Let’s say it’s Redwood City, California, in the year 2000. It’s just barely summer, May or June. I just got out of middle school, but maybe not, maybe I have a year left, and I failed my math course for the year, so I have to retake it over the summer at a Stanford outreach programme for fuck ups and idiots. If I can pass I’ll be ahead a bit next year, but without it I’ll just be the same, always a bit behind with the counting. I have to take a yellow bus where boys torment me for being ugly. I try to suggest a new name, I don’t like people saying my real name out loud. I tell people to call me DC, and the boys on the bus start calling me Donkey Kong. I tell them that Donkey Kong uses the letters “D” and “K” but nobody listens to me. It just makes Donkey Kong stick harder, if I argue or think. My fat is sinking out beneath my shirt and hanging over my pants – my mom keeps buying me smaller pants like if she buys them I will just have to learn to fit them. Like we could just will the fat away by ignoring it. She buys me junior clothes, my titties are rolling out of the top of my shirts and bras like muffins.
“Doggy!” my mom says to me when I get out of my room for breakfast. “What are you EATING?” She looks at my boobs, and my gut, the sag. She sounds so accusatory, like I got fat and grew myself titties just to be confrontational or ho-out or something. My mom calls me Doggy, like a nickname, because she says I’m so loyal.
“I told you I’m not a size 4.” I’m a size 8. Thinking back now, that was small. But my body was all soft and rolls. I got bigger, though. I get bigger.
“You need to take care of yourself,” she says. “I’m not buying you more clothes until you start fitting the ones I bought.”
I go back to the room, look through the things my mom got me at Forever 21. My mom has a way of buying oddly sexual slutty clothes with too much glitter, hoping for me to come into my own, to achieve sexy somehow. I have a flesh-coloured v-neck tank top, some skinny pink jeans, some t-shirts with cute girls on them I don’t look like, some lacy shit I can’t fit, all sorts of halter tops. Summer is in my wardrobe but won’t fit on me. I shove myself into something stupid I picked out, a black halter top with giant white polka dots, and short shorts with cherry designs on the bottom. My ass hangs out. My tummy is poking down with its stretch marks ready to pop out too. I’m scared but I also really want to show my mom I could fit into the clothes.
“I guess that works,” she says, looking me over. I eat something, I forget now. Sugary cereal or leftover pupusas or a tv dinner or something, who knows.
On the bus the boys have a field day, I’m a fat girl in tiny clothes. I’m a chubby girl trying to work it. It doesn’t help my mom put in pigtail braids today. Amidst the half hour of boys feigning barfing noises, pretending I farted, asking me if in Mexico they have land whales, and asking me when I was due, this one white girl, probably fat as me, maybe, anyway she’s thick, she stands up and tells one of the assholes she’ll punch him if he doesn’t shut the fuck up. The boy, blonde and pig-faced, turns to his buddies and laughs and tells her to take her stinky pussy back to the trailer she came from. And the girl lifts up her foot and stomps down on his nuts. She even grinds her foot down.
Girl looks back at me, like I’m stupid or I didn’t just see what happened. She tells me her name is Jessica.
See, Jessica and I became sort of friends that summer. It turned out she lived right behind my building, and I learned I had things better than I thought. Jessica’s mom was an addict of some kind, and they lived in a very stinky studio full of smoke and three cats. My parents lived in a town house, and I had a big bedroom upstairs and a big bed I covered with dolls. It wasn’t as nice as the last place we lived, a penthouse my mom got for being a manager of a building. It had three rooms and we had a pool, a big lovely pool I swam in every day. But our house now, it was kinda sad and smelled like old cooking all the time. People robbed us twice and my sister killed stray cats in our garage. The place was bad, I thought, but at least I wasn’t Jessica.
But Jessica had it going on. Her mom bought her cigarettes. Jessica had a boyfriend who was 23 who let her date other boys her age if she wanted. Maybe she was making him up. He had a car. His name was Tony. He liked to race cars or he was a trucker. He was some kind of car enthusiast. She said she had sex all the time, and she scooped pools of sweat off his back when they were fucking. Sounded gross to me, but Jessica said it was all right. She talked about her period, about stealing money, cigarettes, needing a drink. She would say that a lot even though we never drank together, she would say that after something hard or boring, “I need a drink!” and look at me like I knew what she was talking about.
“Girl,” I wanted to tell her, “I still play with Fisher-Price dolls.”
And she said that to me after she stomped on that kid’s nuts, “Man,” she said, “I need a drink.” And she sat back down like she didn’t know what that boy was quaking about.
I thought what it must feel like to stomp on someone’s nuts. I thought about coming to America. I thought about freedom. I thought about my dad’s war stories from El Salvador. I thought about doing it myself. It must feel very exciting. It must make you want a “drink.”
Jessica egged me on too. She sat next to me in that stupid math rehab programme, in a room full of cholos, whitetrash, black kids of every manner wishing they were dead instead of there. And this skinny white guy leading the class, a guy who looked like he was 20 and demanded we call him “Sir” and “Mister.” He was the teacher, and Jessica pointed out his flaws to me. She taught me how to judge people, and I liked it.
“Look at him,” she told me when he turned around to write something on the board, “He has a wedgie. Watch him try and pick it out.”
I laughed and tried to help her laugh at him, tried to think of something good. The room was so big, there were so many of us, and just one of him. This was a lecture, my first lecture class. “I bet that dude goes home and has to sniff his own farts he’s so bored.”
