My fifth grade teacher, Ms. Stickman, sat us around the classroom in groups of four. Each time I had grown somewhat comfortable with my table companions she would uproot us, and I’d end up with three new classmates with whom I’d had little to no interaction. I realize now that she may have created these endlessly rotating seating charts to help kids, like me, who suffered from crippling social anxiety, but let me tell you that when I was eleven there was no way I was going to see these moves in any positive light. Especially after the time I was seated smack across from Elliot.
Elliot and I had never spoken, but I knew he was one of the more popular kids in the classroom. He was terrible at all things school, and he was one of those die-hard hockey players who bleached his hair at the end of every season for some reason that was unannounced to me. So, basically, we had absolutely nothing in common.
My hands trembled and my heart quickened in pace as I began the transition to my new desk. The thought of having to speak to three new people brought tears to my eyes, and there, as per usual, I began to count the days since I had gone to the nurse in order to be sent home. Unfortunately, the last time was only three days ago. I knew the nurse wouldn’t be fooled that easily, so I stacked my books neatly atop my desk and walked across the room to my new spot. The other two tablemates and Elliot were talking and giggling, so I took it upon myself to put my books in order in the cubby underneath my desk and make little to no noise. The last thing I wanted to do was interrupt. Once I was done putting my things away, I slid into my chair and smiled at them as they kept talking without so much as acknowledging me. Any other child might have felt left out, but I was so thankful to not be thrown into a new conversation.
After consulting with my college roommate, who went to school to become a teacher, I can almost positively confirm that Ms. Stickman had created her seating plan in order to make anxiety-ridden students like myself get to know their tablemates. She walked around passing out worksheets filled with questions like “What are the names of your tablemates?” and “What sports do they play?” Worthless questions to my fifth grade self; I knew their names and paid attention to all of the locker signs that had these answers already filled in. I knew that none of my tablemates knew who I was, but that was okay with me. Never had I expected them to know.
Elliot began working on the worksheet then looked up at me, puzzled, because he realized he didn’t know my name. The white, redheaded girl next to him piped in, introducing me and telling him that I was the only Hispanic student in our whole class, so he should know who I am. I had never thought that I looked very Hispanic, but I suppose being identified this way wasn’t the worst thing. It was better than the “mute girl” or “the quiet freak.” Feeling the need to add another attribute about myself I quietly told the table that I liked swimming.
We began filling in the worksheet together, and I was not having a terrible time doing so. There were two times when I even contributed to the conversation instead of just giggling at the jokes Elliot and the redheaded girl next to him were making. I couldn’t wait to get home and tell my mom about my new table, and the worksheet that I thought was going to be terrible but ended up being a blast.
I was snapped back into reality as Elliot burst my personal space bubble. My hands became extensively sweaty and my heart raced. Why was a boy was so close to me?
Is he going to kiss me? Is this how kissing works? I don’t even think he’s cute, but how do I back away kindly so I don’t offend him? My mom explicitly told me not to kiss boys until I’m at least college-aged.
My heart was beating so fast. I felt as though my chest was tightening and my lungs were being compressed. My worry that he was going to kiss me or do something gross was quickly trampled as he stopped inches away from my lips and just stared.
“Ew, girls aren’t supposed to have mustaches. It’s thicker than mine.”
I knew my mom would have to have a call with the principal again about my attendance, but in that moment I didn’t care that my last “sick” trip home had only been three days before, or that I had gone home sick more than ten days that year. I needed my mom. As the two white girls at their desks giggled I stumbled out of my chair and asked Ms. Stickman if I could go to the nurse’s office. There were tears welling in my eyes at this point, and the look on her face, accompanied by her willingness to let me go, told me that she had heard what Elliot said. She tried to comfort me, but I really did not want to be comforted by a beautiful, blonde-haired woman who, by the looks of her peach-fuzz upper lip, would never be able to relate.
The nurse greeted me in her office with a sheepish smile and handed me a blanket. She told me Ms. Stickman had called ahead and informed her I was not feeling well. I confirmed, saying that my stomach hurt and that I felt hot, which, to be fair, wasn’t a lie at all. The stomach pain was just from the gut-wrenching feeling of humiliation, and me being hot was not from a fever, but rather from the embarrassment that burnt my cheeks a bright red.
My mom picked me up a few minutes after, and before I could even get my seat belt buckled I began violently crying into her chest. Ms. Stickman must’ve called, because my mom immediately told me that everyone had hair covering their whole body. I secretly wiped my nose on her sweater, to spite her for trying to act like what happened to me was something everyone experiences. She kept telling me that it was normal and I would be fine, but I had already gotten my eyebrows waxed after I learned I was the only one with hair growing in between my eyebrows. I wanted my upper lip waxed, too.
Reluctantly, she drove me to Walgreens, where we bought a waxing kit. My dad and brother were home by the time we arrived, and I refused to look them in the eyes. I ran straight to the basement bathroom and waited for my mom to come meet me. After making sure the door was closed tight and locked—there was no way I was letting my dad or brother know about this secret hair removal—my mom put the warm, sticky wax on my lip and ripped. It hurt like hell, but all I felt was relief. I looked in the mirror when all was said and done. While my skin was a violent shade of angry red, there was absolutely no hair left. I knew from my eyebrow waxing that the red would go away, and I’d be a beautiful, hairless fifth grader like everyone else in no time.
Since then I’ve grown quite a bit in the self-confidence department, and I even make jokes about how the hair above my lip comes in the same color as the hair on my head. Plus, I’ve learned that cussing people out privately is an incredibly satisfying way to get over things. With that being said…Fuck you, Elliot.