1. It is summer in Northern California, hot and dry.
When my grandmother visits, we go to KMart to look for school clothes, piles of cheap jeans labeled SLIM and HUSKY. “Am I a slim?” I ask. “No,” she says. “A husky.” When I get home, I look up the definition of husky in the dictionary: hefty, excess. It marks me as extra, as too much.
2. When I am 8, I spend the night at my best friend’s house.
I am short and loud to her tall and shy. I always feel like a TV turned up a notch too loud around her. I try unsuccessfully to capture her quiet grace. She strokes the front of her body and remarks that she is thin as a rail. I move my hands over my body and exclaim that I already have small breasts.
Annie gets into the shower and her mom slips into the room and tells me that my comments made her daughter feel bad because she is older. “Your body is nothing to brag about,” she says. “I wouldn’t be proud of it.”
3. In middle school, I spend the night at a friend’s house.
One minute we are sitting next to each other in her playroom, looking at the back of a Dave Matthews Band CD, and the next minute, her lips are on mine. We lay back and continue kissing and it is electric. She carefully caresses my breasts and we run our hands over one another’s bodies. One Saturday, I move close to her, she tells me that she likes a boy now. I pretend I don’t care, but when I reach for her, she stiffens and pulls away. I cry alone in the dark, embarrassed by how sad it makes me.
A few weeks later, I go to summer camp and l week, we sing songs and hear about God’s love, but this is the big night: Decision Night, they call it. The night where we decide whether or not we will be good or bad, whether we are willing to accept this free gift of salvation that will make us pure and new.
I sit on the cement steps, making myself cry harder than necessary, looking around and praying that someone will notice me. A counselor sits down next to me. I tell her: I am bad, I lie, I cuss. I almost tell her about my friend, and how my body and heart betray me around girls, but I stop just short because she is already clasping my hands and telling me that while I am broken, Jesus will fix me with just a few words. I say them, the way I’ve said them since I was three years old. That night as I walk to my cabin, I assure myself that I am good again and that when I go home, I will be good forever.
4. I graduate from high school and decide that this is the summer I will get fit.
I go to a small gym with no air conditioning every day, using the treadmill or the elliptical machine for hours. By my second semester of college, I am eating 500 calories per day. I ditch my English class several times a week to go work out, and then hit the gym again with my mom each night. When the scale hits 89 lbs, I celebrate. My friends take me to frozen yogurt and casually mention that they’re a little concerned.
The most blunt of my friends sneers at me and says, “Cut the shit. You look like a bobblehead.” I feel lightheaded and sick all the time. I ignore it.
I get married to my high school boyfriend, and when I see my wedding photos, I sob because I no longer weigh 89 lbs and think I look hideous. My doctor forces me to attend rigorous outpatient therapy. I teach myself to cook healthily and start to feel better.
One day, my boyfriend-turned-husband screams at me for spending too much on food. He takes my debit card and says that he will decide how much to spend. He buys cheap food and I gorge myself nightly to drown out my misery, the complete opposite of how I’ve spent the months before. Every night, he tells me the same thing: I am fat, disgusting, an awful person, and I have no reason to be as sad and broken as I am.
When I see some friends a few weeks later, one remarks, “Gained some weight, huh?”
5. A few months later, I decide to slice myself open, in a hot bath, with wine and all the Vicodin I didn’t take after having a root canal.
As the tub fills, I slowly sip wine and neatly line up my razor blades. I am supposed to be alone for the day, and it will be my last one. Instead, he comes home early and storms through the bathroom door. He picks up the legal pad where I have simply written “I’m sorry” and throws it against the wall. “Oh fuck you!” he shouts, seeing what was going on. “You fucking deserve to die!” I decide to live. I leave and for the first time ever, I am alone.
6. I move into my own apartment, a dingy studio with room enough for me, my cat, and my books. I love it there. I meet a new boyfriend and ease into my new life. One night, I join two friends for a night out at the club. One of them has recently broken up with her boyfriend, and her gaze settles on a guy and I sit on the side of the dance floor, watching them touch and grind. I half-heartedly talk, wishing I was home. I still think about women every time we have sex. My friend rushes off the dance floor and says they are heading back to the guy’s house.
