Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Fear Factor

Ever since junior high, when I began to get a feel for the ground rules of teenage social mores, I have had a single, overriding fear in life: of being humiliated for allowing myself to feel anything.

As an illustration, consider the disastrous dance I attended in seventh grade, where the well-intentioned man who would be my math and reading teacher the following year basically grabbed a microphone and badgered guys to dance with me- it was mortifying, being bid out to the popular boys on the football team as what most people perceived as a joke. Looking back, it was something like the bucket-of-blood scene out of "Carrie"...I'm not a horror movie buff, but I identified with that moment a little too closely. Because I had been held up for similar ridicule, I understood how she felt- I just didn't have a way of expressing it. I guess it's a good thing for everybody that I don't have the power of pyrokinesis, eh? The following year, when a boy did actually like me and ask me to dance of his own volition, the same teacher came out on the dance floor and conversed with us through a couple of furtive attempts at slow dances. Naturally, it scared the boy away.

It set a tone that persists even today, so long after the fact. Funny what we imprint on that stays with us all our lives, because I'd rather die than be embarrassed like that again.

What I mean is this: I learned way back then is that it's considered comical for a "brainy girl", especially one who has a weight problem like mine, to be interested in anyone. It doesn't matter if that person is another "brainy" kid, a star athlete, another band nerd, or a simple country guy whose main interest is repairing tractors, it's funny for some reason- to everyone, that is, but me. When I figured it out, I also registered that I was expected to remain emotionally blank in all aspects of my life, a perfect little grade-making robot who wasn't supposed to feel anything.

I channelled it all into band and dance, because I had no other outlets; overstepping those boundaries would result in censure. I would be thought a fool, because everyone knows that fat, smart girls have no feelings...or none about which anyone wants to know.

So here I am, revisiting that dark territory, having never completely escaped its snares. I'm still waiting for the moment in which I might be allowed to feel something without a devastating backwash of burning humiliation, but I may be dead of old age long before it arrives.

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