Pretty Girl

Our early experiences in relationships of the intimate variety shape us in strange ways.

I used to shudder when a boy – the I hope he likes me as much as I like him sort of boy – called me pretty, or beautiful, or sexy. I’d glance anywhere but in his eyes; just over his plaid-shirted shoulder at the whatever those pinkyorange flowers were, up toward the brick building towering outside my window, at the clock on my phone. “Skeptical face,” I’d say to them, pointing at my face and making a joke out of everything. Bodies break down. Laugh lines become wrinkles. Looks felt like the only thing I had to give, yet also seemed like the easiest thing to lose.

The first time I remember this happening I was lying on the floor of a boy’s room in Arcada. We’d just heard Little Plastic Castles on the radio at the video store. We’d just rented Pleasantville, just been to the beach and the redwoods, just taken photos on film cameras not because it was cool to do so, but because those were the only cameras we owned. Pretty, he’d said to me. Somehow that one word overshadowed the rest of the evidence.

I was worried that if my body went cold, metaphorically or physically, a guy, any guy, particularly my boyfriend guy, would shake himself awake and ask himself why. Even when they stayed by my side through an entire hospital stay. Even when they moved me across the state twice to stay with them. Even when they covered my head during a middle of the night earthquake.

Hell, let’s be real. Especially during those times. I used to wonder if my looks faded, if my body faded – would anyone still love me?

I used to think the answer was no.

Our early experiences in self-worth shape our relationships in strange ways.

This worry became a belief early on; college, at the latest, but I was likely already done for in high school. I was the girl boys liked to make out with before inviting another girl to a dance, or make out with before never speaking to again, or make out with before attempting suicide over someone else. And this belief, stemming from actions that were not about me at all, was eventually ingrained in my thought patterns, woven to my brain waves like thread to a loom. I’d look at a boyfriend who’d be looking at me, and much as I’d hope he was seeing me the way I wanted to be seen, all I saw was him seeing me as a shimmer. Not quite there. Not quite all of me.

I wonder who told me I wasn’t enough, just as I was.

That I’d only ever be seen part-way.

That part-way was the best I could hope for.