Trapped In the Moment

I know what it feels like. When somebody with no regard for anything makes known and publicly draws attention to how fat you are. When you’re alone it’s like a worse version of tripping when no one sees - it’s degrading and highly embarrassing, but you don’t need to share the moment with anyone and can therefore go on pretending it never happened. But when you’re not alone, when you’re with any number of people, it’s a moment that so painfully and unfairly catches you off-guard that a response cannot be conjured. How can you really respond to something so against common and decent practice? There are no understood rules for dealing with this situation because these situations have been established as too taboo for discussion and are therefore too rare for preparation.

So every time some punkass kid or drunken frat dude made a comment about the fat friend, I froze. I wouldn’t speak because what could I say, and I didn’t do anything because what could I do. It was true, after all. I wasn’t blind, I just lived as if I were. I was aware of the situation, but I could convince you I wasn’t. When someone calls your bluff on ignoring the elephant in the room, you’re vulnerably and inevitably at a loss.

Fast forward.

It’s just another day in which I exit the stall and stand in front of the full-length mirror and stare. Complete shock and awe. You would think that because these moments occur every hour of every day, the image of my physical self wouldn’t surprise me the way it still does every time I get a glimpse of it. My legs are long and my waist is even thinner in reality than I can conceptualize with my own eyes. I turn sideways and wonder where it all went and how it was just there a minute ago. Flex. Holy shit. Who am I?

I pay no attention to the fact that I’m washing my hands because now I catch myself up close. Boy do I love these collar bones. Every facial feature is narrower, but luckily still in proportion. I stand up straight and use my eyes to flirt with my reflection one last time before looking away and inhaling deeply to regroup. I conclude this tiny little bathroom chapter of today and move on back into the world outside my own mind.

We’re walking through the park to get back to our office building after a team meeting across the way. It’s the first day I wear heels to work and I love every minute of it - I can walk in them now with ease so every step is a reminder of my successful transformation. When I remember my outfit, I don’t know what’s harder to believe – that I can fit into one of my sister’s shirts or that it looks way better on me. I welcome the sun’s rays on my skin while fully embracing the opportunity to strut. It’s almost like I can’t help it, but then again I don’t even want to try.

There are a lot of homeless people in downtown Detroit, so seeing one doesn’t strike you any certain way. Sometimes they’re silent, sometimes they yell, sometimes they sing and sometimes they’re talking to you or to themselves. And then sometimes they’re the ones with no regard, publicly calling attention to how fat you are.

We walked by him and he looked like a regular; I think he even looked familiar. When the group of us went by, his and my eye contact lasted longer than it should have, longer than I was comfortable with. The same way this would normally be a trigger for communication between two people, it is also a dangerous risk for someone overweight. It’s like asking the deranged person on the other end to initiate conversation, but the only possible topic is the inevitably shared knowledge of your visible imperfection they’ve already automatically noted. The average person has the advantage of blending in with the crowd, camouflaging among the rest and therefore, being unlikely to draw any special attention. But when you’re bigger, on some level you know that after one split second too long of staring into those distant and callous eyes, you’re just asking for it.

I held my breath. Please don’t say it, please don’t say anything. I barely know the people I’m with and if you cause me to freeze up and fall victim to the way my face gets flustered with embarrassment in front of them it will just be so awful. Please mister homeless man, do not call me out, I’ll stop walking around like I own the place. Just do not bring it up.

“HEY! HEY! COME AWN HEY!” Homeless man didn’t say anything else. Nothing specific, nothing aimed at anyone individually. Exhale. Thank you. Then he did say something else. “HEY BIG GUY.”

When this happens, no one needs clarification about who he’s talking to. He’s talking to the big guy, there is only one of them. Homeless man knew it and big guy knew it. The whole group of us knew it and everyone within earshot in the whole park knew it. You can’t not know it. You can try, but playing dumb or distracted doesn’t work in this situation. I guess there are some social rules.

A rush of emotion hits immediately as I hear the words. I’m personally victimized. It’s happening again and I’ve been here before. Over years of experience and through exposure to much similar devastation, I’ve built up walls to prevent this feeling from consuming me entirely but they are proving themselves completely futile. My whole upcoming hour, day, week, will not let me forget this second. It will cloud all my thoughts for the rest of the night and I’ll only half-hear the words spoken to me from this point on. It will take time to recover from such an emotional blow. This thought lasts a fraction of a second.

I realize that it wasn’t about me. He said guy, not girl. He wasn’t talking to me.

This then rapidly morphs into the urge to do something. I’m driven by rage and feel as if I must immediately extinguish the fire homeless man just set on big guy’s dignity. To make things right, to even the scale, I need to throw my entire fuming soul into a proper response.

This instantly becomes overshadowed by the fact that I am equally as helpless because then he’ll come after me. The other fat one. He didn’t pick on me first but he will bring me down second.

He might as well have said “big girl” because I guarantee in this moment that my feelings were matched to that of big guy. I stared directly at the ground in front of me and walked on without saying a word. My legs were moving but I was frozen.

“HEY I’M SORRY. NOT BIG GUY. I DIDN’T MEAN IT,” homeless man makes it worse. We’re all stopped a few feet ahead of him like a cliff ends right in front of us. Reality would show that we don’t have the right of way to escape this island of tension by continuing the walk toward the indoor safe haven just across the street. A cop is staring at us all contemplate the jaywalk.

Standing trapped in the moment we have no choice but to acknowledge what’s going on. Nervous laughter becomes the shared vein within the pack of us, and thankfully someone cracks a decent enough joke about the demonstrated effects of meth that we can get away with pretending it’s the perfect cure for this mess.

Many extended seconds later I am ashamed of myself. This revelation comes with my realizing that my version of the story is so drastically different from everyone else’s. We all saw it the same and heard it the same, but I felt it a way nobody else could. The word “fat” still makes me cringe because I’m in a permanent state of forgetting that it doesn’t apply to me anymore. I hear “big” and I know, I just know, I’m the one being referenced. But then I’m reminded that he wasn’t making eye contact because he was out to get me - he was making eye contact because guys do that with me now. A lot.

It was never about me, and if I could just catch up to reality I would see that. If my mind and body could finally unite in the same place, I wouldn’t have to live these moments like they are my own. My attention would be appropriately directed at big guy’s situation instead of unreasonably swirling around my own. I could have even said something. Maybe I would have done something.

If I had any idea how to think, live, act like the person within my body should, this experience wouldn’t have left me feeling empty and useless. It wouldn’t have been an experience at all. I realize that I probably would have said and done nothing, but had I not been instantly overwhelmed with illogical emotions for a situation that only existed in my head, I would have at least had the chance to contemplate action and consciously chosen to be a passive bystander.

We swiped back into the building but I didn’t move on. It wasn’t fair to blame myself, but I lamented the fact that my outside reached the destination so far ahead of my inside that I felt lost when things like this happened. If I could just force my head to know my body, I wouldn’t have to feel so hurt by this or so angry at my undeserved sadness. If I weren’t so irrationally concerned with being personally victimized, maybe I really would have said something or done something. This fact clouded all my thoughts for the rest of the night and I only half-heard the words spoken to me from that point on.