Spring: Bloatus Blossom
|The author, age 16|
“Jeffer the Heifer.”
– An early childhood nickname bestowed upon me by a mean boy, who happened to be my cousin.
On some level, being dubbed as a heifer made a strange sort of sense, for I had endured a years-long adversarial relationship with this junior lunkhead.
I expected to be bullied by him; the adults in the room thought the boy was kind of cute and clever, insisting that I was just a thin-skinned whiner who wouldn’t stand up for herself.
I was never going to have the support of my family, so for most of my childhood I just sucked it up and avoided this person whenever possible.
Never mind that the term “heifer” was wildly imprecise because I wasn’t terribly overweight, perhaps a bit chunky.
But even if I had been morbidly obese, it would have been cruel to allow this boy to bully me.
I now understand that the adults around me were wrong to allow and even encourage this boy to make my life miserable, that harassing language is a kind of sticks and stones.
By the time I reached high school, the name calling and harassment abated significantly. For one thing, as we began moving in different circles, I saw him less and less, and to give the little imp his due, he did apologize later in life.
By then, the psychological damage had been done.
Fast forward to high school.
In freshman year, I started making friends from other parishes.
My new best friend (BF) was acquired via homeroom proximity: she sat in the seat in front of me.
We had a lot in common, such as a fanatic adoration of the Beatles: she loved Paul McCartney, and I was certain I would marry George Harrison someday (Alert: I was wrong).
I was being raised as an only child; BF came from a family of a gazillion kids – she once showed me the family larder, which was filled with an impressive number of restaurant-sized cans of soup, fruit, spaghetti and meatballs, and vegetables. Once, when I ate over at her house, she warned me, “You better grab what you want the first time around because it won’t come around again.”
She was taller and slightly thinner than me, about a size 10 or 12.
I weighed between 140 and 150, perhaps a bit bustier than my peers, and I wore a solid size-14 school uniform. I was curvier than Best Friend, my face rounder – in other words, I carried vestiges of “baby fat.”
In 2017, I would be considered a curvaceous “normal weight.”
For two years, we were tight and did everything together. When our school went to state finals in basketball, she invited me to join her family in their old school bus, retrofitted by her dad, for a fun road trip to Des Moines, four hours away (Our team lost, coming in second or third, but we still had loads of fun, a memory I still cherish). We went to rock concerts – the Caravan of Stars that rolled into town, dropping in on Sioux City on its way to Somewhere Else, most likely Omaha or Chicago. We enjoyed numerous slumber parties and individual sleepovers, just fun girl stuff.
Toward the end of sophomore year, something between us began to shift; BF grew devastatingly gorgeous, slimming down and acquiring a golden tan. She also highlighted her long hair and started wearing makeup.
She resembled the actress Julie Christie – she was beautiful and knew it and even said “I’m pretty!” out loud.
I, on the other hand, was still just me, neither pretty or ugly – just an ordinary Iowa Girl who carried a little extra flesh.
The mid-sixties had heralded in the Twiggy era, when the straight up-and-down stick figure without boobs or butt was the preferred body type – the sweater girl was so 1940’s and 1950’s.
I was a girl out of step with my times: I had big boobs and a rounded butt, and I was an awkward girl who did not carry herself very well.
BF also began running with some in-crowd kids, so we spent less time together – typical teenage growing-apart angst.
It was during this time when she started referring to me as “Bloatus Blossom.”
She thought this name was terribly funny and tried to blow it off as a cute pet name.
I wasn’t buying it.
While I understood why my cousin called me names, I couldn’t understand why my best friend would start bullying me in that manner.
Weren’t we supposed to love and respect one another, not tear each other down?
I was heartbroken.
I didn’t have the psychological wherewithal to confront her, to let her know how much her jokey moniker hurt, so I pretended to laugh, while inside I was weeping.
Another kind of girl might have been able to shuck it off and view “Bloatus Blossom” as a joke or even an affectionate pet name, but for me it represented what I thought I really was: an ugly bloated blossom who would never bloom properly.
The beginning of the end occurred at one of BF’s last slumber parties. It was an awkward event, my school friends surpassing me socially, psychologically, intellectually, and physically.
I was still crazy about the Beatles; my friends had moved on to real boyfriends, jobs, and looking forward to college or marriage. My grades were mediocre, and college for me would not become a reality until 12 years later, after my first marriage started going south and my son was seven.
I knew, and they knew, that I was out of sync with them; frankly, I had been invited out of pity, perhaps out of past history.
I was out of sorts; I feigned sleep so that I wouldn’t have to engage with these strangers.
I would have been better off had I just packed up and gone home.
They talked about my weight, my backwardness, my looks, my lack of brains, my out-of-date clothes, my unruly frizzy hair, my utter lack of maturity, my general pathetic state.
Even now, I wonder why they kept me around.
I continued feigning sleep, although I wanted to rise up and kill all of them – inside, I was dying and lamenting my very existence.
What right did such a loser have to exist?
What might have happened if social media had existed back then?
Thank goodness it didn’t; I might have been one of those highly publicized Facebook suicides. As it was, later that morning, I simply went home and cried my guts out.
No need to engage with these so-called friends, if I didn’t want to.
My friendship with BF fizzled out; there were no confrontations, no “I hate you’s,” nothing to signal the end of a friendship. In some ways, that was worse than a knockdown slugfest.
At least with a confrontation, there is a defined end, a definite cut-off point, a point of no return.
None of that.
Over the years, I had sporadic contact with BF. In the mid-1980’s we started up a short correspondence. She mostly wrote about her first baby and her real estate business. I wrote about my second marriage and my husband’s upcoming Fulbright in Yugoslavia.
Then her letters stopped.
Until 2012, when we reconnected on Facebook.
For a time, we posted back and forth, sharing the *good* memories, never the bad.
Then in 2013, for no apparent reason, she unfriended me.
I should have known better: kick me in the gut once, shame on you, kick me twice, shame on me.
Should she become curious once again and tries to re-friend me, I’ll simply hit the delete button – I’m too old for unresolved teenage drama.
Bloatus Blossom, indeed.
Certainly a fitting death of a friendship that had been on life support for the past 50 years.