At night I am forced to tell stories. One kid cares. The others humor me. The one kid, who asks for these things, REALLY cares. So I tell him. I tell him true things. I tell him fiction. But somehow they started wanting Little Missy Stories; stories about life when I was a kid. This is one I have not told them. But if I had to choose just one story to describe who I thought I was, who I really was, and who I became, it would be this one. Forgive my recent silence. It is over. I do love my readers; all 13 of you. 🙂
My 7th grade year, just before my 13th birthday, I came to myself, shook my own hand in some sort of subconscious rite-of-passage, and stayed. That was the year I became who I still am. But it wasn’t without its foibles.
I began and ended that school year with a blue piece of rubber that would, in my own opinion, completely and irreparably ruin me. One piece of 25-cent rubber caused more emotional anguish than any other single event I can recall. It was a spacer for my very elaborate collection of orthodontia. They put it in one September afternoon, less than a week before school pictures were to occur, and stationed it between my upper front two teeth to intentionally create a nice little David Letterman gap that horrified me to the point where I refused to open my mouth for anything I considered superfluous. I ate and talked when necessary, but joking and chatting became a thing of the past and open-mouthed smiling was just totally out of the question.
Six days after that spacer moved in, Herff Jones and company arrived to take pictures for the yearbook.
I knew this was coming.
I knew the open mouthed smile was unacceptable.
So I had practiced my alternatives and had come up with one that would definitely work. In my thinking, and as I had practiced it, it was a modern cousin of the mona lisa. Friendly. Unassuming. Timeless. It looked good to me during my rehearsals. I thought I had perfected something I’d actually be happy with. Weeks later, upon sliding the actual photograph out of the sharply crinkled cellophane, my opinion changed drastically. A nauseating shock sucker-punched my disillusions straight out the back of me, causing me to audibly gasp in my homeroom and expose the very spacer that had started this whole ordeal.
“I look like a duck,” I said, in muted disbelief.
“A what?” my friend Sharon asked me, staring at her own photo.
“A duck.” I said, disgusted. “I look like a duck.”
At that, she looked over.
“Let me see,” she took the pictures out of my hand and examined them blankly.
“I’ve never seen lips that big on a human,” I said, still talking more to myself than to her.
“Nobody likes their school pictures,” Sharon said, trying to console me without investing too much into the conversation. There was no consolation. There was no point in further discussion. She must have understood this, because she had stopped even trying.
I stared at that picture for a long time before sliding it back into the plastic that I hoped would become its tomb. My mother’s potential plans for these pictures became my only concern. If I could escape the Christmas cards, I’d be okay. To be immortalized as a duck in the middle school yearbook was bad enough. But to have the pity of every friend my mother had, from the hat-lady-with-asthma at church to the girl from dental hygiene school 22 years ago, seemed more than I could emotionally digest. I was pitiful. My classmates were going to know it. My mother’s pen pals did not need to.
It took a good month to get used to my new look and get over the trauma of the yearbook pictures. As the season marched on and the days got shorter, so did my memory of that photo. The only thing I really knew to do was to just stop looking. So I did. I gave up mirrors. And with the time I was not spending looking at myself, I began to look around at others that I considered the “beautiful people.” Anne Deason was one of those. I wanted to be her. And I think I must have decided that, on some level, I could be. I set out to create a Christmas list that included things related only to fashion and vanity, and determined in my mind to be as close to the beautiful people as I could. I was driven to do this. And every driven person chooses a method of accomplishing their goal.
My goal was to be with the beautiful people.
My method was yellow corduroys.
It never occurred to me that one was not the means to the other.