Jessica laughed real hard, like I was being funny. “DUDE” she said, rolling the word around in her mouth. “Do you know how angry that DUDE would be if you called him DUDE?”
“No,” I said, “I’m not going to do that.”
Jessica was not satisfied. She repeated her request, demanding I help her, demanding I say it. Say it. Say it. “Everyone will love you,” she said. “Even those stupid boys, everyone.”
I refused, and then she suggested. “I know you like that cute blonde boy in the corner. I saw you looking at him. I know your type. His name is Conner. He looks like a girl. I’ll get him to take you on a date. If you say it.”
“Get out,” he said, “get out now and go home. And don’t come back.”
It was swiftness I never expected, but somehow my punishments always came like this – unreasonably quick, and harsh. Like my mother’s shoe flying at my face as I tried to slam a door.
And he called my parents and I got one of many unconscionable asswhoppings, and Jessica asked that random blonde twink on a date – a date with her.
I thought it would hurt more, but when I thought about Connor and his bubble-blue eyes, it was the same to me as if you had told me one of the Backstreet Boys just got a girlfriend. I mean, what did you expect? Jessica came over to tell me about it. “The class sucks without you,” she told me. “If it weren’t for Conner I wouldn’t even go.” She reached for my hand and held it. We were in my backyard and my pitbull was running around like a crazy bastard; probably he heard a cat on the other side of the fence. “I don’t even like him,” she said, “and you don’t either.”
I asked her about the bet, the promise she had made of somehow magically assuring me a date. “He said he wasn’t interested,” she said. “So I asked him out instead.” I started to cry a bit, and Jessica said, “Why you crying over that guy? He’s terrible.” She opened the backyard gate for me and held my dog back with her foot. “Come on,” she said. “You don’t want to miss out on those Boo Bomb tickets do you?” She was right. We were gonna go to Jessica’s place with her boombox and listen until they played some song by Ice Cube. Then we’d try to call in and be caller number 9, so we could win tickets to this rap concert, the Boo Bomb. They never even played the song, but we sat on her couch all day drinking ice tea. A long time to sit around wondering about Jessica’s date with Connor.
Who knows what the date involved, if there was really a date, I didn’t understand. A date to what? A movie? It was true though, I did in fact see them kissing once though I can’t remember where. She told me she had sex with him, and my stomach sank with the fat it was attached to. Summer was almost gone and I hadn’t done anything fun, not like Jessica, who had sex and mixed drinks and smoked cigarettes and baked with pot and went on joy rides. Her mother was negligent, creatively and wonderfully so. My parents were overbearing, frightening, deafening, abusive. My only other sister was dead, but that was a long time ago. An accident. They listened in on my phone calls, claimed to be filming me with tiny cameras trapped in the walls and under my bed and in the bathroom. Then you felt like somebody was sucking the life out of you, one day at a time. I spent so many days like that, where the last thing I remembered was the sun setting through a window. Jessica understood, she had ways of getting me out, here and there.
Let’s just go to the 7-11, she’d suggest. Then we can go swimming. And it’s true, my mom didn’t see a problem with the 7-11, or going to the local pool with Jessica’s mom, who would never be there. That and, my parents worked all day, so without the Stanford math rehab programme, I had my days all to myself. Jessica and I would walk over to the 7-11 and buy two bags of Cheetos – one bag cheesy, one bag flamin’ hots. The cheesy was mine, the flamin’ hots were hers, and we both despised each other’s flavours. And yet, we found a great game to play. We’d go to the local graveyard, and sit there, with Jessica’s boom box blasting 94.9, Your Local Non-stop Hip-hop!, and pour a handful of each other’s Cheetos into the other’s bag. We’d shake the bags and try to mix in the opposite Cheetos as thoroughly as possible. Then we’d turn on the music and try to forget what we were eating, so that we could be surprised and randomly get the “yucky” Cheetos netiher of us liked. I’d have a tall Arizona ice tea to wash out the taste when it came, and yet I got really excited for it to happen. It was gross and fun at the same time. She’d make a big show of spitting out the cheesy flavoured Cheetos when they came, or look like she was choking, or talk about the overpowering cheesiness. But then, week after week, she’d continue to suggest the game. Juvenile and Dr. Dre told us to shake our asses and to not forget them, and we listened and chewed, like happy ghetto-ass cows gone to pasture.
Jessica got me in trouble, lots of trouble for such minor things. We were jumping around my room naked at a sleepover at my house and my mom, of course, woke up and walked in, and sent her home immediately. I got some kind of ass-whooping, I was forced to stay in the bathroom for a night after I told them I would report them if they hit me, and they said they’d break the bathroom door if I said another word, and I said, come and murder me then, murder me like you murdered my sister, and they said they’d just wait for me to come out, and then they’d kill me. And I had a kitchen knife and a phone in the bathroom, and I called Jessica at 2 in the morning, and I told her I was crying and afraid, and she said, “I’ll come and kill them for you, I got my mom’s gun, and I know how to use it.”
You know things got scrambled around in my head, I didn’t want to go to prison, I didn’t want to go to a foster home where my mom told me old fat white men would rape me until I bled out of my vagina and died. I just hung up on Jessica and fell asleep in the bathtub wrapped up in towels after having eaten toothpaste and a safe-stash of Cheetos for dinner. Sure, I thought, they’re waiting to kill me. But they can’t shit till they follow through.
Rumpus original art by Rachael Schafer.
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