There’s safety in numbers. Everyone knows that. I know it, Julie knows it. The other kids know it. As long as we’re walking together, no one’s gonna bother me. She’s a witness, if nothing else. So of course, halfway there, she turned down the hall. “Gotta grab something from my locker. I’ll catch up.”
Of course, everyone knows there’s safety in numbers. I can’t go along with her, because that’s showing weakness, especially since my locker is nowhere near hers. So I’m there all alone, with Feo’s class at the far end of the hallway, and I’ve gotta walk the whole way all alone.
OK, Lisa, you can do this. Just walk. Pretend like you don’t notice anyone. Like you don’t see Steve Knowles and his little gang of thugs right up ahead.
“Hey, Derry Cow!” Just keep walking.
“Mooooo!” Don’t listen, don’t think. Just ignore them.
“Put a little bounce in your step!” Sticks and stones…
It’s been like this since middle school. I’m what you call an “early bloomer.” That is, that’s what you call it if you’re my parents and therefore contractually obligated to find nice ways to frame horrible things. Yeah. An early bloomer who never stopped blossoming. Normal people have other terms for it, from the rather tame “stacked” to Steve’s famous “Lisa has triple-dipple Dolly Parton boobs!”
He came up with that little poetic masterpiece back in 7th grade. He was also the first one to make the obvious joke out of my last name, and I’ve been “Derry Cow” ever since. They talked to us in Health class that one time about sexual harassment, and you’d think this would be an open-and-shut case of it, but no one from teachers to the principal ever does a thing about it.
I’m totally not a violent person, but every time I see him, I just wish I could make like some cartoon character and walk up to him, pull this huge sledge hammer or a baseball bat or something out of my abundant cleavage, and totally let him have it! Except that if it was a cartoon, he’d end up with a few bruises, some bandages appearing out of nowhere, and then they’d all be gone by the next episode and his behavior wouldn’t be any different.
Bleh. I’ve been hanging around Sean too long. I’m starting to think in Cartoon Logic!
In some ways it was actually easier back in middle school. For one, as big as they were, they were smaller than they are now; The Girls just keep getting bigger, heavier, harder on my back and harder to hide every year. But more than that, back then I had hope. They were just immature kids being jerks; I’d seen enough TV to know that guys just a little bit older loved girls with big boobs, so all I had to do was wait it out and I’d be the most popular girl in school.
Yeah, if only. A few more years came and a few more years went, and now I find there’s two main types of guys. There’s then ones who think looking like this (as if I chose to!) means I’m some sort of slut, some girl who’s gonna give it up easy, and then they go and say I’m some sort of “crazy frigid bitch” when I don’t. Or there’s the ones who are intimidated by The Girls, or who just think that having them means I must be already taken, so they don’t even bother approaching me.
Then sometimes there’s guys like Sean and Mark, who are few and far between, who actually see me as just another kid like them, and not as a Derry Cow.
Or… Sean does at least. I mean, Mark has to think I’m attractive, or he wouldn’t be going out with me, right? But at least he’s not a creeper about it, and he knows how to keep his hands to himself.
And the other girls are no better. Apparently I’m a threat to them. And getting a reputation for stealing other girls’ boyfriends totally didn’t help. It only happened once, and it was an accident. I didn’t know, and I told Jessica I was sorry and everything, but she didn’t care. Urgh. And he turned out to be a total creeper too!
I guess I don’t really want the baseball bat, or even to have The Girls gone, though I have wanted that a few times. But more than any of that, I just want it all to stop. The attention, the harassment, the catcalls, the jerks calling out to me like I’m some sort of girl at a strip club, and not someone who keeps them covered up with baggy tops. Not that they do much good; on my skinny frame they stick out like… well, like a pair of double-Ds on a skinny girl, and there’s only so much you can do to hide them without making yourself look totally fat in the process!
So yeah, that’s what I’ve always wanted, more than anything, is just to have some way to make all the attention magically go away. Yeah. Be careful what you wish for, huh? Because now I’d give anything to have The Girls be the biggest of my problems again.
Getting lost in my head really helps me tune things out. And then before I knew it, I’d reached the door and there I was at Feo’s class. It was like “touching base” in a game of tag. Now they can’t do anything to me because I’m within range of a teacher’s attention.
He’s named Mr. Dent, but everyone calls him El Feo, because that’s what he calls himself in class. Not that he’s all that ugly; he’s mostly just poking fun at himself. He’s about 50 or so, tall and lanky like most of the track team kids that he coaches when he’s not teaching Spanish, with hair that’s more salt than pepper and a big gray-black mustache over his lip that makes him totally look like a stereotypical Mexican guy, even though his skin’s too light for the image.
