The Stomach Monster, Swimming, Sunburn and The State

There is a joke among my friends and family that I am a bottomless pit. My high metabolism makes me hungry often, and when I’m hungry, the stomach monster starts to roar. It’s difficult, because all the sudden I’ll be too hungry to focus on anything else, and I’ll start being really irritable (I guess I just need more Snickers in my diet). Then I eat in large amounts, and eat more. Never gain a pound.

Thinking about this today brought back some ever so delightful memories of my childhood. Mom hardly ever cooked, so me and my sister mostly had to fend for ourselves. We learned how to make Ramen pretty quick. And anything that could be made in the microwave.

But when I was nine, after the dreaded incident of going to live at a stranger’s house due to The State, Mom stepped it up. See, that summer, she became obsessed with us getting swimming lessons at the local outdoor pool, which wasn’t exactly within walking distance of home. So, she started taking us there in the morning for lessons, and then we’d be left there to swim all day until she picked my dad up from work at about five in the evening. So, basically, we were kept out of the house to avoid The Evil State, by being shunted off to a swimming pool all day, with nothing to eat. Did I mention that? We never packed any food, and we were almost never given any money. A $1.00 hot dog on one of those long days was a rare treat. Sometimes, we’d be so hungry we would scavenge around until we found a peanut someone had dropped, and we’d each eat half of it.

I got my first second-degree sunburn that summer. Mom never sent us with sunscreen, either. And when we came home sunburnt, she’d rub some lotion on that burned like hell, and she’d yell at us the more we cried.

For a little variety, we didn’tĀ always go to the pool, of course. When we didn’t have swimming lessons, Mom would sometimes take us to another city to sit in the car all day at a park, or out at the reservoir. We were scared to even leave the car for fear of The Evil State, so we stayed there most of the time. I’ve spent more time sleeping in a car than I care to remember.

And then there was one very rare occasion where our mother let our best friend spend the night over at our house. We were woken up in the morning because The State Lady had come unexpectedly, and was asking for us. So Mom told us to keep quiet and stay there, and lied to the woman, saying that me and my sister were out at the local amusement park for the day with some other friends (what other friends?). Our best friend had to walk home alone, all due to my mother’s fear that The State would find her two little angels.

And, of course, all this was our fault. The State wouldn’t be after us if we were good kids who did our schoolwork and kept our rooms clean.

I’m not postingĀ all this angst and drama to be like “oh woe is me,” or anything. Really. I get that there are lots of people out there who have been through things I can’t even comprehend. Who have survived things I couldn’t. I’m just writing about it because I find my own twisted psychology interesting, and I hope to be of some help to someone else, sometime. Whether as support, or for research, or what have you. I care not. I just want to pretend I’m helping, while I’m sitting here contemplating my navel because it’s all so fascinating.

Yeah, My Childhood was Kinda Crappy

I guess there are a lot of people out there who look upon their childhood with affection, remembering the good old days, when things were easy. Not perfect, sure. But easy, with little responsibility. I’m sure there are people who would love to go back to those days.

Not me.

Sure, my childhood had its good times. It wasn’t one bleak, dark tunnel with no light visible at the end. But it was depressing, sure enough.

Mommy wanted me and my sister to be different from our peers. Unlike the savage, crude, unladylike little girls of the nineties, my sister and I didn’t wear jeans, and quite often wore dresses. We didn’t have those trashy ear piercings, and we didn’t wear the equally trashy nail polish. We were taught knitting, sewing and needlework, and took ballet and tap classes. We weren’t enrolled in the evil of public school. We didn’t draw on ourselves or wear temporary tattoos. One of Mom’s favorite expressions when we asked why we couldn’t do the cool things everyone else did was, “It’s not appropriate for a young lady.”

I suppose I can kind of understand where she was coming from with that. She was born in the fifties, which I swear was like the Victorian era of the twentieth century. That was when girls always wore nice dresses to school, and things like that. Knitting, sewing, needlework and cooking were feminine arts, whereas combat of any sort and technical skills were more masculine arts.

But that certainly doesn’t mean I liked it. I resented it with a passion. I wanted to learn martial arts, but was made to take dance and be a pretty little ballerina. I wanted to wear jeans with lots of cool zippers all over them, but they were too goth, so I had to wear bright, pretty dresses instead. I wanted to learn how to work with cars, but I had to learn how to knit. I wanted to shoot, I got to sew. I wanted to learn computers, I got to learn how to cook.

But, of course, I can’t knit or sew to save my life. I have no rhythm required for being a good dancer. I can barely cook, and nothing complicated (I just barely learned how to use an oven). I spend my summers at a scout camp shooting, climbing, rappelling, belaying, and not giving a darn if I look pretty. I can be a passable computer tech, although I know next to nothing about cars still (trying to fix that). I have pierced ears, I usually have black nail polish on, and I wear what I like, nary a dress or skirt in sight.

But none of that’s important right now.

Mom succeeded in setting me and my sister apart. And the other kids in the neighborhood didn’t like us—me, more of. I was a sensitive little crybaby, you see. My name was the one that was so easy to make fun of.

In our neighborhood, there was only one boy. And the eight girls were split into two groups: the Big Girls and the Little Girls. Three families with one older and one younger girl, you see, and two with one girl who was old enough apiece. My sister and I went to our respective groups.

Mine didn’t want to put up with the tall, gangling crybaby with the funny name. I got ditched all the time, but I was still so sure that those two girls were my best friends. My diary of the time is filled with glowing reviews of them, never mentioning the bad stuff. Even though I spent a lot of days at home crying.

My mom did the worst thing possible and took it into her own hands. (Everyone knows that’s the ultimate no-no in a child’s world.) She restricted me and my sister from seeing one of the two families, because their younger daughter was the one in charge of my ditching. I believe that was after that same girl put dog crap in my brand new roller blades.

So, I spent a lot of time on my own. Playing my own games, because this was before I discovered reading. If I had to guess, I’d say that was when I really became an introvert. Sometimes, I’d still play with those girls—do anything to try to fit in. Love them in spite of whatever they did to me. Blindly believe the lies of passive aggression.

Luckily, I grew out of that. At the age of ten, me and my sister met the girl who would remain our best friend to this day, and I’ve made good, lasting friends of my own.

When I was a freshman, though, I was walking home from school, and two of my childhood bullies were right behind me, laughing and talking. Then one of them shouted to me, calling me by the nickname they knew I hated. At that point, I was mature enough to just look back and grin, thinking, Seriously? Grow up, already. I just wish I’d said it.

Gotta say, I’m delighting in being grown up. I don’t live with my parents anymore, though I come back to visit sometimes. That thought makes me feel better every time I see Childhood Bully #1, who still lives across the street with her parents and sister.

Childhood Bully #2 is a hopeless blonde who would have failed a project in eighth grade science, had I not been in her group. Boy, she shrieked at the stupidest things.

Childhood Bully #3 wasn’t as bad. She was the one I considered my best, best friend. She grew out of it pretty quickly, and we’re still friends to this day.

Probably like every other former bullying victim, I’m still looking for ways to shove all that I’ve achieved (though right now it isn’t much) into the first two’s faces. But apart from this petty desire for vengeance, I’m feeling pretty good. This story has a happier ending.