In first grade they made me see the guidance counselor every week. They made me miss math even though it was my favorite, because sitting on a too-stiff couch playing her board games was supposed to stop me be the girl that collected lady bugs at recess and kept them in Easter eggs and called them friends.
I didn’t understand why I wasn’t allowed to be that girl.
They told me I was gifted and I didn’t know what that meant. I was six. I didn’t know that I was spatially-reasoning my way out of the box of normalcy or that I had more words than I was supposed to. So I worked on my blue-grey posters about elephants and played the strategy games they kept on a shelf in that corner of that classroom. And I got so good that not even the teacher would play with me.
I didn’t know that “gifted” was their way of saying that the other kids didn’t understand me. That I was a little too sensitive, a little too quiet, a little too different. A little too alone.
Then I became someone else. The dance teachers called me princess pumpkin so often I forgot my own name. But it wasn’t a problem because the girls that sat on plastic stools across white lunch tables gave me new names, but at some point along the way they forgot to tell me them. So they talked and they laughed, and I laughed to fit in.
I didn’t know I was laughing at myself until they threw rocks at me during gym class.
I fell for a boy who didn’t want me. I was fourteen and was a little caught up in the words of Shakespeare, but I was a little too different and a little too sensitive to know any better. And when I figured it out, I chose the boy that told me he got lost in my eyes, and I danced along on his clichés until I was at that apartment and he locked the bedroom door even though I told him not to. I was sixteen.
I didn’t know the difference between lust and love until it was too late.
I was the ladybug girl that knew she wasn’t supposed to be alone and knew she must have done something wrong and she became so busy eating away at what she needed to fix to “care and keep friends” that she forgot how to be hungry. And it was twelve days of coke zero and half slices of cheddar cheese before she realized that even though her clothes hung loose, she didn’t fit in her skin.
I didn’t know who I was. Between the cold hands and dizzy eyes, I became she.
Then a boy picked me up and dusted off my shoulders. He gave me back my “I,” and told me I would never have to be alone. And all my life they told me this is what I was supposed to want so I clung on for twenty-seven months. Twenty-seven months of ignoring what hurt and forgiving what didn’t come. I gave pieces of myself I will never get back because I thought it would keep him around, because they told me I was supposed to do whatever it took to keep someone next to me.
These are the things they told me not to write about. About the ladybug girl that was damaged goods that needed to be fixed. About the regrets that happened when I let a boy talk me into walking into his bedroom because I thought he loved me. About the pounds that washed away and the fingernails that stopped growing when I tried to erase my stretch marks because I was convinced they were warning signs. About the boy I loved for too long past our expiration date because I was told together was better than alone. They told me not to be alone. And they were wrong. These are the things they told me not to write about, so these are the things I must write about.