FAITHLESS : 2003 : STEPHANIE.ZIOBRO
"I’d like you to draw me a picture…"
I sat on the scratchy green couch and looked down at my hands. I didn’t want to look at Dr. Carver, because I was afraid of how I would look at him. He was a skinny black man with a big afro who talked like a girl and crossed his legs like a girl. I was fascinated by this combination of appearance and affectations. I had never met anyone like this. But I was worried that my quick glances would come across as a longing to stare in fear and awe – kind of how one would look at the 400-pound woman lurching and huffing down the street, or the guy with no legs and the twisted up arm, buzzing down the aisle in his wheelchair at the supermarket. So my solution was not to look at all – to try to memorize that split second of initial visual introduction and burn it into my brain. Unfortunately, not getting a good enough look usually resulted in creating a lasting mental image of a wacky cartoon character.
Dr. Carver, now pictured in my mind as an 8 foot tall, black-skinned Olive Oyl with a bushy hair-do like a hot-air balloon, leaned forward and handed me a piece of paper and a Bic pen. A Bic pen? I couldn’t draw with a Bic pen…
"What do you want me to draw?" I asked.
"Whatever you want."
I felt myself growing annoyed. First the Bic pen – a blue one, no less – and now an assignment without any direction. I loved to draw – that wasn’t the issue. My favorite class at Soule Road Elementary School was my art class. I would spend all day in there if I could. But Mrs. Wallaschuck didn’t give us blue Bic pens and say, "Ready, set, draw something!"
Yeah, I was pretty much annoyed at this point.
I lifted my gaze high enough to be able to see Dr. Carver’s legs, which were, as they had been since I’d gotten there, crossed like a woman’s. A woman wearing a fancy dress and high-heeled shoes… So that’s what I drew. A woman in a dress. It was a terrible picture. It looked like a four-year-old had drawn it. I hated the fact that he was going to look at my picture and think, "This girl had better find a new hobby." But I wasn’t in therapy to draw random pictures in blue ink. This guy was supposed to help me, right? Not make me more depressed about my own inabilities or my lack of perfection.
He took the picture from me and looked at it for what seemed like forever. After what seemed like a week and a half, he said, "This is very nice."
"No it’s not."
"Why do you say that?" he asked.
"Because I can do better." I tapped the Bic pen on my knee.
"Tell me something," he started. I tried to sneak a good hard look as Dr. carver uncrossed his legs and then recrossed them the other way. "Why did you draw a girl?"
I shrugged. "I dunno."
"Why didn’t you draw a boy?"
I stopped tapping my pen and made myself look at Dr. Carver’s face. He was squinting one eye and had his lips pulled in, so he was one big eye and a straight line for a mouth.
"I don’t know." What was he doing? Was he trying to figure out if I was a homo? I was in third grade. Third graders aren’t homos.
"Can you draw me a boy?" he asked. I’d show him I wasn’t a homo.
"Do you have a better pen?" I asked. "One that writes in black?"
I hated school.
I hated everything about it. I used to miss the bus every other day even though it picked me up at the end of my parent’s driveway. When I did make it outside on time, I hated trying to find a seat on the bus, afraid that anywhere I tried to sit, someone would tell me that seat was taken, even though that never happened. I hated the smell when I first walked in through the doors of the school – it reminded me of old vacuum bags. I hated sitting in class, worrying constantly that I or the kid sitting next to me might vomit unexpectedly, which also never happened. I hated music class, because every so often, Mrs. Newton would try to teach us to ballroom dance, and I always ended up being partners with Mikey Reinheart with the warts on his hands. I lived every day in fear that the teachers would have a surprise assembly and we’d all get shuffled down to the cafeteria where they’d show us a school bus safety film strip – the ones where kids get hit by cars and run over by busses. But most of all, I hated never knowing on any particular day whether or not my "best friends" would like me or hate me.
So I used to play sick all the time. I discovered that if I held onto my stomach and whimpered a little bit, mom would let me stay home. The first few times it happened, I really did feel sick. But I soon discovered how easy it was to just fake it. (This was when I discovered my acting talent.) For the first few months of moaning and groaning and sleeping on the couch with the TV on while all my friends were in math class or swinging on the ropes in gym, mom worried. Then I think she started to catch on, because every time I stayed home she would bring me to the doctor, to see if she could call my bluff. Dr. Nordstrom would do a quick once-over – check my temperature, look in my ears, all that stuff, and determine I had "School Sickness." And every time, I would sit in the back seat on the car ride home, gloating inwardly that I had a real actual sickness that could keep me out of school. Of course, about a year later, when I was much much smarter, I realized he was merely humoring me and telling my mother I might want to "talk to someone." When mom got tired of driving me to the doctor just to see if I would cave, she started making ultimatums.
