I started 1st grade in 1993 at Butlerville Elementary and my teacher was Mrs. Beel. She was pregnant, so most of the year–at least it seemed like most of the year to a six year old–we had substitute teachers. My class was small, maybe fifteen of us, and between church and kindergarten I knew almost everyone. I don’t know if I knew Matt from before or if I met him in first grade.
Back then I was the popular girl. I was a gymnast—had been since I was 2 years old—and was very outgoing, athletic, and pretty. I was a happy little kid.
When I was in kindergarten I had a ‘boyfriend’ named Nathan, and at our school’s skating night at the local roller rink he won a bracelet for me. It was made of three little gold hearts joined together and I loved that bracelet more than anything. I was so smitten with the idea of being someone’s girlfriend, and to me, that bracelet was a symbol to the world that I belonged to someone. That someone loved me.
When I got to first grade,Matt was the popular boy and I thought he was the coolest person I had ever met.
And he liked me.
It just seemed like the thing to do, so we started dating. He held my hand. He bought me a gold necklace with a little red heart that I wore every day. He was my man. I remember sitting in class and he would pretend to shoot all the other kids so we could be alone.
That should have tipped me off right there.
I wanted so badly to be grown up. I was fascinated by this popularity I was experiencing and wanted to live in that world forever. I went to gymnastics, played with my friends, and was Matt’s girlfriend. I thought I had the world. I remember being so unbelievably happy.
It started slowly. He would sit next to me at the little table in class when our teacher would read us stories and we would do our work. He used to put his hand on my thigh, and to be honest I liked it. It made me feel special. Over time, his hand crept higher. It went up my leg, under my shorts, and inside my panties. It felt nice. I felt shivery and special. This was something new for me. Eventually his hands ended up inside my shirt too. He would have me lean forward and put his hand through the sleeve of my t-shirt in order to touch and rub my chest.
He did all of this at school, during class.
There were days when I got tired of him touching me; I wanted to learn but what he was doing was distracting. I remember one time I wouldn’t lean forward so he could put his hand in my shirt and he got really mad at me. He told me that this is what boyfriends and girlfriends do. He told me I had to let him. And I did.
I don’t know how long it went on, but I do remember that I started trying to avoid him. Him touching me started making me nervous, and him getting mad and telling me that I had to let him scared me. I started trying to sit across the table from him instead of right next to him. But all my friends said we looked so cute together and I always ended up right next to him. Right where I didn’t want to be. I remember being scared. There is a home movie of me in my leotard and tights showing off for the camera how I could take my tights off without removing my leotard. In the background you can hear my dad saying how he should show this video to Matt. To this day I can hear the fear in my voice when I tell my dad no. I was six years old and I was fighting a battle no one should have to face. I was trying so hard to be the perfect, popular girlfriend and yet my every instinct was telling me to run. Like I said, I don’t know how long this went on. I have all these memories but it isn’t one coherent memory, more like flashes. I do know that I started getting mad at him for getting mad at me all the time. It seemed like no matter what I did, or let him do, it was never enough.
So I started doing things to purposefully annoy him, hoping that he wouldn’t want to spend time with me. I remember one night my dad and I were at the elementary school after hours for a parent teacher conference and he was there too with one of his friends. He was listening to a Walk-Man and had his headphones on so when I said something to him he couldn’t hear me. I reached over and pulled the headphone away from his ear, repeated what I had said, and let the headphone snap back in place. The next day at school he told me that I had broken his headphones and I now owed him fifty dollars. When I got home I told my dad what he said to me, crying because I knew I didn’t have the money and because I was so frustrated. I don’t remember how the whole thing got settled, but we never replaced his headphones. After that we just kind of fizzled out.
It was a year or two later that I finally realized what had happened. One morning I crawled crying into my mom’s bed and told her what had happened. She asked me some questions and then called the school. I don’t know what she said, but I don’t think I went to school that day. I later found out that he had been forced to go to a day-long therapy appointment. We weren’t in the same class together, but when I walked into my classroom the next day, everything had changed. There was this feeling of hostility and anger focused on me that I didn’t understand. It turned out that he had told everyone what I had said and that I was lying to try and get back at him for breaking up with me in first grade. They all chose him. Every single one of my friends thought I was a liar and from that day on they had nothing to do with me. Only one girl, Brittany, stayed by my side. She didn’t stand up for me, but she didn’t ostracize me. To this day, she is the only person from that class that I still speak to. In one day I lost all of my friends. Everyone hated me. I truly believed I was wrong to have said something. So I didn’t say anything else.
I learned to be okay being alone. School became torturous for me. I didn’t have any friends and I had gone from being the most popular kid in class to being an outcast freak. I started to turn inside myself. I thought that if I didn’t look like I used to then no one would ever do that to me again. I thought that if I made myself invisible then no one would notice me. I thought I needed to change because I had brought that on myself. So I changed. I became quieter, I kept eating, and I tried to quit caring. I went to school where I said nothing, and I came home where I sat in front of the T.V. and ate cereal from the box. I started gaining weight. I no longer had a gymnast’s body and I was okay with it.
