By Jennifer Sky
My school locker is on the south side of an outside courtyard, exposed to all the weather Florida can conjure—tangle your hair wind, sideways rain, subtropical heat—but I don’t mind. I like the weather.
In my hands, I hold it: the issue! The one I plucked from the mailbox, delivered yesterday. The issue of Seventeen Magazine featuring me! Me! I was in Seventeen!
Marisol with the raven locks and ruby lips won the grand prize and was featured on a page all to herself. But look across from her smiling face and there I am, wearing a cute bikini, laughing and carrying a giant beach umbrella.
Word had gotten around that I had won some modeling contest and would be in Seventeen. This was a small town—of course it had.
And with that, came the anger.
“Jenny isn’t pretty enough to be a model!”
She’s a dork; that will never change.”
“Are you kidding, Jenny is in Seventeen? Ew.”
Yes, I heard them, loud whispers behind me. But it wasn’t going to get me down, not this time.
Bent over and half hiding in my locker, I shuffle books—math, history, Spanish—trying to decide if I should leave the magazine there or bring it with me, when an on-it’s-way-to-baritone voice speaks behind me.
“Saw your magazine.”
I turn slightly startled to see Seth Walker and a friend approaching. Seth ,who laughed and pointed at my blonde hairy legs when I was just starting sixth grade. Seth, who had pulled my slip down to my ankles in the middle of the crowded cafeteria. Seth, who cornered me one day between classes, alone in the hall, his breath on the side of my neck, and asked if I liked girls.
Inside, my belly gave a quiver. Oh no.
Seth’s locker and mine were always near each other because both our last names started with W. Lucky me.
Seth’s behind me now, both hands on the lockers next to mine, and I can’t turn or leave. I feel fingers brush the back of my jeans as I try to hide the magazine. He sees and snatches it away.
Flipping pages, he comes to the one marked with a Post-it—my page, my picture. Me, happy.
The blue of his eyes taking in every contour and color on the page. Roaming. Hunting. Judging.
A slight giggle or a hmph escapes his lips. Leaning in, he pins me against the wall, face-to-face. I am caught.
Coming too close he says, “Your boobs look hot.”
Blood rushes up to my cheeks and out my hair follicles.
I suddenly feel dirty.
Dirty and ashamed of my body I have worked so hard to get into shape, to rid myself of “ugly-dorky-Jenny.” All my work, all my wild ideas for the future, for being successful and pretty and happy; all my belief suddenly feels stupid and shameful in his eyes.
And I’m mad.
Mad at the pig-boys for making me feel this way, mad at myself for feeling the blistering embarrassment, and mad at the magazine for making me wear a bikini when I wasn’t really comfortable with it in the first place.
Is this the way it’ll be? Is this modeling? I thought I’d be proud, have self-confidence, but this feeling of being tiny, this compulsive shame, the disgrace of my body through wolf-boys’ eyes?
Why does a boy saying I look hot make me feel this? Maybe because, for the first time, I feel that I am being seen as an object. And it’s creepy.
Seth and his friend cast a few more glances and then stride off as the bell rings.
Leaving me, my show-and-tell, my pride, shattered like delicate stained glass back into just boring sand.
I place the evidence in my locker and shut the door. The lock spins and twists—like the sudden weather inside me. Landing in a totally random pattern to be put back straight someday.
And I walk away.
Jennifer Sky is a writer of fiction and nonfiction, a student, and believer in magical things. Her work has appeared online at The Rumpus, Interview Magazine, Electric Literature, 12th Street, and in the short story anthology Love Magick. She lives in Brooklyn and is working on a memoir about fashion, Hollywood, and PTSD. Visit her online at www.jennifersky.com.