Fat and Other Words -- creative nonfiction by Phoebe Thomas
Lunch was always a scary part of my day. Even though it was elementary school and there were assigned tables, picking the seat that I wanted to sit in for the next 30 minutes around people I didn’t know made my stubby, fourth-grade legs tremble. I always made sure that I migrated to the back of the lunch line so I didn’t have to pick my seat. That way, I was just given the last option and it didn’t really matter. I didn’t find anyone worth talking to in my class, even though my teachers tried to help me by seating me at a table with my ‘friends.’
friends (n., pl.): people you can trust, they take a weight off your shoulders, they are worth spending time with, they make you feel better about yourself, they do not judge you, they understand you, they can help you, they can also hurt you.
But this day was particularly hard. After surviving another lunch, I waited for my teacher. Once again, she was the last one down to pick us up from the cafeteria. We had been waiting for what felt like hours—even our lunch assistants had left us alone. Hoping to stay in the shadows of everyone else, I stood as quietly as possible against the wall, unmoving. Hearing tiny groups of my classmates whispering and giggling made me feel exactly that—shadow-like—just hoping to get through the rest of the day.
One mumbled comment drew my attention to the group of girls that were always whispering and talking, usually about other people. It was a loud whisper; the kind that sounded like it wasn’t meant to be a secret, but that others were supposed to hear.
“Go tell her! Go tell her now!” the murmurs continued. Deep down, I knew that the “her” they were referring to was me. I turned my head towards them, locking eyes with the shortest of the group. I observed her eyes, their shitty color reflecting her personality perfectly. Her nasty smile and knowing stare made me internally shake. I knew I wasn’t going to like what was about to happen.
A new student in our class walked up to me. “I just wanted to let you know,” she began, tripping slightly over the unfamiliar English pronunciations,
“that you’re fat,”
fat (adj.): big, round, not in shape, me.
“that you’re ugly,”
ugly (adj.): not pretty, does not fit beauty standards, dirty, me.
“and everyone in this grade hates you,”
hate (v.): strongly dislike, you’re annoying, get away from me, stop trying to gain their acceptance, think about what you did wrong.
“and that it’s okay if you die.”
die (v.): a scary thing to think about, something unfamiliar that happens after your last breath.
She looked pleased that she had made it through her entire speech, even if she wasn’t entirely sure what she had said. But still, each word cut into my heart, completely ripping open what had already been cracked. It felt less like a crack though, and more like a shatter that left everything I had before in a lump in the pit of my stomach, waiting to be put back together.
The girls snickered in the background. A couple of heads turned our way but swiveled back when they realized they didn’t know or care about what happened outside of their conversations.
I broke down into tears. My breath came out in spurts. I turned around and sprinted up the stairs, bumping into my teacher, who attempted to grab my arm, but I pushed past her and ran straight to the bathroom. I sat, stationed on the floor with my head between my small legs. I couldn't catch my breath and wondered if this was what people meant in movies when they said they had a broken heart.
I couldn’t put the pieces of my heart back together alone, and without the support of my teacher, who tried to fix the situation by pairing us up in a futile attempt to make us friends, I began carrying definitions for words, in hope of making sense of the world that I hated and that hated me.
Words hold meaning, and everyone has personal meanings for different words. Bad or good, a word still holds a memory and is given a definition. Being forced to create and carry my definitions has made me, especially around people I don’t know, become extremely shy.
shy (adj.): similar to distrustful, closed off, in a protective bubble from the outside world, not letting other people get to know you.
No one knows the meanings I have for words, people, or places. No one knows what’s going on in my brain. No one realizes that I’m not made of glass. No one can see past my Caribbean eyes, hiding the thoughts in my brain. Covering my secrets.
secrets (n.): keeping to myself, separates me from the rest, something locked behind my eyes, people can steal them, closed off, I am distrustful.
I understand things before others, observing every little detail. I observe things instead of using my voice.
voice (n.): something used to express feelings, something to be concealed, to conceal me, silence, the lock to my throat, when used can help you breathe and relax, personal, allows people to understand me, can’t trust myself to use it, what they used against me.
Scared people will hold new definitions of the words I speak. Not trusting how I answer, not trusting my voice.
I stay silent.
I use the silence that surrounds me to observe.
silence (n.): quiet, observing, holding back, my voice was taken from me, empty, not wanting my words to be used against me.
I carry the definition of many different words on my back, holding them up just in case they fall and someone else picks them up. My parents have instructed me to use these words as motivation to get me better and further than where I am.
motivation (n.): pushing myself to get farther than where I am, turning the bad things into good things, building off my pain and struggles, growth.
But these words are heavier than people think, heavier than I realize until the pressure and weight is put back on my shoulders, forcing me to carry the load until I can put it down, and finally take a rest.
It's been a few years since I gave my first word a definition, but even now, I still give words definitions. I have gained back most of my confidence, but I’m still working to obtain the rest. I have learned what makes people good and bad, and what people I can trust. I have gotten more comfortable in my skin, and my bubble has grown bigger. Recently, I have been able to open up to more people, which has helped me secure more friends. I still create definitions, and I don’t think that will ever change. But, as I go through life and gain more confidence and comfort in my abilities, I believe the definitions will turn from all negatives–words that put me down and make me feel lesser than–to more positives: words that bring me up and help add confidence to my structure instead of taking it away.
*The title is taken from Christina Lauren’s book Love and Others Words.
Phoebe Thomas is a high school sophomore who can be found in either a hockey rink or the lacrosse field. She loves all things Taylor Swift, and will put up with no country slander. In the summer, she spends most of her days relaxing on the beach and hanging out with her cousins. Phoebe lives with her four siblings and two yellow labs. She is currently longing for summer, while working on her English and history finals.