I was the type of kid who kicked boys on the playground. I fell out of trees and dismembered my Barbies. (Even then I realized how unrealistic it is for a woman to ceaselessly walk on tiptoes.) I wore jeans far bigger than was necessary and adorned my pre-pubescent body with a Tigger sweatshirt for far longer than socially acceptable. I had a gap between my teeth, sun-bleached hair, and a bike underneath me. I was the furthest thing from cool. But I was unaware. I was me.
Then, as little hills began to form topography on my plain of a chest and braces painfully began to fix God’s oversights, the reality of public speculation sank in.
Oh, not that elementary school had been all popsicles and bows. I distinctly remember the aching experience of third grade when my group of girlfriends decided to put on a play. It was “The Muppet Play:” a play devised, directed, and displayed solely through our seven-year-old imaginations and, conveniently, during recess.
I was to be Miss Piggy. How suiting. Or, so I thought. But the others, sadly, did not agree. My position was quickly usurped by another, more popular girl than I. I vividly recall being told of the recasting, then having each girl turn their back on me to talk about me as I stood not three feet away in audible range.
I was devastated. My mother, in all of her wisdom and maternal concern would whisper into my hair, “They’re just jealous,” and I would heed her comfort for a while.
Standing outside the school during recess, I had officially become an outcast. I sat on the grass as the group of girls danced around me, singing “Stop in the Name of Love.” A choice of tune which, even now, seemed slightly ahead of their time.
Finally, the day came when the usurping Miss Piggy spoke to me. With the gaggle of chittering birds behind her, she told me that if I got down on my knees and begged her for forgiveness they would speak to me again. Lonely and longingly, I got to my little knees and clasped my hands as though it were Sunday morning and begged the pint-sized tyrant. I pleaded to be forgiven for a slight I never committed, or had not realized I had committed. I repented and with that, the mini-Mussolini turned to the girls and laughed. And they laughed too, maybe because they thought it was funny or maybe because they feared they were next.
Now, that’s not to say that when the situations were reversed, and I became the girl with the power, that I didn’t not use it with all my might. I distinctly recollect telling one girl that I was going to see a musical on Broadway (“The Phantom of the Opera,” I believe.) because I didn’t want to play with her anymore and I wanted to play with someone else.
What? It was almost convincing.
Though the personal sense of guilt I carry usually stops me from similar recurrences, not to mention the simple fact that I’m a terrible liar, I still find myself arching my eyebrow and furrowing my forehead in disgust as I discuss how “you-know-who” ranted and raved about her weight (And how, clearly, she underestimates how much she weighs, just to make you feel guilty about your own.) or how “enter-pertinent-nickname-here” broke up another relationship.
And I realize that my Momma was wrong on this one. Maybe the kids were jealous of me because I listened to Billy Joel when they listened to NSync and laughed because they were actually envious of my “thunder thighs.” Or, maybe, they just felt powerful. They felt that because I was being lowered, they must have, in conjunction, been gaining strength. The third-grade girl didn’t steal my role of Miss Piggy because she was covetous of my innate acting talent, she did it because when the deed was accomplished, there was a warmth that rose in her chest. A sense of iron and steel, of supremacy, that solidified her core and curled the corner of her mouth into a lethal grin.
But, then again, maybe you knew this all along. Maybe the whole “They’re just jealous” saying is a Santa Claus-like epigram. It’s said to comfort us and keep us trucking along, even though adults know it’s a lie, because they know that the battlefield doesn’t end with the playing field. And like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, at one point in our growth we realize it’s a falsehood, that the rumors and rudeness have followed us from the monkey bars to the stock market.
Or maybe those kids just really wanted a Tigger sweatshirt of their own.