• Mathura Hawley

different

Updated: Aug 2, 2021


For years, he proved to me how weak I was. He would call me a “pansy,” a “fairy,” and a “girl,” all of which meant weak. His nickname for me was “Pugsly,” the obese kid from the Addams Family television show, and he would cackle with laughter after each time he said it, knowing it humiliated me."

I was lying in the back hatch of our Chevrolet Monza, coming back from Bar Harbor, Maine, a rare family trip with my parents. I held a jar of ocean water and sand I had gathered to remember my first time, at thirteen years old, to any ocean. My dad changed our plans, as he often did at the last minute, and the three of us drove twelve hours home because he didn’t want to stay in a motel another night. I was disappointed, as I wanted to continue this adventure away from our daily routine at home, and my restless bed. From the time I began to walk, my brother, who was large and ten years older, would wrestle me to the ground so I couldn’t move and I would struggle as he held me tighter, sometimes until I was gasping for breath. He would wait, quietly, for me to pass, then grab me at the last minute and smother me. He would allow me, momentarily, to think that I was strong enough to free myself, then hold me down again. For years, he proved to me how weak I was. He would call me a “pansy,” a “fairy,” and a “girl,” all of which meant weak. His nickname for me was “Pugsly,” the obese kid from the Addams Family television show, and he would cackle with laughter after each time he said it, knowing it humiliated me. My mother, hearing my screams, would sometimes come upstairs from ironing my father’s shirts, to stop him. When I was about six, the smothering ended as he began to ignore me. That’s when the man next door started to invite me downstairs to play on the swing in his basement, using the excuse of his grandchildren’s visits to induce me. I retreated further, rushing home from school to watch sitcoms and talk shows, where every half hour had a happy ending or where people spoke to each other with compassion and intelligence. The idea of the intimacy of a real conversation, with no sarcasm or insults, became more elusive. A boy in my class cornered me and asked if I thought he could “take me in a fight,” and I answered, “Yes,” without hesitating. I became suspicious of everyone, trying to identify personal weaknesses so I could have ammunition to attack back at anyone that went for me. An outline of my body appeared in the crushed carpet in front of the television, my happy place. I could barely get through dinners with my parents, imagining they were secretly angry at each other and knowing I must be an embarrassment to them as I grew fatter. I would finish eating as quickly as possible, running to hide in the stairway, pushing my head into the corner where the carpet met the wall, listening while my mother defended my escalating sensitivity. My father would throw down his fork and declare, “He’s different.” I stopped falling asleep easily, needing to concentrate on the voices of the AM channels of my New York Giants helmet shaped radio pillow under my head. My mother began to order entire pizzas just for me, my growing appetite out of control and flaring up at night, when I would need to be so full that I could let go and fall into exhausted sleep. I wanted desperately to be like everyone else, making lists and plans for adventures that would never happen. So I laid in the hot sun through the window of the Monza hatchback for the long ride home from Maine, listening to Barbra Streisand on the tape I had made of the soundtrack of A Star Is Born. I liked Barbra because she was strange looking and her voice didn’t seem to have any limits. My mother had allowed me to see some of the movie from the HBO box we had just installed, standing in front of the television with an unfolded newspaper to cover the scenes she thought inappropriate. I held the cassette player close to my ear, but the music bothered my father, determined to get home to his chair. “Can I have that music off!” he barked, pretending it was a question. My solace taken from me, I pushed the button and threw the player against my suitcase. The car was silent. I knew what was coming. My father shook his head. “He’s different,” he said.



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