When I was three or four, I was generally quite happy, but I had one major point of aggravation: not being taken seriously. My parents weren’t the issue. They never did the baby-talk -- never let their voices blur into that shrill, saccharine cloud of false interest and feigned enthusiasm -- and maybe that was the reason why I was aware when other adults looked down on me. That was the issue, though. The looking down.
Everything was based on age. And age, invariably, is linked with how many inches are on your spine. Maybe it was some sort of imaginary parallel that I created for myself, but I thought that the difference between being three and being thirty was less about age and more about height. I reasoned that I could have the same ideas at any age, but whether or not I was taken seriously was based on if I was at eye level with the person to whom I was speaking. No one would doubt me if people didn’t have to squat down so low during our conversations.
See, when I was three or four, I was smart. Smart in a way that I’m not any more. I had a type of curiosity then, a type of curiosity that I lost somewhere in between the last time an orange popsicle cemented my fingers together and the first time was I penalized for not swirling my pencil in a perfect circle because the bubble sheet machine wouldn’t mark me correct. I asked the real questions. You did, too. I’m certain you did. Because when we’re three or four, we wonder. Insatiably. We ask the questions that don’t get asked because of ‘common sense,’ or something comparatively ridiculous, but that lead to the discoveries that flip our world like it’s a spherical omelette. Sure, not every question is life-changing, but some of them -- the what ifs and the but hows and the why, why, whys -- some of them are the ones asked by scientists and artists. Except, when you ask those questions as a toddler, they’re dismissed on the basis of lack of logic. It’s never about the questions themselves. It’s about who does the asking.
But I decided that when I grew, it would all work out. My doctor said that I would be five-foot-three or five-foot-four, maybe even five-foot-five. Five-foot-five! And I didn’t need to do anything besides grow.
Except, I didn’t. I mean, I grew a bit; for years, I was in exactly the fiftieth percentile for height in my age range. It was the only time I was excited to be average. But then, as I turned eleven, my growth curve started to level out into an extremely flat line.
I stopped growing in seventh grade. It was a disaster.
Because, in retrospect, all my expectations -- the ones I used to have for myself when I was three or four -- were the bricks in the path to being treated as an equal. I wanted to publish a book by the time I graduated from high school. I wanted to learn all the information -- not an exaggeration; I wanted to keep sprinting until I reached the edge of the unknown. I wanted to look like an adult, speak like an adult, dress like an adult, act like an adult. And I wanted to be tall.
I realize now that many of my expectations were unattainable. But the sentiment behind them wasn’t. And that one, vaguely possible hope (I say vaguely because neither of my parents is taller than five-and-a-half feet) was the one way that I was certain that I’d achieve my position as Respected. Now, as a fifteen-year-old, I fear that I will be a perpetual toddler in the minds of those taller than me. It will never matter what words fall from my mouth or flow from my fingers. Not if you see me. Because I will always, always be beneath you.
I guess that’s part of the reason I write. Yes, I write because it brings me inexplicable joy and a kind of profound contentment that I feel from nothing else, but I also write because your first thought upon reading my pieces isn’t, “Oh. She’s short.” (Except for this one. But that’s different.) You don’t take in the top of my head and the tip of my nose; you’re enveloped in my prose, grasped by my words, tugged into my paragraphs. You pass judgement on my brain rather than on my height. And maybe a tall (or even average) person doesn’t understand that, but it’s glorious.
My dad likes to quip, “I was the tallest kid in my class -- for about a week.” The backstory is that he had his growth spurt very early, but then everyone else grew and he resumed his status as resident garden gnome. During that one week (or something like that; this is, after all, a Dad Joke, so I’m pretty sure he stretched the facts), he was delighted. He must have been; why else does he insist on repeating said quip three times a month, decades after that one week? Height brings prestige. This is prestige that a five-foot-ten human might not notice (I don’t know -- I don’t have much experience from that perspective), but it is prestige nonetheless. When you’re tall, you don’t need to work to be seen as better-than-average; your physical appearance confirms it without you needing to provide other evidence of your talent.
Now, my dad is five-foot-five. He used to be five-foot-six, but then he shrunk. Or maybe the doctor’s measuring tools were off and he’s just been five-foot-five all along. There’s really no way for me to know. And my dad is quite happy, and quite successful, too, despite his height. He got a PhD. He published a book. He’s a brilliant psychologist. I hope that I, too, can overcome my shortness and be taken seriously.
Still, in a world where “know your angles” is common wisdom, it’s difficult to survive when you know you look worst from above.