When even a foot in one’s mouth would leave a preferable taste

As my husband and I walked home from the park on this beautiful spring night, swinging our son between our arms and then letting him run ahead to investigate the neighborhood cats in our path, we passed some girls jogging. I noticed them at a distance. They were probably 14, and both were generously proportioned. They wouldn’t qualify for the heads-removed-b-roll-footage shots of overweight Americans, but I’d also lay down serious Vegas odds that they’ve heard comments about their weight from classmates.

I didn’t even notice the other two girls until they shouted. Two slender blondes, dressed in bright skirts, off the shoulder shirts, headbands, were casually leaning their bodies against a statue in front of the elementary school.  Just as the joggers passed them one yelled, “Run, Forest, Run!” Then they laughed.

The joggers kept on, passing the street into the park beyond, but I noticed when safely on the other side of the road, they slowed to a walk.

We were 15 feet from these girls, and although it’s not usually my first impulse to address strangers, I knew I was ready to say something to them.

In 8th grade, my friend Jenny and I were jogging down to the park. It was the summer I lost the first 10 of the 25 pounds I would lose before moving to another state, where no one ever knew I was called “chubby” in the locker room. Where I got a boyfriend, because I was no longer one of that special cast of untouchables – a high school girl with a few extra pounds. A car drove by, and the window was rolled down. I didn’t even see the kids, but I heard the words: “YOU”RE UGLY!!!!”

Jenny and I tried to laugh. “How dumb!” we said. But we too slowed to a walk. We walked the rest of the way home, and for a while after that I jogged in place in my basement instead.

I told my husband, “stay here, I’ll be right back. I’m going to go say something to those girls.” And he looked at me like I was crazy, “They’re probably friends! Did you think they meant something by it?” I paused, doubting myself. We kept walking, and part way down the block, I already knew my mistake. What do men know about this kind of thing? (Blissfully little). I may be rusty, but I speak the language of adolescent girls: they were not friends.

But the moment had passed. The moment I so wish I’d taken. I wouldn’t have said anything brilliant, but I would have said something. I’d wish I get the chance again, but I’d rather wish that those running girls kept on running, not from the cruel idiots in junior Prada, but forward. Past the park, past the coffee shops and Laundromat/tanning salon, past the suburban lawns and packed outdoor bars, into the cool, expansive evening.

Have you had those moments when you wished you’d said something, but didn’t? What should I have said, had I made it across the street to the girls?

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Comments
6 Responses to “When even a foot in one’s mouth would leave a preferable taste”
  1. Jenny says:

    You know what, I have no idea what I would have said to those girls, but I would have had the same reaction. And frankly, I’m not sure what I would have wanted someone to say that summer day. Because if someone said something, it would mean someone else heard it, which would have been just horrible to my 14 year old self. I’ve had many of those moments of “someone needs to say something…” thoughts. And usually, I don’t manage to do so, unless I can tell that the people I’m thinking about talking to are visibly upset. That makes it easier to go over the edge of “should I really?” to “yes I should.” Wow, I sound like Bob the Builder. Anyway, thanks for the run, even if there was just one 🙂

    • H says:

      So you remember too, eh? We didn’t act like it was a big deal at the time, but that was probably top 10 for me in really awful adolescent moments. Thank YOU for running with me that summer. It’s never been my favorite activity, but I don’t think I ever liked it better than when we did it together.

  2. Hmm. interesting question….very heavy as a child and an adult, I can relate to this story. Taunting by other kids you know (notice I don’t say “friends” but schoolmates) is not as bad as random and hateful comments from strangers.

    When I was a HS Freshman I was eating an ice cream cone at an amusement park and two thin, pretty girls of about 18 passed me and stage whispered, “looks who needs it.”

    Years later, in my 30s, I was in Target and heard two young men talking and one said “no she was fat, really fat…” they came into the aisle I was in and he finished with a smirk “like that.”

    Obviously, we remember these moments. But I don’t know that anyone, even a future version of ME sent back in a time machine, could have said anything to make it “OK.”

    Perhaps like the lessons we learn as toddlers (don’t stick a fork in a plug, don’t touch a hot stove, etc) we have to learn that words hurt…and the only way to know that OUR words can hurt others, is to be learn that others’ words hurt us.

    • H says:

      I agree. Comments from strangers are the worst. And what do those commenters get for it? Just a brief moment of smug delight at making another person feel bad. But for the person who hears it, those moments can play on our own internal awful-moments-reel forever.

  3. Skinny Sushi says:

    I have no idea… I probably wouldn’t have said anything either. In the end, I’m cynical and feel like saying something would change nothing in their minds and might open me up to belittling too… and I may be an adult, but I’m still scared of teenagers.

  4. Barbara says:

    “Saying something” assumes that there are functional minds and hearts to hear you. This assumption and the situation you described are probably mutually exclusive.

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