Lopsided Thighs and Other Things You Never Thought You’d Have to Worry About
I can pinpoint the exact moment I learned what loneliness was. Mid-June; I’d just finished my first year of college. In a few days, I’d be starting my two part-time, on-campus jobs. In a week or so, it would hit me that I didn’t know hardly anyone living at school that summer; in the weeks after that, I’d give up trying to edge my way into my roommate’s friend group, not because they weren’t nice but because I felt pathetic. Shortly after that, I’d make the first of many visits to the cool, sprawling library stacks, slide down against the walls of books in the air-conditioned silence and read until my toes went numb. In the next months of hot nights, I’d listen to the desk fan churn and my roommate’s snuffling snores, stare through the slats in the blinds and feel very, very alone.
I rarely journal about my life, but there is an entry from June 19, 2014.“I didn’t know loneliness could be so visceral… it’s like a physical presence. It sits in your gut like a worm, it shudders when you’re still or when you try to sleep…it stretches the tip of its tail into your throat to gag you.” I was back at camp in the mountains, sixth grade, counting down the minutes in my dark bunk bed. I was a first-grader at my first sleepover, staring at the black ceiling. Loneliness is like homesickness, that concise hollowness in your stomach, the shakiness in the backs of your knees. The June sun slipped into twilight and I felt something open up inside me, bottomless.
I had more free time than I knew what to do with. I wrote, I read voraciously, I exercised obsessively. I had gained weight freshman year and as ashamed as I was of it, that wasn’t what really would come to haunt me.
My thighs were lopsided. The right one was fatter than the left. It was so strange I thought I must have been going mad, like a patient in solitary. I took a step back from the mirror in the dorm bathroom, cocked my head, looked again at myself in my soft old shorts, baggy sleep T-shirt. I shook my head — no, it had to just be me, I had never even heard of a body being lopsided like that, how could it be possible? But the seed took root.
I said nothing to anyone — I had no one to say anything to anyways. I typed “lopsided thighs” into Google and quickly exited out of a page of elephantiasis images; I clicked into an old chatroom where the conversation ended with bemused suggestions — “uhh, that’s weird.” “Try one-legged squats??” I did, desperately, every night before bed in the bathroom where my roommate couldn’t see, and still it didn’t work. Instead, I started noticing more and more asymmetries on my body: a difference in the shape of my glutes, the length and hardness of my obliques. When I walked, I thought I could feel the extra fat rippling on my right thigh. How long had my body hid this imperfection? How long had it been lurking, waiting for my high school skinniness to soften and then for me to start chipping away at the fat and realize that some of it simply would not go? Had I always been this way?
The summer ended. I packed up my dorm, returned my library books, tossed my running shoes into my suitcase and drove south to San Diego for three weeks. When I came back, it was to a different residence hall, a roommate I loved, friends on either side of me and down the hall. I wrapped them around me like a blanket, told them about my obsessive reading, my boring jobs, could even laugh in the face of my loneliness. “Never leave me again!” I said. “I can’t make friends.” I was only half-joking. My right thigh stayed more jiggly than my left and the loneliness lingered in me. I was scared of eating alone. Looking in the mirror, I hid my one leg behind the other and pretended they matched.
But I suppose the parallel is not as neat as it seems. I knew one person living on campus that summer — one person, living on the opposite side of the school. We rarely saw each other, but he invited me to Santa Cruz for the Fourth of July with a few other friends. I had to work in the morning and battled my way through rush hour traffic, parked on the street and had to run back to feed the meter. We sat bundled up on the cliffs as illegal fireworks went off, went to a friend’s house and watched a movie, ate sweet rolls. It was the fullest I’d felt in a long time.
I am 22 and learning to accept that there are parts of me that I cannot change, but also that there are other parts that I can. I’ll be done with college in June and I’m not sure where I will go afterwards. If I’ll be in a city where I don’t know anyone, if I will think of the summer I spent alone and try, desperately, to make friends. I’ll keep working out, but when I look in the mirror I’ll still turn to highlight my skinny leg, my good side. All the one-legged squats in the world will not even out my legs.
I am 22 and I am scared but hopeful. Friends have a tendency to come when we least expect them; we can surprise even ourselves sometimes and already some days I forget about the lopsidedness. I know that some days I will read books and feel the loneliness heavy around me like a layer of snow, cold, muffling sound. But there will be other days when I will watch the fireworks split the dark in half, feel around me the heat of people I hardly know and in my fingers, a warmth I can only describe as bliss.