28 days of flash — 20 of 28
“She’s hard to get to know,” they say behind my back, and awkwardness extends from that reality like slips of ribbon that tie around my throat, disabling conversations and making me all the more aware of the impact I have on others who haven’t taken time to know me. I’m only hard to get to know sometimes.
They notice my hands . They look at how I fill a chair. I read their thoughts when I sit across from them, keeping things polite and brief as they try to read my body language and decide whether I’m worth translating.
I am aware of all of this. I have been since I was a little girl.
At four, I was unaware of the differences between myself and the other kids except that I could see the tops of all their heads. Until the day that we made plaster casts of our hands.
The teacher didn’t mean to make me feel like a misfit. I ran up to the table when it was my turn and I thrust my hand toward the tin plate and gooey plaster, excited to make art of myself. I had already planned to paint the background to match our red furniture in the living room.
The teacher took my hand with wide eyes. “Wow, I don’t know if your hand is going to fit in this, sweetheart.” She judged my hand over the tin plate filled with the plaster and looked at the length of my fingers in comparison. “Honey, when we put your hand down, you’re going to have to squish your fingers a little so your hand will fit. We don’t have anything that will fit you.”
I hadn’t heard her say this to anyone else. They weren’t prepared for anything out of the norm.
She looked across the table at the other teacher who was helping make handprints and her eyes got wide. She mouthed something I couldn’t figure out. She guided my palm toward the tin plate. That’s the moment I go back to when I feel like I don’t fit in. And I hide my hands.
I learned scrunching early as a way to try to feel more normal, like less of an aberration. Like a real girl.
Just as I scrunched my hand to fit the tin plate so my teacher wouldn’t have to mouth words to the other teachers about me, I became aware of others’ perceptions through their reactions to me.
No one would ever expect the woman they think they see in front of them is the scared little girl whose hand would never fit the tin plate. Keen observers will note that I’ve slouched so much throughout my life that I never look as if I’m standing up straight. I stoop. I hold my arms in close to my body, and as much as I want to speak with my hands, I don’t want to draw attention to them around people I don’t know well. I want to fit in. I want to conform. Part of me will always first be the scared little girl whose hand didn’t fit the world.