Like any fat kid living in one of the few parts of the country where most kids aren’t fat, I was insecure about everything. Southern kids are lucky: every day they can find a vein for their insulin, they get eight free brownies. The neighborhoods I grew up in had bigger things to worry about, like not getting deported/murdered, and fat Hispanic kids are adorable anyway so who cares?
When I was 11, though, we Made It Out, and suddenly I was the fattest person in any room I failed to walk into because they don’t grease the doors in neighborhoods that get fresh vegetables.
By the way, I do mean I was insecure about everything, not just the fatness. Suddenly becoming the fattest kid means you take a chute down the social ladder, and you notice shit about yourself you never thought of when you were all the way up at the third-lowest rung. I stopped smiling in pictures, first because my mouth made me look like a shark that just lost a fight with a boat, and then because my braces looked like a post-earthquake railroad.
Some other choice new insecurities: I sweat the entire Dead Sea daily, my hands are barely big enough to palm a baseball, I have the same face-ruddiness as a Norwegian alcoholic, my tits are so perky that I’ve seen them throw straight guys into identity crisis, and all hats look weird on me.
Maybe worst of all, though, was my waddle. I’ve got duck feet and my knees are crazy double-jointed—from the side, I look like an upside-down question mark—so when my thighs were thicker, I had no choice but to flop around like an obese baby turtle.
Now take that image, put it on crutches, and tell that voice that tells you not to laugh at kicked puppies to shut up.
The only kids at White Privilege Middle School (Asians, You’re Cool If You Know Your Place) who ever used crutches were all future white-sport champions. Volleyball players who took a hard dive, skiers who over-slalomed, cross country runners who’ve gotta condition better before trying 10Ks on back-to-back weekends—if they had a French tutor and a guest room, they’d get at least one cool extracurricular injury to complete the set.
Technically speaking, my what the fuck, is my ceiling leaking? Dammit. Hold on.
Technically speaking, my injury was extracurricular too. My sport? Spelling bees.
I tried to compensate for being the town Quasimodo by focusing on my skills, like spelling, clarinet, and self-loathing. I won my first spelling bee in first grade and never looked back, winning at least once per year all eight years I was eligible. After coming a word away from nationals three times, I got ready to rock my last shot by doing, well, nothing, because I was old enough to get that spelling bees are for queers.
As bad as I am at preparing, when I’m actually up against someone at something I’m good at, I flip my Kobe Switch and get competitive as a motherfuck. It’s bad. When I was eight, I got grounded for yelling “SUCK MY DICK!” at a library computer upon beating a level of a Learn 2 Type game. Any time another bicyclist dares to occupy the same lane as me, I will swerve into traffic just to beat him to a red light. When high and playing Smash Bros, I am convinced I have the right to call anyone who plays as Kirby a “buster-ass nigga.”
Naturally, I brought this fire to the 2004 Indian Prairie School District Spelling Bee, pictured above. As the two-time defending champ, I had a legacy to uphold: the winner got to compete in the regionals, whose winner went to nationals. Let me tell you, as soon as I walked through the door, the thing was over. I smoked everybody. And I was really shitty about it.
It’s tough to explain, but here’s my attempt: I didn’t say anything, but it was clear I wasn’t saying anything so that I’d appear better than everyone, and also clear that I was aware that I was giving off this appearance and half-heartedly trying to undercut it, so really the message was that I was too good to seem too good.
Anyway, they gave me my trophy (that I would throw in the pile with all the others! Ha!), and after a few photos, I stepped outside into the Chicago winter and slipped on some ice, badly spraining my ankle and shattering my new trophy. I didn’t bother Googling it, but I hope for the sake of every other pathetic K-8 in America that this was the first and only spelling-related sports injury.
I was so unathletic that I got hurt at words. That doesn’t make sense. I don’t care.
So I waddled around on crutches for the next three weeks. It was horrible and I was bad at it. Since the only people I’d seen on crutches were all at least passable at the athletic feat of walking while holding something, I didn’t know what was in store for me. Remember that puppy-kicking voice? Show it this image:
A sweaty, red-faced fat kid with man-tits stopping to catch his breath halfway down a hallway while the guy assigned to carry his books between classes stands there awkwardly and says, “uh, d’you need some water, or, uh, something?”
This story doesn’t have an ending or a message. Happy Monday. I got you a GIF.
PS: Dead Parents is moving to a regular schedule. Updates every Monday and Thursday. The mystery is gone, but at least you know when to show up, which is good. I love you.