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.