At a recent high school reunion, I saw Colin again. After forty-five years, his looks have changed quite a bit. He has white hair now rather than dark curls. He didn’t recognize me but knowing I was a high school classmate from bygone days, he hugged me like an old friend. Time has mellowed him.
He is, in a sense, my unlikely hero.
In that long ago fourteenth year, my mirror revealed exactly what I wanted to see of myself. It ignored the fact of the bath scales recording my weight creeping up, up, up. My bedroom full-length mirror played denial right along with me, convincing me that I’d not changed a lick, was, in fact, quite normal.
My family, too, practiced see-no-evil. Seeing me day in, day out, they did not, for a long time, detect my bulging shape beneath big shirts and baggy jeans.
One day in homeroom, my teacher sent me to deliver some papers to the principal’s office. As I left the class, Colin, quite the artist, began to garnish the door with spring decorations. I shyly excused myself to pass and he politely stepped aside, then closed the door behind me.
In eighth grade, Colin was–if not the most verbose and friendly–quite handsome and popular with the girls. I, too, was secretly smitten. My romantic mind painted him dark and mysterious, with ebony eyes that, on occasion, flicked over me with maddening unreadableness.
The principal’s office was in another building and I enjoyed the warm sunshine as I strolled across campus and back. When I approached the door to my classroom, I spied Colin through the high, small window, tongue poked between perfect teeth, his good-looking face tense with concentration as he continued to arrange his handiwork on the door. The other classmates worked and chatted away during this free morning time.
I paused to pat down my hair, took a deep breath and gently turned the knob, a tentative motion so as not to abruptly interrupt Colin’s creativity.
He stepped back, a moment I used to crack the door open and step across the threshold, intending to move past him and allow him to resume his artwork.
I gazed up at him, forming an apologetic smile. It was then that I saw his black eyes turn stormy. “Hurry up, Fatso,” he muttered through his teeth, in a voice low and unfeeling.
Shock melted my smile as he stood there, tall and imperial, his impatience and disdain snapping at me like an enraged Rotweiler. Now I knew what thoughts lay behind those mystical eyes.
For one long instant, hurt and humiliation opted to curl me into a fetal knot right there at his feet. But in the next heartbeat, anger stirred deep, deep inside me and I met his gaze defiantly, seeing him for the first time, seeing past his male beauty into an insensitive soul, one that greatly diminished him.
I flounced past him and took my seat, fighting back tears. Thank God nobody else had heard his callous words. I glimpsed his reflection in the glass where he worked, nonchalant and softly whistling.
Why, he doesn’t even care that he’s hurt me.
My umbrage grew and burgeoned in the next twenty-four hours, hours during which I gazed in my mirror and saw, really saw the blobs of fat that buried my bone structure and caricaturized me. Why hadn’t anybody told me? Didn’t my family see my chipmunk cheeks?
Somebody did. I clamped my teeth together.
Never again, I vowed, would I be the target of such ridicule.
My resolution cemented firmly into place and I commenced plotting. I wrote to Dr. George Crane, a medical doctor newspaper columnist and the next week received his famous Lose Ten Pounds In Ten Days Diet in my self-addressed-stamped-envelope. The diet’s initial quick loss was intended only as a successful launch that would help keep one on the 900 calories (the pound a day starting point) and gradually migrate to 1,400 calories (slower loss), which I maintained for the long haul.
Oh yes, Colin, I muttered through my teeth daily, I’ll show YOU!”
Summer vacation began and so did my regimen. My calorie count rarely exceeded 1,200, even when my flesh screamed for more. Not even when my dad, scowling at how my shirts and jeans hang like tents on me, shoved food under my nose, heaped more mashed potatoes and gravy on my plate, and snarled, “Eat!”
I learned the art of pushing food around on my dish until it appeared nearly gone.
If my resolve threatened to waver, a flash of Colin’s arrogant sneer and his “Hurry up, Fatso” snapped it firmly back into place.
