|Publisher:||Whitman, Albert & Company|
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By Derek E. Sullivan
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 2015 Derek E. Sullivan
All rights reserved.
People call me Biggie. Not all people. Mom and some teachers call me Henry, but for the most part, I'm Biggie.
Do I like the nickname? No. Of course, I don't. Nor do I care much for Brian Burke, who, nine years ago, thought up the moniker when we were playing tag during second-grade recess. I should have just told him to shut up or said something mean in verbal retaliation, but I didn't. I just stood there, head hung, shoulders fallen, hands swaying in the icy wind of early December.
It would have been so easy to fight back. He was tiny, wore the same ratty, torn Notre Dame T-shirt every day, and loved—and I mean loved—investigating the inside of his nose with his long fingernails.
That day, instead of getting caught up in the cherished elementary school game of I can be meaner than you, my lips locked. I stood there like some sap with my eyes focused on trampled snow, which was filled with small shoe prints from seven-year-olds avoiding the flailing arms of the kid who last heard, "You're it."
Even today, I can still remember that day nine years ago when everyone was laughing and snickering the first time Brian said my nickname out loud. Over time, the memory is more the background laughter of my classmates than Brian's repetitive teasing of "You're so big and fat, we should call you Biggie." I learned that Friday that you didn't need to be touched to get tagged.
Do I deserve my nickname? Sure, I'm not going to lie or sugarcoat the situation. I stand six-foot-two and weigh north of three hundred pounds.
Last year, my mom had to start ordering T-shirts online. I'll keep my size to myself, but let's just say there're enough Xs in it to make a porn-store owner blush. For at least a little while longer, I can still get my shorts and jeans at John's Big and Tall, which is located an hour from my hometown of Finch, Iowa (population: a handful). Lately, my jeans, new and old, feel like tourniquets wrapped tightly around my thighs.
How did I get this way? Or a better question: Why have I let myself grow to over three hundred pounds? Simply put: now, I'm invisible. Funny, isn't it? The more I weigh, the less people ride me about it. By living up to my nickname, I have accomplished an amazing feat. I'm the only high school student in the world who doesn't get made fun of on a daily basis.
It doesn't stop there. I'm also the only teenager in America whose parents leave him alone. Millions of people in the world give up the foods they love or drop billions of strands of sweat to avoid being called fat. I have managed to avoid the taunts, glares, and verbal abuse without giving up anything or wasting most of my life on a treadmill. I pull this off by shutting my mouth, staying in my bedroom at home, and sitting in the back of the room at school.
Standing in the shadows of my high school, I have noticed one undeniable fact: high school kids are cruel, mean sons-of-bitches, and not just toward fat people. Nobody is immune to the constant ripping. I can't take a step without hearing some kid make fun of another kid. Every second, students are laughing at someone else's dumb outfit, clumsy behavior, or poorly chosen words. It's not a battle, but a never-ending verbal war. In this conflict, I choose to be a pacifist. To avoid being hit by spoken bullets, I have decided to never point that gun at anyone else. I keep my mouth shut at all costs.
At my desk, I disappear from everyone: the jocks that rip on kids who don't have Godgiven talent; the do-it-alls, who come to class every day, try out for the spring play, run for student council, and so on; and the sleepers, who rest their heads on desks and could care less about school.
Sure I feel the urge to say something now and then, raise my hand to answer some teacher's question, or say hello to one of the few kids I don't despise at this small-town hellhole, but it's not worth the risk. When you're fat, insults hurt and come in droves, like ammunition from a machine gun. I hate being made fun of for my weight and will do anything—I mean anything—to avoid it, even if that means adding weight.
A funny thing happened a year ago when my weight neared three hundred pounds. People stopped looking at me, staring in disgust, or delicately shaking their heads at the sight of me. In the past year, I have learned that being slightly overweight is a lot more annoying than being obese.
For example, the summer before the start of high school when I weighed around 220 pounds, the football coach called our house every week and told me that if I played for his team and, more importantly, if I committed myself to the weight room, I could play college football as an offensive guard or nose tackle. But sports aren't for me, and I definitely don't need athletics to get into college.
Since my school started giving out As, Bs, Cs, Ds, and Fs in third grade, I've missed out on getting an A once. At the end of my seventh-grade year, my physical education teacher wrote that I didn't participate effectively and gave me an A-minus. Participate effectively? What does that mean? The way I see it, if a kid stands there and keeps his mouth shut, he deserves an A.
Want another example? Having a thirteen-year-old weighing well over two hundred pounds bugged my mom, so she got me up early and forced me to walk on a treadmill. When I came home from school, she, as if she were on CSI, searched my backpack and pockets for junk food wrappers. She worked so hard to keep me from eating junk food that hiding the wrappers from candy bars, hamburgers, and Twinkies took up most of my time. Would it have been easier to just not eat my favorite foods? Probably. But they're my favorite foods. I'm a fat kid who has to stay quiet all the time to avoid constant ridicule. Eating Snickers now and then is the only way I don't go completely insane.
