Amanda* (not her real name) slumped lower in the seat in front of me. Her hair was long, brown and wavy and her skin ivory white. She stared out the window and tried her best to ignore them.
The bus smelled like the gym locker room and I hated every minute of the ride. I wished that I was a trust fund baby so my parents would buy me a car and I’d never again have to listen to Dumb and Dumber* (Not their real names; but it should be.)
The U2 “War” cassette had just finished on my walkman, putting the comments from the two bullies into sharper focus.
“Hey, fat girl! Why are you so fat? You f***ing loser. F***ing pig.” His brother started making oinking noises and they gave each other high fives.
The bus driver said nothing. She was a skinny woman in her 40’s with thick glasses and stringy brown hair. Why didn’t she stop this? She looked in the wide rectangular mirror above her head and scowled at the situation. But she didn’t intervene. Maybe because we were in high school.
Amanda’s arms were crossed over her large chest. Her shirt was too tight against her arms. The faint reflection of her blue eyes in the window looked so sad to me.
Dumber was still oinking like the pig of a person he was. “Hey, fat girl! Look at me fat girl! You f***ing fat b**ch, you- ”
“Will you two just shut up?” I said slowly, surprised by the loudness and anger of my own voice.
Everyone stopped and looked at me. I never spoke on the bus. I just listened to my walkman or did homework. I heard Amanda exhale. The bus driver said nothing, but she smiled at me in the mirror.
Then the twins turned their wrath on me. “Brainy act! F***ing brainy act! Who do you think you are?” I put my headphones back on, only I didn’t press play because I was wondering what they would say about me. They were very unoriginal. They commented on my glasses and good grades. They could not think of a farm animal that wore glasses, so I was not serenaded with barn sounds, thank God. But they kept it up and made the bus ride hell for me for about a month. I was not inclined to stand up for myself, just other people, so I just looked out the window and wished for a car.
About a week later I was taking a walk around my neighborhood and ran into Amanda. “Thanks for sticking up for me,” she said with a shy smile.
“No worries. They’re just jerks,” I said. But a part of me wished that I said nothing, because now all their verbal barbs were directed at me. And then the next thing she said shocked me.
“I was molested when I was seven. That’s when I started gaining the weight. My therapist says that it’s normal for me to do that. She said I’m hiding behind my weight so no one will look at me. She said it’s ok for me to do that right now.”
That stuck with me forever. So many assumptions are made about fat people. You’re lazy, weak-willed, someone to be mocked. But like just about everything else, it’s more complicated than that. If those twins knew what she had gone through, what it was like to be overpowered by an older man as a child, how she longed to make herself invisible to ward off that attention in the future, would they have bullied her still? If they were to walk a mile in her shoes how might they have reacted? Or is it too much to wonder if two 15 year old bullies contained an ounce of empathy or compassion inside them?
I keep Amanda in mind when I’m inclined to say something about someone I shouldn’t.
I don’t always do the right thing. Or the courageous thing. But that day on the school bus I did, and it is the proudest moment of my life.
Sheslosingit.net (c) 2012 Lisa Traugott. All rights reserved. No portion of this blog, including any text, photographs, and artwork, may be reproduced or copied without written permission.