Authors: Erica S. Perl
’m sure you don’t know me.
But you’ve probably seen me around.
I’m that fat girl. You know, the one who dresses funny. The one who wears those ridiculous poufy skirts from the fifties that look like she hacked off the top of an old prom dress (because actually, I did). The one who wears them with the vintage guayabera shirts and the men’s bowling shoes and the cat’s-eye sunglasses and the whole nine yards. The one who always wears her hair in two stumpy pigtails and cuts her own bangs because it doesn’t look good anyway, so why bother?
Maybe you’ve made fun of her. I mean, me.
If not, I’m sure you’ve thought about it.
If you haven’t, then I guess you probably haven’t seen me around after all.
Don’t feel bad.
I’m used to it by now.
Have you ever played that game “I Never”? It’s where you sit in a circle and one kid says “I never …,” and every kid who has done it has to stand up.
Do you see where this is going?
Yeah? Well, I didn’t.
Then again, I was ten at the time.
Anyway, I was over at this girl’s house—for a party, I think, one of those invite-the-whole-class numbers. And someone started the game, so everyone had to play.
At first it was funny. “I never slept in a tent.” “I never threw up.” Then Shawn McKinney said, “I never wore a bra” and all the girls that did had to stand up while the boys laughed and laughed.
Now, I was one of those chubby girls who was saddled with a bra at about the same time I learned to ride a bike. But for once I almost didn’t mind, because some of the pretty girls had to stand up, too. It was almost like we were all in a club together for a minute there.
But there was this one pretty girl, Spencer Royce, who must have hated having me standing up there with her. She glared at me and went next. “I never ate an entire box of Thin Mints all at once.” She knew because she had seen me do it. We had been in the same Brownie troop.
At first I didn’t stand up. I looked away, hoping someone else would jump up and her turn would pass.
But before I knew it, Spencer and her friends had grabbed me by the arms and dragged me onto my feet. Then they plunked themselves down and fell into each other’s laps, laughing their heads off.
I stood there, blinking back dumb, fat tears, thinking
playing with girls ever again
playing with boys ever again
wearing this stupid bra ever again
trusting anyone ever again
And until this summer, except for the bra part, I never have.
But this summer—well, this summer changed everything.
riday is seventy-five-cents day at Dollar-a-Pound. Today is Friday, so when I get to the store a few minutes after nine, the line of Pickers is around the block. To make matters worse, it’s one of those steamy July days that start out hot and miserable and clearly intend to get hotter and miserabler by the minute.
“Crap,” I say, stopping in my tracks at the sight of the line and wiping the sweat from my brow.
Why I come to work on Fridays is beyond me.
The Pickers are the Dollar-a-Pound regulars. They show up extra early, grumbling and jockeying for position, each and every Friday morning to await the doors opening at the largest vintage clothing store in the Northeast:
THE CLOTHING BONANZA
HOME OF THE ORIGINAL DOLLAR-A-POUND!
), otherwise known as
THE STORE CAUGHT IN A TIME WARP
!, according to the big neon-pink and black sandwich board sign out front. Whoever made the store signs a million years ago was a big fan of exclamation marks.
Dollar-a-Pound takes up the entire first floor of the store. It is exactly like it sounds: a huge, towering heap of used clothes (known to those of us who work at the store simply as The Pile), spilling like a giant stain over most of the painted wood floor.
This hippie guy named Bill runs Dollar-a-Pound. He claims that the Friday discount draws the most aggressive Pickers. He also says that sometimes he has to break up Pile fights. Apparently, what happens is that overeager Pickers claim opposite ends of the same thing—usually something long, like a pair of overalls. Then it’s like some dumb cartoon: they discover they’re connected and start scrapping and yelling. Elbows swinging, feet flailing, lots of shuffling, and the inevitable sound of fabric ripping.
Bill keeps a bottle of seltzer under the counter at all times. Once I asked him if he had it to spray on Pile fights, like I saw my neighbor do with regular water when his dog got into a fight.
“Nah, man,” he said, deadpan. “I just like seltzer.”
I stand there, confronting the line and suppressing the tidal-wave urge to run in the opposite direction.
I don’t do crowds.
Too much potential for anonymous heckling. I mean, look at me. My unruly hair, bunched into two lopsided pigtails. My
cat’s-eye sunglasses and, of course, my clothes. Today I’m wearing my second-favorite skirt, which is a white 1950s circle style with bright red appliquéd slices of cherry pie on the pockets and a hemline border of cherries playing tag. On top, I’m wearing one of my many bowling shirts, which has the words
stitched in cursive on the back.
And if my ensemble isn’t enough to bring out the guffaws of the masses, there’s always my size. Big girls like me know it’s never a good idea to have a bunch of people standing behind you. This past school year, my freshman year, brought this point home more than ever.
To state the obvious: high school is a lousy place to be a fat girl. Of course, the good news is, if you ARE a fat girl, you’re not really risking much socially to become The Fat Girl Who Dresses Weird. So once the eye-rolling subsided, my freshman year was basically defined by my being almost universally ignored.
As the crowd of Pickers rumbles restlessly, I turn slowly on the heels of my shoes. The tulle layers of the big bubble-gum-pink vintage crinoline I’m wearing under my cherry pie skirt whisper uneasily to each other.
I smooth my crinoline absently, distracted by a different siren song. It is the sultry voice of an iced mocha smoothie and it comes from the Mookie’s Donut Shop, next door to The Clothing Bonanza.
Veronicaaaa! Come get me! It’s soooo hot outside, and I’m soooo cold and refreshing!
The donuts chime in, too, harmonizing.
Us, too! Don’t forget about us!
They’re those chocolate-glazed ones, I can tell.
Of course, I also hear another voice. My mother, chiding,
One moment on the lips, Veronica!
I smile to myself, imagining her here right now, witnessing my premeditated act of debauched gluttony
(Donuts? AND a milkshake? At nine in the morning???)
. My mother, the dance diva, the plié princess, the prima pain-in-the-ass-a. It’s a good thing she thinks my summer job is halfway across town, at some animal shelter run by one of her former dance students. I picture her barricading the door to Mookie’s Donuts with her skinny little spandex-clad body, having a cow and a half over my inability to live by her beloved Weight Watchers point system.
In my mind, I swing the door open, knocking her out of the way.
Sorry, lady. Some days, you just need a donut