Gordita

by Jennifer Ellis

 

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It was summer time so it was still light outside. Becky and I were lying on a bed that had two box springs and two mattresses.  We were supposed to be going to sleep.  But all we could do is laugh and pretend that we were the princess and the pea.  We were excited. The next morning was our first day of summer camp.

My Dad dropped us off that first morning.  Camp was held in our school’s auditorium slash cafeteria. It smelled like construction paper and tater tots. I loved it. The lunch tables were all folded up and put up against the wall except for three that created a C shape facing the stage. There was a half circle of chairs set up right in the middle. As Becky and I walked over to the chairs I scanned all the faces of the kids sitting in their chairs and goofing around on the stage. I didn’t know anyone, and I was the biggest kid there as usual. I was just glad my older sister was with me so I didn’t have to worry about making new friends. I had a hard time last year starting first grade. I spent my first recess at this big scary school leaning up against a bungalow in the playground, wishing my sister would come and save me. I made some friends. But it wasn’t easy when you’re the fattest and tallest kid in class. I was a target for bullies, but I learned how to dodge them enough to make it out alive my first year. Just barley.

I looked forward to coming home after school to watch TV. It was 1984 and Los Angeles was hosting the summer Olympics. My mom loved watching the Olympics. We would sit in front of the TV while she lay in her hospital bed that was set up in our living room and we watched divers and swimmers and my favourite – the female gymnasts like Mary-Lou Retton tumble and twist around and rep the good ol’ USA.

My mom would order unpasteurized dairy products from this store called Alta Dena Dairy. She would get these delicious ice cream sandwiches that my sister and I would devour pretty much the minute the milkman dropped them off.  One day we came home from school to see a package sitting in front of the door labeled ‘Alta Dena Dairy’ and figured we would just bring it inside. We tried opening the door but it was locked. We knocked and there was no answer. You’d think we would be worried that my mother, bedridden from MS could be in distress. But all we wanted to do was rip into those ice cream sandwiches. And we did. We ate them all as we sat there on the ramp my Dad had made for my mom’s wheelchair.

My Dad’s tan coloured Dodge Dart pulled into the driveway and we could see my mom was with him. He helped my mom into the wheelchair and they noticed our sticky fingers and chocolate sandwich cookie faces. And of course, there was the undeniable collection of wrappers strewn all over the ramp.

“You guys were supposed to go to Heather’s house. What have you been doing all this time? Did you eat all of these ice cream bars?”

“We didn’t know that’s where we were supposed to go!” Becky whined.

“There was a note on the door! Your mom’s physio appointment got rescheduled from the morning to the afternoon,” my Dad yelled.

My Dad was searching for the note on the door, then looked on the ground looking confused. Then he picked up the box from Alta Dena and found the note that was supposed to be on the door.

“Shit it must’ve fallen off. Jesus girls you still shouldn’t have eaten all of that ice cream. That was to last the week. You’re going to be sick from eating so much.” my Dad grumbled.

“Rog, it would’ve gone bad. Give them a break. They’ve been out here for almost 3 hours,” my Mom chimed in.

“Yeah, still. This place is expensive Elyse. We can’t be ordering this stuff if no one’s home to pick it up. It’s all ruined now.” my Dad moaned on.

“Alright, alright. Give it a rest. Let’s go inside. You know I will just call them and tell them their fakakta driver knows not to leave it on the door step. I will get it replaced.” my Mom said as my Dad started wheeling her up the ramp.

My Dad let out a guffaw as he rolled my mom into the living room.

“Yes, this I do know hon, I know.” he laughed.

He leaned down and gave her a kiss on her cheek and she smiled.

My mom reached into her pocket book and took out two one dollar bills.

“Hey why don’t you run to the corner store? I’d like an ice cream sandwich too ya know. Get Daddy one too.“ she said looking at Becky.

“Ok Mommy.” Becky said.

Becky took the money as I went to turn on the TV.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Mommy said.

“Fraggle Rock is coming on,” I replied timidly.

