The ugly 8th grader

I spent a lot of time last night reading Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face. This is Grealy’s memoir of her life living with her face which was disfigured by a cancer that caused doctors to remove half of her jaw. The jaw removal happened when Grealy was like 10 or 11, she spent her junior high years with a face she felt was ugly. This made her the target of junior high boys.

In one passage she wrote:
“At school the taunts were becoming only harder to take. Somehow I had reasons that if a bad thing happened often enough it would get easier. It worked with pain, so why wasn’t it working with teasing? Every time I was teased, which usually happened several times a day, it seemed incrementally more painful. I was good at not listening, at pretending I hadn’t heard, but I could sense myself changing, becoming more fearful. Before I’d been an outgoing person, and in the right circumstances I still was, but now meeting new people was laced with dread. Except for that one time I went to my guidance counselor to complain, I discussed this with no one. Besides, I reasoned, what could I do about it? I was ugly, so people were going to make fun of me: I thought it was their right to do simply because I was so ugly, so I’d just better get used to it. But I couldn’t. No matter how much I braced myself, the words stung every time they were thrown at me. It didn’t seem to matter that I was doing everything I could to know the truth, to own the fact that I was ugly, to make sure I was prepared for it, to be told nothing I didn’t already know.”

I read that paragraph last night and I gasped. Then I started to cry, which turned into sobs, which turned into me lying wide awake in my bed at four in the morning, aching for Lucy Grealy and 8th grade me.

She’s so right. I was there. I was the 6’2″ fat ugly girl of Roosevelt Junior High. I tired to avoid those boys, those boys who would call me Go-Go the Gorilla. I tried to ignore them as they jumped on my back and said mean things. But it’s hard to ignore the tears stinging your eyes and the burning embarrassment that turns your face bright red.

The most painful part of living through junior high where you are taunted for being a biological freak of nature is that those kinds of scars never, ever heal. I don’t even know if they can. I mean here I am, some 19 years later and the thought of Justin Dupont, Mike LaRoche, and that stupid Sean kid whose last name I can’t remember and who I refuse to look up can still make cry. Just big rolling, salty tears. I’m crying over wounds that are nearly 20 years old.

It makes me sad that though I’ve done all those things the 8th grade me never thought I’d do (kiss a boy, have sex, go to college, have great friends) I still feel like the ugly girl who deserves to be made fun of just because she’s ugly. I am STILL filled with dread at meeting new people because I’m afraid they won’t like me because I’m so ugly.

What makes me the saddest is that Lucy Grealy died of an overdose in 2002 and I haven’t finished the book, so I don’t know if she ever gets over it. I sure as hell hope she does, because the thought that I’ll always be an ugly 8th grader is just more than I can bear.

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5 Comments

  1. Calli 24.Oct.04 at 12:18 am

    You were stronger than I was. For me, the teasing got so bad and the fear of embarassment and humiliation got so large that I broke down. I literally retreated from my life and that is a mistake that I am still paying for to this day.

    I’m still struggling when it comes to finding some kind of personal success. I finally managed to complete something I started (graduated from a two-year tech school at 32), and I’ve found someone who loves me. I have some very good friends.

    Yet, here I am, at 34, trying to find a job and living in fear of being called in for an interview. Who will want to hire me when they see I’m fat? In spite of the fact that I’m intelligetn, witty, loved, etc, etc… I still can’t shake the idea that people will take one look at me and think, “worthless, lazy, unacceptable.”

    Some days I don’t know what’s worse, though – The pain of being teased or the way I allowed it to derail me for all of the years following. I tell myself I was just a kid, but I haven’t totally forgiven myself for it.

    Reply
  2. Damon 24.Oct.04 at 3:58 pm

    I couldn’t decide if I should emapathize, deny and persuade or share my experiences. So, instead, I’ll do all three.

    While I didn’t end up getting singled out by the collective teenage population of my school for the way I looked (I was over average in terms of weight and height, but not unusually so) I instead was usually singled out for being the smarty pants.

    A bit of an overview which I think will help explain some of the situations later on. In our district, elementary school was K-6, the middle school (which was attached to my elementary school) was 7-8 and the high school (on the other side of town) was 9-12.

    I was moved a year ahead in science and in math in 6th grade. It worked out well in the beginning, since I was always grouped in the “honors” classes. Being the honors classes, I was usually around kids which were also the “smarty pants” in their class. Most of the kids in my science courses were also in my math courses, so after a few months I had adjusted pretty well to being in a class above, made friends, etc.

