2002: Small Grade School, Omaha NE
With the words "Aunt Jeanette passed away last night" still ringing in my ears, I walked into my small, but extremely crowded school lobby. I was preparing to tell my friends my news. I talked to one of the girls in my class about my aunt's surgery earlier that week and, sadly, I was excited to update her.
A few years earlier we moved away from my neighborhood friends and I was slowly growing apart from my other childhood best friend. Admittedly, I was starving for attention and friendship. While I was extremely saddened by my favorite aunt's passing, I was also excited to have something interesting to say to the kids at school.
"My aunt-" Right as I was telling a friend, I felt a stab on the back of my shoulder and turned to see Andy. It was always Andy poking me. Even when I told him to stop, he did it anyways. I swatted his hand and turned back. "My aunt-" Andy kept poking me. I could feel the sting of tears behind my eyes. " My aunt-" Poke. Poke. "My aunt..." Poke. "...my aunt DIED." There was no containing the tears by that point.
2003: Months later, same grade school, Omaha NE
Grade: Still 7th
Age: Still 12
When my teacher put my desk right next to Andy's, I was absolutely, positively pissed. Maybe he knew we had issues and he was torturing me -- I had suspicions my teacher didn't particularly like me. Or he was trying to help us work out our issues. Or he had no clue and just put us together.
Either way, I hated it. Andy was messy. He was actually kind of gross. One time, he hocked a loogie with his mouth open and it landed inside my desk! So no, I was not a fan of him.
My teacher was in front of the classroom reading. I was messing with something in my desk. My hand was resting on the edge of the desk with my wrist bent downward.
"Woah, look," Andy said next to me and pointed at my wrist.
When I looked down I saw my skin from my hand was folded over the skin of my arm and made a roll. I felt my cheeks redden on the spot and I instantly put my hand down.
I could see Andy mimicking the same gesture with his own arm, but it didn't have the same results. His arm didn't do the same thing mine did.
"Do that again," he said.
"No," I said, trying not to cry. I turned away from him to listen to my teacher. All the while Andy asked me a couple more times to "do that again."
2012: University of Nebraska at Omaha, a random course that I can't remember the name of because it was boring as hell, Omaha NE
My teacher droned on and on and on just because he knew he had one and a half hours where we were stuck there against our own will...because we needed the course to graduate. Or at least I needed it. As he continued to talk about whatever it was he talked about, I rested my left arm on my desk and placed my head in my hand, just waiting for the agony to stop.
After a few minutes, a nagging feeling made me look to my left. As soon as I realized there was a guy sitting next to me, I instantly put my hand down. Andy's voice was in my head. "Woah, look." That voice sat in the background of my mind just waiting to pop out anytime I let my guard down.
The guy next to me probably hadn't even noticed me sitting there, let alone notice my arm roll. But it didn't matter. I spent 10-ish years making sure no one else ever saw the way my hand fat rolled over my arm, and I was not going to let that day be the day it happened.
"Fuck you, Andy."
If I could find Andy now, that's what I want to say to him. That's what I wish 12-year-old Toni would have said. She was such a little chicken shit though, she never would have done that.
I so badly want him to have my voice inside his head like his is still inside mine. I would really like to poke him because I can still feel him poking my back even as a 27-year-old woman. When he poked me, he could feel how squishy I was. Andy never said that's why he poked me, but that's what I told myself.
As an adult, that same fear lingers inside me when someone tries to touch me. I go so far as to tell people in advance that I don't like to be touched. When they ask me why, I never tell them because I never want to admit to my fear. It's silly and dumb and irrational, but aren't almost all fears irrational?
I want to shout at Andy for making me feel less than, for making me feel like no man would ever want to see or feel what he saw when he looked at and touched me. I want to yell at him for being someone who made me feel bad about who I was.
I want to yell at him for being the bully I never thought I had.
In fact, I've talked about how I wasn't bullied as a child. I didn't think I was. I always attributed bullying to people saying mean things about someone else. It wasn't until late last night when I realized bullying is about the way a person makes someone else feel -- no matter if those feelings come from words or actions.
And I want to end this post saying I'm over it. I know I should be. He shouldn't be able to have this hold over me. I'm sure he has no recollection of these events. Hell, he probably doesn't even remember me, so why do I let his memory haunt me. They were such small, small, tiny moments in time.
I wish the end of this post was talking about beating this fear, but it wouldn't be true.
Last night, I laid awake at three a.m. with these memories on my mind. His voice in my head. I couldn't shake the feelings it left me with. I tossed and turned thinking about being a single woman and not having any dating prospects and how part of me doesn't want to date someone as I am now.
And it scares me to have these thoughts, because I want to be strong. I want to be the confident woman who I like to portray. I don't want to be scared of dating because I am scared no one will think I am attractive. I don't want to be scared that all men will be an Andy and won't understand that I am not just what I look like. I want them to see past that. To not have a problem with it.
I was so scared last night there won't be a man who see's my joy and wants to protect my pain. Who wants to erase the things Andy made me feel about myself. I was so scared because last night I wasn't strong enough to say I don't need to change what I look like for anyone else.
When I started this whole body positivity website/blog account at the beginning of this year, I wouldn't have thought I had lingering body issues. I thought I was ready to help other people. I thought I was mentally healthy. I didn't realize the more I would write, the more I discovered I have so much more to learn and grow. The more I want to help other people, the more I am going to be helping myself.
This isn't all Andy's fault. There were other boys who came after him who put fears and doubts in my mind, but Andy was the first. I also can't forget to admit part of the fault lies within me for letting his and the others' voices linger for so long without acknowledging them and fighting back. I waited too many years and gave the voices too much power. I have to take the power back. It's the only way to forgive Andy, even if I still want to yell at him.