That One Asshole Who Ruined Everything

For as long as I’ve had conscious thought, I’ve known I was tall and fat. I cannot think of a single moment in my entire forty-three years where I wasn’t keenly aware of my too big body. Maybe it was the diets that started when I was four. Maybe it was the doctors who continually tried to solve the puzzle of why I would not stop growing.

I don’t know, but for as long as I can remember my body has been a problem nobody could solve. For the most part it was not something discussed with my family and friends. Usually, around school shopping time, my parents would put me on a new diet that would last until they needed to grocery shop and then it would never be mentioned again. There was the summer they put me on Dexatrim and I never slept. Or the summer of aerobics classes and Slim Fast, but nothing ever stuck.

And so I continued to grow.

My size was a topic off limits for most of my extended family, my dozens of cousins, aunts, and uncles. It just wasn’t something we talked about until my cousin Chris married Jim.

Jim is a cousin-in-law, I guess, a short redheaded man who made fun of me one night in my Aunt Rosie & Uncle Fred’s basement because I was so fat and he was amazed I could find clothes that fit, specifically a Twins World Series Champion t-shirt. I must have been fifteen when this happened. I still remember the humiliation and the sense of betrayal. Family events were supposed to be a space where I didn’t have to worry about being teased for my size. Instead they picked on me for liking books, using big words, and being a smartypants, which was way better than the alternative but still, ugh.

For the better part of the last twenty-years I have avoided Jim and that side of the family who made me feel bad for being smart and fat and too tall for words and generally like not one of them, which is the case because my dad adopted me when I was four or five.

So let’s fast forward to Monday, a funeral in Coon Rapids, where we are saying goodbye to my Uncle John. I was pretty anxious for this event. There’s a lot of family drama and politics involved in this story that is too complicated to explain, suffice it to say it fed my anxiety.

When we walked into the funeral home the first thing I noticed was that I am very much taller than everyone in the building. Inches and stories and feet taller than these people. My cousin Cathy’s husband Steve probably comes the closest and I still have a few inches on him. I felt like Godzilla attacking Coon Rapids. The second thing I noticed is that in the middle of the room Jim and another cousin-in-law are talking about me. They kept looking at me, saying something, and then laughing. So now I am aware of my size and the fact that I’m being made fun of.

My goal was to avoid Jim and to greet all my mourning cousins. It was an awkward game of chess, because I don’t blend easily in a crowd. I tried to make a beeline to my cousin Patty, whose family I lived with my senior year of high school. I thought I was pretty safe, some ten feet away from Jim, when I heard him call out across the distance.

“You’re still pretty tall, huh?” He shouted and pointed at me.
I grinned wanly because what the hell else was I supposed to do.
“You haven’t started shrinking yet, like Art,” he shouted.
And I nodded my head before bending down to hug Patty.

Rage boiled inside me and I was thankful I was at an event where you could cry with abandon. I was furious at him for calling attention to my size, which was abundantly clear without the literal shout out. I was furious at him for making me uncomfortable in a place that should have been safe. I was furious that he diverted my attention away from my mourning family and directed toward me.

Once he shouted at me, I hightailed it to the furthest corner of the room where I could sit down unnoticed. And I stewed. My sisters offered to kick his ass, but I decided we didn’t need a rumble at Uncle John’s wake.

I am still angry.

I’m angry that the asshole will forever be linked with saying goodbye to my uncle. I’m angry that he thinks we have this funny jokey thing where he can call attention to my body in a crowded room and it’s okay. And I’m mostly angry because he makes me feel like I don’t belong where in this one room, in this one situation I belonged way more than he did.

