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Invisible Girl photo


I had spent much of 1996 hiding under oversized hand-me-downs. It was unnerving to display the body that had seemingly changed overnight. The curves sloping forward from my formerly flat chest and the hips that no longer fit into straight cut children’s jeans were too scandalous for my immature prepubescent classmates. 

I heard what the teachers said about blooming girls too. “They’re trouble.” “She’s gonna be a fast one.” “Such a distraction.” There was never a word about respect though. We didn’t fit the mold. Our bodies flourished too soon.

For Christmas, my older sisters gifted me a whole new stylish wardrobe. Somehow, the late 90s ushered in a revival of the 70s. Bell bottomed and flared pants were coming back. The grays and tans of grunge gave way to bright colors. And everything was skin tight.

I didn’t know what the return from winter break had in store for me. 1997 was the year I learned of cruelty. The first week was not much different. I bundled in layers to thwart the cold and crunched through the snow in my navy timberland boots. I walked every morning alone and every afternoon I was accompanied by my bestie Emily.

The January sky and February blizzards were held at bay with an enormous bubble coat. But by the end of March, the steely winter melted away. And on Easter Sunday, I wore a satin floral dress to church. 

Unfortunately, I had been spotted by two classmates and on Monday, I was being gossiped about in school. A game of telephone ensued on Tuesday with the girls creating unfounded rumor after unfounded rumor which led to a confrontation, “Lisa, I heard you were talking about me, bitch” “I heard you were talking about me too.” I tried to embody toughness while a circle of girls oohed at each exchange. “If you have something to say, say it to my face.” I was clueless as ever but managed to roll my eyes. Somehow, the situation diffused and I was on my way back home with Emily.

She broke the silence first. “I didn’t know you didn’t like her.” “I don’t know her. I didn’t know she didn’t like me.” It was the truth. As we crossed the street, a voice from nearby cut through our moment, “Lisa, you should wear that dress you wore to church on Sunday this Friday. It’ll be a dress up day.” I looked towards her and mumbled ok.

“What dress?” Emily asked. I explained my Easter outfit. We agreed to join dress up day that week. I told Emily about my sister’s future wedding and she told me about her brother’s football game. From a block’s distance, Emily’s cousin kept watch over us.

Friday came. I was in my Sunday best and Emily was nowhere in sight. The side entrances opened and we filled the stairwell rushing to our respective homeroom class before the bell rang. As I rounded the top step, I felt a hand push against my back slamming me into a wall. I heard giggles but there were too many of us to know who it was. I straightened myself out and made my way to class.

The same girl that had invited me to dress up gagged at the sight of me, “why are you in a dress on gym day?” It slipped my mind that I’d be sitting alone while everyone played games. Ms. Palucci  took pity on me and allowed me to work on her arts and crafts project. She was witness to the random hair yanking on the lunch line and the trips and shoves down the hallway transits. 

The Jessicas, a clique of girls all named, you guessed it, Jessica, were especially mean. If Emily wasn’t around, I was glued to my books. It didn’t matter to them I wasn’t trying to gain acceptance. My insolence by existing was too much for them. And that Friday filled with shoves and trips and giggles was the longest day of my life. It had all been a protracted April fools joke.

On Monday, I was back to wearing my dowdy t-shirt and ratty jeans. Underneath, I wore a tight sports bra. Steven ran up and asked, “where did Friday’s tits go?” The boys laughed. The Jessicas laughed. And between the laughs, I heard a squeaky, “shut up, Steven, before I hit you upside the head.” It was Emily—there to save the day.

The warmer the days were, the harder it became to hide. Some of the girls unveiled their summer bodies going against dress code and straight to detention. For my May birthday, I decided to dress the part—within the rules, of course. I wore a culottes set with a matching zip up sleeveless top, my new black rimmed glasses, and my curls down. The outfit cinched at the waist. It was lovely and my favorite hue of blue.

I was met with glares and disingenuous happy birthdays. Then one of the Jessicas declared it was time for the birthday punches. And one by one, the girls lined up for a chance to hit my left arm mercilessly thirteen consecutive times. By second period, my arm was heavy. And by lunchtime, my arm was a dark purple—bruised from shoulder to my elbow and hot to the touch.

I don’t remember much of that day beyond being cornered in the bathroom and surrounded in the stairwell. I was also held in the coat room. I mustered the nerve to tell Mrs. Connors that the girls wouldn’t stop punching me and she responded, “Well, don’t let them.” That day I learned. Yes, on my twelfth birthday I learned, to be invisible was to be safe.