And if I was the butt of everyone’s joke, why did they stay even farther away? Girls skirted around me, like they were afraid of me. At the snack hut, I offered to buy this girl from my Spanish class her french fries because she was fifteen cents short. Nothing weird or crazy about that. I was freaking gallant. I was the full-on “pull out the wallet, extract three dollars, and say, ‘Here, let me get that for you’?” kind of guy. I stood over her and looked down nicely, smiling the whole time. The friendliest way I know how. And what did she do? She mumbled something I couldn’t hear, made the ohmygod face to her friend, and bolted. Left her fries on the counter. It’s like no matter what I do, I’m disgusting.
So I put a shirt on and sat down on a plastic lounge chair under an umbrella and pretended to read really important texts. All that did was get me a front-row seat to JP giving Fern Chapman his towel when they came out of the pool together. She took it and smiled at him.
Dr. Jensen clears his throat.
A poke to my arm and the day at Splish-Splash fades. My leg. The white walls. Dr. Jensen checks his wristwatch. “You here?”
“Yeah,” I mutter. “I’m here.” Still here in the hospital.
“What do you mean by finding a doctor to change you? Can you elaborate on that?”
“It means give further expla—”
“I know what it means,” I snap. In probably not the best way, but I’m not stupid. Never have been, never will be. I just don’t want to elaborate beyond saying thank you for the referral.
Dr. Jensen flips some papers on his clipboard and makes some notes. Bores a hole through my head with his precision dagger stare.
My thumbs molest each other. “Like maybe plastic surgery or something,” I mumble. They work miracles. Surely they can snip away the ogre and tweak me into looking like a normal human person. I’ve seen the Discovery Channel.
“So what does a plastic-surgery referral have to do with your broken leg?” he asks.
“No, not like that….Like saying ‘plastic surgery’ sounds bad. But it’s just, you know, it’s something that I would, um…” Something I would get the nanosecond we won the lottery?
“I need more words.”
Heat rises up. My cheeks burn. “It’s just, this isn’t what fifteen is supposed to look like.”
“Trust me, fifteen looks like many things, and there are far worse fates than being almost six foot four, two hundred and sixty pounds. Sounds like a football scholarship if you ask me,” he says, taking his pen from his pocket. I roll my eyes. See, this is why I hate football. It’s the only thing people think I am capable of doing. Big + Ugly = Football. Dr. Jensen flips a page up, scribbles something. “When did you first place a value on your looks?”
“When did the way you look become important?”
“I guess the sixth grade.”
“And when did you begin puberty?”
“Ten or eleven,” I say. “Like, fourth grade.”
“That must’ve been fun.” He jots it down.
“Hmph.” No, it was not.
“How’s your self-esteem?”
If I’m honest, it’s in the toilet. If I’m doubly honest, I’ve been depressed for four years and counting. “Not the best.”
“On a scale of one to ten, ten being the highest, how significant does the way you look factor into your daily life?” Dr. Jensen asks. “In regards to mood, extracurricular activities, social life, and so on.”
Eleven. I’d give anything to be a hundred pounds lighter and a foot shorter. To be normal. That’s all I want, to be normal. “I don’t know, maybe a seven,” I lie.
“Uh-huh,” the doctor says with a sniff. “Ever had a girlfriend?”
“Would you like to?”
“And why do you think you’ve not had one yet?” he asks.
Twist the knife already. “You know a face only a mother could love?” I point at my mug shot.
“It’s not so bad,” he says. “If anything, you look rugged.”
More like Cro-Magnon, but whatever.
Dr. Jensen’s pen scratches across a new sheet of paper. “What’s school like?”
“How’s home life?”
“Mom? Dad? Siblings?”
“Mom’s great. A bit pushy. No siblings. Dad died when I was three.”
He rests the pen a moment. “Sorry to hear that.”
“It’s okay,” I say. I know it should bother me more, but it doesn’t. He died when I was so young, all I knew of my father was that he was a very sick man. As far back as I can remember, everyone enforced the idea that for him to die was a good thing. I never knew it any other way.
The pen goes back to work and more notes are made. “Would you say your new haircut was a contributing factor to your broken leg?” he asks with technical precision.
“Why the pause?”
“How did you know I got a new haircut?”
He smiles to himself. “Summer’s over, brand-new back-to-school haircut. Looks like you wore a hat too.”