Thankfully, when I was 12, the humiliation came to an end. That fall we moved from mid-Ohio to Utah. It was a relief, a new start. No one knew me there. No one would have seen how lovely my hair had been or known that I bought my clothes in clandestine meetings out behind the house.
My self-confidence, though still very fragile, had been given a jump start. That whole school year was a joy – even aside from the fact that the Beatles had come to the states! I loved my 6th grade class and had made two best friends almost immediately. And for the first time in my life there was a boy I liked.
We were on the Safety Patrol together. That meant we got to stand at the intersection in front of the school and make sure the kids crossed the street safely. It also meant we got to leave class early to eat lunch together so we could be at our posts when the kindergartners were let out to go home at noon. As much as Paul McCartney made my heart pound, David Jonas made it pound harder!
By the end of 6th grade I was madly in love . . . The advent of summer did nothing to dampen my new-found amour, for we spent hours on the merry-go-round at the park or playing badminton with big old tennis rackets in the school yard. And I couldn’t wait for fall to come for I knew in junior high there were dances! I spent hours giggling with my best friends imagining David and me walking down the halls holding hands. All the girls would look and be envious, and for the first time I felt like some of the “prettiness” might just be growing back.
When school rolled around in the fall, David and I ended up sitting next to each other in Mr. Murray’s home room math class. And my deliberately cultivated smarts stood me in good stead, for if it hadn’t been for me, David would have flunked that first term. But you know what they say about being in love. “Love is blind,” and I was fumbling in the dark!
By the second term David had made the junior varsity football team and become Dave to the delight of every girl in the 7th grade. He barely stopped by my locker to talk anymore or even ask my help in math. But my new-found self-confidence wouldn’t be stifled, and the day we got our school pictures I hiked to the back of the school bus where he sat with a bunch of boys from the football team and presented him with my picture, complete with “Love, Calen” scribbled on the back.
Suddenly it got really quiet and I realized I had done something horribly dumb. As I cringed inside and made my way back up the aisle to my seat, I heard the laughter and glanced over my shoulder just in time to see David chuck the picture out the window. If it were possible to become physically ill from embarrassment, I think I was in danger of dying right then. That day I gave up any claim to “pretty” for the second time in my life.
I carried the laundry hamper into the washroom and began sorting the clothes into piles, but my mind wouldn’t leave it alone. Riding the bus had become like hell for me that day. I tried hard to make myself small enough to avoid being seen day in and day out by those laughing “jocks” in the back. There wasn’t a day, a week that passed in the next six years that I didn’t hate that damn bus. I didn’t think life could get any worse, until in my sophomore year I met Cathy.
Thank God she was already a senior, or I might never have survived high school! I don’t recall ever doing anything to her. I didn’t even know her. She lived two blocks from my house. But for some reason she took an instant dislike to me and the very first day on the bus together she pulled all my notebooks out of my arms as I brushed by her seat. Then she announced to everyone on the bus that I was “uglier than God’s dog!” She made sure I didn’t forget it, either, for she announced it in one way or another every time she saw me, no matter where we were.
Perhaps I should have told my mother then, but likely she would have just poo-pooed it and rattled off that old adage about “sticks and stones” and how “words can never hurt you” . . . or haircuts for that matter. Mercifully halfway through the year Cathy got her own car and I was spared the daily litany that had kept me cowering in my seat for months. But there was no doubt in my mind by then that God must have one ugly dog!