Well Read

I live in the suburbs about 35 miles northwest of Los Angeles. We’re not that hard to find, and if you happen to be a flat-earther it’s even easier: just head north on the 101 freeway and right before you drive off the face of the planet, take a hard right. I go to L.A. a lot, but I avoid certain parts, like Venice Beach, because I eat carbs, exceed the weight limit and am considered fat. 

Okay, I’m not really fat, I’m chubby. I certainly don’t fit into the L.A. stereotype of a woman (or the entire North American continent’s stereotype of a woman): the type who exercises and starves herself to death just to fit into someone else’s ideal of what a woman’s body should look like.

Fat was in the cards for me. I was a fat kid, which was difficult because no one likes fat kids. I got fat-shamed by pretty much everyone: schoolmates, teachers, my parents, and especially the media.

School was difficult also. I hated it because it had nothing to offer me. Kids were mean, teachers were mean, what was the point? The only thing I was learning was to hate myself even more. I didn’t fit into the narrow mindedness of school administrators and teachers; I was a round peg and they were square, rigid, and tried to fit me into their square holes. 

No thanks. 

I ended up dropping out of high school. Yep, I’m a high school drop out. They really should change that phrase though, it makes it seem like I was the failure, when really, it was high school that failed me, so I left. 

In elementary school, I did have this one teacher who, although wasn’t the nicest person, was really into books and reading, and I loved that because I did too; books were my escape. I was a voracious reader, I always had a book with me. I would hole up in my room, safely tucked away from all the heartbreak the world was offering me, my nose inches from the pages that were capturing my attention. 

So this teacher would read to us every day for an hour after our lunch break, which was my absolute favorite part of the school day. I remember her reading us The Hobbit, which would not necessarily be one of my preferences, but she made it magical. Every day I looked forward to resting my head on my desk, closing my eyes, and listening to her bring Tolkien’s characters to life. 

One day, she thought it would be a good idea to have her students learn speaking skills by reading aloud from a book in front of the class, like she did, which would be a good idea if you weren’t a fat introvert like I was. She brought in a big pile of books and told us she would go through a stack, call out the title of the book, and when you heard one you liked, to raise your hand and she’d hand you the book to read.

Well, the way my mind worked, there was always a delay in processing any information I would receive, so it would take me a moment to capture it, process it, and then respond. The teacher called out this one book that sounded really good to me, but because of my mind’s delay process, it took me a moment before I excitedly raised my hand. 

By that point, she has already moved on to the next title, which ironically, was called The Fat Cat… and can you get where I’m going with this? As the title suddenly registered with me, the enthusiastic hand that was suspended above my head slowly sank, and any joy I had about the task completely drained out of me. 

I sat there frozen.

My teacher, the one I counted on to guide and educate me, asked out loud, in front of the entire class, “Do you want to read The Fat Cat?” To say she was insensitive is like saying Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump have bad manners. 

You could hear a pin drop. The entire class was staring at me, waiting in anticipation for my answer, because they knew my life at that moment was over, and they wanted to bear witness.

It was a lose-lose situation: If I said no, I was going to be humiliated because everyone was gonna know I didn’t want to read a book titled The Fat Cat… but if I said yes, I was going to be humiliated because I’d be reading from a book titled The Fat Cat.  

See what I mean?

The pressure was building. I sat there contemplating my fate, and I could sense my teacher’s impatience, so I blurted out a shaky “Yes.” Then I had to get up in front of the entire class and read from this fucking book! I could’ve said no. I could’ve ran out of there crying, hopefully garnering some sympathy in the process, but I didn’t. I stood up, took the book from my teacher’s hand, and proceeded to read it out loud. 

It was a kid’s book, sorta like Dr. Seuss, so every other sentence was talking about the goddamn Fat Cat. I must have said that phrase 20 times, and each time I said it, the class snickered and guffawed. To make matters worse, the boy I secretly had a crush on was sitting in the front row. 

I was inadvertently fat-shaming myself.  

It was one of the toughest days of the school year. But you know what? I finished the book, walked back to my desk with my head held high, pretending I wasn’t humiliated and that it didn’t hurt me to the core to have my fellow classmates laugh in my face, and took my seat with as much pride as I could muster.

I did it, and I survived, and I found out I had a propensity for public speaking. It made me a little stronger, and I believe I made a tiny dent that day, momentarily taking the shame out of the word fat. Not for them… not for my classmates or my teachers or my parents or anyone else that was cruel towards me… but for me. The kids could snicker and point and laugh at me, but they couldn’t take away my my resolve… my bravery and courage.

