As a child, I thought I was beautiful. My mum told me I was. My dad told me I was.
At primary school, I was popular which further cemented this most subjective of things as fact. Because all the popular girls are cute.
I was a tiny little dot of a thing with dark blonde hair and a precocious personality. I had little reason to doubt that I was, indeed, quite lovely to behold.
Then came high school.
Being short and cute and flat-chested in Year 6 is quite acceptable. For a teenager at high school, it meant instant demotion in the popularity stakes. How could I possibly compete with my nubile contemporaries, their perky boobs and long legs? Sure, my French teacher said my accent was trés bien! but a perfectly pronounced pourquoi did not bring all the boys to the yard. No, that was strictly the domain of milkshakes. Of which I had none.
So I started to get an inkling that I was not going to make my fortune as a model. More and more, I scrutinised my face in the mirror. I lamented my tiny breasts, hardly more than glorified nipples. I cringed at photos of myself tucked under the armpits of my willowy friends.
Interwoven with my own scrutiny came the careless comments of others. Flat-chested jokes, short jokes. They were hackneyed and constant. And they chipped away at my teen-aged confidence.
And then, I grew up. Well, not so much in the vertical sense. In this way, I have remained diminutive. But knockers? Holy smokes, did I grow myself a fine pair! Good things come to those who wait and for puberty, I seemed to wait FOREVER. It was worth it.
Even more important than the boobs though was to grow out of my teens and into me, slowly reshaping my opinion of myself and gaining back some self-esteem; coming to terms with the fact that I wasn't beautiful but that I didn't actually have to be; learning that who I am is quite enough. The process was a long one and it continues today.
But there is one bump in the road that I will never forget. An event that shook me to the core. A comment that was made after high school was done and gone, and the cruelty of that time gone with it.
Its power was greater for the unexpectedness of it.
In my early twenties, in a bar and prettied up as a young woman is wont to do when she is out on the town. My confidence was never greater than when I had my hair and make-up done, a pair of killer boots on and the flush of whiskey upon my cheek. Ironically, I had run into one of those boys who never considered me girlfriend material back in high school. I had not seen Joe for years. He looked much the same but me, I had changed in countless ways. I felt particularly pleased to have run into him on this particular night. I was young and sexy and I had a boyfriend so Joe could just eat his heart out, oh yes Joe could!
And as Joe and I chatted, it happened.
I saw him stumble into my peripheral vision but he kept stumbling until he was right in my face.
"Fuck, you're ugly," he said, slurring and swaying.
I can't tell you what I did. Or said. I don't think I said anything. I just stared at this completely inebriated, complete stranger. And died.
An eternity passed as the three of us, me, Joe and the fall down drunk stranger, stood suspended in this surreal and torturous moment.
"Fuck off, you fuckin' idiot." That was Joe. I remember that. God love him.
And then this odd, drunken stranger was gone.
Joe and I awkwardly wound up our chat, my humiliation and his embarrassment leaving nothing more to say.
And though I can barely picture him now, the stranger's existence in my life, all 60 seconds of it, is indelibly etched in my memory. An awful, dark smudge that still sends me to the mirror to wonder what it was he saw that night.
And what the hell possessed him to tell me.
This piece was written in response to the following prompt from Mama Kat:
5.) Share something mean someone said to you once, why has it stuck with you after all these years?