Kathy and I were always friends. We grew up together. She lived next door. She was the first girl that I had a crush on when I was in kindergarten. Back then before I allowed mass marketing, advertising, commercials, Playboy Magazine, and Miss America Contests to alter my definition of beauty, I saw her for the person she was kind, personable, and smart. If a boy could have a girl as a best friend, then she was mine.
Through the years we stayed close, walking to school together and coming home together with each one talking about who they liked and who they hated at school. Did I write that Kathy was wicked smart? She was wicked smart.
Before nerds and geeks, she was the one who sat up front in class and constantly and continually raised her hand. She never gave the wrong answer and always had more answers than the teacher needed or wanted. She was the Zelda of Dobie Gillis, the Margaret of Dennis the Menace, and the Hermione of Harry Potter. She was ahead of everyone else in class and it was that way with her in every class and in every grade. She was wicked smart.
She graduated first in her class from high school and gave the valedictorian address. She had her pick of colleges and all of them offered her a four year scholarship. Only, her parents wanted her to stay in the area and close to home. Why travel and live out of state when Massachusetts offered some of the best schools in the world?
Harvard was hot for her, but she chose Wellesley College, the same school that Hillary Rodham-Clinton and Barbara Bush graduated.
I lost track of Kathy when she went away to college. The only time I saw her was when she came home on holiday. Even though her school was only twenty miles from her home, colleges wanted their undergraduate students living on campus and in their dorms to experience the full benefit of college life.
The most awkward time that I ever had with her was when I took her to the prom. No one had asked her and I really wanted to go with Heather, the captain of the cheerleaders, but I felt bad that Kathy was staying home alone. One of my friends had told me that Heather liked me and I had many a sleepless nights thinking about kissing and having sex with Heather, only that dream burst every time I listened to Kathy complaining about her appearance and slowly disappearing within herself. I was smart enough to know that if I had asked Heather to the prom instead of Kathy, our friendship would end.
She was a happy person until she reached puberty. It was then that she realized that she was fat. I’m sure she knew she was fat long before that, but it was then that she realized how the rest of the world perceived and shunned her for being overweight. If only they took the time to talk to her, they’d know that she was a good person who was wicked smart.
As much as I wanted to ask Heather to the prom, I watched as the Captain of the football team whisked her away with his broad shoulders, phony smile, and promises of the perfect life.
As prom day neared, the conversations of Kathy asking me who I was taking to the prom suddenly stopped. She avoided me that whole week and stayed out of school a few days before the prom. I knew there was something wrong with her and I knew there was something she wasn’t telling me.
I went to her house a few days before the prom and knocked on her door. Her Mom answered the door greeting me with a reluctant smile and a sad face.
‘Hi, where’s Kathy? I haven’t seen her at school.’
‘She’s up in her room, Freddie.’
‘Is she sick?’
Depressed? That’s not a reason to miss school, I thought. We were all depressed at sometime or another. Besides, not many mentioned depression back then. Usually, it was he or she wasn’t feeling like themselves or was a bit under the weather.
Suddenly, a modern day vision of depression portrayed on a full screen Plasma TV entered my mind.
‘Okay, for the last time, this is the police. Release the hostages and put down the gun.’
A time before anti-depressant drugs, we never heard about depression. No one talked about it. No one discussed it. They just smoked their cigarettes, drank their whiskey, overate, and died. Back then, the Cleavers, Ward, June, Wally, and little Beaver were a pretty happy bunch. So weren’t the Nelsons, Ozzie, Harriet, Dave, and Rickie. Depression was spoken only of in the padded rooms of mental hospitals just before they gave you electric shock therapy or a lobotomy.
‘How do you feel now, Mr. Blue?’
‘Huh? Where am I? Who are you? Who am I?’
‘Great! He’s not depressed anymore. Next!’
Boy, am I so glad I wasn’t depressed back then.