I handed in the homework and took my seat, and then it was time for the quiz. And of course I bombed it. I thought I was ready, but I swear he gave us a the wrong quiz. I mean, madrugar? Seriously? Was that word even in our vocab for this chapter? I’ve never heard it before in my life!
And that’s how my whole day went. I felt like a total klutzditz, spacing out in class, not looking where I’m going in the hallway and running chest-first into a couple different people, breaking a delicate part of my Metal Shop project, just… everything.
Yeah, I know. Call me weird. I’m in Metal Shop. I’m probably the only one there who doesn’t have at least two of the following: Y chromosome, tattoo, criminal record, piercing in ugly places that are not supposed to be pierced. But it’s the closest thing the school offers to what I actually want to learn, which is how to be a jeweler, and I figured I’d pick up something relevant, maybe.
I don’t get it when some kids say they don’t know what they want to do with their lives. I’ve known since… forever. I’ve just sort of got a thing for gold. One of my very earliest memories is holding Daddy’s right hand, and squirming away, wanting to hold the other hand, the nice hand. It wasn’t until a lot later that I realized that what was so nice about it, what made it so much more comforting, was having his wedding ring touch my skin. And playing dress-up as a little girl, I always seemed to instinctively find all the pieces of Mom’s jewelry that made her nervous having me play with them.
That’s the other reason why I wear high-necked tops that hide everything: they hide my necklace, which is 24 karat gold. I keep my earrings tucked up under my ears so they don’t draw much attention, but I can’t really not wear them. It’s kinda like what I imagine drugs to be. Touching gold just makes me feel happy. I’ve bought a bunch of official gold coins from the U. S. Mint, not because I’m some sort of super-patriotic-girl or anything, but because they sell them at spot price, which is about the best deal on gold bullion you’ll find anywhere. Yeah, it’s expensive, but when I’ve got no bills to pay, even a sucky job flipping burgers can bring in nearly an ounce a month, sometimes more if I get weekend shifts.
I don’t care about the value. I loved it before I was old enough to know it’s valuable, and I’m happy that the price has been coming way down lately, because it makes it easier to buy! Mom and Dad think it’s a phase, and they don’t mind me spending just about all my money on one thing because it’s at least something I can cash out later on if I ever needed to. As if I would want to! Brad thinks it’s “a good investment,” he thinks I’m totally wise beyond my years, because when the Federal Reserve finally prints enough money that we get hyperinflation, gold’s going to be the only thing left with real value, or something stupid like that. Nevermind that whatever it is they’ve been doing that he thinks is going to turn us all into pre-WW2 Germany, they’ve been doing it for years and years now and still no one’s running around buying bread with wheelbarrows full of dollars; according to him that just means it hasn’t happened yet.
But that’s how sucky my day was: even my gold was no comfort. Until finally, the last period came and went, and it was time to leave. I’d made sure to catch Kelly at lunch and get her to swear to not leave before me so I’d have a ride home, since she just lives 2 houses down from me. But first I had to stop at my locker.
I got to the hallway, and then I just took a quick step back around the corner, and froze. Steve was there. Him and his gang, and their girls, all hanging out and talking. Amy’s locker was over by mine, which is probably why they were all there. But that was the absolute last thing I needed after today. Especially since I didn’t see anyone else around! I needed to get one of my books out of my locker, though, for some important homework. And I couldn’t keep Kelly waiting or she’d get mad and maybe even leave without me.
The song from in the car came back into my head, taunting me. “You’re not invisible! You’re not invisible! Ha ha!” And I just couldn’t take it anymore. I reached up and clapped my hands over my ears, trying to block it out, even though it was just in my head. I almost felt like I was going crazy, like after everything, I was starting to crack. So I whispered, “well I wish I was!”
Somehow, actually getting that out of my system really helped. I felt kind of calm, like I’d pulled a plug and all the anxiety was draining away. It was silly, but suddenly I knew I could do this. So I stepped out around the corner, and walked down to my locker.
I’d opened it, got my book, turned around and walked off, and was nearly back to the corner when I realized there had been no catcalls. No moos. Nothing.
Huh. That was kinda weird. But in a good way. Now if only every other encounter could be like that. They must have been too busy with whatever stupid thing they’re talking about to notice me.
I headed out to the parking lot and waved to Kelly. “Hey Lisa!” I hopped in her car and she drove me home. I remember thinking, at least one thing was finally normal that day.