When You’re Cute

When you’re cute, the pretty Starbucks barista, the one who always gawks at you when you enter before work, will say “No, you’re good!” when you hand over your debit card to pay for the Grande coffee and banana you’re trying to buy. You’ll smile, as though this is nothing new. But inside you’ll wonder how you’ve come this far, wonder who this person is that everyone seems to love now. Wasn’t it just two years ago when you weren’t so cute?

See, now that you’re cute, men will hug their girlfriends a little closer as you pass by on the street. Some will look at you with curious eyes, curious, hmm, very curious.

The girl at the Mexican restaurant on your downtown college campus will write a note on your meal, “Please come back to see me soon!” with a smiley face to let you know that you could have it if you wanted it.

There will be the 27-year-old who sits across from your desk at work, who doesn’t understand her own feelings yet, but brought you fancy cheese one day and makes eyes at you and comments on wine and her empty apartment, with nothing but her dog Midnight there and you could come over if you want. You’ll become a master at the passing flirtatious smile. You have to learn to give back to everyone what they dared to give you: a tease at some kind of wonderful.

People will tell you “You’ve changed!” or “I hardly recognize you!” as if your cuteness is some kind of badge of honor or trophy from some cold war you’ve finally won with yourself.

People will assume your ill-fitting clothes are some sort of fashion statement instead of things that actually fit snug at one point. Oh, and your new roommate, Eric, will tell you a story about the property manager and the last tenant, who was a “200+ lb. black girl” as he puts it, who could get anything fixed around the place because the manager loved her “bigness.” But you don’t have to worry about that, he’ll say, seeing as you’re not big at all. And you’ll still shrink and fix your jacket to try and keep your past from showing.

When you’re cute, you’ll forget about all the years prior where there were no notes, no come-ons, no looks, no stares, nothing. You’ll forget about the time in 9th grade when the “cute” boy in class asked if any of the girls had a mirror and looked straight at you and said, “I know you don’t.” Or the time when you were walking down the street past a group of hungry teenage boys’ eyes who risked their own self-worth by actually calling out to you. And when you ignored them, they replied, “You fat anyway!” and laughed. When you’re cute, you’ll try to forget the laughter. All the jokes made at your expense behind your back hurt. All the jokes that came from your own mouth at your expense still hurt, but not enough to bleed.

When you’re cute, you’ll forget about all the times your mother grabbed your face and felt your heavy shoulders and told you how pretty you would be if you just lost weight. If you just took better care of yourself. You’ve got such a pretty face. Just imagine if you were smaller. You won’t think about all the high school memories left undocumented because you lived in fear of the camera, and no angle was ever good enough. And worse, if someone did capture you, you’d have to relive the horror of seeing it online the next day and you’d break down because oh my god, you really look like that.

When you’re cute, you’ll cut off all your hair before your 22nd birthday because you no longer need to hide behind the excuse of being too big for short hair. You’ll take a picture and send it to your mother who will comment on how much you look like a boy.

When you go home to Michigan a month later, your father will stare at you, answering his own unspoken question, and finally say, “You look like me when I was younger.” Only hours earlier, did your mother pull over her car after picking you up from your 6 a.m. bus ride from Chicago, to ask if you were a lesbian. You said, “yeah.” Your friends back home will say you need to dress more feminine now. They don’t understand how cute you’re trying to be.

You’ll visit the church you grew up in after an almost five-year absence, and people will mistake you for your brother. Your mother will be uncomfortable because this is about her, after all. An older woman will acknowledge your true name, Amber, and still call you handsome. The preacher’s daughter will message you online later that night to tell you a secret. I see we have something in common, she’ll write.

When you’re cute, everyone wants to know your “secret.”

Girls will be confused by your presence in the bathroom at your school marked WOMEN. Some will ask what you are even doing in there. Some don’t dare question, and just run out without word. You’ll learn how to be quiet in the bathroom marked MEN.

You’ll learn how to speak in silence. You’ll see how powerful your small voice is when you go to buy a pack of Camel Lights and the male cashier will be aghast after you show him your ID. He’ll announce loud enough for anyone who cares to listen that he didn’t know you were a woman.

When you’re cute, a girl you’ve spoken to less than twice will text you that she just bought her ticket home from school for Thanksgiving Break and was thinking about you. Because when you’re cute, people think about you. They’ll wonder what you’re doing when you’re not around and wonder if you’re thinking of them too. They won’t know how much thinking you actually do. They won’t know about all the times you’re thinking if they can tell and how.

They won’t know about the summer you spent at Fat Camp in upstate New York when you were 15 because you couldn’t shake those boys’ laughter from your bones. They won’t know that it didn’t work.

They won’t know about all the times growing up in the doctor’s office when baby fat grew to real fat to obese to well, if you don’t change, you could die soon or sooner than you would like. They won’t know about all the times you spent thinking about your death. When you’re cute, people just hope you’re thinking about them and wondering what you’re doing, hopefully something cute. So you’re always a little bit high all the time in order to not think about it too much.

When you’re cute, you’ll be angry every day for all the days prior spent invisible. You’ll learn to get mad at yourself for thinking the same thoughts other people thought about you, especially when your sister asks why you, of all people, are laughing when you show her a picture circulating online of a big girl in an unflattering angle. You’ll learn to forgive yourself, whatever that means. And you’ll understand that you haven’t forgiven yourself, not yet anyway.

When you’re cute, man, jeez, someone really thinks you’re cute.

When you’re cute, you can actually write stories about love and relationships and have people believe you.

When you’re cute, you won’t believe it. You don’t believe it. You think about all the wishes on 11:11s, and prayers to darkened skies and pubescent bargaining tools you’ve used in the past that went unanswered. But now, you’re cute, and your real life could mimic fantasy. A fat girl’s dream, you achieved it. You really did it.

When you’re cute, something still feels like it’s sitting on your chest.

When you’re cute, you can finally say you were fat aloud, not heavy, or big-boned, not nothing, not invisible, or ugly, but fat. You were fat once. You might be fat now. You could be fat again. And your stomach still drops when you hear it. But at least, you can say it. At least now, the chains have been broken.

And when you’re cute, you’ll lay in bed at night, every night it seems, and remember all the silence and tears. And you’ll grab your flesh and thank your god and cry out, I love you, I love you, I loved you still even when you weren’t so cute.

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