Here’s a somewhat longer Throwback Thursday post, but I thought I’d share one of the first short stories I ever wrote (awkward and repetitive phrasings and all).
As a senior in high school, I had struggled with my weight for a number of years, but also, of course, hoped for a boyfriend who wouldn’t care. That was the genesis for this tale. It is not a true story by any means, for reasons that will become obvious, but what strikes me every time I read it is the acute pain the protagonist feels. That was me. Like author, like character, I guess.
Ironically I’m heavier now than I ever was then – but far happier, too.
I weighed 217 pounds when I met him.
217 pounds is a relative figure, right? I mean, if you weigh 217 pounds and you’re a 6’1″ defensive block on the football team, that’s good. But if you’re just plain old 5’4″ Aimee Matison, 217 pounds means death. I was just plain fat.
His name was Graig Ostaf (weird name, eh?), and he was gorgeous. This guy was 6’3″, and he weighed 180. (If you’re wondering how I know, I sneaked a peek at his records in gym class when we did our physical fitness tests.) For those of you out there who aren’t obsessed with your weight and therefore have no idea what 6’3″, 180 pounds signifies, well, imagine if you took Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, and the Chippendale dancers, and put them all together. This was Graig. He looked like he should have been a model, not a transfer senior at Ludger K. Brahmen High.
Anyway, back to me for a minute. Many people wonder why I’m so fat. “Why don’t you just go on a diet, Fatty-son?” “Just stop eating – you’ve got enough there to last you through 1997!” “Is it your metabolism, or do you blame it on your bone structure Or maybe it’s your thyroid gland, right?” Echoes of hateful statements haunt my mind sometimes, but I know people will never understand me, so I gave up trying to defend myself. I’ve been on countless weight-loss programs, been to doctors, psychiatrists, and therapists, and nothing’s ever helped. My mom says she was doomed to have fat kids. (This comes from a 41-year-old with a 16-year-old body, except that her chest droops.)
Ever since 4th grade I’ve been an outsider. I can’t go shopping for ‘normal’ clothes with everybody else. I can’t play sports without hyperventilating, I can’t go to swimming parties that are all the rage this year (people get some sort of kick out of inviting me to those – maybe they need a beached whale?), and I can’t even eat without someone looking at me strangely. If I eat something nutritious, people look at me like, “Why are you even bothering to eat that? At your weight, you might as well eat junk!” And if I eat junk, they look at me like, “Why are you eating that? You don’t need food! If you just had a little willpower…” People don’t seem to realize that we fat folks get hungry, too.
Anyway, back to that fateful (or fatal?) collision…
“Oof!” My books fell to the floor and papers scattered all over. Not looking at whom I had just run into, I bent down to pick them up. Snickers of, “Way to go, Lard Ass!” echoed down the hallway.
“Hey, are you O.K.? I’m really sorry – I guess I wasn’t watching where I was going.” The voice came nearer as it bent down to help me get my things. “Being new here isn’t helping at all,” it chuckled.
What? I thought. Someone’s apologizing to me, Aimee Fatty-Buns? “It’s O.K.,” I mumbled. “I run into a lot of people.”
We stood up at the same time, and I got my first look at who I’d hit. Wow! my mind said. Is this guy ever hot! But as soon as the thought hit I shoved it away. No one like him is ever going to be interested in someone like me…
His deep blue eyes smiled into mine. “I’m Graig Ostaf… that’s G R A I G. What’s your name?”
This guy wanted to know MY name? I must be dreaming! “Uh, Aimee. Aimee Matison. That’s A I M E E,” I added with a smile, figuring I had nothing to lose. This guy would forget me soon enough anyway. After all, he did say he was new…
“Hey, cool, that must mean something – we both have AI’s in our name!” (What was this guy raving about? Maybe he’s crazy!) “Oh, Aimee, could you show me where the Chem room is? I’m afraid I’m lost.”
“S-sure,” I stammered. Why was he doing this? Did he think it was funny to be nice to the fat girl? “This way…”
As we walked down the hall together, people’s eyes were popping out everywhere. Even Tawny St. Veigh stopped in her tracks and stared. Tawny St. Veigh, the most beautiful girl in the school. She was 5’8″ and weighed 117 pounds (I looked at her records, too.) But Graig didn’t even seem to notice. He just kept asking questions about the school, and our town, Essington, and about which classes I was taking, all of which I answered best I could. I was beginning to feel more and more uncomfortable. All these people were staring at me. I just wanted to shrink up and disappear, becoming smaller and smaller and–
“Hey, I see the room. Thanks a lot, Aimee Matison. See ya ’round, O.K.?” And he half-ran, half-jogged to the end of the hall. With each step, my heart lurched a little more. It’d been so long since anyone had been genuinely nice to me. And I knew that’s the last I’d probably ever hear from him.
