I had returned to Colorado from studying abroad in Italy for my sister’s wedding. I used a settlement from a car crash to pay for the five-week summer art history program. My dad said I was too fancy and thought I was more important than I was. I had just finished my freshman year of college. I felt independent, strong, worldly. At my sister’s wedding reception, I introduced my boyfriend to my relatives. Uncle Bob rarely left Kansas. He wore his standard denim overalls.
“This is my boyfriend Jason,” I said.
Uncle Bob ignored Jason’s outstretched hand. He looked me up and down, slowly. Intentionally. I wore a blue dress I had bought in Italy. Sleeveless. It was floor-length, but had a couple of small slits. Uncle Bob smiled and said, “My Paula, you filled out nicely.”
As a kid, I had been tall, until 5th grade. I stopped at 5 feet, 4 inches. Other kids kept growing. The girls in my class adored Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? At their houses, we gathered in a circle and they chanted, “We must, we must, we must increase our bust.” I stayed silent; terrified my large breasts would keep growing. My friends stuffed their training bras during bathroom breaks, but I skipped over the training part and had a real bra. I crossed my arms over my chest. I slumped. Wore baggy shirts, but it was no use. The boys I had known since first grade made it a hobby to snap my bra and touch my breasts. I was pushed into walls. Sometimes when I walked past while they played soccer or football, I was tackled and the boy copped a feel as he stood up. They talked to each other. Wanted to know what my breasts felt like. They just wanted a touch. My breasts were called Mountains. Bumbos. Instead of playing during recess, I hid out on the side of the school with books and notebooks, until a playground teacher would lecture me about not being social and send me back out to play.
That summer, Mom got my sister and I a job handing out food samples in grocery stores. The company let me work, despite my being twelve, because Mom signed a form giving permission and my sixteen-year-old sister promised to drive me. One Saturday my sister and I worked at a Safeway in Thornton. We were in the same frozen food aisle, diagonally across from each other. She handed out pizza samples. I had…