I don’t remember the weather or what I had for breakfast, but I remember my outfit: a pastel sweater of green, pink, and yellow with pink leggings to match. I preferred life in the background, but I felt pretty in that ensemble; not the kind of pretty other people notice, but the kind that makes you smile to yourself. That afternoon, one of the boys in my class commented on my lack of figure in front of the others. My body had never before been a point of public interest. Until that day, I was secure in my invisibility, and it was ripped from my grasp with one effortless remark. After that, my pastel outfit was stuffed into the bottom of a dresser and I never wore it again. That was how it started.
There is no normal. None of us really fit the label; we all have quirks and histories, and we all do our best to move forward either because of or in spite of them. As a young girl, I had few friends, good grades, and a quiet demeanor. After being harassed, touched, ridiculed, leered at, prodded, grabbed, felt, handled, trapped, stroked, cornered, patted, fondled, and completely disregarded, an unfamiliar feeling began to spread inside me like a virus. It was hate. I wish I could say I hated those boys for what they took from me, but it would be years before that would happen. I hated myself: for not knowing better, for getting caught, for not instilling in them the fear they lodged in me. It wouldn’t be until college that I’d be able to acknowledge the person I had become. I think that’s when, in some subconscious attempt at survival, my hate turned on my oppressors and all those like them.
But time didn’t spring forward, it dragged itself alongside me. Soon, my favorite outfit was just the washed out memory of a girl I used to know, and by then, I had trained my body to protect. My height was a sort of cape that kept my fragility covered from the crowd; my thick, full hair was a shield that kept unknown danger away; my eyes, piercing and cold, became my sword. It wasn’t long before I developed a method for managing my feelings. I decided I could reveal as little or as much as I wanted using only my body. With this kind of physical communication, I rarely used words. When my friends began calling me a robot, I took it as an expression of their adoration and respect. I thought that by having control over my reactions, I could navigate the world without feeling its weight. Unknowing of the cost of lies at an age when self-preservation was more important than truth, I began to disappear.
In high school, I thought if I could remain under the influence, I could stay ahead of the curve. Believing that I was meant for a single purpose, I never waited for anyone to take it; I was proactive. I put myself in dangerous situations, one after the other, until I eventually did to myself what they had done. That was my normal. And then it wasn’t. Almost all at once everything was new. I could taste my memories. I could hear my body screaming. At that point, I understood why I had to face the magnitude of it all—the eyes, the hands, the fingers, other parts. I fell, for some time, into the deepest fragments of myself; those parts filled with murky water and sunken hope. But it was better to hurt out loud than to pretend in my own quiet.
A typical day begins like a flood. Everything that’s been done to me, everything I’ve done returns and I start again. Some mornings I practice yoga to remind myself of how much there is; other mornings I lug myself to work without really looking in the mirror. I’m searching for balance and self-love and the naïve notion that people can still be good. On days when my hate is soft, I feel like I might be ready to live the kind of life my six-year-old self would have welcomed. And for the most part, I don’t fade into the background. Instead, I laugh too hard, sing too loud, and wear all the pastel I can find.