Ben was gone, but I was a fool to think that I would sail through the last two years of primary school with ease. Year 5 and 6 were the most iconic years of my school life, mostly because I can come to no conclusion whether they were good or bad years. The experiences were by far the best and the worst I'd ever experienced, just when I thought it couldn't get any worse.
I was glad when I found out that Ben was leaving, in fact I returned home that day with a smile on my face and told my dad the "wonderful news". Indeed, once he'd left, there were benefits, I no longer had somebody who chose me and only me to bully, who took the kind time out of his day to make mine a living hell. Still, mortal enemies or not, it was the closest relationship I'd ever had with a boy, or in fact, a classmate. But the reverie that I would return the next term with tons of friends and a happy two years didn't last for long. The bullying was relentless, the hole in my misery that Ben had left was quickly filled up by others eager to take a swing. I used to think that them bullying me had a benefit, it certainly brought them closer together in the act, forming a friendship over plotting how to scare me or make me cry next.
And this time, most of them were girls.
Was I under the delusion that boys were mean and smelly with big fists, whilst girls were sweet and gentle? Probably. I soon learnt that compared to being called an ugly freak, I would have taken punches any day. Their words hurt me, filling me with not just a wish to be as they were, but a desperation. "Ugly" was a definition I had never contemplated before. I took no care in my appearance, my hair was the same every day, my uniform to the spick-and-span conduct it should have been. I didn't have a fashion sense either, I matched a skirt with a shirt or trousers and a top together randomly, barely caring about whether the colours clashed or that a summer dress should never be worn with grey tights.
It was a cold morning, that was all that mattered to me. And on school days, I never had a woman to tell me that it was the worst fashion decision I could ever make, or that I should wear my hair down for once. I discovered everything on my own, and although my family of mostly women were there to guide me on the weekend, their reach only went so far.
"Ugly" filled my thoughts for a few days after it had been brought up. Every time I passed a mirror or a window, I either walked faster, or in a private moment, just stared at myself. I had a bowl-cut fringe because my aunt said it looked nice, and I only brushed my hair because of the memories of arguments with my aunt that I would not leave the house, or I wouldn't be allowed to visit anymore unless I looked acceptable. I always had baggy eyes from long evenings reading, watching television and playing on computers. A break away from books or technology was creating more stories, playing at least five characters at once and imagining what it was like to be them, and not me.
I never cared about my figure either, I ate what I liked and I liked what I ate. Nearly every day after school, I would be allowed sweets and chocolates, it was something I looked forward to, getting through school just for that one trip to the shops. At that point, the effects of the habit hadn't kicked in. So when we sat down at lunch, myself squished at the end, almost off of the bench because the girls decided that they could fit five on a bench for three, and one joked that they wouldn't eat anymore because they didn't want to get fat, it made no sense to me. I kept eating as they talked about their weight and their hair, keeping to myself, looking up only to sneer "what?" at them when they sniggered and spoke about me behind my back.
Not long after the revelation that, though I didn't understand why, I must be fat and ugly, the girls started a weight-loss club. It was like a dream come true, not only because I wanted the girls to see that I cared and wanted to change, but because it was a club. A group of people meeting to talk about a common interest, one that I had too. I'm ashamed to say I was ever involved in something like it, why a ten year old would want to consider losing weight, and in the process of wanting to make friends, I ridiculed others behind their back to fit in.
I reunited with friends who I'd once had, Charlotte, a tiny mousy thing who seemed to love Pepperami sticks more than life itself, and Jasmine, who I'd been caravanning with a year ago. There were also girls I would never even think to talk with, Nicola, the one who our headmistress (the woman who favourited all of her students. And I mean all) called the star singer of the school, and Jodie, the one who'd broken her nose during line tag and had spent hours crying about having a school photograph done with her bandage still on. Then there was Ella, somebody who had the admirable ability to switch between friendship groups every week, leaving a path of destruction behind her each time, and Hayley, tiny and innocent-looking, but who would rip your head off if you spoke out of turn.
We were all united under the premise that we needed to change, our imperfections brought us together - including me who apparently had the most of them all. We weighed each other in the bathrooms, swearing to never tell others outside the club what we weighed, and complimenting girls like Hayley and Charlotte who weighed virtually nothing. Unbeknownst to my dad, I stole an Atkins book and brought it in, and using the weight/height chart, we all determined we needed to lose at least a stone. Little did we know that the chart was designed for adults, not self-conscious pre-teens.
There was a downside though, and I began to believe that being alone with myself was better than having so many friends. I was sneered at for choosing custard over apples at lunch, and told to distract the teacher at the front of the table whilst the others sneaked past with almost-full plates to the bins. I did it all, and I told nobody at home. I knew that my aunt would only yell at me, and body image was at the bottom of the list Dad and I talked about. Slowly, my body image became worse, and although I never scarred myself with scissors or blades, I scarred myself with words. The one device that would change my world for the better in the future, becoming my worst enemy.
You're fat and ugly. I don't know why, but you are.