I remember when I was in sixth grade and I volunteered to help run my elementary school’s snack bar. I got to leave class an hour early to help organize our abundant overstock of every conceivable good loaded with plenty of fats and simple sugars and wrapped in that timeless metallic plastic, colorful brand name package – Snickers, Baby Ruth, Butterfingers, Sour Patch Straws…an oasis that would rack up parents’ dental premiums as fast as the dollar bills and quarters flowed from our hands in exchange. We were open just once a week, at the end of the day on Fridays.
It was during this time that I felt one of the two most terrible pains of my life.
A fat boy came to the snack bar one day. He must not have been a repeat customer because I can’t recall having this experience and feeling this feeling more than once. There was nothing in the experience that the outside observer would have been able to identify as unique or even interesting. It was just a fat boy buying candy, just like everybody else.
He had brown hair, colorful eyes with long, black eyelashes, which were covered with round, mid-to-late nineties eyeglasses. He looked about my age or a year or two younger, maybe a fifth grader or even a fourth grader. He was bigger than most kids. Not taller, just fatter.
I said to myself in my head, “It figures that he wants to buy some candy.”
I don’t even remember if the boy was buying much or any more candy than every other kid that was greedily swarming the snack bar, reaching for their chocolate sugar rush with desperate little hands. The instant the thought hit my brain was the same instant I felt the pain. I wanted to take it back, like a silent insult I had lodged at him with my mind.
It didn’t matter that I hadn’t said a word to the kid outside of what was necessary for the transaction. Though it was just a thought, I saw something in this boy’s eyes. Something that was probably already there, that may have always been there from the time he became a conscious being, or at least a self-conscious being.
He knew he was fat. He knew he looked fat. He knew that buying candy made him look even fatter. And for a moment as our eyes briefly locked, my brain became a short-wave radio and he heard my words of judgment with satellite clarity. And there was no possible way of taking them back – no back button, no cancellations, no scaling back up the cliff.
I don’t feel that pain as often as I should. Not as often as the different, more subtle kind of discomfort and pain comes to me – the kind I feel when I eat candy and I think, “Does everybody here think I’m fat?”