of friends. Turns out I wasn’t letting them really get to know me. Turns out they didn’t really care to. Today I am about the height and weight and waist and bust size I was on the very first night I was hot enough to hang. Today this doesn’t even matter.
Writing Prompt: blessing in disguise