So it didn't surprise me at all when no matter how hard Mom worked, my weight kept rising and rising. Soon, the doctor's office staff weighed me out at 270 pounds. Mom said little the next few days. Then one morning she said she was done begging me to work out and pleading with me to eat healthy. The words were music to my ears. Now, other than making healthy meals, she has stopped being my athletic trainer. No more early-morning door poundings, no more rummaging around in my stuff, no more getting on my case about my weight. I am free to be me.
If I had followed my mom's orders and stopped with the junk food and embraced the exercise plans, I would still be working out in the mornings, living off vegetables, and being all-around miserable, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Plus, if I look even the slightest bit fit, coaches at sports-obsessed Finch High School would never leave me alone.
Some days, I feel like I'm the only person in Finch who doesn't share a passion for sports. What I don't understand is why someone would want to fail so much for just a small taste of success. For example, Matt "Jet" Wayne, the baseball team's best hitter, batted only .418 this summer. So 58.2 percent of the time he failed, and he's an all-state award winner on the diamond. Wouldn't all of the failure make someone hate sports?
Another thing about me: I'm a perfectionist. Not only have I mastered my school's curriculum and perfected a way to avoid insults, I have also never missed a day of school in ten years. Not one. I have never been sick a single day in my life. If junk food is so horrible for your health, how do I stay so healthy? I'm sure the anti-junk-food crowd has no answer for that.
Anyway, a real perfectionist could never enjoy sports. Sports are for guys like Brian Burke, who unfortunately stopped picking his nose. As I got bigger and bigger, adding more and more credence to his nickname for me, he got stronger and faster. Ever since sixth grade, he has been the school's top athlete. He's the quarterback, power forward, and starting pitcher. By junior high, Brian wasn't the only one calling me Biggie. Everyone did. Everyone worshipped him—so much that he got to pick his own nickname, a rarity at any high school.
The story goes that his father used to wear a homemade T-shirt to baseball games that had a big yellow jacket—the school's mascot—on it, along with the words Brian Burke, Finch's Killer Bee. Brian loved it so much that one day he told everyone to call him Killer, and to this day they still do. Thanks to Brian, he's Killer and I'm Biggie.CHAPTER 2
School isn't the only place I remain silent. Four nights a week, I work at Bob's Fuel and Food. Outside the small convenience store sit two gas pumps and inside is just one register. The owner hates spending money, so he schedules only one person at a time. Most workers would complain about having to run the register, cook the food, load the empty shelves, and mop the footprint-filled floors by themselves, but I appreciate my boss's frugality.
I can sit up there and read novels, comic books, and textbooks and rarely be bothered. These days, most people pay at the pump, so all I have to do is call the cops when they drive off without paying, which happens more than people think. Outsiders driving through Finch on their way to Dubuque or Chicago think we don't have policemen in this small town, so they pump and dash. They are all idiots because I write down their license plate numbers before turning on the machines. I doubt they get very far out of town before a state trooper pulls them over.
Every now and then, someone will come in for a twenty-ounce pop, twelve-pack of beer, or a candy bar. Last year, when I was a dumb convenience-store rookie, I would mutter the total bill through the same forced smile I use on school picture day. Then one day I retired the crooked grin and waited for customers to toss a buck or a ten- or twenty-dollar bill on the counter. I just calmly glance at the charge on top of the register. Once they see the total, they get out their cash or debit cards. No small talk needed, wanted, or expected, and no one ever says I'm rude. Here's a secret to all future convenience-store workers: no one wants to talk to you, no matter what the bosses or company motto says.
I love making the food. I cook greasy snacks like chicken fingers and egg rolls. It isn't that much work; I just toss the snacks into a heater below the counter and then place them into small paper carriers or into my belly. I'll admit it; I'm addicted to chicken fingers and egg rolls. One night, I bought thirty of them, but most nights I eat between twelve and fifteen. I used to eat them with blue cheese dip, but lately I've been soaking them in the hot cheese we normally sell with soft pretzels.
While cooking is my favorite job, the highlight of my night is watching Annabelle Rivers shoplift.
Three times a week, Annabelle, a classmate since kindergarten, comes into the store before her shift at Molly's Drive-In. She buys a Monster Lo-Carb energy drink and also drops two Kit Kats in her garbage-bag-size purse. Last year, she used to steal M&M's, and before that, Twix bars, but right now she's swiping Kit Kats.
Annabelle thinks she's so sly. She looks at the candy bar with one eye and me with other. She notices me going to add some egg rolls to the heater and drops the dollar treat into her purse. She then grabs a Lo-Carb and pays for it. I would let her steal that too, but I always go mute when she's around. Someday I'll tell her how I feel.
