A boy who teased me in elementary school was accepted to the same magnet middle school I was in sixth grade. The middle schools in my district were horrific, and parents fought tooth and nail to get their “gifted” children into magnet schools. We had two STEM magnet schools and two art magnet schools in the area. At my school you had to choose an art major which was your priority. Most of the “cooler” kids did drama or dance, some of them did art. The “others” did choir, band, orchestra.
The boy was probably in drama or art, I don’t really remember. I was in choir. We hardly ran into each other – I was in more advanced academics than him, we didn’t have any of the same friends. We pretty much passed like ships in the night for three years. In those three years, I became a vegetarian, an emo kid, and a dirty hippie, one right after the other. Vegetarian hippie stuck.
*It is really important to mention at this point that he is not a thin, muscular, or even normal looking kid. He is a chubby, freckle-faced kid who somehow fell in with the hot guys and girls of middle school.*
When I didn’t get into an art high school in eighth grade, I made up my mind to try a different path for high school. I would be a jock. I would play volleyball and run track and be a hot cool smart jock girl. I was determined.
I signed up for JV Volleyball the summer before freshman year. Between three hour practices three or four times a week and conditioning sessions, my best friend and I hit the local gym, where they let teenagers work out all summer for free.
By the time school started, I was still a dirty hippie choir kid, but I was a dirty hippie choir kid with abs. I had mad toned thighs and arms and I still felt like shit because – surprise! – I AM NOT GOOD AT THE SPORTS.
Once school started, our practices died down slightly and we had free nights to go to the JV and Varsity football games. Our teams were really…not good. They were mostly excuses to hang out with everyone from middle school and support our friend on the JV team.
It was also the first game of the season where I saw this kid for the first time since middle school. He is sitting two bleachers behind us with his feet on the bleacher right behind us. He was with the same guys he had hung out with in eighth grade. He said hi to my friend and then looked at me. Our conversation went as follows:
“Oh hey Tori, how are you?”
This was the first time this kid had spoken to me to my face and called me by name, and not “chunky monkey” or “whale” just behind my back.
“Hey, I’m good, what’s up?”
“I’m good, you look really good.”
“No seriously like you got really thin.”
“Yeah, you’re welcome. You look great.”
I turn back around to finish watching the game, my brain spinning.
Suddenly I was worth talking to like a human because I was skinny.
I couldn’t stand this kid but because he was being nice to me, treating me like a pretty girl and a human because my body was smaller, I felt validated. I felt worth something.
I suddenly understood something very important and very dangerous. I was worth more as a person because I was thin. I could not not be thin.
These toxic thoughts would plague me during my first real relationship, which would begin two months later.
I met my first boyfriend through a friend in middle school, one of my best friends, when he was dating her.
Oh you didn’t know I was a piece of shit? SURPRISE.
I started dating him in October of freshman year, where I could only see him at church on Wednesdays and Sundays. He went to a private high school and had very strict parents. He was a stringbean of a kid with a nice smile and a sweet, protective vibe. I was so sure he was THE ONE because I am 14 and everything is an emergency.
We had a very tumultuous relationship because WE ARE 14 AND EVERYTHING IS AN EMERGENCY. I’m not a fan of bashing people and it’s literally been 7 years since we dated and 5 years since we’ve spoken, so I have no idea what he’s up to now. I hope the issues he struggled with when we dated have been worked through. I hope he’s mentally happier and healthier than he was. I know I am.
We broke up at the end of the summer before sophomore year because he was going into public high school and knew he would have more options than me, and I was crushed. HE WAS THE ONE GUYS. I WAS NEVER GOING TO FIND LOVE LIKE THAT AGAIN.
Luckily he went to a different school so I hardly ever saw him. I left the church because his older brother was married to the pastor’s daughter, and it was, to say the least, awkward for me. I had left the volleyball team right before our breakup because I was training for track and was way better at running than I was at volleyball. But I was still extremely supportive, at all of the games I could be at. Including senior night.
Senior night, if you don’t know, is a night where the seniors on a sports team are honored by the coaches and fans for their dedication. One of the seniors on our team was the pastor’s youngest daughter, and her entire family – including my ex – showed up for senior night, which was hardly two months after we broke up.
I don’t remember how we started talking, or how the talk turned into an argument, or how his mood had switched so quickly, the way it often had while we were dating. We were arguing in clipped, clenched-teeth whispers with him turned around on the bleacher in front of me, telling me like he had before all the ways I wasn’t good enough, all the ways I needed to change for us to work out. And I got mad. And I fought back for the first time in a long time because for so long I just wanted him back. I would have done anything, bit my tongue, agreed with his warped understanding of me and who I was, but I couldn’t anymore. I bit back. I told him I knew he had cheated on me with a blond, 90-pound freshman and I knew he had lied to me about them being just friends. I didn’t know anything.
And he said “You know what, maybe I did. Maybe you’re just too much woman for me.” He cast his eyes down at my stomach and rolled them, turning his back to me for the final time that night. I left in tears seconds later.
My validation, my worth, everything I had been clinging to since we had broken up, was stripped from me with those words.
The battle to win back my worth in the eyes of the men around me would result in my eating disorder.