When I was younger I would hear stories about kids being teased because of their weight.
When I would hear those stories, I would think about how awful it was for those kids who were made fun of, but I would also wonder what made me different because, although I was a big kid, those things didn’t really happen to me.
At age nine I was best friends with the most popular girls in the fourth grade. The leader of our group was Riley Baker. Riley was beautiful, all the boys were in love with her and she had the type of personality that made you want to do whatever she said. We called ourselves the Red Sisters because of a blood oath she convinced us to take one day after school.
If Riley was the queen of the fourth grade, recess was when she held court. Everyday after we shared our goldfish crackers, sandwiches and caprisuns we would roam the playground. We felt we were too old to play on the jungle gym like the 2nd and 3rd graders but we also knew we were too young to make our way over to the softball field where the 7th and 8th graders hung out.
So we walked… waiting for something to happen. When nothing did, Riley would make something happen. Sometimes it was flirting with boys, sometimes it was lying on the grass listening to Nirvana on her Walkman. Then there were the afternoons when Riley’s claws would come out. There were two girls that she hated and both were on the chubby side. If Riley crossed paths with either of these girls, the Red Sisters would stand in silence as Riley tore into them; criticizing their clothes, their bodies, their hair and anything else she could think of. The Red Sisters never added any insults, we were actually cool with both of the chubby girls when Riley wasn’t around, but our silence spoke volumes.
These girls had it rough because if they cried it would only bring them more negative attention. On the other hand, when one of the girls got fed up and told a teacher what Riley was doing to her, it was even worse. Riley was put into detention for 3 days and gave the Red Sisters strict orders to pretend the girl didn’t exist.
I can remember feeling bad for the girls but feeling relieved that Riley was my friend. I also remember feeling confused because I knew that I was actually bigger than both of these girls who were being teased about their weight. I knew it was twisted, but I was grateful that Riley and the other girls looked past my size and still allowed me to be a Red Sister.
When Riley returned from her stint in detention, we went back to sandwiches, goldfish crackers and caprisuns followed by walks, boys and Nirvana. Riley had a new boyfriend and hadn’t harassed anyone in a while so things felt pretty normal. One day, we decided to roam a little further across the school yard and found ourselves chatting in front of a brick wall outside of the 6th graders classrooms. We were waiting for something to happen, but as usual, nothing did.
The bell rang, signaling the end of recess. We all stood up to head back to class, the other Red Sisters turned the corner and Riley, who was in front of me, abruptly turned around. Suddenly it was just the two of us standing against the brick wall.
“You need to lose weight,” she said.
I felt like she had punched me in the stomach.
“I-I… I know,” I stammered.
I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. I wanted to tell someone, but what was the point? I wasn’t sure if I was going to have to plead for my place as a Red Sister, but before I could think of anything to say, Riley turned on her heel and headed back to class.
I stood against the brick wall, alone.
I turned around and Mrs. Arcane the 6th grade history teacher had her head poked out of her door.
“Yes, Mrs. Arcane?” I said, nervously wondering if she’d overheard what Riley said to me.
She took a deep breath “You know, with friends like that… you don’t need enemies.”