36: Happiness Is a Gorilla Suit

36: Happiness Is a Gorilla Suit

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

Happiness Is a Gorilla Suit

Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.

~Eleanor Roosevelt

There is nothing—nothing—more awkward than middle school. Not blowing soda out your nose, not running smack into something (which, unfortunately, always seems to happen in middle school), not even talking to your crush while you have a huge zit on your forehead, although that is one hundred percent guaranteed in middle school.

When I was in middle school, I was so easily humiliated. With every fart, burp, bad hair day, bad skin day, or awful fashion mistake, I blushed redder and redder. In the seventh grade, I was a certified geek following my passion for film. There was an afternoon video production class that I loved. On a scorching May day, I finally thought I’d found some semblance of popularity.

I was sitting at a cluster of desks with three eighth grade guys. This was major. Even though, in hindsight, I knew they were all dweebs, I was still trying to impress them.

On this one day, I rolled up the sleeves of my cute sweater without even thinking about it. The classroom was getting hot and I was starting to sweat—very unimpressive. To my horror, Val, one of the eighth graders, recoiled at the sight of my arm.

“Ew, gross!” he shrieked, loud enough for the entire class to hear.

Had I sprung warts? I looked down at my arms in search of the problem. They were still just my dumb old arms.

“What?” I asked, panic rising in my voice. “Your arms!”

“What about them?”

“Not even my arms are that hairy!” Val said.

The whole classroom craned their necks to see and even the teacher edged closer for a peek. I yanked my sleeves down but it was too late. The rest of the eighth graders in my cluster were laughing. That sweat I was trying to avoid? It was definitely rushing down my back like Niagara Falls.

Now, of course, when I look back I think, “C’mon Val. Really?” I let myself be bullied by a guy named Val! But back then, it was awful. And to add insult to my injury, my arms were never even that hairy. I wasn’t packing a werewolf under my sweater or anything. But there was nothing grosser, or so I thought, than being a hairy girl. To my seventh grade mind, this was a crisis fit for the Pentagon.

I ran home in tears and ripped apart the strange, smelly drawer in our bathroom where my mom kept all sorts of weird products like hair remover creams and tubs of wax. Before she came home from work, I had painfully, odiously destroyed half of my arm hair, screaming as I ripped it out and holding my nose while the awful depilatory creams did their business.

Then I spied my mom’s pink disposable razor. That would fix it, I thought. Three minutes of shaving later, my arms were baby smooth and hair free. I wore a tank top to school the next day. Val didn’t say a word. To my horrible disgust, the hair grew back with a vengeance—dark and coarse. So I had to shave my arms again in two days. Then again and again.

I kept shaving my arms (in fact, at twenty-four years old I still do out of habit) but it was the next year, in eighth grade, when I learned that I shouldn’t care so much what other people think of me. Ironically, the thing that helped me finally figure it out was big, black, and completely covered in hair: a gorilla suit.

After Val bruised my self-esteem in video production class, I turned my eyes to the stage. I wanted to be in the drama club more than anything because my friend had spent all summer talking about the fall play. Unfortunately, I had missed auditions and the whole show had been cast already.

On the first day of eighth grade, I woke up early and hustled to school to beg Mr. Crabb, the drama teacher, for a part. They were doing a shipwreck adventure on a deserted island. He looked me up and down.

“Can you lift a person?”

I was tall but not that strong. “Um, sure, I guess. Why?”

“We’ve got one part open, but I was looking for a guy to cast.” Great. I didn’t have the arm hair anymore but someone thought I was manly anyway. Still, I wanted the part so badly. I knew theatre was my thing. “Well, I can try. What is it?”

He nodded his head at a rack of costumes. “It’s on the last hanger.”

I walked over with my heart hammering. I’d get a part. Everyone would see my shining face on stage. Or not. When I reached the end of the rack, I spied a hideous black gorilla suit, complete with gorilla mask. “A gorilla?”

“If you don’t want it, that’s fine,” Mr. Crabb replied. “No.” I stuck my chin out and screwed my lips into a tight smile. “I’ll take it.”

I soon learned that it’s lonely onstage inside a gorilla suit. Still, when we did the play for the whole school, I was so excited that I ripped my gorilla head off as soon as we were done and dashed out into the halls to meet my friends. They were laughing and joking but the rest of the school filing out of the auditorium was laughing and pointing.

“So YOU were the gorilla!”

“Duuude, it was a chick!”

“Gross!”

“Eeeeew!”

Standing there, hairy all over, I thought about Val and my arm hair. Then something clicked. Instead of running back to the dressing room, I smiled and waved. Theatre had finally given me a home and a place I could be myself. Even though I had to do it behind a gorilla mask, I had asked for a part and gotten one. This was just my first show. For the first time in all of middle school, even though I was wearing a gorilla suit, I had nothing to be ashamed of.

By my last show of the year, I was the leading villainess. I got to shoot a cap gun to close the first act of the show. As my gun went off center stage and the curtain fell, I heard kids from school clapping and laughing in the crowd.

“That was so cool!”

“Awesome!”

“That rocked!”

Awkward things like arm hair and gorilla suits happen in middle school. What I did with them, though, was completely up to me. If I can work a gorilla suit in my favor, nothing is impossible.

~Mary Kolesnikova

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