“Ooh! Ooh! Pick me! Ooh, I know it!”
I was a regular Hermione Granger in school. Always putting up my hand when the teacher asked a question. I wasn’t trying to show off — I was just that excited to know something. I loved learning and I felt good when I had knowledge. Ever the geek, I always sought more than school offered, reading voraciously and to the point of missing my bus stop or walking into poles.
As I was trying to get the attention of my teacher, who slightly rolled her eyes and looked with desperation around the room for a nonexistent classmate as eager as I, I noticed the boy next to me look over at my outstretched arm.
“Ugh!” he exclaimed, as though he’d been slapped in the face with a fish.
Immediately self-conscious, I took the earliest chance to excuse myself do the bathroom — with permission, of course — and braved the horrific stench of the middle school bathroom.
This bathroom was the epitome of gross school bathrooms. Streaked with mildew and caked with dust, it was barely illuminated by yellow light pouring in through a dirty window too high to escape through. I approached the sink with caution, and tentatively raised my “call on me” arm.
There, under my arm, had sprouted a single hair, horrifically coiled and unbeknownst to me until this moment. I was becoming a woman, although I felt anything but at the moment.
I had to check myself. What else was wrong?! Oh, God.
I peered into the grimy mirror and into my pores to examine the extent of the grossness. As I did, my mind flashed back to a time a year before, when everything was different.
I was on cloud nine back then. I’d just gotten a makeover, including contacts, and felt like I’d gotten past the awkward looks (oh how wrong I was). I was doing well in school, and in fact had taken some tests and applied to some programs that offered me incredible opportunities — college level courses, exclusive science summer camps, visits to research labs. I was happy to get my geek on, and felt like an academic rock star.
And it all came crashing down.
My family and I went to see the film Mouse Hunt. That night, I lay awake petrified that a mouse would do its business on my mouth. I imagined bugs falling from my bedroom ceiling into me. I felt contaminated and ugly.
The symptoms worsened until my fear of germs and contamination and my feeling of ugliness consumed me. Bewildered, my parents took me to a psychologist who diagnosed me with OCD. Thus began a long and painful treatment process.
Meanwhile, I’d become friends with a cute boy in my class. I would call it a relationship, except we were twelve and our interaction had none of the puppy love that anyone would find cute. Rather, he engineered codependency in me. A Christian boy, he asked to “minister to” me.
We were twelve.
Attached to him as I was, I confided in him about my OCD.
Suddenly the relationship changed. He no longer wanted to associate with me, and swiftly used his popularity to turn our classmates against me. My OCD became fodder for ridicule, even fear, as some religious classmates thought me cursed or possessed. My “friend” led the charge, saying that I was a witch. A literal one, like Hermione Granger.
The bullying got so bad that I had to switch schools. I left the lovely, shiny new Taylor Street Middle School for the filthy and run-down Flynt Middle School with the worst bathrooms in the world.
The bullying followed me. I was a pariah. Taunts echoed off my locker. I had nowhere to sit at lunch. I was groped for the first time by a boy with manic eyes who whispered “crazy” in my ear after he was finished. He did this in full view of a teacher who did not intervene. I had one friend in the school who steadfastly refused to believe the rumors and stood up for me. I’m forever grateful for her.
Staring at the hideous reflection in the spit-flecked mirror, I nearly began to cry before imagining how that would go over should one of the mean girls strut in. And I realized I’d better get back to class. It was the one place where I could be myself, the geek who loved learning.
I straightened myself up, dusted myself off, and peeled my gaze out of my pores.
And headed back to class.
As soon as the next question came, I was ready.
“Ooh! Ooh! Pick me!”