Disclaimer: The following is a rough (very) draft of the first chapter of a book I wrote when I was 21. It is about how I lost 265lbs. Be as openly critical as you’d like, as it is still a WIP.
So Good in Blue
Humans have this silly inclination to remember the things that hurt and embarrass us with stunning clarity. The small pieces of everyday happiness getting us from the “mom I wet the beds” to the “Sorry I’m busy Fridays” that market our adolescent existence grow dim until they’re ill-remembered or simply forgotten. We dwell on the negative. Unhappiness begets pain. Pain begets clarity. Here’s something I remember from my senior year of high school that no matter how much more weight I lose, or how accepting of myself I become, I’ll take with me to the stones.
Her name raged through my brain like wildfire. I liked her, and for some strange reason—through the tattered teen grapevine—I learned she might, perhaps, possibly like me back. High school, being the place of constant speech and little action, is less about facts and more about hard hope. For the sake of the story, let’s operate under the same notion 17-year-old me had: her interest was real.
Immediately I found that off-putting. Forever the “friend” to girls, I was never the one those girls wanted to date. It wasn’t necessarily what I wanted. It was just something that helped me be close to those I knew I could never have. So, even though I knew she was interested, told from this person, or that series of texts, it still took me a moment to ask her out . . . six months.
Self-image really screws with your social life.
When I finally got around to it, she knew it was coming. Everyone in the entire school knew it was coming. I had, and still have, an embarrassing habit of voicing my wins to the people around me. Not because I craved their attention. It’s just that I always want to share with someone, anyone, the good things in my life.
Maybe that would mean they were real.
To this day, approaching her is still one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Call me whatever derogatory slur you can fashion in a timely manner and it still didn’t change the fact she Scared. Me. To. Death.
A 400 pound teenager shivering in his straining skater kicks, terrified of something he outweighed when he was 5. I remember that 60-foot walk clearly. Every thought, every strange nuance was burned into wherever fold of my brain maintains its morbid fetish for painful memories . . .
. . . I’ve never been to prison. Don’t plan on stopping by, either. It isn’t a place you just dip your toes into on a warm Autumn evening. No 48 hour trial or 99-cent blister pack of prison. Even so, this feels like death row. At any moment Paul Edgecomb’s gonna mosey out of World History and wave me on down the mile. Look, a giggling band of onlookers cheering me to the electric chair.
And there she is. 90 pounds of sheer spite-filled terror incarnate. Okay, self preservation checklist:
1) Stop shaking like a coked-out Elvis Presley.
What’s with this lighting? Are these high intensity interrogation bulbs? I have it on good authority America “went Green” three years ago. These are way too concentrated to promote a healthy school environment, much less a stroll down my own personal Death Valley.
2) Close your mouth, smile, and give her the smolder.
Are these asbestos tiles getting warmer? Because I thought it was October. Maybe the Earth has fallen an 18th of a degree out of rotational symmetry, and the world as we know it is about to collide with the surface of the sun. Nothing else will matter in 12-15 seconds, because we’ll all by an intermittent goo pustule in a 5800K degree inferno. That’s right, degrees Kelvin. We are about to be engulfed in something too damn hot for good old-fashioned Fahrenheit.
3) Screw it. Bail if she is not 100 percent alone and unaccompanied.
She is. Thanks, Fate. Thanks for that.
It’s not like asking her out’s gonna change the fact we’ll all be dead in six seconds anyway. In the grand scheme of flaming apocalypse, asking a tiny Native American girl out to Chinese food shouldn’t be this damn difficult. Like chewing off your leg to escape a bear trap, I just gotta buck up and start gnawing on some sinew.
Wonder what the melanoma chances are on the surface of the sun. Can one of you gruesome onlookers stop jeering and toss me some sunscreen? Oh, thanks for the SPF smiles guys. She’s turning. Smiling at me. Her teeth are so straight.. I never noticed. Usually can’t get past her nose before I forget what I’m doing. You know, that level of natural straightness just isn’t fair.
She looks puzzled.
Well let me tell you a thing or two about puzzlement sister, I’m more worried about your approval than dying at the moment. I had to formulate an internal doomsday scenario just to mosey up the courage to ask you a question. Sweatin’ like a quarter ton bottle of Coke over here and probably should have passed out 5 minutes ago.
