From as far back as I can remember, they used to call me Scaredy Cat. I was known as little scrawny Debbie Ford who hid beneath her mother’s dress, ran from anyone who wanted to say hello, and could never fall asleep without the lights on. Always in fear that somebody was going to leap out of the shadows and hurt me, I learned to hide in corners and sneak peeks at what was going on around me. I wasn’t more than two years old before I became the neighborhood child who got teased, taunted, and made the brunt of too many stupid pranks. I was vulnerable and scared. I was the youngest of three children and found out early on that no one was going to protect me. The intimidation was happening right in my house, starting with my older sister, whom I idolized, and my brother, whom I believed to be my savior. It was clear by my third birthday that they were bored with my Scaredy Cat act and wished I would grow up and be normal like them.
My father, who believed teasing me was a cute way of interacting with me, would come home after a long day of work, pick up our white Persian cat (who was named Whitey Ford, after the famous baseball player), get comfortable in his La-Z-Boy chair, and then in a sweet voice say, “Come here, my little Scaredy Cat. Come see Daddy.” At the time, I loved the attention, but the cozy feeling didn’t last. What he believed were terms of endearment got meaner as he moved on from Scaredy Cat to Pigsnose and Bucky Baboon. Even though I knew how much he loved me, the teasing hurt, and I became increasingly frightened of the people around me and the world at large.
As I got older, I learned that scaredy cats weren’t widely accepted. Just like with my brother and sister, I could see that my guarded and anxious persona wasn’t very appealing out in the world. I wanted to be strong and confident, but instead I was suspicious and fearful. Everything about who I was embarrassed me. I was awkward and yet wanted nothing more than to fit in and have the confidence of my older sister, Arielle. With her long, dark hair, she was the shining star who never seemed to be bothered by anything. I began a search to discover how I could feel that way, too.
Food seemed to change the way I felt inside. By chance, we happened to live across from a 7-Eleven store on 46th Avenue in Hollywood, Florida. It was a boring little town to me, and my entertainment became sneaking into my mother’s and father’s wallets, grabbing a few dollars, and then racing across the street to score my fix of Sara Lee brownies and Coca-Cola. This always seemed to do the trick. The sugar high gave me enough of a buzz to quell the constant anxiety that swirled around in my young belly, putting me in a calmer and more peaceful state. After just a few bites of a brownie and a swig of Coke, I felt lovable—and almost invincible. It never took more than five minutes for me to be lifted out of my fear and into a state where I felt stronger and more confident.
My ultimate moment of humiliation happened in seventh grade. I had mustered the courage to go to my first school dance. I still was embarrassed by my scrawny body, my buckteeth (which were now covered in ugly metal braces), and my general lack of popularity.
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