She does her routine every time she walks into the store, even if there are other customers. I just love to watch the precision she takes in swiping the candy bars. As a perfectionist myself, I appreciate her attention to detail. She comes in and always walks down the first aisle, the one closest to the windows, which are covered with red and blue advertisements for pop, cigarettes, oil, and Little Debbie snacks. She's five-foot-six, so her dark hair with red highlights pokes over the top of the shelf.
Her pace can only be explained as quick walking. She doesn't skip, jog, or run, but she's in a hurry, as if she's trying to move just fast enough that I can't focus on her. She then stares through the glass cooler doors at the pop, single-serving milk containers, and energy drinks before turning ninety degrees to slide like a ninja into the candy aisle.
At this point, no matter what I'm doing, I turn away and pretend to be too busy to watch her every move. Then I hear the cooler door open again. She grabs the Monster drink. How do I know she steals Kit Kats? Well, her precision to detail ends when she pulls the Kit Kat out of her purse when she starts her car.
She comes in every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday around six fifty. Tonight's Friday so I'm surprised to see her show up. She walks in, sees me texting, and smiles. She doesn't normally even make eye contact with me, so a big smile makes me blush and I stand at attention. Then Mike Robinson, a senior whose only real skill is owning a motorcycle, follows her into the store.
"Please don't be together," I whisper.
Mike and Annabelle giggle together as she hands him two Monster drinks: Lo-Carb and Mean Bean coffee. She stands back as Mike walks up to my counter. He tosses down six bucks in extra-crisp dollar bills. The drinks cost $2.79 apiece and six bucks easily covers them, but there are the two Kit Kats and one Snickers in Annabelle's purse that I have to deal with before letting them get back on his motorcycle.
Annabelle and I have an unspoken cat-and-mouse game that lights up my boring nights behind the counter. But tonight, with him, she's paying. They don't get to laugh about stealing from me, not on his motorcycle.
"Biggie, I need my change," Mike says while my eyes are on Annabelle's purse. I can tell he has never shoplifted before, which surprises me. "My change, forty cents or something."
I ring up the drinks and candy bars. "Nine ninety-eight," I answer.
"For two energy drinks?" he snaps back.
I hold on to the counter to keep from fainting. It's tough for me to admit, but I'm kind of a pushover. I normally don't want a confrontation or to get in the middle of a shouting match, but Annabelle gets free food, not Mike "Never Read a Book Without Pictures in My Life" Robinson.
"The candy bars," I say.
"Biggie!" Annabelle shouts.
"There are no candy bars. You hear me?" Mike says.
Like I do with everyone who doesn't have enough money to pay, I grab the energy drinks off the counter and place them on a small table by the gas reader. My hands shake so much that I half expect the drinks to explode out the pop-top. Turning away from them allows me to get some air. The choppy breaths form a small circle of condensation on the window, which looks out to the parking lot. Watching cars fly by on the highway calms my nerves.
"Forget it, Anna. This fat fuck thinks he's a gas-station god," Mike says.
"Mike, get me the drinks," she commands. "Just pay for the Kit Kats and let's go."
"Look at me!" He picks up the money off the counter.
I slowly twist my neck and see him squeezing the now-crinkled dollar bills like a tube of toothpaste.
"New plan," he continues. "I'm not paying for anything, and if you say something or call the Harpers, I'll tell them I caught you jerking off to those magazines back there."
"Cameras," I whisper with my fingernails pressing into the edge of the countertop.
"There're cameras always on the front counter. I'm not allowed to look at them."
"The cameras?" Mike asks.
"No," Annabelle jumps in. "You're both idiots. He means his boss knows if he looks at porn and there are cameras recording us right now, so just pay him."
"I only have six bucks after buying you dinner," he whispers.
"Whatever," she says and tosses a ten on the counter.
My blue eyes connect with her green ones, just like when she walked in few minutes ago. Annabelle has been in this store a hundred times, but tonight is the first time I've really looked at her up close. Although we live in the same town, go to the same school, and sit in the same classes, everything about Annabelle seems to take place at a distance. She always seems far away. But right now, we are eye to eye, inches from each other, and I can't look away. I'm looking at her bangs, pink freckles, and naked red lips.
"My change," she blurts out.
"You don't have to pay," Mike says. "Let's get Dilly Bars instead."
"Give me my Monster, Biggie." She ignores Mike's plan. "I liked you a lot better when you kept your mouth shut. C'mon, baby."
As Annabelle walks out, Mike turns with a little unsolicited advice, "Being an asshole will never get you the girl."
As the door closes, I mutter to myself, "Works for you."
Excerpted from Biggie by Derek E. Sullivan. Copyright © 2015 Derek E. Sullivan. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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