“Get your shoes on and go with your sister,” my mom demanded.

“But Mommy!” I howled.

“Jen. I don’t want to hear it, now.” she demanded.

I furrowed my brow and growled. Then I slouched, walked to the door, put on my jellies and met Becky outside.

She was about to get on our bike. My bike had been stolen and my parents couldn’t afford to replace it, so they told Becky to give me a turn on the bike alternating blocks.

“You guys are walking. No bike this time”

“But why?!” Becky whined as I flung my arms to the side in defeat.

“Because it’s good for you. Now get off and get going. It’s going to be dark soon.” she said as my Dad helped her into bed.

I realized when I was older that she wanted us to walk because we had pigged out. My mom never ever made us feel like we were fat kids. But she always found sneaky ways of getting us off the couch and feeding us healthy food we hated.

“Mommy is gymnastics on TV still?” I asked as I was heading out the door.

“Yes, honey it just started. Get going so you can catch Mary Lou when you get home, “ she said as she flipped through the TV Guide.

The next morning we were excited to get to camp.  Our camp counselors were taking us to the park with a wading pool.  On the way to summer camp my Dad told us that he would take us to the beach on Saturday.

“Daddy can we go to the beach with no waves?” Becky asked.

“Yeah! Yeah! I love the beach with no waves! It’s even better than the wading pool!” I enthusiastically agreed.

He pulled up to the school and we hopped out of the car.

“OK girls it’s a deal then. Have a great day!” my Dad said chuckling.

We ran up to the cafeteria doors where our day camp was held. Becky flung the door open.

“Sorry we’re late.” Becky apologized to our counselors Lisa and Connie as we joined morning circle.

“That’s OK girls, go ahead and pull up a chair,” Connie assured.

“So guys, it’s coming to the end of the week. How’re you liking summer camp so far?”

“I like the Lego. And the chocolate milk at lunch.” said this kid Joseph, aka my dream man.

He was a lot smaller than I was but we were the same age. He was a total babe with gorgeous blue eyes and light brown hair that would sometimes fall in his eyes.

“I like the arts and crafts table and playing Chinese jump rope. And I also like chocolate milk,” I said smiling at Joseph, hoping he would start to fall in love with me because of our shared love of chocolate milk.

It was all true. Except surprisingly I wasn’t a fan of the chocolate milk. It was all chalky when your straw got to the bottom of the carton. So, I usually stuck to my tried and true white gold – good old two percent.

Joseph wasn’t paying attention to my adoring smile. He was going through his new package of Garbage Pail Kids.

“Jospeh, put them away please,” Lisa said sternly.

He begrudgingly put them away and folded his arms clearly displeased.

“So guys, did everyone bring their swim suits for our outing to the wading pool today?” Connie asked enthusiastically.

We all excitedly cheered yes in unison.

“Awesome!” Lisa and Connie praised.

Lisa was really pretty. She had gorgeous tanned skin, shiny black curly hair and always smelled like baby oil. I would fantasize about looking like Lisa when I grew up. My sister told me I would never look like Lisa when I grew up unless I turned Mexican. I told her to shut up.

After snack we were all going to get changed and head over to the park.

Becky and I headed out to the playground to play hop scotch with our friends Paula and Heather.

“Hey, I like your jean skirt Paula,” I said as she hopped on the chalked line-drawn pink squares.

“Thanks, my mom took me shopping last week.” she said.

“Yeah, my mom took me shopping last week too. I wanted to get a jean skirt too. But we couldn’t find any. I got these cute jellies though, ” I boasted.

My sister gave me a confused and glaring look. For two reasons, I suppose. My mom didn’t take me shopping last week. And even if she wanted to, she couldn’t. Her MS had her bound to her bed, or a wheelchair.

“Why couldn’t you find a skirt? You can find them anywhere, I got mine at Miller’s Outpost.” questioned Paula.

“Oh ok, I’ll tell my mom to take me there this weekend,” I said quickly.

Paula nodded her head and shrugged after she finished her hop scotch round and skipped over to the water fountain.

