I saw the pile of folders on Mrs. Yakovich’s desk the second I arrived to class. I knew from the pale blue paper with clear, crinkly plastic window that our school pictures finally arrived. We would have to wait all day to get them and then be advised to open them at home with our parents. I was confident this year.
The year before had been a disaster. My mother, on a sewing bender, had made my outfit. A red polyester paisley suit with a white turtleneck, only to be exacerbated by the shortest haircut ever. A style my father coined the "Auschwitz".
This years picture would be near perfection. I obsessed about my outfit for days. I had a yellow sweater, maize to be exact, with brown pants with maize stitching and flowers at the cuffs. I was thrilled when I arrived at school and found Mrs. Yakovich had made a similar fashion choice. Finally, after six torturous hours, Mrs. Yakovich announced it was time, and, as I suspected, we were advised to wait and give the folders to our mothers. They were, of course, in alphabetical. Carl Asanti. Bonnie Butterfield. C’mon. Finally, Mary Ann Lisi, Michael Mallord, Erin McLaughlin. I clutched my packet to my chest and ran for the door.
I couldn’t wait to bring my packet home and spread out my pictures all over my bed, saving my class picture for last so I could savor each face, each outfit, each closed eye.
In my hurry I failed to notice Mrs. Spornack, on her bike, or her daughter Lily on foot. They were behind me as usual. Lily would speak to her mother in a loud voice, so I could clearly hear, that no one liked me because I was fat and always looked a wreck. This day I heard none of their snickering and hurtful comments. My mother had spoken to Mrs.Spornack on more than one occasion. She was smugly advised that kids would be kids.
Mrs. Spornack yelled ahead to me.
"Where’s the fire, Erin?"
"I want to get my pictures home. It may rain."
"Yeah, cause she thinks she looks good and wants to see. You should have seen her picture day, Mom. She thought she looked so cute."
"That’s not true. What do you care anyway?"
"Watch your tone," warned Mrs. Spornack.
I hated them both. They looked like ferrets.
Mrs. Spornack stopped her bike and took Lily’s pictures and went right to the class picture. Both burst out laughing. I did not let this sway me. I kept right on walking. I knew better than to run. I had heard their earthquake jokes before.
"Don’t bother hurrying, honey. I can’t imagine a bigger version of this could be better."
I stopped dead in my tracks.
“I told you, Mom. It doesn’t matter she always looks like a slob.”
“Well, honey, be grateful. It’s not all her fault. Her mother should be helping her.”
“Her mother’s ugly too.”
“Oh Lily! You’re terrible!” They roared with laughter.
Something happened in me at that moment. A rage came over me that I had never felt before. I turned around and started to punch Lily in the face as hard and quickly as I could. I had never hit anyone with such hate before. By the time Mrs. Spornack was able to get off her bike, Lily was bloodied and screaming and I was running home. I knew Mrs. Spornack would be close behind.
I came through the door and ran past my mother up to my room to await my fate. Within minutes my doorbell rang. Mrs. Spornack was on my porch, holding her smug bitch of a daughter by the arm.
“Look what your animal did to my Lily.”
“Kids will be kids” was all my mother said as she shut the door in their faces.
I sat in my window and watched Mrs. Spornack and a bloodied Lily leave my porch. Mrs. Spornack turned to look back at the house. We made eye contact. I gave her the finger. I wasn't entirely sure what that meant but I knew if pissed Fran off when people did it to him.
My mother never mentioned the visit from the Spornack's and they took an alternative route home from then on.
I still needed to see my pictures for myself. I opened the package careful not to make too much noise. If they were as bad as Mrs. Spornack said I wasn’t going to give them to my parents. I was still ashamed of last years photos. I pulled out the main 8x10 that would be put in the frame over last years debacle. My heart sank. My hair was a mess. My new shag haircut had not held up during dodgeball and it was sticking up everywhere. And why didn’t I remember to smile with my mouth closed? My crooked teeth were ugly. And why did I smile so wide it made my double chin look even flabbier? What the hell was I so happy about anyway?
Maybe the class picture would be better.
I scan the picture row by row. Mrs.Yakovich looked beautiful. Opal and those ears, Robbie and his crazy cowlick, Frankie in his suspenders. The next row was all girls. Lily Spornack, pre-beating, in a red glittery shirt and fake smile, Sara Summors with her giant forehead, Jessica Forman, whose father had backed over and killed her little brother the summer before. Then it happened, I scanned my own face. I was stunned. In a sea of seeming misfits, I was a true stand out. I was fat, unkempt and sloppy. I looked worn, aged. Mrs. Spornack had been right afterall. I had tried so hard. I felt almost cute and put together and maybe even pretty. How could I have been so wrong? There was only one thing to do. I went into my brother’s perfectly neat and arranged desk and found a red marker and a pair of scissors. I carefully opened the folder that housed the atrocity and in my very best handwriting recorded the names of each of my classmates. The space provided for my own name i left empty.
I proceeded to remove my picture from the rest. I took my brother’s safety scissors, he was too young for sharp objects, and carefully cut between Jimmy McDaniel and Wally to my own picture. I scooped out my image and flushed in down the toilet. I had to. I went back to the side of the folder where I had carefully recorded the names of my classmates. I saw the blank space that would hold my name on all the other class pictures.
I imagined some would say my name and some would say fat girl. I was confident some of the pictures would be defaced with blackened teeth and ghostbuster circles.
I took my red pen and wrote my name in its proper place. I may not want to look at myself but I did exist. Didn’t I?