Delaware and Pink Crayons

Samantha Smith

          At eight years old, I am city league soccer and the gap be- tween my teeth and the Gummy candies I find in the pantry the day after Christmas, which is the final piece in the puzzle that clues me in to the realization that Santa is, in fact, my parents. My birthday party is pirate themed, and the cake is shaped like a ship, and I have two pieces. Everyone is wearing their swimsuits and eye patches and we giggle and say “Ahoy, matey!” while my mother snaps pictures with her cam- era and my dad walks around with a trash bag and throws away the discarded wrapping paper that is covering the living room floor. I am Christine from Phantom of the Opera, or at least I pretend to be because the movie is my latest childhood fixation, and I play “Music of the Night” at my first piano recital in a brown plaid puff sleeve dress, and I don’t feel beautiful be- cause I’m not thinking about beauty, I’m thinking about how I would like to dress up as a pink crayon for Halloween.
At age ten I am the debate club and the cursive S I have been perfecting and the double Dutch jump rope that I practice diligently after school, while my friends chant “ice cream, soda, cherry on top, who’s your boyfriend I forgot.” I am the winner of my class spelling bee, which means I advance to the school spelling bee, and I almost mess up the word “quinine,” but I don’t, and I win that spelling bee too. After school I practice the piano for thirty minutes after complaining for twenty minutes about practicing the piano, and then I call my best friend, Bailey, on the landline, and I have her number memorized because I call her every day at this time. Her mom keeps a jar full of candy on the entryway table in her home, and we can eat out of it whenever we want. My mom says we can only have sweets on Sunday, for dessert, or on birthdays. I like going to Bailey’s house. In class, I memorize where each state goes on the map and my assigned state project is on Delaware (it was the first state ever) and one Friday afternoon my friend Adyson comes to school and tells us that she started her period, and my girlfriends and I are in shock and in awe and we listen reverently to her as she tells us how to insert a tampon.
At thirteen I am junior high and my very own locker that makes me feel eighteen and the lunch table I sit at every day and the posters I make to run for student government (I don’t win) and the choir class I attend for 4th period every day. My favorite thing we sing that year is “Without Love” from Hairspray and I am jealous of the sopranos who get the melody and really the altos should get more credit because holding a harmony is surely harder. I am the violin and the only song I know how to play is “Hot Cross Buns,” but I still decide to join the school orchestra, and I’m not good but I have not yet reached the point in life where being bad at something means I shouldn’t do it. I am taller than all the boys in my grade and on Valentine’s Day I don’t get a candygram, and I wonder if these two things are related and for the first time in my life, I begin to wish that I took up less space. In Sunday School, I learn about the Word of Wisdom, and to abstain from drugs and alcohol and coffee and tattoos because my body is a gift, and I should treat it as such. I understand that my body is a temple. I wish I had a smaller temple.
At sixteen I am high school and a driver’s license and the homecoming dance, and the boy I like doesn’t ask me and he asks someone else, who is shorter and blonder and weighs 30 lbs. less than I do and my brain files all this away as information that is Very Important. My best friend breaks up with her boyfriend and she’s in a bad spot, and one day we sit in her kitchen and we both download My Fitness Pal, and I don’t know it then, but that blue app will stay on my phone for the next five years, screaming at me from my phone even though apps can’t scream. That year, I do a lot of math, as I tally up calories in bread and cereal and sticks of gum. My mother doesn’t make comments about my body, but she makes plenty about her own, and really, it’s the same thing. In church one day we watch a video about a father who runs marathons and pushes his disabled son in a wheelchair while he runs them. I think about my working legs and arms and brain that could run marathons if I wanted to. I think about my working legs and arms and brain that so many people don’t have. I’m sorry I hate my working legs and arms and brain, God, but I do. On the bright side, it’s Sunday, which means my mom will let me make brownies, and so I’ll make sure I leave enough calories to eat a couple.
At eighteen I am college and my own apartment and heaven forbid, even with that wretched blue app and the tears and the math and the counting, I am the freshman fifteen, and people in the world are sick and dying and hurting but to me, to my brain, to my body, there is nothing worse than the jeans in my closet that no longer fit me. While the notes I take in my biology class are half-hearted at best, my brain takes note of plenty of other things. Boobs only count if you have a small waist. Eating out for dinner is fine if you don’t eat anything else all day. Rice cakes only have 15 calories, and if I buy the chocolate flavor, I can almost pretend what I’m eating doesn’t taste like the Styrofoam my mom stores our Christmas nativity in. I want to say all of this is irrational, but I can’t, and I won’t, because all I know is that I’ve learned that how I look is what I’m worth, and it’s all I’ve known and it’s what I’ve been told and even if I’m smarter than all of this, I have made the decision to play the game if it’s the only way I will get what I want. At twenty, I am thinner and blonder than I have ever been, and more people look at me and it feels nice. Sometimes, I wonder what I would think about if I weren’t spending so much time thinking about my body, if there had never been the homecoming dance and the blue app and before my mom had said that she hasn’t worn a swimsuit in fifteen years be- cause she doesn’t like how she looks. I don’t know. I don’t re- member what it was like to be the Pink Crayon Girl, who lived for moments and not calories. I don’t feel like a girl who knows an inordinate number of facts about Delaware, a girl who has a knack for spelling. My body is a temple. I don’t like my temple.
At twenty-one, I run some errands with a friend who needs to drop something off at her grandmother’s house, and while we visit, her grandma offers us a slice of cake from the fridge but lets us know that she won’t be having any because at ninety- one, she needs to watch her figure. At ninety-one she needs to watch her figure. At ninety-one she is thinking about her figure. At ninety-one, she is not eating a slice of cake from her fridge because she is thinking about her body, and she has been thinking about her body for her entire life and she is going to die thinking about her body. Suddenly, I am no longer standing in the house of my friend’s grandmother, but seeing myself seventy years from now, lying in a hospital bed, suffering from some terminal ail- ment that a ninety-one-year-old would suffer from. The nurse comes through the door with a cafeteria tray of too hot or too cold hospital food and I politely hold up my hand and say, “No chocolate pudding, please. But any rice cakes, by chance?” And maybe the strange look the nurse will give me will not be enough for me to understand the gift I’ve wasted. Maybe it won’t be enough to squeeze the hand of my granddaughter one last time, days or minutes or seconds from death and realize that I am passing down the hatred for my body like a family heirloom, like an expensive oil painting in a will. Maybe I will not understand the gift I’ve wasted until I am met with God Himself, with nothing to say to Him about pink crayons or Delaware or the debate club. And though my relationship with God is complex at times, I know that I do not want to tell Him that what I did with my arms and legs and lungs full of air was memorize the nutrient make-up of a Cliff bar.
At this moment, I promise myself that I will not die thinking about my body.
I take two pieces of cake.