“Why are you making things up Jen? Mommy didn’t take you shopping, you know she couldn’t do that. Daddy did. And the reason we couldn’t find you a jean skirt is because there wasn’t any that fit you.” Becky interrogated.

I stared at Becky looking embarrassed as I’d hoped she would just play along. Like when we would walk around Toys R Us saying loud enough for anyone in ear shot to hear “Oh yeah and we have that Barbie, oh and yeah, we have Connect Four, and the blonde corn silk Cabbage Patch kid.” We did this because by saying it out-loud made it feel a little true. I guess that’s what I was trying to do then. I wanted my mom to be able to take me shopping. And I wanted to fit into a jean skirt.

“So, who cares.” I responded in a whisper.

Soon enough we were on our way to the wading pool. I was wearing a multicolored checkered bathing suit and my favourite a pair of acid wash stretchy denim shorts.

The park with the wading pool was close by so we all walked over. This kid Joshua said he had cigarettes. He pulled out a small carton with Popeye’s face on the cover and pulled out a white stick that looked like a piece of candy.

“See,” he said with a goofy smile on his face.

“Good one Josh.” Becky said sarcastically rolling her eyes.

“Can I have one?” I asked.

“Sure.” Josh said handing me a stick.

I shoved the candy stick into my mouth – which ended up being gum, as I moved to one side of the sidewalk to make room for two ladies and a toddler.

They were speaking Spanish and said the word Gordita while laughing and looking right at me.

A few of the Mexican kids laughed and looked at me, saying the word again.

I didn’t understand what it meant, or why the hell they were looking at me laughing as they said it. I had a nervous feeling that it wasn’t a nice word. I was hoping it meant gorgeous, or they thought I looked like someone beautiful named Gordita. So, I asked Lisa what it meant.

We were approaching the park and I ran up to her.

“Lisa, what does Gordita mean?” I asked with urgency.

She furrowed her brow and smiled.

“It means fat girl.” she said chuckling without hesitation.

My face started to burn and my stomach sank to my feet.

Her face changed, now looking sympathetic.

“Honey where did you hear this word?” Did someone say this to you?” she asked with concern.

“Oh no, I just heard it on T.V. I was just wondering.” I said timidly, and then ran away before she could question me further.

I went to find Becky as my nose started to sting and tears filled my eyes.

She was laying her towel on the ground near the wading pool.

“Someone called me Gordita,” I said trying not to cry.

“So, what does that mean?” she asked as she tied up her hair.

“It means fat girl.” I said then looked at the ground.

“Jen, who cares? Just ignore those stupid jerks.” she said without hesitation.

“It was a grownup who said it first!” I shouted as my voice cracked.  “A Mexican lady and her stupid friend said it when we were walking to the park and then laughed at me. Then Suzanna and Lupe started laughing and saying it too,” I said as tears ran down my face and snot ran out of my nose.

My sister looked at me empathetic ally. She was chubby, too. But I guess she was normal chubby. I was tall and well, fat. She blended in more when I was the obvious Gordita of the group.

“You know what, fuck them,” she said with contempt.

Most first and third graders didn’t even know such vulgarities let alone say them. Becky and I were lucky enough to have met the neighbourhood trouble maker, Faez – a little Iranian kid who seemed to pick up all of the key words of the English language, like fuck, shit and asshole. He schooled us on all of these cool swears to say when our parents weren’t in earshot.

“Yeah, fuck them,” I said confidently as I glanced over at the bitches who joined in the Gordita laughter.

I threw my towel on the ground, took off my shorts and my jellies and headed to the wading pool with Becky.

It was pretty hot outside by now.  Becky waded over to Paula, and I decided to stay put and submerge myself in the cool water by laying on my back, closing my eyes and letting myself sink down passed my ears.

As I was enjoying the cool comfort of the water I heard a muffled voice say my name. I sat up and opened my eyes. It was Joseph. He was holding an orange ball and was soaking wet. He was wearing these cool blue and white surfer shorts and his blue eyes sparkled against the reflection of the pool. So, after Lionel Ritchie’s Hello stopped playing in my head I registered what he was saying.

