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.