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7 Comments

  1. Donna Trump 03.Mar.16 at 2:49 pm

    Here’s the thing: Why can he say what he says and not worry about turning your uncle’s funeral into a brawl, but you can’t? Because he’s a jerk, of course, with no social sense or maybe not: maybe he knows you won’t come back at him in this public, mournful event because you DO have social sense. So he’s now a conniving jerk.
    I think you were right not to respond at the time, and now it seems like maybe you won’t see him for a while. So do you let it go, or do you seek him out to set him straight?
    There is person in my family who always made sexist comments, on top of a long history of hurting someone we all love. For 30 years, when he made those sexist comments I did just like you-that godforsaken wan smile. It’s a polite response, and you and I are polite. But then my adolescent kids were in the room, and his adolescent kids were in the room, and one time I didn’t do the wan smile and I called him out. I wish I could tell you it felt good (it didn’t) or that he changed (he didn’t). But I just got so tired of him having all the power.
    If a next time comes up, and you find you can’t call your cousin out for your own sake, think of the example you are giving every young person in the room by your wan smile. In other words, got to bat for them. Raise a ruckus for them, if you’re too kind and considerate a person (as I know you are) to do it for yourself. It might not change your cousin but it will say something to the kids.
    Maybe my comments are just aggravating and useless but I swear I get a visceral response at our history of wan smiles. It is so very, very unfair.

    Reply
    1. Jodi 04.Mar.16 at 11:24 am

      Isn’t that wan smile the worst?

      I started to call my dad’s family out on their racism when I was a teenager. I rarely keep quiet about stuff like that. Even this Christmas when one of my (mom’s side) uncle & cousins were talking about how teen boys only have one thing on their mind, I piped up for girls.

      But something about being personally humiliated just stops me in my tracks. Plus, to be honest, he is not worth the drama and strife. I have literally not spoken to him in 20 years, and I probably won’t see him until the next funeral, which won’t be as emotionally wrought as this one was, and he’ll be toast.

      God, I hate that guy!

      Reply
  2. Katherine 03.Mar.16 at 8:28 pm

    The guy is an asshole and I wish I (or you, or someone else) could tell him to go fuck himself. It’s possible that he has his own problem with being short, and possibly also with being a redhead, both of which can also invite a lot of teasing at some point in a person’s life. But even if that were true, it does not excuse his behavior toward you in any way. He’s a bully, plain and simple. I hope that in the future you won’t let his bullying keep you from going to any family gatherings you want to attend, because he doesn’t deserve having that kind of power. If you ever have to be in the same place as this jerk again, maybe you could have a couple of responses planned out and ready to go, and when he starts in on you, pull out whichever one seems best at the time, and just say what you have to say. And then let it go. It wouldn’t have to turn into a rumble. I’m sure there will be others who will thank and admire you for standing up to him, like “shrinking Art,” who he was also skewering with his dumb remark. But you’re right–you deserved to be at your uncle’s funeral more than this guy. Good for you that you showed up and did the right thing, even though you had to run the gauntlet of Jerkface Jim. Well now–I feel better already. I hope you’ll feel better about this soon, too, and not let this guy steal one more second of your sense of well-being.

    Reply
    1. Jodi 04.Mar.16 at 11:27 am

      Just writing about what an asshole he was, made me feel better. There are a whole host of reasons that I avoid that side of my family, and he is but a small, insignificant part of that.

      And it will make you happy to know, the next day at the funeral, my sisters ran interference between me and the asshole so I didn’t have to deal with him. They totally had my back.

      Reply
      1. Katherine 04.Mar.16 at 5:54 pm

        Yes, I felt better after writing my rant, too. Bullying just really pushes my buttons. And I’m glad your sisters get it and were there for you.

        Reply
  3. Lori 04.Mar.16 at 11:13 pm

    Fuck him, Jodi. You are awesome beyond words, and if I had to guess, I’d say there’s something about you that makes him feel insecure. Forget about him and revel in your size. It takes a lot of space to be as fabulous as you are. Own it. And again, fuck him!

    Reply
  4. Tom 21.Mar.16 at 3:35 pm

    Crappy way for you to be treated. Thanks for telling the story so well, and for the extremely funny “I felt like Godzilla attacking Coon Rapids” line.

    Reply

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