“You want to play catch?” I asked.

“Duh yeah that’s what I said.” he laughed.

“OK!” I agreed, with a little too much desperation.

I stood up and Joseph ran to other end of the pool.  He threw the ball my way. I dived for it but missed it and almost smoked a two-year-old in water wings.

I didn’t even say sorry. I was fearing he would start to cry and I would get kicked out of the pool. So I scooped up the ball and quickly moved away.

“C’mon throw it already!” yelled Joseph.

I hurled the ball Joseph’s way. He caught it with ease and prepped to throw it back.

I kept an eagle eye on it and was able to catch it with a quick hug.

“Good catch!” he cheered.

I was convinced that he was falling in love with me. We played for a little while until our counselors called us over for lunch.

We all sat on the grass on our towels and were given a bagged lunch. The counselors pulled out a carton of milk for each of us from a big cooler they wheeled over in a wagon. Then we each got our bagged lunch. It was the good ol’ days, so our sandwiches were PB and J on white, paired with a package of either Doritos, Lays or Ruffles. Oh, and an apple that no one ever ate.

I was sitting with Becky and Paula. Joseph was sitting right across from me with his friend Gabriel and Dustin. Those little name calling bitches were also sitting on that side of the circle.

“Jeez Jen, stare much.” Paula said as she munched on her Doritos.

“I’m not staring,” I responded quickly turning away and sipped my milk.

“Hey why are they laughing so much over there? Joseph doesn’t look happy.” Paula said.

I looked over and saw Gabriel talking with the two name callers and then they looked at me. And laughed. Gabriel then said something to Joseph and I could hear him say shut up. Then he got up and threw out the rest of his lunch.

He wouldn’t play with me for the rest of the afternoon. I didn’t understand. Did they teach him that word? He knows I’m fat. Now he knows I’m fat in Spanish.

“They were making fun of him saying ‘Gordita loves Joseph’.” Paula told me on the way home. She spoke Spanish so she did some covert ops and found out.

I was embarrassed for the first time like no other. Joseph ignored me when we got back to camp. I spent the rest of the afternoon painting colouring book pages with Crayola water colours while Becky played Chinese jump rope with Paula and the other kids. I was painting a picture of a little girl building sandcastles on the beach. I wished I could just jump into the page and take her place. I wanted to look like a normal little girl and wear a bathing suit without being called fat girl in another language. I wanted Joseph to be my friend again and not be embarrassed knowing that the Gordita likes him.

I didn’t talk much that night at home. The housekeeper who would come and cook and clean and take care of Mommy made cabbage rolls for dinner. I barely ate them even though they tasted pretty good. I didn’t understand what I was feeling. I felt like crying and screaming and throwing up all at once.

“Jen, are you all done?” my Dad asked looking at me surprised.

“Yeah I’m done. Is there anything for dessert?” I asked.

“Jen, you barely ate dinner. No dessert if you don’t eat dinner.” he said.

“But I had some of it Daddy. I just want a Popsicle.” I whined my voice almost cracking.

“Alright, just one.” he empathized.

My Dad was always an easy sell.  I was tall enough to reach the freezer so I opened the door and reached it.

“I want one too. A red one.” Becky said.

“There’s only one red one left and I want it. I was here first.” I complained.

“Ugh OK Jen you always get what you want. Get me an orange one.” she conceded.

“OK, here.” I said passing her a Popsicle.

Becky and I ate our Popsicle and watched Webster with my mom. I looked at this kid who was ten years old but the height of a five year old, and thought, “Jeez I’d rather be small”. I figured if you’re a girl its OK to be small. Being tall. Being fat. A Gordita. That’s what makes your crush ignore you if he finds out you like him.

