Monday, October 28, 2013
That One Word
He was the most physically perfect human I had ever seen in real life.
Yellow blonde hair. Baby blue eyes. A chiseled face that couldn't have turned out more beautiful had it been crafted by a meticulous sculptor.
But he was filled with hate.
In middle school, that hate was directed at me.
You see, Jake was the most popular boy in school. He was at the very top of the food chain. Even his cool friends didn't seem as cool as him. None of them, not even the beautiful cheerleaders, could match him in the looks department.
It was my first day of eighth grade. I had just transferred from another school. Because of our last names, Jake had to sit next to me in homeroom. He took one look at me and sneered, "I have to sit next to the squaw, great."
I was so stunned and mortified, I didn't even correct him that I wasn't Native American.
Jake seemed so repulsed by the mere presence of my face that he couldn't help his outbursts every time he saw me, whether it was in class or in the hallways.
I had dandruff. My long brown hair was ratty. I was weird. Shut up, what you are looking at squaw?
All his words.
Of course, I wasn't the only victim.
Other kids were disgusting for being "fat." Another girl had "Muppet lips." The boy sitting behind us in homeroom "smelled" because he was "poor."
Out of all his insults, the one that had the greatest and most long-lasting impression on me was when he glared in disgust at my face during homeroom one day and called me "ugly."
It broke my heart.
Nobody had ever called me that to my face before. It confirmed my biggest fear, the one gnawing at the back of my mind since elementary school. I was ugly.
It's amazing how one insult, no matter how untrue, becomes your truth. Your shrunken confidence allows it to scar you, to brand you.
A billion people afterwards could tell you you're the most beautiful woman in the world, but you'll never believe them. Because when you were 13, the most popular boy in school called you ugly. And you believed him first.
A year later, in high school, Jake and I didn't have any classes together and he eventually moved on to mocking the physically and mentally handicapped kids. When he passed me in the hallways, he pretty much forgot I even existed. I was relieved.
My dad's job was transferred to another state and I moved away at 16, never to see Jake again.
But I still see Jake's face and hear his words when I want to forget them. I don't believe people when they say I'm attractive. Instead, I see Jake telling me otherwise. Even now, in my late 20s.
I don't know what angers me more: the words themselves or that I allowed those words to destroy me.
I was visiting a childhood friend at the hospital a couple days ago. She had her appendix removed.
I was sitting by her bedside, reminiscing about people we used to know in middle school, when she suddenly exclaimed, "do you know about Jake?"
I looked up, startled.
"Know what?" I asked.
She pulled out her iPhone and showed me Jake's Facebook profile. I had never seen it before because, obviously, I would never friend request him.
I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.
Jake is gay.
Not just gay, but he's an entire fruit salad.
Photos revealed him kissing a haughty looking male model next to a Fashion Week runway, drinking a pink cocktail on a sandy beach, and straddling a pole at a gay bar. His interests include "poodles," "fashion," and "cuddling." A status revealed he's "here and queer and you bitches better get used to it." He lives in New York City and he works for Google.
During high school, Jake always dated the cheerleaders. It never occurred to me that he really wanted the football players.
Seeing the de-closeted Jake in front of me, on that little screen, didn't change my opinion of him. That look, that mean streak, that blinding arrogance, remains in his icy blue eyes. He might be gay, but he's still Jake.
He's still the boy who ripped my heart out and left it bleeding in my hands with one little insult.
And I still haven't put it back.
I hope one day I do.
Because I want to believe I'm beautiful.