by Susan Woodring
Dear Student Who, Upon Scrutinizing a Picture of Me from a Few Years Ago, Remarked How Very Like a Stick I Used to Be:
Thank you, my dear. I so appreciate your caring enough to notice, and then, even more, for bringing it to my attention. Of course, I’d already realized I’d put on a few or ten pounds in the last couple of years, but what I hadn’t known was how very obvious it was to the rest of the world. I had been operating under the misguided hope that a nice tan and some carefully chosen hip-hiding tunics (How to Dress for Your Shape, thank you!) might at least mitigate (mitigate, what a word!) or perhaps, perhaps distract just a tiny bit from the changes (changes! I mean additions! A rounding out, head to toe!) to my various circumferences, but I’m so glad to know I can give up on that. Thank you, thank you: you’ve freed me from my delusions. Now, I can see, with no hindrance whatsoever, how very unsticklike I am these days.
A true joy, that.
And, of course, as your writing teacher, I feel compelled to compliment you on your powers of observation. After all, the picture you saw contained the images of over a hundred people, and yet you noticed me in all my former skinniness! Hoorah! However, if you’ll allow me a small but, I feel, salient criticism, calling a thin person a stick is a cliché. Let’s brainstorm some new metaphors, hmmm? Okay, okay, other things that are skinny…Pole? Spaghetti noodle? Rail? Knitting Needle? Oh, dear. I’m afraid this is a tough one. Let’s see…praying mantis? Line on an eighth grader’s geometry homework? What about capillary? You could say, Oh, Susan, you used to be such a capillary.
Then, adding to: Now, you’re much more red-blood-cell like. Good luck passing through those arteries!
Again, I appreciate your words. So few people take the trouble to speak aloud what most, in politeness, observe in silence.
Susan Woodring, Summer 2015 Edition
Dear Boy in the Fifth Grade Who Told Me I Looked Like a Frog:
Thank you for, on what I suspect was an impulse rather than a calculated move, pausing as you passed my desk to the SRI box to offer me your opinion on what you thought of my face. Thank you for offering such a comparison: I had the face of a frog. I swoon. Or, rather, I croak. I chirp. I ribbit. I growl. Thank you, thank you.
I neglected, however, to return the favor those many years ago. Shall I now? Let’s see, if memory serves, you had overgrown greasy black hair and a pointed little face. Skinny. Let’s go with weasel. Or ferret. Or prehistoric slimy sea creature with evolutionarily useless appendages. I’m sorry to say you won’t be coming along with the rest of us.
And besides, I was several colors ahead of you in the SRI reading program. Just in case you forgot.
No, thank you.
Dear Mrs. Willifred, my 9th Grade English Teacher Who Told Me I Wasn’t Smart Enough to Read And Understand Ordinary People:
I’m a published novelist and short story writer now. Just wanted you to know.
Susan Yergler Woodring, 2015 Edition
Back to The Student Who Called Me Fat:
I’m not, you know. I’m not fat. It’s really not fair to compare my new self with my old self. There’s more there than meets the eye.
Nobody calls me thin anymore. It used to happen all the time.
Like most people, sometimes, when I see an old picture of myself, I can’t help but cringe. Often, it’s the hair. Okay, almost always, it’s the hair. We used to call it “mall bangs:” a look accomplished by curling then teasing then hairspraying the life out of just the very front portion of one’s hair. This style is best complimented with a Boy-Toy sweatshirt (Thank you, Madonna) and a pair of skin-tight Guess jeans. (Once, spotting me in this ensemble, the snow cone man at the top of the escalator in front of JCPenney at the Four Seasons Shopping Mall in Greensboro, North Carolina, asked me out. I’m just saying, once upon a time, this was a very effective look for me.)
But, mostly, I’m cringing because the person I’m seeing in the picture is naïve and so very, very young. She has a sort of wary smile on her face, as if she knows this moment is coming. The moment when her future self will be looking at this self with the knowledge of all the places she’ll go and will see this young, uncertain self and will cringe. It kills me, how uncomfortable I looked. I didn’t know how to hold my face still for a moment, for the picture. I wanted to fidget, as if I were subconsciously hoping the photograph would turn out blurry. I didn’t want anyone to look at me.
Which is a shame since my face was virtually wrinkle-free in those pictures. But, like my hair, I have to say, my face looks better today. It’s simply more me. And, maybe my hips are too.
Dear student, maybe you knew all this. Maybe you, and I’d guess you have about fifteen years on me, understood that the skinniness of the old me—and, I’ll say it again: I am not fat; I’m just no longer the shape and size I used to be, and who cares, really? There are a lot of things I no longer am, and hallelujah for that—but maybe you understood all of this. Maybe I should take it at face value, that you weren’t comparing the new and old me but rather simply commenting on something you saw in a picture. That girl is skinny. Yes, she was.
Or, no. Maybe you’re just rude.
Sincerely, yours—forever your teacher,
Susan Woodring is the author of the novel, Goliath (St. Martin’s Press, 2012) and a short story collection, Springtime on Mars (Press 53, 2008). Her short fiction has appeared in The Cupboard, Passages North, turnrow, Literary Mama and Surreal South, among other anthologies and literary magazines. Her short fiction was shortlisted for Best American Non-Required Reading 2008 and Best American Short Stories 2010. Susan currently lives in the foothills of North Carolina where she writes and homeschools her two children.
Read More Columns by Susan Woodring
- I’m Sorry, But I’m Not Sorry
- Stargazing and Other Miracles
- How to Dance Like a Writer
- Sympathy for Lead, Or: Oh, How I Hate the Alchemists