Traitorous words are falling out of my mouth, forming what is, I believe, a vaguely coherent request for a segment of her time. Take two steps and trod on each foot. Somehow, through my series of frantic mumblings and wild arm gyrations, the point gets across. Recognition flits across her indiscernible eyes.
She said . . . yes? This isn’t the surface of the Sun. It’s a rundown high school in the Kellyville I call home. I’m just a fat boy. She’s just a teenage girl. She said yes. She’s too damn attractive for her own good. Her answer was so matter of fact I might as well have asked if she had two feet. She said yes. Always thought being this close to the sun would be warmer. I’d blame it on greenhouse effect tolerance, but . . . She said yes.
My feet are moving. My own personal peep show attendees grow closer. Fear conquered, grants euphoria. It makes us feel like kings of our own small segment of the universe. I don’t feel that. I feel like salt water taffy stretched too far. Still intact but forever changed. My hands glide along the graying lockers. The soft thump-bump as my fingers stream across the hinges of other people’s lives. Their quiet stories fall in step with my own beating heart. All my friends are there. Everyone whose opinion I actually care about, standing in a smirking gaggle.
The date turned into a group thing. Not exactly ideal, but I would take what I could get. I picked her up from her house in the middle of the woods, and we drove to the one place a 17 year-old kid takes a date:
The Tulsa State Fair.
We pulled up just as the sun was setting over the backside of the Dingo, a deflated old roller coaster more ricket than ride-worthy. The smell of funnel cake, salted laughter, and human perspiration painted a scene rife for romance.
We met up with my crowd of daily faces at the front gates—all of my closest friends with their respective gal or guy pals. Usually, I would be the awkward tag along, the designated third wheel.
Not this time. This time, I had someone to go with just like everyone else. It may not have been as dignified, may not have been exactly newsworthy, but it meant the world to me.
My first date.
Somehow things were already going wrong. She’d decided on the way over to tone down our first date to quasi-serious. She’d pay for her stuff, and I for mine. That was a bit of an unexpected blow. I’d spent the last week, and my entire life prior, daydreaming about paying for everything on my first date. Sexist and shallow as it was, it would be my way of apologizing. Apologizing for looking how I did. In an instant she tore that away. It hurt. A lot. But I had to focus on the good.
She had agreed to go out with me after all.
The start of the evening passed in a clichéd blur of attempted teddy-bears and haphazard attractions built for a quick buck. Then we moved on to the rides. With each one, I had to play it extra careful. Pushing into quarter-ton territory, the odds were slim I could always fit. Every time the same routine:
Check the height requirement.
Been qualified since I was four, but how tall you had to be told me how high along the shoulders the harness would push. How much the back of the seat would dig into my sides. I didn’t mind how painful it was for me if I could just qualify.
Check how the ride held someone in place.
Across the hips might be okay, over the shoulders was a definite no-go. Anything that moved too quickly, or flipped around, was out. Those types of rides have to lock you in place. They fit snugly on an average adult. They weren’t built for people like me.
It was a mechanical part of my life. Little steps and nuances in the daily life of being obese. I didn’t think about it. Didn’t dwell on the injustice or “skinny favoritism.” Didn’t focus on the warning signs, how with each year, there were fewer and fewer rides that accommodated me. I just did it and moved on.
None of this anxiety affected me outwardly. I was all smiles and paper plate confidence. When something becomes a part of your routine, you don’t have to react to it. Even if it is tearing your confidence to shreds. An autopilot process as I busied myself trying to make sure she was having a good time.
Those were the good times. When a ride passed my checklist. When there was a hiccup, when I knew the tilt-a-whirl was out, or the loopty ride wasn’t likely, I made excuses.
Nah guys, I get motion sick. Sorry, afraid of heights.
My friends’ flashpan ridicule was far more bearable than the jeers of complete strangers. Their words. Their teasing. Their laughter. I stomached it all. Anything so they wouldn’t discover the truth.
It didn’t matter.
My date was a bit of a speed freak. One of her first beelines was for the Dingo, that hunk of forgotten wood masquerading as a roller coaster mentioned earlier. The queue was long, snaking back and forth through endless amounts of sun-dried pine. With every half-shuffle forward, we approached the medieval version of a space shuttle launch. Acea and Matt rushed to the front carts, girlfriends trailing like the couple of 9 year olds they were attached to. So, that left her . . . and me . . . to find a seat further back.