I started trying to hide inside myself. I suppose that as a kid I couldn’t handle what had happened, so I tried to cope as best as I could. And so I ate. I remember coming home from school and instead of playing with the dogs or going outside I would sit in front of the tv for hours. Just sit there and eat. Cereal mostly. There would be times when I would sit down with a brand new box of Cheerios and when I got up it would be empty. I hadn’t even realized I was eating. All I knew was that I was safe. I could hide in the show, in the reality that wasn’t my own, and for a few hours I would feel safe. But in my little bubble something would always break through—my mom telling me to stop eating, my dad trying to get me to go outside, or even my sister just wanting to change the channel. And every time that happened I lost the tiny piece of safety I had clung to. It was like being abruptly woken up. Almost like I was in a deep sleep and someone shook me awake, back to the reality I was trying so hard to escape. But I could never escape. I never stopped trying. I kept eating, kept gaining weight. I thought that if I didn’t look like I did, didn’t look like a girl, then no one would ever do that to me again. I thought something about myself had made me be a target, that I had somehow brought the situation on myself. And so I just kept eating.
I went from an extremely fit little girl to an overweight shadow.
Food became my one safe thing in the world. My entire world had been taken from me, and food was the one thing I had control over was my food. Eating made me happy. Well, not happy, but I actually felt something when I ate. The rest of the time there was nothing. It was almost like I felt this void inside of me and I thought that if I ate enough then I could fill that void. That I would get better. But I didn’t.
Now, instead of being invisible, I was a target. Kids at school who had been my friends only a few years ago now teased me. I was the proverbial fat kid. That became who I was. I wasn’t Laura. I was Fat. And to a certain extent I was glad for the change. I could hide behind that label, hide within my own skin. I sort of felt safe. If they started treating me as Fat, could I become Invisible? And I tried. I started dressing very androgynously and I cut my hair short. I remember there were days I wouldn’t brush my hair and would purposefully wear loose clothing so I could hide behind this new front I was making. I got very good at hiding. With the added weight and the change in my appearance I morphed further into an almost faceless kid. I wasn’t invisible, but I was unrecognizable. By the time fifth grade rolled around it was nearly impossible to tell that I was a girl. I remember walking into the women’s bathroom at the local library right as a little girl and her mom walked out. As I passed them, the little girl said to her mom “Mommy, is that a boy or a girl?” I felt proud. I had done it. I had successfully hidden inside my own skin. I wasn’t happy, but I felt safe.
After I told my mom what had happened I was never placed in the same class as him again. At least, not until fifth grade. My elementary school was very small but the number of students had started to grow. When I was in fifth grade we no longer had enough room to divide each grade into two classes. My fifth grade class consisted of thirty students: all of the fifth graders, including him. I managed to make it most of the year unscathed. There were a few times he managed to torture me, but overall he wasn’t a big problem. My teacher, on the other hand, was and so my parents ended up switching me to Morrow Elementary to get away from him. Morrow was another elementary school in the district, but at that school I didn’t know anyone. My teacher was amazing. He was kind and understanding of the scared fat girl and I started feeling at home in his class. I made friends and actually had a good year.
Sixth grade started and I stayed at Morrow Elementary. I was so excited to be with my new friends and enjoy my year. For the first time since second grade, I was happy to go back to school. But the school year brought about some changes that I hadn’t expected. I no longer had my kind Mr. Perkins for a teacher. Ms. Hill was my teacher for sixth grade and she was as far from Mr. Perkins as one could get. She unbelievably strict, condescending, and unkind toward us as a teacher could be without getting fired. I starting getting quiet again and there became fewer and fewer times I was happy at school. Looking back now I most likely over reacted to the situation, but I was gun-shy and just wanted to protect myself. My favorite time of the week was when I got to leave Ms. Hill’s class room for a day and take a bus with some other kids to Maineville Elementary (the third elementary school in the district). That one day a week was reserved for the academically talented program (ATP). We got to learn algebra, do projects, and learn things just for the fun of it. Unfortunately, the kids from Butlerville Elementary were there too. Seeing them once a week wasn’t nearly as bad as being around them all the time, so I still loved ATP with Mrs. Cusick.
In junior high all of the elementary schools came together into one big school. Having students from all three schools thrown together was chaotic, but the Butlerville students were diluted enough that it wasn’t too big of a problem. Don’t get me wrong, junior high sucked for the quiet nerdy fat girl, but it was the normal level of sucking, and I did make some amazing friends. High school was more of the same, but I started coming into my own. I joined the marching band and got closer to my friends. I was happy again and I finally stopped gaining weight. The entire time I only had one class with him. The last day of high school came and I was over the moon. I had been accepted to my dream school and I was finally leaving this place that had been so hard for me to get through. All of the seniors were gathered in the auditorium and we were told to split into groups according to what elementary school we went to. Well, I went to two of them, so the teacher told me to sit with the one that I had gone to the longest. That meant Butlerville, and so I warily sat with all the people I so desperately wanted to leave behind. When I came over to the group and sat down in the back, several classmates turned to me started saying how I shouldn’t sit with them because I had abandoned Butlerville and I wasn’t a true Butlerville student like they were. I was amazed and so hurt.
After all those years they were still against me.