Walking back from the gym, taking pictures of budding daffodils and mustard-yellow berries, I realized that for so long, I have been a victim.
No, not a victim of others. A victim of myself.
Middle school sucked. I could fancy that up a bit - change the language, make it full of longing and pain and sadness - but plain and simple? Middle school sucked. It sucked a lot.
Going into sixth grade, I was a healthy girl of average weight and height, full of self-confidence, imagining myself as a modern day Xena and future champion for civil rights, feminism, and creativity. I had a lot in me, from delicious crushes on boys to an ardent love for literature, from an appreciation and talent for math to a desire to sing Tori Amos until my voice gave out. I wasn't perfect - even as a younger child, I had hated that my thighs were thicker than other girls', and that I was shy and awkward in the worst possible moments - but I had the support of my family, the inner truth of my identity, and a call to arms which I feel all young people must hear in their hearts to be good, strong, powerful. Passionate.
And then I entered a world of shiny plastic, toothbrushes melted into bracelets, a pink mouth guard for field hockey, the smack of the ball, the way girls rested on their left hip and jutted their right foot forward, cradling the core, the beginning of breasts. It was a world of blue and green and hard metallic mouths, of glass-shard glances with brittle laughter, of training bras and deodorant which smelled like candy and sex and salt.
It was a world in which I got thinner. And thinner. Thin until I could see my vertebrae climbing and clicking along the length of my back; thin until my friends begged me to eat; thin until my mother was pale and panicked. I started failing math. I fell in love with a ballerina who was like a charcoal sketch and smelled like Shea butter and got thinner than I did, who ended up in the hospital, whose dark hair was dry as I ran it through my brush.
Those other girls scared me - those pretty perfect girls of blemishes and no shame - and I think I scared them, too. I was strange, I read dirty books and wrote poetry, and to them, I was the worst thing I could possibly be: I heard from a boy at a neighboring school that everyone knew I was that fearful thing, a lesbian.
I held on to that. I held on to all of it, and at some point in the healing process I forgot to let it go.
Maybe I didn't forget. Maybe it was a hurt I nursed in me, so much a part of me that I refused to relinquish my petulant and pitiful little girl pain.
Before I went on my recent trip to Las Vegas, I was terrified. Overweight, shy, feeling like the girl who was an outcast at the age of eleven, doubting I could keep up with other people who were clear plastic perfect, I forged barriers around my heart of that old friend, victimhood.
And then something amazing happened. I had fun.
Put like that, it seems so simple, as if having fun were the answer to all of life's problems, including mine. But in some way, going to Vegas was a baptism. It was a rebirth. A weight lifted from me - a heavy load of rebounding from anorexia through eating my feelings, of being scared to dress up because I wouldn't look like girls in magazines, of always feeling like I should be hurt forever by something which happened over ten years ago. God, it was fifteen years ago.
I walked into the red and blue lights of a Las Vegas nightclub, folding my arms under my breasts, cradling a core of imperfections and insecurities, and when I walked out my arms were loose and I had a joyful moment of loss.
It's taken me a week to write about this - my first draft was horrific, manic, wrought with emotion - and in that week I've done a few things. I've signed back up for the gym and actually worked out; I've been spinning and jogging and lifting weights. I've recommitted to following a meal plan and noticed that my hunger doesn't hurt as much as it used to. I've cut back on alcohol and started drinking more tea. Kombucha instead of beer; activity instead of inertia; delight instead of fear.
It's hard, but it's worth it. I am worth it.
The daffodils aren't in bloom, yet, but they are budding - so am I. Walking home after a tough workout, I'm filled with something like peace, a contentment I never knew I could have. I'm hungry, and it's a good thing, a natural thing, and I'm looking forward to some yogurt and berries and maybe a glass of red wine with dinner. I'm tired, and it's a fatigue not of my soul but of making my body stronger. And now, sitting on the porch, I find that the sound of birdsong is the music which comes after a long, hard winter of clinging to a pain too great to bear -
And it is beautiful.