Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Previously: At the nutritionist’s office, Shevi’s mom leans the whole family has to make changes.

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“Hey Shevi!”

I froze.

Tamara was bee-lining towards me, an evil grin on her face. “Guess what! The costumes for the production came in today!”

Cold, icy fingers squeezed my heart so tightly that it hurt to breathe.

The Production, you see, was a major production in our school. Every grade was involved, and not one girl was excused. Everyone had to have one part on stage and one part behind the scenes. To learn and perfect many skills, our principal would tell us, year after year. This year, nearing the end of our last year in the school, we had the most important roles of all.

I was a maid in the show and my off-stage job was in props. The scene was mercifully short and (to my mother’s disappointment) I had very few lines. In fact, the part they gave me fit me terribly well. A bumbling, slow, dense waitress for a heavy, slow, dense girl. It all fits, you see.

Honestly, I was glad not to be on stage for more than five minutes. The maid was a laughing-stock. Like me. It didn’t feel too good.

And now Tamara was grinning devilishly at me. I could almost hear her mocking laughter. “But…” she drawled, “Mrs. Kaplan doesn’t think you’re going to fit in the maid costume!” She announced this loudly, in her piercing voice.

I felt my insides crumble into a million bits of crumpled, trampled, muddied paper. I was only too aware of my thick arms and legs, multiple chins, and heavy middle standing in the classroom, facing Tamara, all alone. Muffled chortles and giggles came from every corner of the room and I felt my eyes burning, my ears rushing and my skin smarting with physical pain.

“She said she’s going to have to ask you to get your own costume together, Shevi.” Tamara smiled smugly. Then she turned to her rapt audience. “My costume fits like a dream!” she crowed.

Immediately, my moment of torture was over and my classmates rushed to converge on Tamara, who had one of the main roles, and hear all the details about the costume delivery.

My heart burned within my chest as I squeezed myself into the chair at my desk. I silently gasped for air but couldn’t catch my breath. My heart felt still, as if the pain would stop its steady beat any second.

A light touch brushed my shoulder. “Hi.”

I barely dared to glance up. My eyes darted nervously to appraise my next torturer.

“Hi,” she said again. Gitty was a quiet girl, petite, with dirty-blonde hair and nondescript glasses perched on a small nose.

I didn’t trust my voice to respond, so I nodded gruffly instead.

“That wasn’t so nice,” Gitty said gently. “I’m sorry she hurt you like that. That must have been…really hard.”

I squeezed my eyes tightly shut so that the tears wouldn’t be able to escape.

“I’m sorry,” Gitty says, in that same, gentle voice. “Did I…did I make you feel worse?”

I peeked at her through half shut eyes and I saw she looked anxious, almost as if she were kicking herself for approaching me. I knew Gitty was a little shy – it must have been very brave of her to come over to me. I opened my eyes and looked at her, really looked. Her eyes were creased in concern, her upper teeth biting her bottom lip.

It struck me, suddenly, that I wasn’t the only one who sometimes felt lost, and my heart went out to her. I knew what it felt like to be… un-liked and unaccepted. So though it hurt, I forced myself to smile. “Thanks, Gitty.”

Her face lightened up and relief spilled onto her features. “You could just wear black clothes,” she offered eagerly, “with a white apron tied over.”

I nodded, but those well-meaning words cut almost as deeply as Tamara’s cruel ones. I guess Gitty didn’t realize that when you’re my size, there nothing I can “just wear.” Unbidden, memories from past shopping trips surfaced. Mommy’s frustration, my shame, my sisters’ scorn, the slim salesgirls’ raised eyebrows and confident, “No, I’m sorry, ma’am, we don’t have that in a bigger size.”…and the ever-unforgiving mirror, reflecting back to me the image that made all the people around me grimace and turn away and finding clothes that looked flattering on me a nearly impossible mission, one that made my mother’s sheitels grow frizzy and gray.

Sure, I had a black skirt with a stretched out elastic waistband that was comfortable. Finding a black shirt that didn’t look or feel too tight anywhere would be more of a challenge. But Gitty was just trying to be friendly and helpful, so I gave her a small smile and released her from her civic duty.

Was it just my imagination, or was she relieved to go back to her own business?

To be continued…

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Chaya Rosen is the author of two poetry compilations, Streaming Light and Scattered Stones.