“Since when has a guy like that been interested in you?” I heard Brigitte Deyn say. Brigitte was best friends with Tawny. They and their clique had everything – money, brains, boys, and bodies. “Man, he was hot! Did you see those tight jeans? And his cute little–well, we shouldn’t say those types of things around innocent little fat girls like you, now should we? So, who is he?”
Brigitte has a way with words, doesn’t she? Ever since 7th grade, Brigitte elected herself my personal self-esteem smasher. Just in case my ego actually starts to believe I might be a good person, she comes around to remind me I’m not. At least that’s what she says. I knew my day was ruined. If I managed to avoid her, my days usually turned out O.K. But now it was off to the bathroom for a good bout of self-pity. “Graig Ostaf,” I said, and fled for the bathroom.
“Hiya, Aimee Matison. Mind if I sit with you for lunch?”
It was him again. Why couldn’t he leave me alone? After two hours in the bathroom and a short visit with the principal about my unexcused absence, I had just started to get myself back together. And here stood this god, in his J. Crew white muscle shirt, which flowed loosely and showed off his marvelously tan and well-built muscles and back, a pair of Pepe jeans just tight enough to show off his, well, ah, anyway, they were tight, but not too tight. His hair was perfect – cut short in the style, but the front left a little long, so that some waves fell over his left eye. And this guy wanted to sit with me? Give me a break!
“Why? Do you think it’s funny to sit with the fat girl? Do you have some kind of bet going with someone? Well, I have feelings, too, even if they are buried somewhere in this body. So go away! Quit acting nice! I know what I look like – I don’t need some stupid jock to rub it in!” I screamed. Boy, did I ever tell him! People were staring, but I didn’t care. I was tired of putting up with everyone’s sh–
“Bye, Aimee Matison,” Graig said, but before he turned and walked away I thought I saw hurt flash through his eyes. Now I felt worthless. Even if he was just playing a cruel trick, I didn’t have to sink to his level, did I? But why was I feeling sorry for him? He wasn’t hurt, he probably was just mad because he lost his bet.
Eighth period. The last class of the day. And I got stuck with Mr. Herzog for Senior English. Great! I could tell this was not going to be a good year. English is my favorite class, but Mr. Herzog is definitely not my favorite teacher. He calls everyone Sonny or Missy, and sometimes gets English confused with Bible Theology 101. I sat down in the second row and looked around. Oh, great! Tawny St. Veigh and Brigitte Deyn were both in here. And Doug Cates, too! Oh no. I’d had a crush on Doug Cates in 5th grade, and no one’s ever let me forget it. Especially Brigitte. After all, she and Doug have been together since 9th grade. Personally, I think they’re made for each other – snobby airheads with no capability for real thought.
“Well, class, I guess we’ll begin. My name is Abraham Herzog, a good Christian name, and this is Bibl-no, I mean, English class. For tomorrow please read Moby Dick, and compare the experiences of the whales to John the Baptist, which can be found in I John…”
Great. I’d just started to fall sleep when the door opened and a bundle of energy flew in.
“Sorry, Mr. Herzog, I was talking to my counselor about a schedule change.” Oh no, that voice! Could my day get any worse? Graig turned around and surveyed the room. I saw Tawny flash a big smile. I knew who her next victim would be. Graig looked at me, and after flashing an uncertain smile, walked over and sat down in the desk in front of me. How could he do this to me? I got some satisfaction when I noticed Tawny’s smile crumble. A couple of doodles later a piece of paper sailed over his shoulder and landed on my book. I opened it suspiciously.
“Aimee, please talk to me. I want to explain about lunch. Call me tonight, O.K.? 243-7871 – Graig.”
I sat there stunned. He wanted me to call him? I couldn’t do that. The second the bell rang I was up and running for the door as soon as I could, but not before I saw Tawny head determinedly over to Graig and start talking.
The next day I didn’t see him at all. But I heard plenty about him. It seems Tawny found out he’s unattached, which means available in her book, and about every other female’s book in Brahmen High.
“Yeah, he lives in Blue River Heights, which means he’s got to be loaded! Those houses cost a fortune!”
“No, I don’t know where he moved from, but who cares? I wish he’d make a move on me!”
“Watch it, Marla. Tawny’s got him singled out as hers.”
“Oh, so what. Besides, I saw him talking to the fat girl yesterday – maybe he’s after her!”
“Yeah, right. Aimee Matison probably weighs 300 pounds by now, and get real, someone like that just doesn’t have a chance with someone like Graig Ostaf…”
Yeah, someone like me doesn’t have a chance with someone like him.
“Hi, Aimee? This is Graig. Why didn’t you call last night?”
“Yeah, Graig Ostaf. The one that sits in front of you in English. I wanted to talk to you today, but I had to spend the entire day back and forth between counselors and the assistant principal to fix my schedule. You know how they are,” he giggled.
