I’m on the other side of forty-five. As those who read my blog know from other posts, I’ve lived and traveled all over the world, having worked in advertising for more than twenty years. I speak three languages and have three degrees, two undergrad and one post-grad. At my last job, I was the second highest paid person the company; I’ve done quite well for myself. I was divorced twenty years ago, but refused child support or alimony because I wanted to raise my child — who is now twenty-one — in the manner I saw fit. Though I am very happily divorced, we still spend Christmas morning with my ex-husband and my ex-in laws because we have known each other our entire lives and therefore still function much like a family. I take no shit, personally or professionally, and am either famous or infamous for it, depending on whose point of view you solicit. I was not born to a wealthy family, but I was born to one rich with unconditional love, being told almost every day of my life that I could do whatever I wanted to do and be whatever I wanted to be, as much — if not more so — by my dad as by my mom, that support being no small reason for the person I am today.
Thirty-five years ago, I was a chubby, freckled red-head with a heart condition and the highest IQ in a school district replete with future Ole Miss beauty queen wannabes. If you don’t know what that means, it’s not that difficult to explain or to understand, whether it was the head cheerleader or homecoming queen at your school, or just one of the many mean girl portrayals you’ve seen in the movies. The difference is there wasn’t just one; there were loads. Such was life being raised in a small town in the South where your family was either rich or it wasn’t; they either belonged to the country club or they didn’t. You were either pretty or you weren’t, and the male counterparts – though fewer – were themselves no better, often being the ones who dug the moat and defended the walls of the stuck up clique who doled out condescension and abuse like Pez from a dispenser of hostility and pretense. I was almost mercilessly abused on a daily basis from the ages of six through sixteen. And then.
The summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school, something changed. The baby fat that had bade its farewell to most girls my age two years prior finally decided to take its leave from me. Realizing it was beginning to atrophy on its own, I became encouraged and began dieting, swimming more laps in our pool and hitting more balls on the court in the heat of the day. Finally, down to a size six of then which is probably a four of now, 5’8” tall, with thick strawberry blonde hair, I was beginning to feel an inner confidence I had never before known. Much to my father’s dismay, I saved up my money and went to the best hairdresser in town and had my thick mop chopped to a severe, ‘80s Molly Ringwold type do. With what money was left, I bought a pair of much-coveted long clip-on earrings from the fanciest store in town (I wasn’t allowed to have my ears pierced in my very strict family) and changed my style almost overnight. When we returned to register for school in August in the very casual atmosphere that day allowed, in the upstairs library still dressed in a short Esprit skirt and matching tee, one of the few football players who had — admirably — always been my friend, walked up from behind to me to introduce himself, asking me from whence I’d transferred. I turned to look at him, assuming he’d recognize me when I did, but the transformation had been so drastic and so complete that he did not. “Thomas,” I said, “it’s me, ” the pause between my last word and the final look of recognition on his face pregnant both with his confusion and my amusement. When finally the other shoe dropped, he picked me up off the floor and hugged me and said, “Girl, you look FIIINNNEE.” He was genuinely happy for me — he was one of the few good guys — but still not as pleased as I was for myself. For the first time in my school-going life, I did not dread the next day.