By mid-summer, I’d shrunk out of my old clothes. Mom took me shopping for a new church dress–I still wore the old jeans and big shirts at home most of the time. After dressing for church that week, I spied myself in the mirror. Why, I actually had a waistline. When I walked through the den, Daddy’s mouth fell open.
“Susie Q–you’ve really lost weight, haven’t you?” I heard the worry in his voice. In Dad’s family where most of the females are ‘solid,’ my encroaching thinness, to him, equated frailty.
“Yup.” I almost giggled at his astonishment. Maybe soon, he’d adjust to my new image and appreciate all my efforts. In the meantime, I’d simply keep on trucking under my own steam. I was only half way to my goal.
The following weeks passed swiftly as I meted myself small portions, eating green beans instead of rice and gravy, sliced tomatoes rather than macaroni pie, and opting for an extra piece of skinless white chicken in lieu of chocolate cake. I learned to enjoy a single homemade biscuit rather than eating three or four. I mastered juggling calories to cover small portions of treats I loved, therefore avoiding a sense of deprivation. Some weeks I lost less than others so I stopped weighing as often to avoid disappointment.
Suddenly, September was upon me. Mom and I shopped for my school wardrobe. Lo and behold, I was a size eight. Standing five-feet-four, at one hundred and fifteen, I’d reached my goal. My weight loss totaled thirty-five pounds.
Other things had changed during the summer. My diet had given me a clear, smooth complexion. My hair, once oily, now sported a healthy gloss. Mom took me for a fashionable hair cut. The different ‘do’ becomingly hugged my newly oval face, completing my metamorphosis.
What a fulfillment I experienced by sticking to my resolution. Little did I know that it launched me into a lifelong self-confidence and above-average achiever.
The first day back at school, I was a mite bewildered when many of my friends walked past without acknowledging me. Finally, I took the initiative to approach them and was astonished that they didn’t know me! Without fail, this wild look of disbelief washed over their features as recognition dawned. I felt gratified, seeing they were excited that I’d reached out and taken charge of my destiny.
I looked for him. Colin. The old anger still stirred when I recalled his insult. But not as forcefully. Still–I wanted to confront him, to see his reaction. At the end of the day, I’d still not spotted him.
“Where’s Colin,” I finally asked his old buddy, George.
“Oh, Colin’s moved to Conastee,” replied George, his puzzled, appreciative gaze roaming my face. “Uh–who are you?”
“No! It can’t be!”
I strolled away, a bit disappointed that Colin wouldn’t see the new me.
Then, quite suddenly, it ceased to matter. Because I now had a life and in the days that followed, I grew to realize that the guys’ little asides to me were not taunts but flirts. I slowly accepted the fact that I was attractive and well liked by my peers.
My self-confidence snapped into place.
Soon, I began to see Colin simply as the unknowing catalyst who had propelled me from there to here, who’d forced me to see me for who I was–an out of control obese person. He sparked the anger that fueled my purpose to fruition, one that rescued me from smothering beneath masses of fat and cellulite, from a life of loneliness and heartbreak. He crash-landed me into vanity–not the evil kind–the healthy, survival, feel good kind.
Seeing Colin again after forty-five years gave me closure. I forgave him for his adolescent insensitivity. He’s not the same after all this time. Wisdom, somewhere along the way, caught up with him. I never told him about that time because I’m certain he would be horrified and repentent. It no longer matters. We’ve remained friends in recent years, we and our spouses seeing each other on a regular basis, loving and respecting each other.
I surprise even myself as seeing him as a different kind of hero, one not spawned from nobility. Or kindness. Even ignorant of his hero-status.
A hero, nevertheless, because I can’t help but ask myself at times, “Had it not been for the Colin-episode, would I have ever faced up and taken action?”
Who knows? All I know is that every time the scale needle begins to creep up, I need only to hear yesteryear’s “Hurry up, Fatso,” to gear me into renewed resolution.
And I tighten my lips, square my shoulders, and quietly vow, “Never again.”
Emily Sue Harvey is The Story Plant’s Author of the Month. This means we are offering sensational deals on all of her books. You can learn more at our website.