Giggled? This guy was giggling over the phone?
“Aimee!!” My mother was calling from downstairs. “Aimee, come down and clean up the living room. It’s a mess!”
“Um, Graig, my mom’s yelling, so I gotta go…”
“Wait, Aimee. The reason I called is my mom’s having a little get-together, you know, to meet the neighborhood, and I was wondering if you would like to come over.”
“To your house? Graig, I don’t live in your neighborhood.”
“No problem. I’ll come pick you up.”
“Aimee, the living room!”
“Yes, um, Graig, I don’t know…”
“6:00 on Friday sound O.K.?”
“See you then, Aimee. Oh, and dress casual, O.K.”
Wow! I can’t believe it! I’m going out with Graig Ostaf! I’m going out with Graig Ostaf! Joyfully I skipped down to the living room to clean up the mess my brother had made. My mother looked up in amazement – she hadn’t seen that much energy out of me since I was two.
“What’s up, Aimee? Finally decide you’re going to lose weight and become a normal person? A worthy person?”
“Sorry, mom, you’re doomed to fat kids,” I quipped, which shocked her even more. Usually I throw a fit when she makes comments about my weight. “By the way, I won’t be eating dinner here Friday night. I’m going out.”
“What’s this? You’ve got a date? Oh, of course not. You and Shelly are going to a movie, right?”
“Yeah, mom.” Suddenly the elation drained out. What if this wasn’t for real? Graig Ostaf didn’t want to go out with fat Aimee Matison. Maybe he just wanted to show his mom the girl who helped him find his way in school. Or maybe he was just being cruel. But somehow I felt he really wanted me to come over…
“Will you guys just leave me alone, please?!”
Startled, I turned around to see what was going on. I’d recognized Graig’s voice. He was standing at his locker, and about 15 girls were standing around him, including Tawny St. Veigh.
“But, Greggie, we’re having a little party over at Tawny’s on Friday, a little hot tub party. Dont’cha want to come over? We’ll have lots of beer, and Tawny’s been so lonely…”
Tawny posed after this last comment. I think the pose was sort of a mixture of ‘I’m available, I’m beautiful, I’m yours,” and “I’m not easy. Maybe you’re not good enough for me.” Well, it was enough to make me sick. But Graig’s next comment rooted me to the spot.
“Look, I told you. Aimee Matison and I are going out Friday. Now please, leave me alone!”
Several nasty glances were sent at him, as well as several incredulous ones. “Aime Matison? The fat girl? WHAT?!”
“She’s more beautiful than all of you put together,” he said, and slowly walked away.
The party went well. Graig’s parents liked me, and I had a really good time. Strangely enough, I didn’t feel the least bit self-conscious, even when Graig sat next to me on the couch.
“Graig, you’re so nice to me. You must’ve come from another planet,” I teased.
Graig smiled at that, but a far-away look came across his face, and I was momentarily puzzled.
“Aimee, I’m really glad you came over. Would you like to go to a movie with me next weekend?”
“Well, of course. I never joke around about things like that,” he said with quiet sincerity, and I believed him.
“So what’dya do, pay him? Graig Ostaf would never go out with a blimp like you without some ulterior motive. Maybe he’s sick. Maybe he gets off on blimps or something,” cackled Brigitte. “Imagine them together, Tawny. They make a perfect ten. He’s the 1 and she’s the 0. Ha ha!”
I just stood there looking at the floor. Why couldn’t they leave me alone? Why do people who have it all have to bring such misery into other people’s lives?
“Yeah, well, Brigitte may think it’s funny, but I don’t,” Tawny sneered. “You stay away from Graig Ostaf, Aimee Matison. He’s mine, and we don’t need the Goodyear Blimp hanging around watching what goes on when the lights go out. But you wouldn’t know, would you?”
“Oh yeah, Tawny St. Veigh? Well, Graig was with ME last Friday night, not you. ME. And we’re going out again on Saturday!” Suddenly I clapped my hand over my mouth and fled down the hall. I couldn’t believe it. I actually yelled at Tawny St. Veigh…
“Hey, man, why’re you doing it? Come on, you’ve gotta know you’re the hottest guy around right now. You can have any babe you want, and believe me, Tawny’s one good babe.”
“Yeah, Ostaf, what’s with you? You’re either gay or sick! All these girls after you, and you tell them to leave you alone? And now I hear you went out with the Matison Thing!”
Graig was standing by his locker, literally surrounded by the football team. “I’ll tell you just what I told the girls: Aimee’s more beautiful than all of them Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to class.” And he stormed off.
