“My little angel.” It was what my mama called me since before I could remember. She said that I was the most beautiful child to ever exist–her “gift from god.” According to her, when I was born the nurses couldn’t look away. They said that I was the most beautiful baby they had ever seen. A mother’s exaggeration. No one ever told me I was beautiful.
Growing up, the other children avoided me as if they thought I had some disease. My mother said that they were just jealous. That they wished they were as pretty as me. That they wished they could be special. But she didn’t see the way they laughed. She didn’t hear the mockery in their voice when they called me a freak.
The older I got, the more I receded inward. Wherever I went, I could feel their eyes scrutinizing every inch of me. And not just from the kids. Even my teachers, when they thought I wasn’t watching, would allow their gaze to linger over me. One of them even told my mother that I was a distraction. He asked if there was something I could do to “cover up.”
That’s when I started to bind. It was my idea, my mother didn’t want me to. She would say things like, “You have to love yourself.” But life was so much easier when I could feel the wrapping biting into my chest. With a big sweatshirt on, nobody could tell that I stood out. It was easier to love the me that slipped unnoticed into the crowd.
I went to a public high school across town where nobody knew my name. Nobody cared. Nobody noticed the girl in the back of the class with the too-large hoodie. It was easy. And even though nobody talked to me, for once I was rid of the stares. It was freeing. For the first time in my life I felt like I could be me.
And then I met Paul. He was the other loner who sat at the back of art class. He was ignored by everyone else, but it seemed that he liked it that way. When they called him a freak, he would smile and thank them. “Freaks run this world,” he would say. And even though the others would still cackle with derision, Paul’s smile wouldn’t falter. It took me weeks to pluck up the courage to talk to him. It had been a long time since I had sought contact. I shouldn’t have worried.
“I like your painting. You’ve got good perspective.”
“Thanks. Gabby, right? You’re the one who transferred from Southside.”
Though awkward at first, Paul and I became close friends. Soon we were spending every day together. I thought that I had been happy when everyone ignored me. But now I knew that I had been lying to myself. Paul listened when I talked. We argued, we fought, and for the first time ever I felt like I was alive. That was when I made my mistake.
The first time I showed myself to a boy, a shiver that worked its way down my spine and through my extremities. My hands shook as I began to lift my sweater. When it came over my head, blocking my view, I heard Paul gasp. And then I was standing there, letting him look–letting him touch–as the bindings slipped to the floor. He had a way of making me feel like I mattered. Like I really was special. But the next day at school, everything had changed.
“I heard you fly, guuurl.”
“I knew you was keeping something hidden.”
“I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”
Everyone knew. The comments, the stares, the names all came pouring back. I couldn’t make it down the hallway without heads turning and whispers following in my wake. And Paul was the center of it all. His smile, the same one he had flashed in the faces of our bullies, now joined with theirs.
My mama tried to comfort me. But I didn’t want to hear how “boys are assholes” or that “it will all get better soon.” Her crooning about how special I was nauseated me. All I wanted to do was cry. But Paul’s leering face kept swimming up through my tears. I could still remember his hands running across my skin. And the way his breath caught as the binding fell to the floor. I needed to be rid of him. I needed to be rid of them all.
It was easy sitting through class, knowing what was coming. I almost didn’t notice the peering eyes or the names whispered in the halls. Even Paul, coming face to face with his mocking smile wasn’t enough to shake me.
“What’s up birdie?” His gleeful tone rang across the courtyard.
“Come over later and we can get high.”
“Come on. You busy? What’s a little freak like you busy with anyway?”
“Freaks run this world, Paul.”
When the last buzzer rang, I made my way up to the roof. Far below I could see the bullshit of our everyday life. The fleeting romances and vapid cliques. I pulled off my hoodie and climbed onto the ledge. It was the easiest climb I had ever made. I already felt free. I could hear shouts and jeering drifting up from below but, whether or not they were for me I did not know. I closed my eyes, drowning out the clamor below. A light spring wind brushed against my cheek. It was calling me. Egging me on. It was all the encouragement I needed. I took that step.
The wind whistles in my ears. For a moment I heard shouting from the crowd as the pavement rushed up to greet me.
Then I opened my wings.
Z.B. Wagman is an editor for the Deep Overstock Literary Journal and a co-host of the Deep Overstock Fiction podcast. When not writing or editing he can be found behind the desk at the Beaverton City Library, where he finds much inspiration.