“Let me go with you,” I offer. “I want you to be safe.” In their dirty apartment, I sit on the couch while my friend and her date disappear into the bedroom. The guy’s friend brings me a beer but I doze off immediately. I wake up only because the sound of a condom being opened stirs me from where I am on my back on an unfamiliar dirty mattress. “What are you doing?” I ask him. “What the fuck is happening?” He laughs, pushes me down, wraps his hands around my neck while forcing himself into me. “No! I have a boyfriend,” I beg. “Please, I love him.”
“You better tell your boyfriend someone is about to fuck his girlfriend,” he chortles. Hours later, I find my underwear, ignore the blood between my legs, and run to my car. I stop at the 24-hour grocery store: bleach, razors, frozen pizza, ice cream, pasta, soap, body wash, vodka, Diet Coke. I fill my bathtub, pre-heat my oven, prepare a bowl of pasta, bake the pizza, make a Diet Coke and vodka, and shovel ice cream in my mouth in one fell swoop. I look down at my body, traces of blood emanating from my vagina. I scrub and shave every hair from my body.
My skin is red and raw and yet it still doesn’t feel like mine. I try to play the part of happy girlfriend in the weeks that follow, but when my boyfriend touches me, I recoil. I cry every time we have sex. When he tells me he is leaving me weeks later, I beg him to stay even though I am not surprised. I feel numb and broken and out of control all at once.
7. Three years later, my life is unrecognizable. I have a boyfriend, we share an apartment, a life.
I’ve put “the incident” behind me — or so I think. I am a teacher and while the first two years of teaching have been nearly unmanageable in terms of stress, I know it is where I am supposed to be and yet, I am hiding a secret. It starts with forgetting breakfast one morning and stopping to get a breakfast sandwich and a coffee. I am craving something sweet so I have them throw in a pastry as well. I do it again the next day.
The next day, it’s a stop at Burger King. Some days, I add a stop at Taco Bell on the way home. I ignore the late night text messages I see that my boyfriend is getting from other women, ignore the fact that he admitted to sleeping with two other girls early on in our relationship, ignore that when we have sex, my thoughts turn to the girls I’ve known before. I ignore my growing body, the way it hurts to move, and how exhausted I feel every day. I become an expert at ignoring.
8. I quit teaching at the school I’ve been miserable at for four years, and find a new one, and despite that happy occurrence, I spend my summer vacation in bed, crying and depressed.
My boyfriend proposes half-heartedly and while I think this will fix everything, we both realize it won’t. The first day at my new school, I meet a woman. It starts with texting and flirting and phone calls. Every time we talk, the chemistry is palpable. Nothing happens, but I want it to, so badly. Weeks later, things end with my boyfriend. We both cry. He asks me if she has anything to do with it. I say yes, unable to lie.
9. At first, it is perfect. I feel things at a level I never could have expected, happy and deeply in love.
We promise marriage, kids, a future, to touch one another the way we do in those early weeks, forever. And then it is over before it even began. I can’t do this, she says. She isn’t sure. Having never been so sure about a person in my entire life, I feel stupid and worthless. I am sadder than I have ever been, nearly swallowed whole by my sadness. I feel such shame that I am unable to handle this without one shred of dignity or grace. I start running again, mostly because I hate everything so much that doing something else I hate seems like a good choice.
Four days a week, I lace up my shoes and listen to music and try to focus on my breathing instead of my brokenness. When I cross the finish line of my first half marathon, it is nearly 100 degrees out, but I have done it. I’m still sad, but I am strong. I am still hiding a secret, but slowly, I begin to tell my friends the truth: I am gay.
I worry endlessly about my family, the people I’ve known my whole life, and my friends: what would everyone think if they knew? Two weeks later, I am out with my mom when she asks me the question I’ve been both dreading and praying for. “Are you gay?” she asks. I nod. I’m free.
10. Years later, I’ve gained some pounds back.
I am a wife to a woman who loves me wholly and perfectly. I haven’t consumed a meal in secret in forever. I am happy. My body is no longer just a vessel for pain—mine or that of others. I may not have the body I’ve been taught to believe is good, perfect, ideal. I will settle for knowing how much I have endured, for seeing my story inside of my body, for knowing how much my body has carried.
This is not a complete history, because some things are too much to speak of and too sacred to write down. But what I didn’t know until I sat down to write this brief history of my body, is that ultimately, I was writing a love story.