I lay in my bed staring at the ceiling while Becky softly snored. I was hungry. I slowly got up and opened the door to see if I could see the light of the TV. It was off. That meant that everyone was in bed. I slowly tip-toed down the hall to the kitchen. I gingerly opened the fridge and scanned the shelves for something to soothe my growling tummy. I took out the jug of milk and quietly pulled up a chair to get the cereal from the top of the fridge. I grabbed a bowl and a spoon, and poured myself a hearty bowl of Kix. I sat at the table in the dark and ate. Before I knew it I’d finished the bowl. So I poured myself another bowl.  After devouring that second bowl I reached for the box and started to pour. Then I stopped myself realizing that this would be my third bowl. I was full, in my tummy. But I still felt hungry somewhere. Empty. So I continued to pour. And I ate the third bowl. I ate until the bowl was empty and my tummy was bloated with cereal and milk. But the emptiness, the part of me that needed feeding was still hollow.

“Daddy there’s no more cereal. And barely any milk. Can you make me some French toast?” Becky whined the next morning.

I was sitting on the couch watching Saturday morning cartoons, as my mom read the TV Guide puffing on a Salem. My heart sunk with shame. Why couldn’t I just watch The Littles in peace without the previous evening’s indiscretions infringing on my Saturday morning lineup? My Dad was stringing his guitar at the dining room table.

“What? There is no way your cereal is gone. I just bought it three days ago.” my Dad said sounding annoyed and walked to the kitchen.

“I didn’t eat it all!” Becky whined again. “It was probably Jen.”

My Dad yelled my name.

“JeEEN!”

When he extended the vowel, and upped the intonation with the ‘e’ in my name I knew he was pissed.

“Yeah?” I meekly replied.

“Jen did you eat the cereal?” my mom asked me calmly.

“I didn’t eat my dinner last night,” I said meekly. “I got up later and had cereal. I was really hungry.”

“Rog, come and talk to your daughter,” my Mom called out.

My Dad came over and sat on the couch.

“Jen, you can’t do that. We have to make food last. Money doesn’t grow on trees. And it’s not good for you to eat all of that at once. Jesus it’s not good for anybody.” he said sounding concerned.

“Ok, Daddy. I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean to. I think I was sleep eating,” I said trying to get creative with an excuse.

“Sleep eating?” my Dad chuckled.

“Oh yeah, that is possible. I saw it on Donahue. This girl would sit in front of the fridge and just eat everything she saw. It was a sight. Maybe we need to get her some hypnosis? She needs to get clear. That’s what she needs. I’ll call Helen,” my Mom declared.

“Jen, do you want French toast?” my Dad asked.

“Yes Daddy, please!” I exclaimed.

“You’re welcome hon,” he kissed my forehead and headed to the kitchen.

After breakfast, we packed a picnic and we all got ready to go to the beach. My mom had to stay back because it was hard for her to be anywhere but in her bed or a wheelchair. But her friend Helen was going to come over to visit and probably talk about my cereal pig out and how L. Ron Hubbard was going to make me skinny.

My parents were Scientologists. This is before the Tom Cruise couch jumping Brooke Shields feuding days. They believed anything that was wrong with you could be healed with getting clear. I was too young to practice their methods but I tagged along with my sister occasionally when she went to some of their kid’s courses. I remember flipping through this work book and seeing an illustration of a little kid holding a gun at some people on the side walk. I suppose it had something to do with morality now that I think about it, but back then I thought they were going to force us to shoot strangers on the street or rob banks or something so I stopped tagging along.

The beach with no waves, better known as Marina Del Rey, was our favourite place to beach. We would usually stop off at Vons to pick up a bag of sour cream and cheddar Ruffles and a six pack of Coke. This one time we bought the special edition tall cans. Because 500 milliliters of caramel coloured carbonated sugar is what you need for a day at shore.

Becky won the battle for the front seat and we headed out to the beach. Tears for Fears Shout was playing on Power 106 as we headed down the road.  I always knew when we were close to the beach when I could smell the salty air and Hawaiian Tropic.

Soon enough we were laying down our blanket and I was blowing up my beach ball. I pulled off my shorts, suit already on and ran towards the water.