"Well, if you’re sick, you have to stay in bed all day." I’m sure she was thinking that confining me to my bedroom all day would make me rethink a boring day at home. But I think she grew pretty annoyed when I accepted her challenge. I’d stay in bed all day. Being bored in my room was Disneyland compared to the hell called third grade. But it wasn’t just a matter of playing a game. I didn’t want my mother to hate me, too. I didn’t want to do anything to disappoint her. So even on the days I played sick and she had to go to work and would have no idea if I went downstairs to watch TV, I’d still stay in bed. I guess maybe I wanted someone to see just how desperate I really was. How every day that I went to school I felt like one of those fuzzy caterpillars, just waiting for that moment when some sadistic youth would squash me under the tread of his sneaker, just to see how far my guts would go. I knew it would happen – it was inevitable. It was waiting for that big shoe that was torture. And it was the torture of waiting that made me first think about slitting my wrists.
I was nine years old.
It was probably at this point in my life that I became afraid of girls. I had two best friends – Karen and Jessamy. (As the years went on, the names of the girls would change – Lauren and Katie, then Lauren and Jana, but they were always the same girls. At one point in high school, the girls became boys – figuratively speaking. I’m thinking an alien species laid an egg that hatched into an evil breed of pod people that singled me out because I had a big sign on my back that said, "Kick ME, I’m an Easy Target.") Karen and Jessamy and I did all the things that normal nine-year-old girls did. We’d hide in a closet and look at Jessamy’s father’s Playboy magazines by flashlight. We’d go into Karen’s attic and strip down naked and dance for each other. We started an Epic-Saga-Comic Book about ourselves, "Carol, Diane and Marie." Even today, saying those three names together rolls off my tongue like there is no other combination of them – like saying "peanut-butter and jelly" or "Stop, Drop and Roll." Hundreds of pages of pages of drawings of us as tall and sexy roommates – the Blonde, the Brunette and the Redhead, respectively: "The Outlandish Antics of Three Single Women of the 80s! Watch as they experience Love, Laughter and Pain!" At some point, however, the disproportionately-drawn women began to make appearances wearing less and less clothing, until soon it was all triangular-shaped breasts with black-dot nipples and V-shaped genitalia with mad scribbles of pubic hair. But either carol, Diane and Marie had no idea what sex was, or we as the authors did, but had no clue how to render intercourse with a number 2 pencil, because the women continued their day to day routines, only sans clothing. Marie vacuumed buck-naked. Carol grabbed her purse and ran out to the mall every day – oops! Forgot to get dressed again! Diane was the cleanest one of all, and had the shiniest hair, because she was constantly getting out of the shower. Our "Gone with the Wind" length pages of Carol, Diane and Marie were kept hidden in a trunk at Jessamy’s house, underneath piles and piles of doll clothing. Our secret life. Something only the three of us would know about forever and ever. Something we’d talk about when we were all married and living in the same house. Our husbands and kids would be asleep and we’d sit around the kitchen table and discuss the time Marie was doing dishes and the mailman came along with a package and how when she answered the door completely naked, he ran off screaming. (We didn’t know much about boys back then.) Maybe we’d even draw new episodes. We’d be much better artists by that point, and we’d have more knowledge to bring to our stories, Jessamy being a world-famous dancer, and Karen being a vet specializing in Massively Large Wild Animals That Could Rip Your Throat Out. And me – I didn’t have a future image of myself aside from being 6’5 with long blonde hair. But regardless, it was going to be the Best Life Ever.
Then things got weird.
Becky Beacom was new in our class. Her family was Mormon so she couldn’t drink iced tea or soda. But she was really funny and she liked to dance. Karen, Jessamy and I invited her to join us at lunch in the cafeteria, and at recess she fit into our Smurf game as if she’d always been a part of it. Karen was always Brainy Smurf, Jessamy was Smurfette, I was Gargamel and Becky turned out to be the perfect Jokey Smurf. What the Smurf Game consisted of was basically us running around doing Smurf voices and Smurf antics and getting into Smurf situations. When I think about it now, I miss having such an intense imagination. It’s funny how it just becomes harder and harder to "make-believe" as you mature. I’ve always wanted to do some heavy drugs, to see if I can find out where my imagination went, but the thought of having a Bad Smurf Trip keeps me on the straight and narrow.
I wanted Becky to come over after school one day. Looking back, I don’t remember how telephone information was exchanged in the third grade. I can’t picture myself saying, "Hey, give me your number, I’ll call you." But somehow, my mom talked to Becky’s mom and everything was arranged. Becky came over and we spent the afternoon listening to my Grease record and making up dance routines and putting on shows for each other – all with our clothes on. When Becky’s mom came to pick her up, I was invited to her house next time, and that night, for the last time, I went to bed looking forward to school the next day and seeing Karen and Jessamy and my new friend, Becky.
I was walking into my homeroom class with Jessamy – we now rode the same bus after the routes were all changed around, so I always had someone to sit with and I didn’t have to walk into the vacuum-bag-smelling school alone. We went to the closet to hang up our coats and put our lunches away, and Becky was there.
"Hey!" She had a huge smile on her face. "My mom said you can come over on Friday and that you can sleep over if you want!"
"Okay! I’ll ask my mom!" I was ecstatic.
"And I showed my mom the dances we made up yesterday. She said I could sign up to take dance classes with you."
I tried to keep myself from jumping up and down with excitement. Becky was great – I was so glad she liked me. "Okay – I’ll get the phone number from my mom and bring it to school tomorrow."
