My “meet-cute” with Wilbur went as I imagine most do. Girl is working, Boy sits down at Girl’s blackjack table, Boy introduces himself after testing the room with a few jokes.
“I’m Wilbur,” he told me with a smile as I handed him his chips. “Yes, like the pig.”
He laughed at the way my mouth dropped in surprise before I’d joined him.
“Some pig,” I replied with an overdone wink.
Wilbur was a large man, but the casual way he carried himself said, “Yeah, I’m fat, but there’s a lot more to me than that.”
He spoke with impressive openness and grace when the drunk gambler beside him sat down and slurred, “man, big guy, you’re huge!”
“Have been all my life, sir,” Wilbur said with a nod, keeping his smile as he dusted some of the man’s dandruff off his expensive-looking jacket suit sleeve.
As a girl 100 pounds overweight and in denial, it was one of the hottest things I’d ever seen. He’d caught my attention.
It turns out Wilbur ticked all the “great guy” boxes. Cute, a self-made, hard-working man with a love of Mortal Kombat and a campy “Whodunnit?” manuscript in the works. I got a crush pretty fast. He came to see me almost every weekend that winter, making our chilly bar a lot cozier with the laughter in his eyes.
When the snow started to thaw, and he asked if I wanted to go to the diner to eat pie, of course, I’d said, “hell yeah.”
“See you tomorrow night?” he’d asked, saluting in response to my nod and thumbs up.
I gave him a wave as he exited out the back of the bar. My friend and manager, Mary, who came to relieve me at the end of my shift for the night, stood watching.
“You’re going out with him?” she’d asked, her brow furrowing in what I assumed was confusion. “Good for you.”
Then, she’d shrugged, her lips pulling downward and her eyebrows lifting as if her face came out of the microwave half-melted. “That makes sense. Have fun, you two.”
That makes sense.
It’s hard to say what these words did to me at that moment. First, I froze, my eyes searching hers for something, I wasn’t sure what. Then, I bared my teeth like a chimp in an awkward attempt to seem unbothered before saying, “night!” and heading to my car.
As I sat in the driver’s seat, I held my phone in my hands. I had a powerful urge to text Wilbur and cancel our date the next night, but why?
I’m gonna be straight with you, readers.
The reason I went from digging Wilbur to praying he wasn’t waiting for me in the parking lot is a simple, yet unpleasant one.
I was embarrassed to be seen with Wilbur. His fatness didn’t — and never should — matter. But once Mary noticed us together and said those three damned words: “that makes sense,” I started to wonder,
Do people think I’m with Wilbur because I’m fat? Do they think I’m fat, too?
A lot of you might say, who cares if you were fat? And you’re right. Wilbur and I didn’t get along because of our size, but because we meshed well together.
Beyond my stretch pants and his “big and tall” men’s suit, he and I were people, like everyone else.
But when it comes to the stigma against size and society’s obsession with the “perfect body,” life is never so simple.
I was in a bad place when I met Wilbur, too. A decade-long binge eating disorder hadn’t come to a head yet, and I guess I resented his confidence, or it frightened me, who knows. It doesn’t matter.
What matters is I was having a fatphobic reaction, and it was a learned one.
Yet, I ignored these new feelings. With 80% of women (and 5% of men) fearing they’ll get fat by the time they’re teenagers, it’s safe to guess many of you will know exactly the feelings I mean.
For those who don’t, I won’t go into much detail. I will say this, though: Body issues weren’t the sole reason I went to a mental hospital at thirteen. But they were a big one.
And judging by the girls suffering from anorexia, bulimia, and body dysmorphia with me, our fat-hating, body-obsessed culture got into their young heads, too.
The more weight I’d gained, the worse my self-loathing became, bleeding over into hidden resentment. Resentment for Wilbur and everyone else strong enough to be themselves. Still, I refused to believe the problem was mine.
“You can’t be fatphobic if you’re fat, too,” I’d muttered to myself, pushing aside my discomfort with being attracted to Wilbur.
But his confidence stuck in my mind, blooming into an ugly grey splotch on his pristine, handsome image.
All I could think about was his pant size because all I could think about was mine.
I didn’t cancel my date with Wilbur. Instead, I wore my best smile, remembering I’d wanted to spend time with him once. But, I kept my plans mostly because I didn’t want to admit I was a biased dick — a self-serving reason.
The weirdness will pass, I repeated as we entered the mall for a sushi dinner before heading to a movie.
The hostess led us to our private table in the back of the restaurant, my arm on his. I noticed a lot of staring happening.