“Jen, wait for your sister!” my Dad shouted.

Becky soon followed me into the marina and we played games like, How Long Can You Hold Your Breath Under Water? I always lost. I preferred playing the dead man’s float. It was a nice and easy lazy game.

After about an hour Becky and I headed out of the water to build sandcastles.

When I was walking out of the water I heard laughter I looked over to my left and saw a bunch of kids around my age. They were building sand castles and eating snow cones. I didn’t know why they were laughing so hard, but it made me feel something strange and unfamiliar. I realize now it was the feeling of insecurity. I was convinced they were laughing at me.

I went over to sit on the blanket with my Dad. My Dad, a fair skinned Englishman would put on sunscreen and then drape his head, arms and legs with towels. He said he didn’t want to get a sunburn.  So, he was totally OK being the towel man.

Looking back now I don’t understand why he didn’t just buy an umbrella? We were poor but Jesus we could’ve gotten one at Pic N Save or K-Mart.

“Jen aren’t you going to come and build sandcastles?” my sister came up and asked.

I pulled out a super-sized Coke and cracked it open.

“I’m thirsty.” I impatiently replied and chugged on the can.

“Can I have a sip?” she asked.

“No, get your own!” I barked.

“Jen, come on!” she pleaded.

My Dad put down his book and stepped in.

“Jen, Jesus Christ you’ve got enough Coke there for the entire beach. Now give your sister a sip.”

I furrowed my brow and handed it to Becky.

Then I looked over at the snow cone eating laughing kids. I was transfixed. They were all normal. Some of the girls had those bathing suits with the cut out in the tummy and the back. I don’t think any of them had to shop at Sears Pretty Plus section.

“Why are you staring at those kids Jen?”

I didn’t respond.

“Um hello?” she said.

I was lost in envy starting at the long limbs and taught tummies.

“Jen! Wake up.” my Dad shouted.

“What are you staring at?” he asked.

“Nothing.” I whined.

Becky looked over at the group of kids.

“Jen, they weren’t laughing at you.” she said confidently sipping on my Coke.

“Shut up, I didn’t say anything!” I yelled and grabbed back the can.

“Well, I’m just saying just because those ladies and those kids did doesn’t mean every time someone laughs, it’s at you.” she said as she sat on the blanket.

“Daddy can you pass me the chips?” I asked my Dad.

My Dad passed me the bag. I tore it open and got lost in the crunchy salty goodness.

“Jen, ladies were laughing at you?” he asked concerned.

I sipped on my Coke. And decided to confide in my Dad.

“When we were walking to the park. The one with the wading pool. These ladies called me Gordita when they were walking by me and then they started laughing. Then these two Mexican girls said it again, and were laughing at me too.” I explained.

“What’s a Gordita?” my Dad asked looking confused.

“It means fat girl.” Becky chimed in as she grabbed a handful of Ruffles.

“Oh Jen, I’m sorry,” my Dad said as he rubbed my back. “Listen. We are all different in some way. It’s best to just ignore people who think it’s funny to be different.”

“I just want to be skinny like everyone else.” I said as my nose began to sting.

“I’m not skinny!” Becky said chuckling and digging for more chips.

“Jen, do you know there are a lot of famous women who are not “skinny?” my Dad said.

“Like who?” I asked curiously.

“Like Mamma Cass from the Mammas and The Pappas, like Aretha Franklin and Nell Carter. These are all incredibly famous singers. And they are big women.” he said confidently.

My Dad smiled at me and nodded assuring me it was true.

I looked at Becky looking for confirmation. She nodded at me then cracked her own can of Coke.

“Well I like to sing,” I with a sense of hope as I reached for the bag of Ruffles.

“Yes, I know you do. Keep singing. And just ignore the assholes.” my Dad encouraged.

“Daddy, that’s a bad word!” I said laughing.

“Well don’t repeat it, but it’s true.” he said.

“Yeah, total assholes.” Becky said in agreement.

“Becky, what did I just say?!” my Dad scolded.

