“God, I hate Monday,” I thought as I rolled out of bed and got dressed for school. High school is hard enough for normal people, but for me it’s an absolute nightmare. “Mom,” I asked as she brushed my hair, “can I please just be home-schooled? Please!?” She let out an exaggerated sigh and said, “Trina, we go through this every school day. I don’t have time to do all that stuff. It’s all I can do to keep this place clean every day, especially since no one ever helps me.” She finished brushing my hair and put it in a simple braid. “What about Dad,” I asked. “You know that’s not going to happen,” Mom answered dryly, “Your father lives in his own little world. He’d never remember to make lessons or grade papers. Besides, he’s really smart, but not a good teacher.” I’d heard that answer so many times I could puke. How can someone be that smart and not be able to teach? Not that it mattered. I knew that was the end of the discussion. Lexi and I finished getting ready and got in the car. No one said a word on the drive to school. Business as usual.
The first half of the day went by without incident. I did my work, kept to myself and did my best not to make eye contact with anyone. Then came gym. I hate gym in particular. At 5’6” and 140 pounds, I know I’m too fat for anyone to want to see me in shorts and I hate having to run laps because my boobs flop all over the place and everyone stares at me. It’s humiliating. Last year, I hurt my foot trying to play basketball and ended up wearing that stupid boot for the rest of the year just to get out of gym. No such luck this year.
“All right, ladies, let’s wrap this up. Suicides, five minutes, go,” the gym teacher yelled. Fantastic. Everyone lined up on one side of the basketball court and we all took off sprinting when we heard the whistle. Less than ten seconds in, I could already hear some of the girls giggling and I knew they were laughing at me without even looking at them. I was so mortified by the time five minutes was up that my cheeks were on fire. I was the last to make it to the locker room. Right when I walked through the door, Brittany, who I knew was one of the girls laughing at me, looked at her friends and starting making a gagging, retching noise. I could have died of embarrassment right then and there. I kept my head down and went to my locker to change. Everyone was talking at once, so I could only hear bits and pieces, but I knew they were talking about me.
“Did you see the way-”
“Oh my God, I know! It was-”
“If I looked like that, I’d-”
“-guys even look at that?”
I finished changing and got out of there as fast as I could, trying not to look awkward in the process. I managed to make it most of the way to the guidance counselor’s office before the first tear slid down my cheek. I wiped it away as fast as I could, then went inside. Mrs. Newbury looked up from her computer and gave me that fake smile that all guidance counselors have. “Hello, Trina. What can I do for you,” she asked. “I want to report a bully,” I said, trying hard to keep my voice from cracking as I held back tears. “Oh, okay,” she said hesitantly, “Why don’t you sit down and tell me exactly what happened and we’ll decide what to do from there?” Once I started actually talking about it, there was no stopping the tears. It was all I could do to get a complete sentence out in between sobs. Mrs. Newbury sat and listened to me without interruption. When I finished, she folded her hands on her desk and said, “Trina, I understand how you feel, but from what you’re telling me, it doesn’t sound like there was any actual bullying. You said yourself that you never actually saw who was laughing, nor did you hear anyone specifically mention you. I think you may be overreacting.” My jaw nearly hit the floor. “Are you serious,” I asked in no small measure of shock. She held up a finger to shush me. “I know things like this seem like a huge deal for girls your age. I’m not trying to dismiss your concerns, I just think they may be unfounded. I’ll look into this situation and we’ll talk again in a couple of days, okay? Head back to class, Trina.” I was almost in tears all over again as I left her office. I spent the rest of the day avoiding Brittany and the other girls as much as I could, but whenever I passed them in the hall, I swear I could hear a gagging noise.
There must be a God who cares, because my dad was actually on time to pick us up from school for once, meaning I didn’t have to stand in the hallway waiting with Brittany and her cronies. I basically jogged to the car the second he pulled up. Some boys were standing around in the parking lot waiting for rides and I could feel them staring at me until I shut the car door. “Probably wondering how I can move that fast with so much fat,” I thought. “Well hello, firstborn! How was your day,” Dad asked, just like he always does. “Fine,” I said, doing my best to keep my voice even. I guess it worked, because he didn’t say anything else. The drive home was never as quiet as the one to school. Dad likes metal, so Lexi and I are always stuck listening to bands like Disturbed and Pantera the entire time. He says it’s because the lyrics actually mean something, that they’re not “just the same nonsense pop culture catch-phrases perpetuated to the idiot masses by mainstream media to keep them distracted from issues of real personal, social and cultural significance.” We gave up trying to get him to put on our music years ago. “Music,” he says, “is defined as ‘vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion,’” so what we like to listen to doesn’t qualify as music.