As we approached the Dingo’s faded vinyl seats, my heart dropped into my stomach. The seat was divided in two by a central barrier. My original plan of counting on how thin she was counteracting my girth for seat-side real estate was now void. She sat with ample room to spare. I stuffed myself in sideways, a bulging bagel crammed into a toaster. The handrails came down—across the hips, thank God—except . . .
Her safety bar: Click, click, click, click, click, click.
The comforting sounds of safety notches snapping easily into place.
My safety bar: Cah…lick?
Even the safety bar thought this was a terrible idea. I was not okay with one click. No one should ever be okay with one half-assed click. I didn’t panic. Theme parks pay their employees a healthy dollop of minimum wage to make sure all safety equipment is secure to prevent unfortunate situations. You know, like death.
Well this guy deserved to be fired. The one time I needed him, he decided to shirk his duties and stay in his booth brooding over My Chemical Romance. He slammed the button down. The ride began.
And so commenced the most terrifying moments of my life.
The ride itself was nothing special. A few sharp turns. A couple of deep plunges overlooking all the grandeur an Okie festival can provide. Nothing too dramatic. The ol’ bird couldn’t take anything too fancy. What made it absolutely maddening was that One. Solitary. Click.
At any moment I expected that one click to become un-clucked and for my big butt to set a new record for flying mammalian everywhere. Desperate, I tried wedging my thick thighs between the median and the cart’s siding, all while gripping that center armrest like it was a lifeline to God.
She screamed out of the fun of it. I screamed in the hope of passing out. Every twist and turn, I tried to keep what little weight I could control off the railing so it didn’t fling wide and dispense me over some kid’s cotton candy.
Then, with one final jolting turn, it was finally over.
The safety rail unlocked, catapulting off my gut in its mutual haste to get away from me. I staggered free, breathing a lifetime of breaths in what little span I thought I had left.
I still remember exactly what she said.
“My God, Broc. It wasn’t that scary.” She rolled her eyes and laughed,
Wasn’t that scary . . .
Nope. Don’t think you’re right on that one, deary. Was less the coaster itself and more the wobbly whispers o’death during that spiced up that fright-fest. But, you know, think what you will. I’ll be over here snuggling this fence I’ve recently fallen in love with. We haven’t known each other long, the fence and I, but you can never have too much of a good thing, and right now it’s a damn good thing.
None of these thoughts found their way to my lips. Light-headed and terrified, I swallowed it all down and smiled, tried to pull myself back together . . . for her. My hands found my knees and I panted, trying to get my heart rate under control. I looked over at Acea, arm strewn casually over his girlfriend’s shoulders, busy joking about how stupid the ride had been. I hated him then. Hated him for not understanding. Not knowing how hard it is just to be a teenager and ride a goddamn rollercoaster because you’re fat.
Things grew darker. The atmosphere changed. What was once endearing carnival flair soured. The scent of fried food, that bubbling excitement, grew putrid and stale until it made me nauseous. The bright lights, once so delightful and distracting, became glaring orbs of scrutiny. I wanted to leave, but everyone else was still having fun. There was little left for me to do but keep going.
I couldn’t back out now. I needed to salvage the pieces of my first date. There was no doubt she already thought I was a bit of a wimp, but that didn’t change how I felt about her. My little caravan moved off through the crowd, and she tagged along with her sister instead of me without so much as a backwards glance . . .
Not a good sign.
The laws of attraction are funny. Someone can like you, then lose all respect in an instant, but that doesn’t change how you feel. You’ll be left liking them all the more, this time alone. Ultimate near-death experience followed by losing face with the girl I liked . . . life just wasn’t even remotely fair. We moved down the cramped avenues of bodies to the looming multi-colored face of the Ferris wheel.
They all paired up and got in line. Everyone except her. She stood off to the side, a look of trepidation scrawled across features I had long-since memorized. A spark of luck. Seemed she was petrified of heights and wasn’t going to ride the wheel o’ chuckles alongside everyone else. Extremely self-conscious, she was trying to play it off as best as she could. I could handle the situation in one of two ways: ride without her as she adamantly insisted, or sit it out and get 4 revolutions of alone time just the two of us. Being the suave, bumbling creature I was, I managed to choose her.