Becky was laughing, and soon enough so was I. We spent the next while building sandcastles and sand tunnels where we would dig and dig into the sand from opposite sides until our fingers touched.

On our way home as usual we stopped at Arby’s drive through for dinner. I’m not sure when it became acceptable to start eating like a truck driver but it seemed to be a family norm. Especially with my Dad. My mom couldn’t cook anymore but she always encouraged my Dad to make healthy food for us. Back then I guess that was spaghetti and meatloaf. My Dad wasn’t exactly Chef Boyardee so we often ate take out. Tonight’s meal would be a beef and cheddar sandwich with a Jamocha shake and curly fries. We would always finish our dinner in the car so there was never any evidence when we got home. We also swung by Yoshinoya to get my mom a beef bowl so she was usually wrapped up eating her teriyaki and watching That’s Incredible.

On Monday at camp the counselors told us we were going to put on a musical. Rock of Young Ages was the name of the musical. We would just be dressing up dancing and lip-syncing to a record of a musical called Rock of Young Ages. It sounded pretty rad. We all could try out for a dancing part or a singing part, or we could just help with make-up and hair, and cutting and making instruments out of cardboard. I wanted to try out for a singing part. I wanted to be a singer and put on big concerts. This would be my chance. Yeah, I know I wouldn’t be actually “singing” and there was about a total of twenty people at camp. Plus, I was a lip syncing pro.  If you saw me lip syncing Madonna’s Lucky Star you’d be convinced that it was my magical voice. This would be good practice to act like my idol. I was sure I would get a record deal someday and get that canopy bed I always wanted. My parents did always tell me I had a great singing voice. I would always sing around the house. Especially Tomorrow, or Maybe from my favourite movie, Annie. Whenever Becky and I would act like little assholes my mom would say she was going to send us to live with Ms. Hannigan and the orphans. My mom somewhat resembled Carol Burnette so I believed her thinking that maybe they were related, and I might have to spend my childhood making bathtub gin.

It was my turn to audition my best lip-sync in front of Lisa and Connie.

“Hit it!” I said confidently as Connie put the needle on the record.

I gave it all I got. I’d been listening to the soundtrack all week and so I knew every nuance of the song. I danced and swayed on that stage as if I was a contestant on Star Search. If I was a contestant I would for sure be returning the next week.

I closed my audition sweaty with my heart racing and a triumphant bow.

“Great job Jen!” Lisa and Connie cheered.

“Did I get the part?” I asked eagerly.

“We will tell everyone at the end of the day.” they assured.

“Ok, thanks!” I said as I jumped off the stage.

My stomach sank.  Then I had to go to the bathroom.

At the end of the day the counselors gathered us all outside and announced who would be getting singing and dancing parts. The rest of the class would be helping with props and production.

They were about to announce the lead singer role. Paula had auditioned too. She was really pretty. Thin. And pretty. And had a cool jean skirt.

“Jen. Hello, Jen?” Becky said loudly.

“What?” I snapped out of my fog.

“Didn’t you hear Lisa? You got the part you nerd.” she said laughing.

“Oh my god! I did? Oh my God! This is so rad!” I shrieked.

Joseph and Paula got parts as my back up band.

I was the star!

And Joseph the total babe was my guitar player! After thanking Connie and Lisa, Becky and I headed home. We had to walk today because my Dad had to work late. The housekeeper left us a yummy spaghetti and meatball dinner. She always made really good food. My Dad would’ve just opened a jar of Prego. We ate our dinner with Mommy and watched The Love Boat. She was so proud that I got the part of lead singer in the musical, and that she would tell my Dad when he got home that his daughter was following in his footsteps.

We rehearsed for a grueling three days. The sets and hand-made cardboard guitars were finally ready and by that Friday afternoon it was show time. My Dad was working and couldn’t make it, and my Mom of course wasn’t able to be there because again MS kept her in bed.  I was disappointed that they wouldn’t be there to see my rock and roll debut. But my Dad said he would take us to Bob’s Big Boy for dinner to celebrate.