For the next two months, in spite of incessant rumors and heavy glares, Graig and I continued to go out. He even kissed me! It was kinda funny, my weight didn’t bother me anymore. People would still make comments, my mother ranted just as much, and Brigitte even started putting nasty notes in my locker, but I didn’t care. I was on top of the world. I’d even lost 21 pounds! It wasn’t very noticeable, but it made me feel great to be below 200 pounds. I hadn’t been there since 8th grade. But as my enthusiasm and weight loss increased, Graig slowly became more and more silent, oftentimes even seeming remote.
One night, as we were sitting in his living room watching movies, I said, “Graig, I’m so happy you came into my life. I don’t know what I would have done without you. I’ve lost 24 pounds now! You’re so great, you must have–”
“-Come from a different planet, I know.” Graig turned and stared into my eyes for a long time. “Aimee, there’s something I have to tell you, and you’re not going to believe it.”
I turned and looked into his eyes. Oh no, I thought. He’s going to dump me! I knew it was too good to be true…
“I AM from another planet,” he said solemnly.
I burst into laughter. Well, this certainly was the most interesting break-off I’d ever heard of. “Yeah, right, and you’re being zapped back tomorrow, right?” I half chortled, half sobbed.
“Aimee, I’m absolutely serious. You have to believe me! I need to talk about it, Aimee. Please, say you believe me…”
Something in his voice stilled me instantly. I looked at him. This was not the look of a man playing a cruel joke. This was the look of someone who was desperately serious, and a little afraid.
“I believe you, Graig.” (I really did!) “Tell me about it.”
And he began to talk.
“I come from the planet Retha, a planet almost exactly like Earth, only 45 million light years away. This planet is so alike Earth that the languages are the same – many philosophies as to how this came to be have been discussed by the scientists, but that’s not what I wanted to talk about.
“I think Retha is the antithesis of Earth. The geography is the same, the customs are the same, unfortunately the governments are the same. But there is one big difference: Everyone on the planet Retha would be considered obese and disgusting by the Earth’s standards. That is the only difference between the two planets.
“On Retha, everybody wants to be fat. The fatter you are, the better. I think the average person weighs about 300 pounds, some models go as high as 400. But like anorexic people here, if one is too fat they’re considered unattractive, and may need counseling. Also the people who are skinny, say, less than 200 pounds, are just as outcast as the fat people are on Earth. Just as discriminated against, considered just as gross…
“But don’t think being fat is easy. It’s not. Our food systems are exactly opposite. The more you eat on Retha, the skinnier you get. So people have to limit what they eat just as much as people do here, and people struggle with their weight, just like here. On Retha, I weigh 350 pounds, and am considered just as popular and good-looking as I am here.
“About 8 months ago our planet offered the chance to visit Earth. Those wishing to go had to volunteer to look like a normal Earth person. Many people didn’t want to go for this reason: it’d be like asking Tawny St. Veigh to gain 400 pounds to go to the moon – I don’t think she’d do it. But I did. Night after night I stuffed myself with food, losing weight but feeling more and more disgusted with my appearance. By the time I was ready to leave I thought I was the ugliest thing alive – now I only weigh 180 – but I was assured I would be good-looking to the Earth people. When I got here everything repulsed me. Scarecrows were walking up and down the street and getting whistled at. I was getting whistled at, and women constantly gave me these looks like, “Come a step closer and I’ll eat you alive.”
Graig laughed at that for a moment, and went on.
“And so when I got to Brahmen High, you were the first normal person I’d seen in a long time. I’m not saying that to hurt you, because I know we view weight differently. I thought you were more beautiful than anyone I’d ever seen on Retha, but I figured you wouldn’t like me because I was skinnily repulsive. And the guys couldn’t understand why I like you, and these stupid girls can’t get it through their heads that I think they’re ugly.
“But I’ve learned a vital lesson. Basing impressions of people upon their weight is ridiculous. Everyone does it, and those who don’t fit the mode are ostracized. I know this from two standpoints. I have seen the way people treat you, and I have seen the way I treat the people here. I don’t like either one.
“I wish there could be a world where weight didn’t matter. Where everyone was loved because of what was on the inside, not the outside. But it can’t be, because people are too close-minded. I even admit I am. I sit here, tired of being skinny, longing to be back home where everyone’s fat. You sit here, tired of being fat, longing to be like everyone else who’s skinny.
“I can’t accept you as skinny, Aimee. And you can’t accept me as fat.”
We sat there for a long time that night, Graig Ostaf and I, thinking about our two different worlds, and our unwillingness to change. He was right. I wouldn’t like him if he were fat. He wouldn’t like me if I got any skinnier.
Graig went home last week, right after graduation. It was very sad for both of us, but we knew we’d given each other something. We’d both been outsiders looking in on two different worlds, and we accepted each other as we learned to accept ourselves. Too bad everyone can’t do that.
Well, I got some satisfaction, at least. Tawny St. Veigh didn’t get him.