And to me, that lesson is more valuable than anything that comes out of a school book. 

 

 

 

36 Comments on “Well Read

  1. public school is the reason i decided to homeschool my kids. public school destroyed me. i was an anxious little introverted freak in a small town of very religious, straight-laced frowning people who made me even more anxious. i wish i could have dropped out (i really wanted to but had no idea where to go as i was surrounded by corn fields.) i totally get this post. thank you ❤

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I went through the same thing until I lost weight as a teenager. Now in this day and time it’s completely normal to be overweight in school. I asked my son if those kids get picked on and he said normally no because so many are now…those kids would have gotten tormented in the 70s and 80s.
    A great life lesson you learned.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Kids are so much more tolerant of differences nowadays, it’s fantastic. You can be fat, gay, weird, nerdy, etc. and no one judges.

      Like

  3. I was horribly shy as a child, terrified to open my mouth lest I be ridiculed. Not sure what happened, or why… but now I tend to never shut up.
    Sorry school was such an awful experience for you, and others. It can be very one size fits all and we know that never works.
    As for Cali… I’ve been avoiding visiting. Heard they deport you if you’re bigger than a size 6.
    😉

    Liked by 3 people

  4. CG,
    The Universe works in mysterious ways, eh? Gives us lessons to master and when we don’t, we get more of the same until we do master them. The Universe can be a real asshole; much like mean kids. However, it sounds like you mastered this one on the first go round. I’m glad that you did this and that you were brave because this is one of the best definitions of bravery I’ve ever read! This story will stay with me. So pat yourself on the back, you deserve it and then go have yourself a biscuit with peach jam! Yum. I’ll join you. Great post! Mona

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Fat girl in the corner right here. My go-to is sit still, eyes downcast, be silent…. pretend I disappeared and perhaps maybe I will. Then inevitably end up forced to do the one thing (applies to any class) that no other classmate wanted to do, by default. Backfired all the time, and this girl never learned!

    This, though. This is empowerment. Standing. Friggin. Ovation!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That flat earth part had me in stitches: ‘before you drive off the face of the planet, take a hard right’. You shouldn’t be that funny so early into your post. You’ll turn my shit day into a good one.
    This was a wonderfully poignant post! Loved it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I too was a fat kid. Fat, ugly, and one of the tallest girls in the class (for a few years, till many shot past me) to boot. Not sure why I wasn’t bullied into oblivion. I think maybe because I had a smart mouth and knew how to use it. (“I take it as a compliment that someone like you doesn’t like me” was one of my comebacks – a real head-scratcher for some of the mouth-breathers that came for me…LOL!)
    Anywho, I survived as you did. And now many of my skinny, petite, pretty former schoolmates are aging hard and are obese, to boot. And I am doing OK. More than OK. I am fucking fabulous.
    Living well is the best revenge, but you already know that, CG. Brava, girlfriend.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I too was a fat shy introverted kid growing up. Not a lot of bullying but I got what was left over after they would try to put down my friend who stuttered. Why are kids so nasty? This was a wonderful post about standing up for yourself in a very difficult situation. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I was a fat introverted kid, too. It took a lot of courage to do what you did. It lends a little insight into your writing style now, which has a glorious “couldn’t care less” vibe. I’ll lift a glass and toast the little girl reading The Fat Cat…and the woman she’s become.

    Like

  10. It is truly amazing the things we hold in our psyche so many years after they happened. The shame we felt and the embarrassment becomes part of our cell memory. The thing is that is it probably only you that remember that incident about the Fat Cat book. Whereas today, for our kids, when something like that happens, it’s on some social media platform for all to read, laugh at and stay forever and ever. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

  11. Aww… This resonates with me. You know, when I read you, I see a movie in my head. I see your words in scenes and your characters (people) come to life.

    Ever been approached to do a show, like sex in the city, using these posts? You could pull the posts together into a book. OMG did you already do that? Sorry if you have and I missed it. Shit!

    Anyway… “Clever Writes”. I would watch that. Totally fan girl you. I’m sure if you played yourself… You’d be awesome. I mean, you read fat cat out loud in front of class. You can fucking do anything.

    Hmm… Other title might be… “My shit, your shit, anybody’s shit”

    I’ve definitely too much time on my hands… Must fix that NOW!

    *rushes to work on her own shit*

    Hugs!

    Like

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