This is what it was like:
I didn’t want you to come. I didn’t want you there.
The day before school, the very first year,
we waited in line for my schedule.
They stared. Those in line around us—
the other girls and their moms,
the ones who were my year,
who were never my friends—
They saw how you were big, planetary, next to them.
Next to me.
The girl in pigtails, someone’s sister,
asked: Is there a baby inside?
Her mother, red now, whispered in her ear.
But the girl didn’t mind:
Oh, so she’s fat.
The other girls, the ones who were my year
who were never my friends—they laughed at you, quietly.
Her mother said she was sorry, so sorry,
And you said: It’s fine. It’s fine.
But it wasn’t.
You squeezed my hand, and then to the girl in pigtails,
you said: I am big, yes. But I am beautiful, too.
And so are you.
Her mother pulled her child away.
She left the line and let us go first.
I didn’t say: You shouldn’t have come.
I didn’t say: I don’t want you here.
But I also didn’t say: I love you.
Or: Thank you for being brave.
Later that night, I cried:
I don’t want to go. I don’t want to face them.
And every year after.
You’d look at me like I was that girl,
and you’d say, as though it were true:
You are possibility and change and beauty.
One day, you will have a life, a beautiful life.
You will shine.
I didn’t see it. I couldn’t see it,
not in myself,
not in you.
Now, it’s not like that anymore.
This is what it’s like:
It’s quiet in our house. Too quiet. Especially tonight. The day before my first day of senior year.
The A/C hums, the fridge hums, the traffic hums.
I’m standing at my closet door, those old knots churning inside my stomach again.
I don’t want to go tomorrow. I need to talk to her.
Instead, I’ve done what she always did for me the night before the first day of the school year. I’ve picked out three complete outfits, hung them on my closet door.
It’s a good start, I guess.
Outfit #1: Dark indigo skinny jeans (are they still considered skinny if they’re a size 16?), drapey black shirt, long gold chain necklace that Liss gave me, and cheap ballet flats that hurt my feet because they’re way too flat and I hate wearing shoes with no socks.
Outfit #2: Black leggings, dark blue drapey knee- length dress (draping is my thing), gold hoop earrings that belonged to my mom, and open-toed black sandals, but that would mean a last-minute half-assed pedicure tonight. A spedicure, if you will.
Outfit #3: A dress my mom bought for me two years ago. The Orange Dress. Well, really more like coral. With embroidered ribbons etched in angular lines that camouflage my flab. Knee-length (not too short/not too long). Three-quarter-length sleeves (to hide the sagging). It’s perfectly retro. And just so beautiful. Especially with this utterly uncomfortable pair of canary-colored peep-toe pumps that belonged to my mom.
I begged her for the dress. I made her pay the $125 for it. I knew my parents didn’t have the money, but I couldn’t help crying when I saw myself in the mirror. It fit (it’s a size 14), and I think she saw how pretty I felt because I did feel pretty for the first time, so she charged it.
But I’ve never worn it.
The day after, she went into the ER, her heart acting up again. She needed another emergency stent, which meant more dye through her kidneys, which meant dialysis a few weeks later, which meant the beginning of the end of everything.
I never put it on after that.
It’s just so bright. So unlike everything else I wear.
I could wear it tomorrow.
I could. And if she were here, she would tell me to.
I really need to talk to her.
It’s just so quiet in this house.
HOW TO BE BRAVE by E. Katherine Kottaras. Copyright © 2015 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Griffin.
Summary (from Goodreads):
“An emotional contemporary YA novel about love, loss, and having the courage to chase the life you truly want.
Reeling from her mother’s death, Georgia has a choice: become lost in her own pain, or enjoy life right now, while she still can. She decides to start really living for the first time and makes a list of fifteen ways to be brave – all the things she’s wanted to do but never had the courage to try. As she begins doing the things she’s always been afraid to do – including pursuing her secret crush, she discovers that life doesn’t always go according to plan. Sometimes friendships fall apart and love breaks your heart. But once in a while, the right person shows up just when you need them most – and you learn that you’re stronger and braver than you ever imagined.”
I don’t know what it is but I am drawn to books about grief. I also love books that focus on friendship and ones that focus on personal growth. (I like character arcs, basically.) And so a book that does all three? YES PLEASE.
And honestly, I love Georgia. I love her so, so much. She’s a plus-sized lady (and in high school, so God love her for that) and she doesn’t really focus on her weight. She is okay with the fact that she has curves and she never really obsesses about it. She wants to lose a few pounds but that’s to be healthier, not “prettier.”
At the same time, though, she has the same body issues that I’m pretty sure almost literally every woman ever has. (One of her life list items is to go skinny dipping, which is fine until she realizes that will mean being naked in front of people.)
The only reason this book isn’t five stars is because, at 288 pages, I thought a few things seemed really rushed. But those 288 pages were all wonderful and I cannot wait to read everything E. Katherine Kottaras ever writes, ever.
How to Be Brave sets out to make statements on dealing with grief and body image and self-acceptance and that time where you’re trying to figure out what to do with the rest of your life AND dealing with crumbling friendships. There is a lot going on and it would be so easy to let one (or many) of those balls drop. That doesn’t happen in this case; everything is handled masterfully. (So masterfully, in fact, even Olivia Pope couldn’t have handled it better.)