Karen Rivers

back from vacation.

Karen Rivers

I never tell people when I'm going on vacation because I'm paranoid.   I'm paranoid that someone will rob my house.   It's true.  I have no idea why I believe bands of thieves are lying in wait for my laptop, but I can't shake it.   So now I'm back.   Hi!   Can't take my laptop while I'm sitting here, can you?

While I was away, I had no internet access, which was nice because I'm the sort of junkie who needs to be forcibly removed from it in order to stop obsessively checking my email even though mostly all that is in there are ads from Roots, JCrew and VistaPrint.   I feel all refreshed and actually staring at the screen right now is making my eyes feel odd.   Maybe my eyes thought that it was over, that they wouldn't be asked to do this anymore and that they could live out their days looking at interesting things, such as jellyfish and eagles and trees.   Sorry, eyes.

While I was away, I thought about blogging.   But with no laptop, I couldn't do it.   Instead, I thought about blog posts.   And I thought about patterns.   And I thought about why.

When I was in grade 6, I was standing in line for assembly next to someone we'll call Brad, because that was his name.   I was wearing short sleeves, which I almost never did and Brad noticed this and he looked down at my arms and he actually shrieked -- no lie -- he SHRIEKED, "YOU HAVE HAIRY ARMS!"  

Now I already knew I had hairy arms, I was already so desperately self-conscious about my hairy arms that I all I ever wished for when I saw a shooting star or blew out my birthday candles was that I have non-hairy arms.   I used to hold my arms too close to the microwave in hopes that the radiation would render them bald.   I plucked out individual hairs.   I was too scared to shave because I thought I'd get ARM STUBBLE which no doubt would be worst than the fine blonde hairs that were already ruining my life.

And now!  NOW!   Brad Homeniuk had noticed!  And shrieked about it!   Everyone knew!   I seriously wanted to die right there on the spot in the way that you do when you are 12 and something embarrassing happens.   

I didn't die but I did continue to be desperately self-conscious about my arms and never EVER wore short sleeves to school ever again.   Like ever.   Not even six years later.   Brad's horror had confirmed for me what I already knew:  I was HAIRY and HIDEOUS.   

I got over it slightly, but not really, and one day when I was around thirty (yes, THIRTY), I was meeting a man for lunch, a man I'd met on the internet, and with Brad Homeniuk's voice still echoing in my head eighteen years later, I decided that it was time.

I would wax my arms.

And so I did.  

My arms bruised.   Almost immediately.   And they bled.   They SEEPED blood.   It looked like I had put my arms through some sort of industrial farm equipment.   But what was even more bizarre was that when I looked at the sheet of wax that I'd ripped from my arm, I could see my arm hair, the whorls and patterns it makes and I felt this strange "Oh!" of recognition, like I'd torn off a piece of me, which indeed I HAD, but still, I'd never have thought that the arm hair that had plagued me my entire life would be so much a part of me that I'd recognize it as mine, lying there in the trash on the wax strips.   

The point of this story is that in the place where I was on vacation, a place where I have been visiting since I was five years old, the beach itself is like that wax strip.   It's a piece of me.   I look down as I'm walking and I recognize it with that same feeling of "Oh!" as I see the cracks and patterns in the sandstone, unchanged after all these years, my feet stepping onto that same familiar patterns and whorls of the land.   

Except different, obviously.   

I think this was meant to just be a commentary about patterns.


While I was thinking about this story as I sat on the sun-warmed rocks, I also realized something very important.   What Brad said to me in 1981 sat with me for decades, literally.  It was so important that it became part of my identity.

Because I was 12. 

People have said many, many more hurtful things to me since that have simply bounced off.   The date I went on that day after the bloodied arms incident is a good example.   The date was lunch, and apart from the fact that the man criticized my lunch choice and wondered out loud if I wouldn't prefer a salad, I thought it was OK, although I doubted I would go out with him again.   No chemistry.  I found the way he lisped and spat slightly when he spoke was off-putting.

But when I got home, I had an e-mail from him, this man who I had eaten with and laughed with and tried to think kindly about even though I knew I'd never see him again.   

His e-mail was angry.   Furious, even.   He wrote, "I'm so tired of this internet dating.  I'm so tired of people misrepresenting themselves.    You said you were FIT.   Do you know what FIT means?"   

On this particular dating site, you had to label yourself:   Skinny, Fit, Plump, Rubenesque, Fat.    Those, I think, were the categories.   At 5'9" and 135, I was fitter than I'd ever been in my life.  I was on a rowing team and I got up every morning at 4 am to row and work out.   I rode my bike for hundreds of kilometers a week.   

So I wrote back and said, "I AM fit.  I'm sorry you felt differently."

And he returned my note and said, "Maybe you just misspelled FAT." 

I was anything but fat and instead of getting upset, I laughed.  I remember showing that note to my friends and all of us laughing and then I thought what a hurtful thing that was for him to say and how, if I was 12, that would have mattered to me.

Things just matter more when you are 12.

And THAT, my friends, is why I write MG and YA.   Because the things that happen when you're young, those things just matter more.   Resonate for longer.   Hurt more intensely.    And at the same time, everything is funnier.   Everything is more exciting.   Everything is just MORE.

And that "more" is what keeps me coming back, keeps me looking back in time for that moment when one person can make such a huge impact with one rude shriek.