The teachers brought in all kinds of make-up and hair products for us to use for stage make-up. I got the full star treatment. Blush, eye shadow, lip stick and mousse. I felt so grown up. I wore my favourite pink outfit. Baby pink shorts and a pink and white layered tank top. I was convinced that pink was my colour. When I was about four years old I found my mom’s Revlon make-up book and I was in awe with all the pretty colours. She did a colour test and my season was summer, and my best colour was pink. That worked out well, because well, I was like most other girls in the eighties – I loved pink. I even loved that pink bubble-gum simulated flavour medicine I used to have to take when I got sick. I was dedicated. And a little gross.

It was time to hit the stage. I didn’t see many grown-ups in the audience. Mostly just the kids that helped with the sets and props and our counselors. I didn’t feel so bad that my parents weren’t there. Becky was in the front row ready to cheer me on. Or laugh at me.

I felt like electricity was going through my body. I was high. Well, I really didn’t know what high was, but I can tell you now that that’s what it felt like. Like I was on the dopest contraband you could find. I felt like a real rock star. I lip-synced my last line and heard the applause. Joseph, Paula and I took a bow and all high-fived with a spirited “Whoo-hoo”! I was on top of the world.

All weekend I drove my family nuts singing and dancing to Rock of Young Ages. I was still flying high from my debut. Becky tried tackling me and suffocating me with a pillow because I was annoying the shit out of her. Then I did it to her. We eventually turned this pillow suffocating thing into a game to see who could last the longest until my Dad caught us and yelled at us for making ‘trying to kill each other’ a game.

Monday morning at camp all the kids were excited because the counselors posted pictures to the bulletin board of our performance. I saw the picture of Joseph Paula and I onstage. I was mortified. I looked huge. Like three times bigger than Joseph and Paula. I looked like they let the bodyguard for the band take the stage. It was the first time I really saw myself compared to other kids. I really was a Gordita. Nothing else.

“Don’t we look so cool Jen?!” said Paula as she walked up behind me with Joseph.

I turned around and had tears in my eyes.

“What’s wrong Jen?” Joseph asked.

“I hate this picture.” I said trying not to let my voice crack.

“Why? We look so rad!” exclaimed Paula.

“I look like a giant pink balloon.” I grumbled.

“No you don’t, you look like a Rockstar! We all look like Rockstars! We should really start a band.” Joseph said, breaking into some air guitar.

I blushed immediately. My crush told me I looked like a Rockstar.  This was about as good as life could get. Even better than Disneyland and unlimited churros.

“Really?” I smiled.

“Totally!” he confirmed.

Beep-beep! A car pulled up to the gate.

“K dudes, my mom’s here. Rock on!” he said as he waved goodbye.

“Bye Joseph!” I squealed as he ran to his moms’ car.

“Oooooh I think he looooves you Jen!” Paula said hooking onto my arm as we walked over to pick up our back packs.

“Shhhh!” I said giggling.

I allowed myself to think that maybe he did.

I asked Lisa if I could take the picture home to show my Dad and promised to bring it back. I was thrilled when she said she had a copy I could keep. She pulled it out of an envelope just as my Dad honked his horn.

“Thanks Lisa!” I said as I snatched the picture.

I ran to the car as fast as I could.

“Daddy! Daddy! Look at this picture from my concert!” as I approached his window.

“Oh wow! You look great Jen! Just great.” he praised.

Becky and I climbed into the backseat of the car.

“I’m gonna start a band with my friends. Just like Mamma Cat.”

“You mean Mamma Cass?” he corrected.

“Sure, that lady.” I said as I rolled down my window.

Becky snort laughed at my fumble.

“Sounds great. I’ll be in the front row.” Daddy said proudly.

I sat back on the brown vinyl seats enjoying the late afternoon cool air as we drove away. I started to day-dream about going on tour and marrying Joseph. And then my Dad pulled into the McDonald’s drive through and said we’d be picking up dinner.

Life was pretty good.

 

 

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