After dinner, I went into the utility closet to record my daily TikTok video. That was a total waste of time. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get two sentences out of my mouth before I started crying again and had to delete the video and start over. I must have been kind of loud, because after my third failed attempt, the closet door opened and Dad stepped in with me. At first, he didn’t say anything, just shut the door behind him and hugged me, one arm around my shoulders and the other hand resting on the back of my head. Dad calls himself a hugger and he does do it a lot, but this hug was different. It was strong, firm but gentle, like he knew exactly what was happening. I couldn’t hold it in anymore just wrapped my arms around his waist and started bawling into his shirt. After what felt like forever, I finally quieted down enough for him to speak.
“Talk to me, Trina.”
“It’s nothing, Dad, I-”
“I said talk, not lie. Try again.”
“Everyone hates me because I’m fat and ugly and stupid!”
“Clearly, you still didn’t hear the part about not lying. You are obviously not fat because your body fat percentage is far below obesity level. You can’t be ugly because you look just like the most beautiful woman ever: your mom. If you were stupid, your grades would be much lower. So, logic dictates that there must be some other issue here. Care to take another crack at it?”
I took a deep breath and spilled my guts about the whole day, even the part about Mrs. Newbury. When I finished my rant, Dad held me at arm’s length and stared into my eyes. “Trina,” he said in the most serious tone I’ve ever heard him use, “I can’t tell you that there is a simple solution here. What I can tell you is that you can simplify life in general. Here’s how it works: mean exactly what you say and say everything you mean.” Several seconds passed with me just staring at him, waiting for some sort of clarification before I realized he was finished. “Dad,” I said, not a little confused, “What are you talking about? How is that supposed to make my life easier?” Dad smiled and patted my shoulder. “No, Trina, you weren’t listening,” he said. “I never said it would make life easier. The word I used was ‘simplify.’ Nearly all confrontations between people, whether groups or individuals, are caused by miscommunication.
“People tend to interpret others’ words according to their own personality, tendencies and current mental and emotional state. This creates a problem when the interpretation is nowhere near what the speaker intended to convey. Worse, people often fail to express ALL of the thought and feeling on any given event they experience, but somehow expect others to know those thoughts and feelings. These issues all stem from every person’s preconceived notion that they are ‘normal’ and, by extension, that their thought and emotional response to a given event is a ‘normal’ one that everyone else experiences. A person who believes that way expects others to automatically know what they think and how they feel. The thing is, there is no ‘normal.’ Every single person in the world is different, so their responses to the same event, situation or circumstance may be just as different.
“The simplest way to avoid miscommunication is to abandon the idea of ‘normal’ and expect no one to have a clue what you think or how you feel unless you tell them those things. Women, one of which you happen to be, typically have far greater difficulty applying this concept than men. The majority of women are, by design, emotionally driven creatures who prioritize feelings over sound logic and rational thought.” “What the heck, Dad,” I yelled, “That’s the most sexist thing I’ve ever heard anyone say! You act like women are just big, stupid bags of emotions. We think, too, you know!” Dad just shook his head and said, “Just listen. I’m not saying women are stupid or that you can’t or don’t think. I’m saying you all value feelings more than facts and I’m not wrong. The fact that you feel insulted by that serves to prove my point.” He stopped, look up at the ceiling, sighed and leveled a serious look at me. “All I’m trying to say is that you should try to talk like your old man. If you mean it, say it. If you say it, mean it.
“There is no place in effective communication for gaps, sarcasm, duplicity or guile. Don’t expect people to read between the lines when you can just tell them exactly what’s there. Total honesty will always get you out of more trouble than you’d get into with a lie. When people talk to you, take their words at face value. Don’t interpret. Don’t translate. Don’t think of what you would mean by those words. If you need more information, ask. If you don’t understand, don’t pretend to understand. This is the best advice you’ll ever get in your life. Take it and thank me when you’re older.”
Dad finally let go of my shoulders and walked out the door, leaving me alone in the utility closet feeling a bit overwhelmed. The good news was I had completely forgotten about Brittany and the whole mess that happened in school. I was way too distracted by Dad’s crazy speech to think about anything else. Did he really tell me to talk like a man? What, go around joking about farts and complaining about football stats? I spent the rest of the night turning his words over and over in my head, trying to make sense of them, until finally I fell asleep. “Talk like a man. Yeah, right, Dad,” I thought as I slipped into a dream.