We moved just before I started high school. Over the summer I met several girls on my street but although we were the same age, they didn’t start high school that year. I was always a year ahead. I started school when I was five and I was supposed to skip a grade as well. At least I didn’t do that. Would have been even worse.
So there I stood, in a high school of over 2,000 students. I had trouble finding my way around. Figuring out the up and down staircases. Going the wrong way. Being so tiny anyway, I often wound up places I never meant to go because I couldn’t fight my way through the traffic. People were so BIG. All of them. There was no one my size. I was even shorter than I am now.
I didn’t know anyone and no one seemed to want to know me. My mother fretted over me all over again. She dreamed of having a lovely daughter to share clothes with. My mother the giant. When I was very young she tried to accept that I would never be her equal. But when we went to buy clothes for school that year, it seemed to hit her all over again. She went out of her way to make me as ugly as possible. The short haircut and clothes even my mother had to know didn’t go together. And all the wrong colors. I wonder now whether she didn’t do it to protect me, to make me look as undesirable as possible so no one would think of taking advantage of my size.
Too bad I didn’t know Daniel then. I would have taken Karate lessons and stopped being so afraid. I was afraid. Terrified of the people crushing me. So many times in the crowded hallways I couldn’t see over people. Had no idea where I was going. I would follow in the wake of some larger, older student and watch for the hallway I wanted to turn off at. Sometimes I managed and sometimes I wound up in the machine shop or out one of the exits.
People laughed at me. I swam through the undergrowth of a sea of students, only vaguely aware there was a open space high above me, and somewhere the sun shone above a ceiling I could never see.
My locker was in one of the quietest halls of the school. That helped. There were seldom other students there and I could see the exit door leading out and down the stairs. Outside those doors I could stand on the metal deck and stare out into the trees and the ravine behind the school. I sought shelter there from the noise and the laughter.
It seemed almost from the first day of school, I became Little Orphan Annie. I listened and tried to ignore the hoots and jeers following me around. My mother had not made me invisible, but she had succeeded in making me completely undesirable. No boy wanted to be seen even talking to me. At the beginning of the year I didn’t care. I suffered through the torment of gym class where every other girl had started developing. I had nothing. They were interested in boys, and the latest heart throbs of rock and roll. I felt nothing. The hormones of puberty had not kicked in yet. I tried to mask my lack of feeling by covering my locker with appropriate photos and carrying around the latest magazines. I didn’t fool myself or anyone else.
My cousin gave me her old bras as she developed quickly and easily. I wore them to protect myself from exposing my nothingness but they only got caught in my clothing and slipped sideways. I had nothing to hold them in place.
And into that tormented hell walked Beau. His locker was near mine. He stood a glorious statuesque six-foot one with golden reddish-brown hair and stormy gray eyes. A senior. Captain of the basketball team and president of the Green Club. A blazing golden boy who a lowly grade eight could only look up at and dream of.
I will remember that day. Always. I had been stuffed into my locker by a group of older boys. They decided I was too ugly to be seen and should be put away. I was so small I fit in that locker. They slammed the door. I was too terrified to come out. After forever in the dark, my door opened and there stood Beau. He extended his hands and helped me out. All he said that day was ‘hello’. But that day shines forever in those dark days. The day a god spoke to me and recognized my existence. I blushed. I stared at the floor and mumbled something incoherent into my open locker. By the time I looked up, Beau was closing his locker and walking away. I noticed the startled reactions of the girls across from me. They were stunned Beau had talked to me. They laughed and giggled. I heard their comments about sympathy for beggars. I felt like a beggar. I wanted to follow Beau and beg for more. Just someone to see me. Affirm that I existed.
And he did. Just because he was Beau. He continued to say hello to me. He advanced from there to comments about the weather or teachers. Eventually I stopped blushing and replied to him. At some point I even started to make appropriate comments and we had conversations. People stopped laughing at me quite so often. I survived that year.
By the end of the year I even knew a few of the girls. I’m sure some of them talked to me only so they could be there when Beau came and talked to me. But he never seemed to focus on them. It mystified me and annoyed them. I had no idea why Beau talked to me. It was a gift I accepted day by day and never questioned. Like the sun shining. Just enjoy it while it lasts. If I thought at all about Beau, I thought of the fear of facing another year and Beau not being there.
I remember the final assembly of the year. Sitting there bored to death with the speeches and the presentations. I know you’d think I had watched every basketball game after I met Beau. But I never went to the school unless I had to. I didn’t feel I had the right to intrude into Beau’s life. If he chose to talk to me, fine, his choice, but I wasn’t going to start mooning after him and cheering wildly at his games. I was afraid he’d turn away and ignore me.
Finally we got through the sports awards. I clapped for Beau who got his big letter for sports. Then they went to the academic awards. The principal droned on and on. From the depths of my daydream of summer and freedom, I heard my name. The girl next to me elbowed me and told me to get up to the stage. I stared at her. The girl on the other side of me and one from behind started pushing me up. I wondered what sort of horrible prank this was. The principal looked over at me and also asked me to come down. Somewhere in the depths of my mind I knew something terrible was going to happen. It did. I won the prize for being the top student in the entire grade eight contingent. I would be labeled as a ‘brain’ for my entire high school career. Lia the bright, Lia the gifted artist. Never Lia the cute, Lia with the great body. Lia, I’d die for you Lia – please go out with me on Friday night. No, I was Lia, I don’t understand this Physics thing at all. I need help with my English paper. Do you have? Can I borrow? I have no ideas for this stupid art project – can you help me? Draw me something?
I took the prize. At least I didn’t have to make a speech. After I sat down again the awards continued through the grades. The seniors had many different awards. Beau got a prize for his writing, and for History and English. He got the top scholarship for University.
After it was all over, adoring fans surrounded Beau, admiring his prizes and fondling his sweater. I heard one girl offered to iron his new letter on for him. Our eyes met, somehow, over that crowd. I must have been still in the bleachers. He shrugged his shoulders in a statement of helplessness and smiled. I went home.
Over the remaining years of my high school, Beau and I remained friends. We chatted when we met in the neighborhood and sometimes went for coffee together. He told me about his University courses and we joked about the teachers we both knew. I turned 17 in my senior year.
Beau was my date for my grad ceremonies and Prom. Lia the tiny. Lia Pixel the unwanted. I still can’t believe he called and offered to take me. I’m sure there are women who still hate me. I took their golden boy away. Even then, Beau stood before me, guarding me, daring anyone to comment. My darling Beau, leading me out to the dance floor as if I were a queen. His arms around me.