    But when 8th grade came around, the classes I needed to take were over at the high school. Because of bussing, I ended up taking the first two hours over at the high school, hop on an elementary bus over to the junior high arriving just in the middle of second hour, then finishing out the rest of the day over at the junior high. Right away scheduling became a problem, since the two honors courses were not offered in the first two hours of the morning over at the high school. This meant that I was forced into non-honors courses.

    This is where the fun began. Because of scheduling I had to take a normal biology class instead of the honors biology. “Honors” in 9th grade science meant you took biology a year early to begin with – normally you’d have another year of general science before branching off into specializations during your 10th (Biology), 11th (Chemistry) and 12th (Physics) years. What did this mean to me? Meant that here I was, an 8th grader, being put into a mainstream 10th grade/remedial 11th grade biology course.

    Not only was I not in with my own grade, but there was no one in the class whom I knew from any of my other accelerated classes. And as luck would have it, biology was mostly a lab course dealing with fetal pigs, which meant that we’d have to get together in small groups and work together. The professor was already a bit upset over having to teach to an 8th grader, so I didn’t get any help from him…instead I was on my own. I ended up hooking up with the three kids who would best be described as “slackers” – most of their discussions were filled with how drunk they had gotten the weekend before. I think mostly took me on since they figured I’d just do all their homework for them or something. I muddled through that course for the year, barely passing with a C-.

    Somewhere along the line I ended up doing two math courses in one year, which then bumped me up again into an even higher realm of scheduling conflicts.

    I was so relieved when, in 11th grade, I could finally escape high school and go take courses over at the University of Minnesota. The first few classes I took went just fine – but when, in 12th grade, I started taking day classes instead of night/extension courses I met with the exact same resistance I did in high school. No one wanted a partner who was still in high school – and you couldn’t hide it, since there was just no way I could pretend to be in college when they’d want to meet to do group work the same time I had to be back at high school to work on yearbook or attend some gathering. Never mind the fact that I was a “young” 12th grader, meaning I didn’t turn 18 until after I graduated. What a mess.

    Things didn’t even end when I got out of high school – I skipped college and hopped right into the professional IT space. I continued to be met with scorn by shallow people who felt I was some kind of whiz kid who didn’t belong. I ended up having to leave the company I spent my first 7.5 years professionally, just to get paid what I deserved and lose the “whiz kid” label. Ugh!

    You’re right when you say these things never heal, never leave you. There are times I see myself slipping into old methods of blending in – pretending I don’t understand something, not speaking up when I see something which my experience tells me is wrong, etc. Even at a balding, much older than 28 looking state, I still get people who confuse my intelligence and desire to share my experiences as trying to show them up. It’s incredibly frustrating and I hate feeling like I need to dumb myself down in order to fit in.

    Now that you can see my struggle, believe me when I say you’re not ugly. You never were. You weren’t back in 8th grade, you aren’t now. I haven’t yet seen you in real life (I hope it isn’t ’cause you’re afraid) but I have seen such tremendous beauty in you through our conversations and your writing. You’re not supposed to fit in. You weren’t supposed to back in 8th grade. The people that fit in were boring. They still are today. I’d bet you’ve accomplished much more in your life than they have by many measures…and if nothing else, I highly doubt they have hundreds of readers a day peering at their web blogs.

    Don’t let yourself be defined and constrained by what lay in the past – your future is an unwritten book. And I’m fairly certain the plot of your book still has many twists and turned before it reaches its climax – I see all kinds of potential bottled up inside of you, just waiting to come out.

    Reply
  3. Crazed 29.Oct.04 at 10:50 am

    Nevermind beauty, you’re strong and brave. Not many would dare to share such vulnerability. I bet you’re tough too, let’s hunt down those mean boys and kick some butt. I’ll help.

    Reply
  4. Levon carswell 02.Jan.05 at 10:26 pm

    i know how you fell ugly people taunting you saying bad things about you. its something i have to deal with on a daily basis. and i am a boy.i am just a washed up looser who has lost it the only girl who truely loves me is in fairbanks,alaskaand who knows if i will ever see her again. ugly people do’nt have no place in the world.Jehovaha does’nt listen to prayers of ugly childreen.we are just here to be picked on.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous 31.Jan.05 at 5:18 pm

    I can relate to you. At school I am called ugly on a daily basis and i am tired of it. But think to yourself i like the way i am and god likes the way i am

    Reply

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