Kathy’s Mom allowed me up to her daughter’s room.
I rapped lightly on her door.
‘Hey, Kath, where’ve you been? I haven’t seen you at school.’
‘I’m, uhm, not feeling well. I thought I’d lay low while considering colleges.’
There was always evidence of food in Kathy’s room. Before MacDonald’s, Burger King, and Dunkin Donuts craze her favorite junk foods were Snickers candy bars and Ring Ding cupcakes, although, I’ve never seen her turn down a Twinkie or a Devil Dog. Except for fat Louie, Kathy was the only one who I have ever witnessed eat a giant bag of potato chips and wash it down with a big bottle of coke in one sitting and still be hungry.
‘What’s wrong with you?’
‘I don’t know, Freddie, just leave me alone.’
‘Now, I really knew that there was something wrong and something that she wasn’t telling me because she was never mean to me in all the years I have known her.’
‘What are you nervous about graduation and giving the valedictorian address?’
‘No, it’s not that,’ she said giving me a look that really made me feel stupid. She focused her attention on a college brochure and mindlessly asked me without looking up at me. ‘Who are you taking to the prom?’
In the way that she asked me the question, now, I knew the prom was the issue.
‘I haven’t asked anyone, yet,’ I said. ‘I don’t think I’m going.’ I sat beside her on her bed. ‘Besides, it cost a lot of money for the tickets and the tux and there’s no one that I really want to ask to go. I was going to ask Heather but Roy already asked her and she accepted.’
‘Heather? Yuck. I thought you were deeper than dating a cheerleader.’
‘No, I’m just as shallow as all the other guys are when it comes to beautiful blondes who are rumored to put out.’
‘What about you? Who are you going with?’
‘I’m not going,’ she said picking through her college brochures.
‘How come? You should go. You’re the valedictorian.’
There was a long uncomfortable pause between us.
‘No one asked me,’ she said looking up at me this time. ‘I’m fat.’ The way that she looked at me and said that she was fat was her way of trying to determine if I agreed with her perception of herself.
I looked over at her with her fisted hands and tears running down her red face. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do. The feelings that I felt for her went beyond her outside appearance. She was my wicked smart friend. Yeah, I knew she was overweight, but I never saw her as an ugly person that I wouldn’t want to be around. She was fun, funny, and so very wicked smart. She made me smarter just talking to her and being with her. I couldn’t imagine not having her in my life.
‘Why don’t we go to the prom together?’
She looked up at me, blew her nose, and smiled.
‘Go ask a cheerleader. You don’t want to be seen at the prom with me. You’ll never hear the end of it. All your friends will laugh at you.’
‘I can’t think of anyone else who I would have more fun than you. Besides, my real friends wouldn’t laugh at me for going to the prom with my best friend.’
We went to the prom and the closeness of slow dancing advanced to a first date, a first kiss, and our fir
st sexual experience. A time before cell phones and text messaging, she disappeared from my life when she went away to college. I went to Northeastern University and she went to Wellesley College.
It wasn’t until our 5th high school reunion that I saw her again. She came to the reunion alone, as did I. She was heavier than when I saw her last, heavier than I have ever seen her. Yet, she made my heart skip a beat and we danced that night and for the next thirty years, we never stopped dancing together.
We attended our 30th high school reunion a few months ago. Those beautiful blonde cheerleaders are now as fat as they are ugly and angry. My wife, the love of my life, who went on from Wellesley College to graduate medical school and law school earning her degrees in medicine and in law is still so wicked smart. She lost more than 100 pounds and had some plastic surgery that improved the things that she was unable to change with diet, exercise, therapy, and meditation. She looks beautiful.
While all of our friends are floundering financially with mortgage foreclosures and credit card debt, Kathy made some smart financial decisions that insured our financial future well into our retirement.
I’m so glad that I married the fat, ugly, and wicked smart woman instead of the thin, beautiful, and wicked dumb woman.