So as everyone else shacked up cozy, we remained behind. Piles of what I hoped to be manure at our feet, I crafted a game plan to win back her approval. If I couldn’t rely on my dashing, rotund looks, humor was my only ticket. It was the only chance I had left now.
Every relationship starts you out going up a hill to earn their attraction, but I learned in that moment, trying my damnedest to get that girl to crack a smile, that when you’re fat, it’s like you’re already sliding backwards.
I’m the type of person whose own mood depends on the moods of those around him. Some would consider this a flaw, and in many respects I agree. But it does come with a few perks, like knowing when someone is upset and what to do to turn that around. Standing there, trying to brighten her mood to match the haze of glowing neon around us, I realized how much I just wanted her to be happy. Every little thing can mean the world when you are in the moment.
The evening began to wind down, everyone going their separate ways. Luckily, she and I were tagging along together again. As I watched patrons toss balls at tired targets, she grabbed my arm and swung me around, pointing toward a 60 foot pirate ship. It was the type of cheap metal heap that worked as a pendulum, swinging higher and higher and defying everything she’d previously mentioned about height apprehension. It didn’t make any sense to me, not even to this day, but how we rationalize fear makes little sense to anyone, especially ourselves.
For her, I was willing to do anything. It finally felt like we were back to where we started: two fumbling teenagers looking for something to say. We got in line. Hands filled my pockets and at least 6 flavors of gum lined the soles of my shoes. Hundreds of people jostled by per countable minute, and we inched steadily forward. A band played nearby, people swayed to the rhythm. We worked our way toward the ship, letting the night lull us into a comfortable silence.
It always makes your heart jump when you catch them looking at you.
Our turn finally arrived. We mounted the same ramshackle platform accompanying any ride making a mobile living. She pointed to the very back seats, telling me they were the ones that got the highest and went the longest. Her wonderful smile spilled over into me until I was as stupidly excited as she was.
She took my arm and broke into an excited dash. I ran, too, toward all the things I hope we could one day be together. My hands found foam sides and railing. I wanted so badly just to hold her hand. I squeezed sideways to fit through. I hardly noticed. Walking through a park hand in hand. Her needing me as much as I needed her. We sat down next to each other, our legs brushing and sending sparks through me. Turning toward her in the failing light. Kissing her.
I smiled. She smiled back. This, us, would be everything I wanted it to be. We reached up in unison, grabbing the safety bar and pulling it down to begin . . . to be in love, and finally understand what it felt like to be loved back.
Caught up in my own dreams I didn’t understand at first.
I pushed and pushed the rod down against the folds of my stomach, desperately wishing they would just fall away. Warning bells went off in the back of my mind. My smile fell, knowing then what was wrong. The safety rail wouldn’t latch. I rammed the rod into my flesh, the agony almost making me cry out. I tried so damn hard just to get it to latch . . . would give anything for that one click I hated so very much. It would mean staying with her, prolonging this moment, before Earth crashed back down.
. . . The operator is there, shaking his head and pointing toward the exit. Blood fills every vessel in my face. When something goes wrong, everyone always notices. Heads begin to turn from every direction to see the fat kid forced off the pirate ship. The music stops . . . at least for me. I look back at her to say something, to tell her I’m sorry. Sorry for what I am. I find her eyes. Those brown orbs tear me apart. The laughing begins. The jeers roll in like thunder onto what’s supposed to be my night. Everyone is pointing like I’m some sort of circus animal . . .
Shame is such a feeble term to describe this feeling. Silly me to forget when you look like this, you get mocked just for existing. None of it matters. Only one thing pounds against my skull as I push my way to the exit . . .
She’s wearing blue. She always looks so good in blue. The stares . . . the laughter . . . the way she’s avoiding my gaze . . . It all means something, but I can’t feel it yet. I’m numb. Soon it will be unbearable, will curl me into the floor until I struggle just to breathe. I don’t run. How can you run from what you are? For everything I am, for everything I have done and will do in my life, this moment will haunt me to my core.
I tried to be a kid on his very first date.
I tried forgetting what I was, even for an instant.
I tried so damn hard just to make her happy.
. . . I try everything I can not to let her see me cry.