You probably don’t remember me, but I remember you. I remember, on the first day of my junior year, passing you in the science hallway of our suburban high school. It was 2010 and I was late to class. I guess you were, too. We weren’t that different, you and I. Just two mindless teenagers rushing to first period after the last bell rang. But you, outnumbering me next to one of your friends, couldn’t let me get there fast enough. You slowed me down with those four short, mumbled words of yours.
“That girl was fat,” you said.
I was barely a foot away when you spewed that comment to your friend. You probably thought I didn’t hear it, but I did. My face grew hot and my pace fell slower, as I turned the corner away from you forever. I guess you didn’t know how embarrassed I used to be about the stretch marks on my thighs. Or that I was dreading prom that year because it meant trying on dresses that didn’t fit. You didn’t know. I suppose I can’t really blame you for that. Sixteen-year-olds don’t exactly write their insecurities on their foreheads. If they’re anything like I was, they laugh and joke and pretend they’re not cringing inside. That’s the cruel thing about being a teenager – even with all the air in the world, you can still suffocate.
I want you to know that when I found the perfect prom dress that spring, I still heard your voice when I looked in the mirror. I want you to know that I had friends who loathed the length of their legs, the curls in their hair, the size of their breasts. I even had guy friends who were ashamed about their lack of muscle or their ability to flirt with girls. I guess I want you to know these things because I’m tired of the critics. I’m tired of hearing how a teenage girl stopped eating because a classmate called her chubby or how a boy gets made fun of because he’s not athletic enough to play a sport. I want you to know that a simple sentence, even one as short as four words, can truly take a bite of confidence out a person. A bite that can take years to grow back.
You should know that I am a 21-year-old woman now, with curvy hips and long eyelashes and a sense of humor that can make my friends laugh until they cry. That there are boys who pay attention to me, who kiss my skin and call me beautiful. That I’ve traveled all across Europe and my professors think I can flourish as a writer. I’ve come a long way since hearing your awful words near a classroom full of beakers and test tubes. I’m not sixteen anymore and neither are you.
I don’t know where you are these days. I don’t even know your name or remember the complexities of your face. But I remember what you said. I remember how I rushed to band class and didn’t tell my friends a word about it. I remember letting you ruin my day and too many days thereafter.
Wherever you are, I forgive you, even if you wouldn’t apologize. I forgive you because I might not be the woman I am today if you hadn’t put me down. I wouldn’t have pushed myself every single day to be a better person. Maybe if you weren’t so thickheaded that day, you’d know what kind of person that is: a writer, a traveler, a coffee addict. A lover of dogs and Indie music and the color purple. So much more than the person you thought you saw that day.