When I was a teenager, I felt like the most unlovable person in the world. I felt fat. I felt ugly. I felt different – and not in a good way, either. But when you’re fifteen, “different” is not a good thing no matter how you look at it, right? Luckily for me, I happened to have a boyfriend who made me look at myself in a completely new light – and although it sounds cliché, my life would not have been the same without him. I can truly say that I would not be the person I am today had I not known him.
What’s that old saying? “You can’t expect anyone else to love you until you love yourself”? Thankfully for me, that didn’t turn out to be true. Fifteen-year-old me most decidedly did not love herself. I had been told, over and over and over again by my peers, that I was ugly, that I was fat, that no one would ever have me as a girlfriend. “Who would be that desperate?
Apparently, though, “Jack” saw something in me that was not only invisible to others, but that I couldn’t see for myself, either.
I suppose it helped that we were both social misfits. Neither of us had any kind of interest in the things other, “normal” teenagers did – you know, drinking, smoking, partying. Instead, you’d be more likely to find us at an art museum or spending hours poring over our favorite music (stuff that had been produced long before either of us had even been thought of.) Neither of us felt that we were lovable – but we loved each other, and that was all that mattered to us. We were, in essence, the centre of each other’s world.
Holy shit, how trite does this all sound? Contrary to the picture I’m painting here, we were hardly Romeo and Juliet, I suppose. But we depended on each other. No matter how lousy everything else was, we knew we always had the other to count on.
I suppose it goes without saying that we were each other’s firsts – for everything. We did everything we were supposed to do – went to Planned Parenthood, got condoms and the pill, talked to a counselor … and oh fuck, weren’t we terrified. I’m pretty sure we both thought that we were going to be struck by lightning the minute we got naked. (Either that, or our parents would burst through the door…)
We made it, though. It was everything that a first time usually is – in other words, no fireworks or rockets – but in those moments (warning: schmaltz ahead!) we both discovered how beautiful we were when viewed through the other’s eyes. Imperfections and all, we were perfect to each other. And what more can two awkward, insecure teenagers ask for?
I remember one incident in particular that has stuck with me. We were in bed one afternoon at my place (hurrah for latchkey kids!). I have a long, crooked scar across the lower right side of my abdomen that is the reminder of major surgery I had as an infant. I’ve always been pretty self-conscious about it (no two-piece bathing suits for me!)
Jack started tracing his fingertips across my scar, and I started to squirm. I’ve never really liked people noticing it, although in a situation like that, it’s hard to ignore. He asked what was wrong, and I told him I had always hated the scar and didn’t really like it when people noticed it (I had already told him the story of how I got the damn thing) because it was ugly.
He stopped tracing it, looked up into my face, and said simply, “But this scar is part of you. It’s the reason you’re even here. How can I ignore it? And I don’t think it’s ugly. How could I?”
And I was speechless. Because, again, this was a teenage boy. A couple years older than me, but still, a teenage boy. They’re hardly known for their sensitivity, you know? And from then on, I looked at that scar (and all the others) in a vastly different light, thanks to looking at it through Jack’s eyes.
I was self-conscious about my scars – he, in turn, was self-conscious about his weight and his lack of “manly” attributes. He had no chest hair at the age of seventeen, for example. I, for my part, thought he was physically perfect. What teenage girl doesn’t think her boyfriend is the hottest guy in the world? Not only that, I loved his intelligence, his sweet nature, and his huge bright blue eyes.
We learned so much about each other during those eighteen months. More importantly, we learned so much about ourselves. We learned that although we were misfits in the eyes of our peers, we were worthy of love. We learned that we were beautiful and the bodies we hated so much were (eventually!) capable of producing pleasurable sensations beyond anything either of us could have imagined. Together, we learned that being different was okay. That even though we were different, we would be fine.
Jack and I went our separate ways after eighteen months, when I moved halfway across the country. We kept in touch for a couple of years after that, but, as people are wont to do, we drifted apart and lost touch. I haven’t heard from him in over ten years, and I have no idea where he is or what he’s doing. But I do know this – his presence in my life, at that particular period in my life, had a profound impact on the person I am today.
Because of Jack, and our time together, I know that, no matter what size I am, I am worthy of love. Because of Jack, I know that my body – imperfect as it may be, as scarred as it may be – is beautiful. Not just despite the scars, but because of them. They tell the story of who I am and how I came to be here, and any man who cannot accept them is not worthy of my time or attention.
I will never forget the lessons he taught me. They have helped me realize my worth as a person and as a woman. And I can only hope that I had the same impact on him. I’m not sure who said it, but this quote sums up how I felt about Jack all those years ago: “To the world, you may be one person; but to one person, you may be the world.”
Thank you, Jack … Wherever you are.
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