When the “love of your life” is just the worst…

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mostly because he is an a**hole.

Everything was changing.  It was like my body was a stranger that I had to awkwardly face every day.  When did I get boobs?  They seemingly grew overnight from an A cup to a C.  My thighs went from stick thin to curvy; I had to abandon my favorite pair of jeans after that.  The only thing that seemed to stick was the pudginess around my stomach that my Mom lovingly called “baby fat.”  She would constantly remind me that I would be stuck with that fat for a while.  It was part of a “Thomas Women” curse.   Apparently all of my changes were similar to my mother’s side.  “We are just built that way,” my mother pointed out. It seemed so unfair that some girls were lucky enough to have those boyish thin figures while my body couldn’t decide what it had.  I wasn’t classically curvy, not plus size, but not thin. I was completely average and at the time I thought it was the worst thing I could be.

 By the time I reached eighth grade I had gotten used to my chest size, my thighs, and my “baby fat.”  At that point, being invisible had its perks.  There was a still a small part of me that wanted every boy to notice me like they did Denise Dalton*.  The queen bee, who at one point a long time ago (We’re talking 5th grade), was my best friend.   Puberty had done her way too many favors, which apparently left the rest of the girls in my grade with nothing. There were girls who were even more awkward then I was (which is saying a hell of a lot.) Their bodies had betrayed them way worse than mine ever could. These girls would get noticed by boys too, but were ridiculed for their “imperfections.” I thought myself lucky, that I was practically invisible to that kind of public shaming.

 It was almost Spring of my eighth grade year and I was in a good place.  I had stop being so boy crazy due to recent events that proved that I was not equipped to handle a boyfriend.  Sure, I still had crushes.  My hormones proved to be stronger then my brain in these cases. Jack* had, of course, broken up with my good friend Jenny* and had moved on to several other girls.  His latest victim was Janet*, a newer classmate who had become an acquaintance to my small group of friends.  He had broken her heart and she was less than thrilled with it.

 Over their two-week courtship, Jack had done a lot of talking.  Spilling secrets to her about his previous girlfriends.  Janet in an act of revenge, held nothing back, telling every girl how Jack felt about her.  How April*, his first girlfriend, was a stuck up prude.  Or even how much Breanna Morris* wasn’t. They were all reasons why he eventually broke up with them.  Sometimes even for ridiculous reasons like, Kayla’s (the curvy seventh grader) hairy man arms.  The insults didn’t stop at just his girlfriends. He even went into reasons why he didn’t date certain girls.  Starting with his number one fan, me.

 It was bad news, when Janet came strolling by my table at lunch.  The look of concern had taken over her usual smile, like she was going to tell me that my dog had died. She sat down, unraveling a story that would change me forever.  She started with the fact that she thought I was one of prettiest and nicest girls at this school.  (I was one of the first to talk to her when she moved mid school year.) One day she had asked Jack why he had never went out with me, she of course, hearing the rumor that I was deeply in love with him. He replied with,  “I guess she is pretty, but she kind of has a beer belly.” It took a second for my brain to comprehend what was said.  A beer belly?  A BEER BELLY?  I knew what it meant, even though, at the ripe age of thirteen, my “baby fat” did not come from having one too many.

 After hearing those words, I was crushed.  My best friend Anna* went into a full rage. She knew how much I pictured Jack as a perfect specimen.  How, even though he had crushed by heart repeatedly, I had never given up on him. I had to practically pin her down from going over and clawing out his eyes in the middle of the lunchroom.  Janet hugged me and apologized, saying he was dead wrong about me.  She quickly left the table, continuing her campaign to killing Jack’s reputation.

 The rest of the day, I obsessed over those words.  I went from blaming him to even blaming myself for being so imperfect. Being comfortable with my body was no longer an option.  I knew that it was only a matter of time before the whole school saw me as “beer belly girl.”  After that I spent a good year and half trying my best to lose weight. Jack’s words echoing in my head with every sit-up I attempted.  During class, I would wrap a sweater around my stomach hoping that it would make it seem smaller.  I was still invisible, but no longer content with what I saw in the mirror.

 Those words festered into my mind and I still haven’t been able to completely wipe them out. They sometimes return to taunt me whenever I eat something unhealthy or if my jeans have become a bit too tight.  Even after so much time, the whole situation changed how I looked at my body.  It confirmed the bad things I thought about myself, because I knew I wasn’t the only one who noticed them.  I think back and see this moment as the day that created my low-self esteem and it is hard to get rid of.  I spent half my life striving to be perfect, only to realize that I have wasted a lot of time caring about what others thought.

 It shouldn’t be a surprise that I finally gave up on Jack.  I thought I loved him, but he continually crushed my heart. Now as a grown woman, I look back and have learned a valuable lesson.  I shouldn’t let anyone make me feel like I am not good enough.  I shouldn’t waste my time on a “dream guy” who doesn’t think of me as his “dream girl”.  A guy who doesn’t even care about the consequences of his actions. Who doesn’t care about hurting the only girl who thought he was perfect.

