A Lifelong Struggle

2017 / Roxanne Gay

The bigger you become, the smaller your world gets

I remember the first time I truly felt that sentiment.

I was five, maybe six years old. We’d just moved into Portola Heights in Plumas County, California. The neighbor on the right had a young son, Gabriel. We’d become friends. One day we were racing in the yard between our houses. Gabriel kept losing. He complained to his father, who said “Well Gabriel, Jamie is bigger than you and his long legs make him faster.” I know that he didn’t mean any harm by it. It was true, I was taller than everyone my age, by at least a foot, maybe more. But it stuck with me. It was the first, but not last time I would feel out of place in this world.

As I got older, I got larger and larger. And my world got smaller and smaller.

I have no memories of feeling the right size. Or fitting in. I’ve always been too big for this, or too big for that.

In elementary school I wasn’t allowed inside bounce houses or on the playground equipment, because I “would break it” or “hurt another kid”. I never got to go into the ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese for similar reasons. When we went to Great America, I could only go on the merry-go-round, as I didn’t fit in the small compartments of the other rides.

We shopped in the husky section, and I still wore clothes that were too tight for my ever expanding body.

I barely fit into the desks at school, I had to slide in from the side and my belly would touch the edge of the desktop. I would look around me and drown in the sea of kids who could fit three of themselves into one desk, and there I was struggling to contain my presence within these wood and metal prisons.

In the sixth grade my size turned into a slight advantage. For a brief period I led a small group of recess warriors in WWF (WWE) style wrestling matches on the soccer field. I was hard to throw or knockdown. But I had no trouble tossing other kids around.

Junior High on the other hand, was quite rough for me. I was six-feet tall, and probably around two-hundred-thirty pounds. I was basically an adult, but inside I was timid, awkward, and scared.

Here is something not many people know about me. Inside, I feel like a much smaller person. Inside, I’m six-two, hundred-seventy-five, lithe. My mental image of myself could use my reality as a mechanical armor suit. I’ve always felt this way, I’ve always wanted to be a mid-size standard.

But I’m not. I’m not average. I’m not “normal”.

During High School I gained a bit of confidence, and weight as I traveled through the ranks, I had a lot more friends than I remember, but I still didn’t feel like I was part of their world. I spent lunch in the library, or in my math teacher’s class room. I withdrew from most social activities and encounters. I figured the less I was around people, the less I would have to hear the jokes and taunts. I started defending myself in unavoidable social situations by making those jokes first. I got really good at teasing myself, demeaning myself.

I got into a handful of fist fights in High School, all failures, all my fault, all testing my strength, all wastes of time. Fighting at my size is a lose-lose. If I win I’m picking on small kids, if I lose I’m a wimp.

At one point in my adult life I got down to two-hundred-seventy-five. And even then I felt out of place, too big, and just too much. I wasn’t, not really, but I also was.

I’ve spent a great deal of my life feeling wrong. A mistake, not from here. I guess that’s why I write and draw and create. It’s all an attempt to find self, meaning, and purpose.

I’m 46, going on 47. I’m still large 6 foot 7 inches—which I cannot change, and 365 pounds—which I can. And I am losing weight in a healthy way, feeling much better about my physical self. But, even then, no matter what, I still have this fear in the back of my mind that regardless of my size…

I still won’t fit here. Ever.