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
Her name raged through my brain like wildfire. I liked her, and through the tattered teen grapevine I learned she might possibly like me back. High school, being a 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,” never was I the one anyone wanted to date. It wasn’t what I wanted. It was just something that helped me be close to something I knew I could never have. So, even though I knew she was interested, told to me from this person, or that series of texts, it still took me some time 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. 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. I just 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 burned into whatever 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. There’s even a giggling band of onlookers cheering me to the electric chair. And there she is. 100 pounds of sheer spite-filled terror incarnate. Okay, self preservation checklist:
One. 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.
Two. Close your mouth, smile, and give her the smolder.
Are these asbestos tiles getting warmer? 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.
Three. Bail. Bail if she’s not 100 percent alone.
She is. Thanks, Fate. Thanks for that.
Asking her out won’t change the fact we’re all dead in six seconds anyway. In the grand scheme of flaming apocalypse, asking a cute human to Chinese food shouldn’t be this damn difficult. Like chewing off a leg caught in a bear trap, just gotta buck up and start gnawing on some sinew.
What are the melanoma chances on the surface of the sun? Thanks for the SPF smiles, giggling onlookers. Appreciate it. She turns. Smiles at me. Her teeth are so straight. Usually can’t get past her nose before I forget what I’m doing.
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. Probably should have passed out 5 minutes ago.
Traitorous words are falling out of my mouth, forming a vaguely coherent request for a segment of her time. Somehow, through my series of frantic mumblings and wild arm gyrations, the point gets across. Recognition flits across her indiscernible eyes.
Wait. She said . . . yes?
In an instant, everything snaps into focus. 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 as matter of fact as if I’d 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. 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 hinges of 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 arrived.
Not without a hit of bad news. Somehow along the way, it had morphed into a group date. Not exactly ideal, but I would take what I could get. I picked her up from her house deep in a sprawling copse of serial-killer woods, a story for a different time, 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 rickety than ride-worthy. The smell of funnel cake, salted laughter, and human perspiration painted a scene rife for teenage 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.
But 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 kept reminding myself to focus on the good.
She had agreed to go out with me.
The start of the evening passed in a clichéd blur of attempted teddy-bears and haphazard attractions built for quick games and quicker bucks. Then we moved on to the rides. With each one, I had to maintain constant vigilance. Pushing into quarter-ton territory, the odds of me being able to fit were slim in every way I wasn’t.
Check the height requirement.
Been qualified since I was four, but it 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 would be as long as I could just qualify.
Check how the ride held me in place.
Across the hips might be okay, but 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 injustice or “skinny-fiend favoritism.” Didn’t focus on the warning signs, how with each year, there were fewer and fewer rides that met my list. I just did it and moved on.
We had brief bursts of fun along those edges of things going right. When there was a hiccup, when I knew the tilt-a-whirl was out, or that loopty business wasn’t likely, I was forced to make 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. It didn’t matter.
Anything so they didn’t discover the truth.
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 was tearing my confidence to shreds, it was an autopilot process as I busied myself trying to make sure she was having a good time.
Turned out she was a bit of a speed freak. Her first beeline 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 flags in the hands of the 9-year-olds they were attached to. 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 bench was divided in two by a central barrier. My original plan of counting on how thin she was counteracting how thick I was for seat-side real estate had now been voided. 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.
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. But 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.
So commenced the most terrifying moment of my life.
The track itself was nothing too spectacular. A few sharp turns. A couple of deep plunges overlooking all the grandeur an Okie festival can provide. The ol’ bird couldn’t take anything fancier than that. 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. In sheer desperation, 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. With 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, the hitch from hillbilly hell was finally over.
The safety rail sprang free, catapulting off my gut in its mutual haste to get away from me. I staggered free. As I stood there heaving a lifetime of breaths in what little span I thought I had left, I’ll never forget 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 and more the wobbly whispers o’death during that spiced up 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, trying 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.
From then, things grew darker. The atmosphere changed. What was once endearing carnival flair soured. The scent of fried food and 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 as cryptic as they are cruel. Someone can like you, then lose all respect in an instant, but none of it changes how you feel. You’ll be left liking them all the more, this time on your own.
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. It 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 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 just 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. The only chance I had left.
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. But I didn’t care. 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 in that one moment.
Our friends returned, and the evening began to wind down. My plan met with some success as she and I were walking together again. Watching 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 to this day, but how we compartmentalize fear makes little sense to anyone, least of all ourselves.
For her, I was ready to do anything. It finally felt like we were back to where we’d 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. 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.
Your heart always jumps when you catch them looking.
Our turn finally arrived, and we mounted the same ramshackle platform accompanying any ride making a mobile living. She pointed to the very back, telling me those seats were the ones that got the highest and went the longest. Her wonderful smile spilled over into me until I was just as stupidly excited.
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 had to squeeze sideways to fit through but hardly noticed. Walking through a park, expressing everything my heart had never dared say aloud. We sat down next to each other, our legs brushed and sent sparks through me. Turning toward her in the failing light and 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. Warning bells went off in the back of my mind. My smile fell. Ever so slowly, I began to understand what was wrong. The safety rail wouldn’t latch. I rammed the rod into my flesh, desperately wishing it would just fall away. the agony nearly making me cry out. I tried so damn hard just to get it to latch . . . would have given anything to have that one terrifying click back. It would mean staying with her, prolonging this moment, before it all crashed back down.
The operator was there, shaking his head and pointing toward the exit. Blood fills every vessel in my face. When something goes monumentally wrong, everyone always seems to notice. Heads 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 anything, and the first thing that comes to my mouth . . .
Sorry for what I am. I find her eyes. Those brown orbs tear me apart. The laughing begins, jeers rolling in like thunder onto what was supposed to be my night. Everyone is pointing now like I’m some sort of circus animal.
Shame was such a feeble term to describe this feeling. Silly me to forget when you look like me, you get mocked just for existing. None of it mattered. Only one thing pounded against my skull as I pushed 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.
Tried forgetting what I was, even for an instant.
Tried so damn hard just to make her happy.
Tried everything I could not to let her see me cry.