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*Names have been changed because the real names don’t matter.

A Skeptical Third Grader’s Date with A Deadly Tree Frog

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It was slimy; my finger grazed its’ back as it tried to leap away. When my finger tingled I knew it was only the beginning of the end.

I was always one of those kids that took warnings to heart. When I was five I got lost in a supermarket, and my parents had always taught me not to talk to strangers. When an older man asked if I needed help, I screamed, “YOU’RE A STRANGER!!!” remembering everything my parents had warned me about. I ended up safe and only an aisle away from my dad the whole time, but nonetheless, I had always been paranoid.

In third grade, I was scrawny and shy, an obvious candidate for a tag along. My new best friend Celeste was magnificent and exciting. During recess, I would follow her every move. I admired Celeste’s independent and carefree attitude.   We would spend most of our recesses making up songs to sing, thinking that we would be the next “TLC” if only we could find a good enough third member. Other parts of our recess were spent escaping the grips of one of the Wilson twins, who had made it his mission to make one of us his girlfriend. He had orangish red hair, and his face was covered in freckles. He ran with his arms straight to his side, as if he had no elbows to bend them.   During class, I would count down the minutes before I could go outside and have my freedom.

My third-grade teacher Mrs. Crabtree was a robust old woman, who never taught us anything fun. Some days she would let us play heads up seven up, but most days it just be boring educational lessons.   We had been learning about amphibians in our science unit. One day as a special treat, Mrs. Crabtree brought in a tree frog to be our class pet for a week. I thought the frog was amazing; it was black and green, with dots of red on its back. The movements of his throat as it took a breath made me giggle.   We talked about him for most of the day.

“Can we touch it? Pleeeaaaseee” the whole class begged.

“Sorry kids, this frog is poisonous, so none of you are allowed to touch him.” Mrs. Crabtree said.

I don’t remember if she ever said that we could die if we were to touch this frog, but when she said the word poison, I automatically assumed as much. Celeste did the opposite; she took that warning as a challenge. From that day forward she became determined to touch that frog, even if it was deadly. Our recesses became filled with trying to find a way to get to the frog without Mrs. Crabtree being around.

Celeste came up with the idea of getting inside the building during recess when most of the teachers were in their lounge. Though I didn’t think it was a good idea, I didn’t want Celeste to think I was scared, so I went along with it. The only problem was getting into the building; kids were not allowed to roam the halls during recess. We had to get our hands on some bathroom passes from the recess aides, and they would never let us go together.

Then I remembered that I had accidently kept a pass from one of the aides a couple of weeks ago, I waited too long to give it back. Now it just sat in my desk, waiting to be discovered by my teacher. Who would no doubt accuse me of stealing and send me to the principal’s office, where I would be then banished from the school forever. See, paranoid. With access to an extra pass, we were sure that our plan would be a success.

On the day of our not so organized plan, my stomach was in knots. I wanted just to go back to pretending that we were “TLC” and being chased by overly freckled boys, but it was too late, I was in too deep. Celeste and I went into the building at separate times and met by the bathrooms. The halls by our classroom, usually filled with chatter were now eerily quiet. We peaked into the classroom door window to make sure Mrs. Crabtree was not inside. Man how I wished she was inside.

When we made in, Celeste pulled out a game changer.

“Ashley, I dare you to touch that frog for ten seconds, or I will tell everyone that you want to marry Ryan K.!!” Celeste said.

“What? I thought you wanted to touch it?” I asked. This was not a part of the plan.

“I changed my mind, don’t be a wuss!” Celeste demanded.

This is what I got for being a sidekick; I had to do all the hard work, and I had to taste the food to make sure it wasn’t poisoned for the queen. At first I hesitated, but I didn’t want my whole class to know that I was wanted to marry Ryan K. I pulled the lid off the class aquarium, reached down into my impending doom. The frog’s back was slimy as my finger grazed it back. It tried to escape, but I had it pinned it between my fingers and the glass of the aquarium.

“One…Two…Threeee…Foouuurrr…”   Celeste whispered.

A lot went through my head during those extremely long ten seconds. First was how mad my parents were going to be when I died of some tree frog disease that my teacher had warned us about. Second was that my big brother was probably going to take over my room the minute I croaked. Pun intended. Third was the fact that Celeste was taking a really long time to count to ten. Finally, when she did get to ten, I released the frog. My finger tingled; its starting, I thought. In a matter of days, maybe even hours, I’d be a goner.

In the coming weeks, I grew more and more paranoid. Thinking that Mrs. Crabtree would somehow lift my fingerprint off the frog’s back in an attempt to see what children had not listened to her request.

When my guilt had become too much for me, I confronted my parents with the news of my upcoming bad fortune. Only for them to chuckle and reassure me that Mrs. Crabtree was just trying to make sure the frog was safe. I wasn’t going to die! I eventually forgot about the tree frog and the whole mess about dying.

I learned two lessons in Mrs. Crabtree’s third-grade class. The first was that teachers sometimes lie. The second was that I was not that bright at the age of nine.