"That would be awesome!" Becky even knew how to use cool slang without sounding stupid. I’d have to practice that. She smiled and went to her desk. I turned to Jessamy.
"We had so much fun yesterday. We –"
I stopped talking because my words were met with the Look of Death, which, up to that point, I had never seen, but its one of those things that you know when you see it. Kind of like kangaroos. Because I lived in New England, I had never seen a kangaroo, but if one suddenly hopped across the street in front of me, I could say with pure conviction, "Yep, that’s definitely a kangaroo."
Yep, that was definitely the Look of Death.
Jessamy strode away from me and went to her desk. Confused, I stood there for a moment before walking over to mine, which was the desk right next to hers.
"What’s the matter?" I asked.
Jessamy ignored me. She put her books under her chair, folded her hands in her lap, and stared straight ahead.
"Did I do something?"
At that point, Jessamy raised her hand.
"Yes, Jessamy?" Mrs. Rome looked up from her desk.
"Can I move my seat?" Jessamy asked. "I can’t see the board from here."
So Jessamy switched desks with Alex Insley, which just made everything worse because he smelled like meat sauce and was always trying to give me presents, which also smelled like meat sauce. I sat through math class completely unable to concentrate and dreading language arts because Jessamy and I sat together there, too. Would she move her seat again?
And Karen, who sat on the other side of me, moved her seat as well. Why the teacher bought the story that all of a sudden both of them couldn’t see the board was beyond me. And once again, I was seated with the chivalrous Alex Insley on one side of me, and Aaron Pilarcik the Hummer with the Long Pointy Fingernails, on the other. My mind turned circles for the next hour. Karen and Jessamy had proved their point that they obviously weren’t going to sit with me at lunch, either, so I just had to find Becky. At least she wasn’t mad at me.
But what I saw in the cafeteria made my heart pound into my head and my stomach twist into itself. There was Becky, sitting right between Karen and Jessamy. The three of them were laughing and whispering and making fun of the strange lunch that Jessamy’s mom made for her every day – cream cheese and jelly on rice cakes. I don’t remember what I did for lunch that day, or how I spent my recess, but what I do remember is that the rest of my years at Soule Road Elementary School were a complete mind fuck.
Day after day, I never knew what to expect. The odds of my friends being cruel to me was like a game of Russian Roulette – I knew that I’d get a bullet to the brain, I just didn’t know when. I came to learn that if I played with someone else at recess on the days that they hated me – even if I talked to someone else – it made them hate me more. So to appease them, I would sit on the sidelines during the mass game of Kill the Guy, not allowed to join in, but not allowed to walk away. I developed a mantra that I said to myself the entire half hour of recess: Please just like me please don’t hate me please just like me please don’t hate me. And usually it seemed to work. We’d walk back inside, arm-in-arm, and things would be fine. For a few days, anyway. Then I’d get a 98% on a math test and Jessamy would get an 84%, and I’d spend lunchtime in Mrs. Rome’s classroom, drawing on the chalkboard. So the next time we had a test, I pretended to struggle, and I left half the questions blank, and I failed the test but Jessamy got an 87%, and I told her what a great job she did and that was okay to me because at least I could join in on the fun at recess. I stopped talking to other kids, because a mere "hi" sent Karen and Jessamy into a menacing, silent thunder. I even stopped playing with Becky. I dreaded getting complimented on in class, because if I did, it meant I’d be sitting alone on the bus on the way home and maybe even the next morning. (Although if I sat alone on the bus in the afternoon, chances were I’d be missing the bus the next morning.) We had a contest in art class to design a logo for the Soule Road School T-shirt. The winner would have their design worn on t-shirts all over the school. I was a finalist. But so was Karen. And even though I wanted to win more than anything, I knew if I did, my life would be over, because the rest of my years at Soule Road would be amidst a walking reminder of something I won and Karen lost. At least until the next contest. So I voted for Karen’s design, even though it was really a stupid picture – she used to draw this pelican-like thing named "Beaker." I didn’t think he was a good logo for our school t-shirt. And to tell you the truth, I don’t even remember what my drawing was. But luckily, some fifth grade Asian kid drew a unicorn that I probably would have voted for over my design anyway – it was incredible. Asians seem to have a knack for rendering life-like pictures. He won, and we all walked around in his t-shirt for the rest of the year.
My favorite color couldn’t be purple, because that was Jessamy’s favorite color.
I put anything I owned that had a unicorn on it in the back of my closet because the unicorn was Karen’s favorite animal. (I should have clarified earlier – everyone except me wore the Asian kid’s unicorn t-shirt for the rest of the year. Mine was in the back of my closet.)
If I wore my hair in a side-ponytail, which at the time was the hottest new look, and I got on the bus and saw Jessamy was wearing her hair the same way, I took mine down.
At Jessamy’s birthday party, her dad drove all of us around the block on his Harley. (One at a time of course.) Everyone squealed and screamed and bounced off the walls with the excitement of being on a motorcycle. When I got back after my ride, no one spoke to me for the rest of the party. No one.
This was my Life.
Is it any wonder I wanted to die?