Wilbur commanded attention with his nice-looking face and assured bouncy stroll.
Yet, all I could think was, They’re looking because he’s big…because we’re big.
I’ll be honest. I don’t remember much of the dinner, the movie, or even the pie. A switch used to go off in me when uncomfortable — a bit like a reverse tortoise. Rather than retreat inward, I’d gush and perform, bringing all the most dazzling parts of me forward.
But there was no substance to any of it — not like before when I allowed myself to be enamored with a fat man. My actual thoughts and prejudices stayed deep, simmering.
The common term for this behavior is “being fake,” but it was more of a state of panic. My flirtatious giggling and exclamations of, “that’s interesting!” detracted from my hyper-focus on ordinary, minute details that caused my stomach to bubble.
Wilbur had excellent table manners, yet I couldn’t look away from the speck of spicy mayo in the corner of his mouth.
The restaurant was stifling. My breasts could’ve floated in the sweat pooling beneath them.
But, as Wilbur took out a handkerchief from his pocket, dabbing at his forehead and saying, “excuse me, sorry. It’s hot in here,” my lip curled faster than I could stop it.
My mind then turned to kissing him at the end of the night.
Gross, I’d thought.
More thorn than rose
The night I showed up to the local Kum N’ Go to get gas at two in the morning, ragged and still in uniform, I didn’t expect (or want) to run into Wilbur.
In fact, I banked on never seeing him outside of work again.
He stood by his car, shifting into the floodlight as he squinted at me before breaking into his usual charming grin.
“Well, well, well, is this fate or what?” he’d called out, laughing as he tramped through the snow, tall and tasty in a three-piece suit and name-tag.
The part of me still excited to see him, that tiny flicker almost doused by my insecurity, forced me to return a tight smile.
Be nice, the tiny flicker piped, but I wasn’t.
Instead, I’d wrapped my arms around my chest, not due to the cold but as an unwelcome gesture as Wilbur came forward.
“You’re going to freeze,” said Wilbur, taking off his jacket and placing it around me. “What are the odds of us meeting here tonight?” he added after I thanked him, flinching. “It’s fa — ”
“ — Fate, right, got it,” I snapped, jamming the gas nozzle back into it’s home with one too many curse words.
I wanted to run away then, to tell him, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me right now, but I’m about to take it out on you. Please, I’ll talk to you later.”
But I didn’t. Instead, I handed back the jacket.
And when Wilbur frowned and asked, “are you okay?” I allowed my hatred for each of the 100 extra pounds on my body to come out in a snarling response.
“Was that one of the cheesy lines from your hackneyed novella?”
“Whoa,” said Wilbur, running a hand through his neat black hair. “You’re more thorn than rose tonight, aren’t ya?”
I gave him a look — an up-and-down glance/eye-roll combo. A look reserved for the most drunken of douchebags, not grinning teddy bears with their arms outstretched. Not Wilbur.
“You’re on a roll tonight with the bad lines.”
“Can I hug you? You’re having a bad day, I can tell,” he said, voice soft like the snow on his lapel.
But I didn’t step into his arms as I had many times before, no matter how much I wanted and needed a hug.
Instead, my hands went up, and “I’m good,” came out of my mouth instead of “I’m so sorry. Yes, please, hug me!”
I nodded and got into my car while Wilbur watched, arms limp at his sides, defeated.
“Go home and sleep,” he said, the rest of his words swallowed by the hum of my window rolling up.
Then I drove off into the snowfall, screaming a quick “fuck!” at my steering wheel.
And like that, our potential died at that gas station, and it didn’t have to.
Make up your own mind.
I’m sure — or I at least hope— Wilbur got in his car, told himself, “this chick has major issues” and deleted my number before finding a girl worth his time.
I’m not proud of what I did to Wilbur. I can’t imagine one decent person who would be.
I allowed a plus-sized hating culture and insecurity to mold my opinions about a good man. This excuse isn’t the best, yet it’s the truth, and this prejudice happens every day.
But there is something we can do about it.
With only 5% of the female population having the natural, God-given bodies deemed acceptable by society and the average male BMI being one number shy of obese, it’s safe to say pretty much no-one is “perfect.”
So, maybe, we should let people be fat, thin, or whatever they want to be because none of it matters as much as a person’s character.
If I learned anything, it’s to not judge a person for their size or “imperfections” or on what others might think — like we all want and deserve.
A genuine smile like Wilbur’s is a lot more telling than clothing size.