Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fat Girl Fights Back #2

In fourth grade, I struggled with an elderly "Wicked Witch of the West" style teacher, who refused to give me anything above a "C", years after being a student with mostly A's. My mind held a picture of this woman who wore the same blue dress everyday, and loomed over me, stuffing dirty Kleenex up her sleeves. She had to be over 80 years old and should have been in a nursing home. Years later, I would find my Catholic school's reunion website on Facebook, where her face was pictured right there from 1977, my memories and imagination did not exaggerate the gnarled cruel face and piercing eyes. Her ancient exhaustion with the youthful exuberance of my 4th grade class mixed into a toxic explosive stew.

This is the year, the boys started playing a new game called "Smear the Q*****"--in which they literally chased down their slower, fatter "peers", and beat them up. I'd see Peter--a slower overweight boy, though not as large as me getting beaten up and teased unmercifully. For him and those like him, the playground was a danger zone of daily scrapes, the occasional bloody nose and bruises.

Sometimes our eyes would meet, and we'd both look downward, sharing in the same outcast shame. In Pete's face, I saw how my tormentor's always operated: always in large groups, so someone couldn't fight back effectively.

Not even losing recess for weeks at a time [a punishment usually bestowed by the principal] dented this peculiar sport's popularity. Back then still, girl's were to be left more alone, but I knew about women's lib [thought I didn't understand it all back then] and knew who the next target could be. I carried rocks in my pockets in case someone picked me out for a lark. But frankly unlike the fat boys, for me there were lines of protection, a big brother who was taller and somewhat fat, but not over the line like me, and the children of Vietnamese immigrants who were being sponsored by the church who I had befriended, with a child in just about every grade including kids, a few years older.

Having been shot at in a helicopter to flee Communists, my best female friend of the same age from that family whose house I spent multiple hours at, playing board games and eating their spicy dishes of meat over bowls of rice, didn't put up with any nonsense, so she taught me to stand up for myself. By 4th grade, I knew to cower before a bully only encouraged them.

Without these personal bodyguards, I think my time on the playground probably would have grown worse then Pete's given enough time. Kids who are fatter, learn the hard way, they have to come up with some different tools to make it.

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