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  • "The fryer is down," she said in apology, Mary, our server. "We don't have potatoes."

    "That's all right," I said with a smile. "We will just have to come back for those."

    "Do you want fruit or cheese grits instead?"

    I stopped and thought for a second. An omelette alone would prove too much, but both sounded good. What did I really want on the side?

    For the longest time, I felt like a sidekick in my own life. My friends were so pretty, so smart and funny; they were obviously the heroes in any story we shared. There was nothing special, nothing memorable about me.

    Every summer for years, I attended the same camp. My sister went first and paved the way. I learned to love it through her and threw myself completely into sleepaway camp when my turn arrived, and after a decade, upon high school graduation, I took a job as a lifeguard and helping in the kitchen, too young for a cabin of my own.

    Somewhere in between my first summer as a camper and my summer on staff, an adorable little blond classmate joined me, the sweetest girl, tiny, and cheerful.

    "Don't you always come with another girl?" a counselor asked one summer as I stood by her side.

    "Me," I piped up.

    His eyes slipped past me as he probed his memory.

    "Another girl? One with darker hair?"

    "That was me," I said.

    “No,” he said, searching still. “Another girl.”

    “Me,” I repeated. "We always come together."

    "I can't picture her..." he mused. "I will think of it later."

    He bounded off toward his own cabin and campers, and I felt that I’d failed as even a sidekick.

    I saw him again the summer I worked at the camp. He’d long since moved on but returned for a bachelor party in which I grew somewhat strangely entangled. (I still don’t know how that happened.) Too young for a cabin of my own at 17, I found myself in a roadhouse in rural Ohio with a crew of current and former counselors.

    The man still didn't remember me.

    As I grew up and into myself, I felt that I lived firmly left of center, on the side, in more ways than one. Men tended to treat me like a side piece, starting with boys, starting in high school and continuing until sometime last week.

    Several years ago, a man I had dated sent an email that completely confused me.

    "Have you ever done anything for which you are deeply sorry and sincerely apologize?” he wrote. “I ask your forgiveness, and if you give it, please stop.”

    "What are you talking about?" I replied. "Stop what?"

    Things had ended several months earlier in a slow fade. He disappeared, and it was fine. Things weren’t that great between us.

    "Stop sending copies of our messages to my significant other."

    “Seriously. What are you talking about?”

    He remained rather cagey, and I stopped trying to figure it out. Almost. With a quick Google search, I found that he got married two days after our last conversation. He did say that he had a busy weekend planned. Busy, indeed. I had no idea that he was engaged the whole time that we dated. He still hasn’t told me.

    It wasn't me. I didn't send the messages, not copies of our communications, at least, but apparently, I had a giant sign hanging over my head: Treat me like a side piece. Lie to me and blame me later.

    In terms of the actual messages, the ones in envelopes with addresses and stamps, I thought that maybe his daughter didn't like her new stepmother, her dad, or both. I suggested that he examine his own house and actions before leveling accusations at me, but I still felt dirty.

    He might have been the only one so close to marriage, but I don't know. I wouldn't have known with him but for the U.S. Postal Service. It wasn’t the first or last time, though, that someone suggested cheating with me.

    "We will just need to make up a story for why you are here," one man said a few weeks after inviting me to visit.

    He had called to let me know that he’d reunited with his ex-girlfriend. He had an entire script in his head, a storyboard, a plan for how it might work.

    "Or I can just not come," I said and booked a ticket to see my family instead.

    A friend of a friend started texting dirty talk out of the blue.

    "This will be fun!" he promised. “Don’t tell anyone!”

    I blacklisted him.

    More recently, last week, a man I knew complained of a moral dilemma. He had suggested coming to visit, but an “unexpected kind of girlfriend” got in the way.

    "I don't want to get in trouble," he said.

    "It’s all good,” I replied. “I don't want to spend a weekend with someone else's boyfriend. And I definitely don’t want to hang out with someone who thinks so little of me as to assume that I would."

    "What the f*ck? I thought you were cool."

    "I am," I said. "Far too cool for that."

    Over and over again, throughout my life, men had propositioned me. Over and over again, they warned me not to say anything, and over and over again, I refused to play along.

    As it turns out, I am not a side piece. I am not a sidekick. I do not belong on the side. While I would gladly join the Justice League, X-Men, or S.H.I.E.L.D., I am, in fact, a hero in my own right. This is my story. I am the protagonist here.

    Back at the restaurant, I considered Mary's question. Did I want cheese grits or fruit? I wouldn’t finish the omelette. I couldn't finish the grits or the fruit, either, not at the time.

    "Both," I said with a smile. "I'd like them both."

    I got exactly what I wanted.
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