It’s always an awkward question, no matter the context. I mean, I wonder if the person asking ever feels like they shouldn’t ask — it’s a need to know thing. So I was a tad confused, not really sure why everyone in this room needed to know how much I weighed. It was the beginning of the school year, and we were in Gym class. Mr. Stephens, the teacher, had us come into the weight room in groups of fives to “See where we’re at,” as he put it. The school’s new wellness policy required health check- ins during gym class. Every student had a file that held information about their height, weight, eye colour, hair colour and so on. I really wasn’t a fan of stepping on a scale and revealing how much I weighed, though. I was with a group of five that included myself, Donny, Lewis, Matthew, and Tyler.
“All right,” Mr. Stephens announced. “Donny, you hit the scale first.”
“Whatever,” Donny said.
Donny was a childhood friend of mine. We grew up together in the North End of Halifax. We were like brothers — though time sometimes put distance be- tween us. He would hang out with the more rebellious teens while I was somewhere in between the shy kid who stood against the walls at school dances and the nerd who sat by himself during lunch. But at least I was brave enough to go to a dance, right?
Donny stepped on the scale. He had much longer hair and darker skin than I did. He was also in great shape but didn’t do a lot with it. Mr. Stephens would often hassle him to play football, and Donny would always ignore him. Donny was more of an artistic guy but not pretentious. He was the most humble, genuine guy I knew.
The numbers on the electronic scale went from zero pounds to 193 pounds.
“Not bad,” Donny said as he stepped off.
“Lewis, you’re next.” Mr. Stephens pointed.
Lewis was an asshole. I hated that guy. He was seventeen, a year older than all the other students in the room. He was held back a year. Now he was in class with us. It wasn’t glamorous for him, so he spent most of his time making my life a living hell like it was his hobby. He was what most girls would call a douchebag. I wasn’t brave enough to say it out loud.
Lewis gave Mr. Stephens a sneer with his stupid face and stepped on the scale with his chubby frame, shaved head, and pale skin. It went from zero pounds to 220 pounds.
“Hmm . . .” Mr. Stephens took note of that in his book. “Yo, what was that ‘hmmm . . .’ about, Mr. Stephens?” “It means we have work to do,” he replied.
“Work on me? What about that fatass over there?” Lewis pointed my way.
Those words were like blades. I wasn’t a fan of being called a fatass, but I couldn’t respond and show weakness. That’s what he’d want.
“That’s enough, Lewis.” Mr. Stephens shook his head.
“No. No, it’s not,” Lewis continued. “How much do you weigh, Adrian?”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say.
“Enough to knock your dumb ass over,” Donny inter- vened.
“Boys. Enough!” Mr. Stephens yelled. “I have six other groups of students to do this with, and I’m not going to be here all day with your petty crap.”
He took a breath. “With that being said, do you want to go next, Adrian?”
“Sure,” I muttered, not really wanting to. But I also want- ed to get it over with. I stepped closer to the scale, walking past Lewis’s stupid grin. I didn’t want to do it. I really didn’t. I put one foot forward and the other followed. Next thing I knew, both feet were planted and the numbers on the scale went from zero pounds to 280 pounds.
“Ha!” Lewis yelled from behind me. I shut my eyes. I knew there was going to be an insult, but it was overshad- owed by a question. It was a question from Mr. Stephens.
“Adrian, what are you eating?” he asked in a voice of disgust.
I didn’t reply. I turned around and ran out of the weight room. I felt ashamed of myself. I shouldn’t have had to disclose my weight to a room full of people — it felt so wrong. I didn’t want everyone in the school knowing how much I weighed. Anxiety made itself at home inside of me, so I had to leave. Outside, there were other students waiting for their turn in the weight room. I walked past all of them with my head down. Two hundred and eighty pounds of fat — I felt gross.
That afternoon, during our lunch hour, I sat with Donny in the cafeteria. He had a mouthful of sandwich while talk- ing to me.
“Yeah, man. Lewis is full of crap. Don’t pay any mind to him. He’s a loser.”
“I know,” I said while taking my lunch out of my back- pack. I had an egg sandwich. It was the type of food you could smell from halfway across the cafeteria.
“I got your back. If he messes with you, then he’ll have to go through me.”
Donny always felt like he had to play the big brother role for me. He kind of was, but if it came to violence or getting in trouble, I knew he would receive a harsher pun- ishment than me. Because he was darker than I was, people saw him as more “dangerous,” when in reality, he was a big, soft goofball. Violence wasn’t really something I planned for when dealing with Lewis.
“Thanks, Donny, but I think everything will be fine. I don’t want you to get in any trouble.”
It was like I jinxed myself because as I said that, Lewis made his way into the cafeteria with that stupid grin on his face. He peered over at me from the entrance and made his way toward us.
“There’s that asshole,” Donny said under his breath.
Before I knew it, Lewis was right there in front of us. I knew it was going to be bad. I knew it was going to be embarrassing. I just wanted to shout, “Leave me alone!” But I didn’t.
“What’s up, Adrian?” he grinned at me.
“Dude, get out of here,” Donny began.
“I’m not talking to you,” Lewis shot back.
“Well I’m talking to you.” Donny stood up.
The tension was pretty high. They weren’t fans of each other.
“Lewis, leave my guy alone. I’m not messing with you,”
I sat there, not knowing what to do or say, then suddenly
I looked at my sandwich and I saw Lewis sticking his finger right through the top and down the bottom.
“Hey, what are you doing?” I demanded.
“It’s not like you need that anyway, fatass,” Lewis sneered at me. “You’re almost three hundred pounds!” He said it loud enough for the entire cafeteria to hear. As soon as he said it, my heart sank into my stomach. I could see students eyeing me. I could feel their whispers lingering around me, and I felt sick. It felt like my biggest secret was now an open one.
“You’re such an asshole, Lewis,” Donny growled. “Aha.” Lewis laughed his stupid laugh.
That was when I snapped. I tore the sandwich from under Lewis’s hand and flung it at him.
“What the hell!” he yelled. Gobs of egg covered his cheeks. I could hear laughs from around the cafeteria.
It didn’t take long for Lewis to get the food off of his face. That was when he threw his fist into mine. I honestly hadn’t known what to expect, but a bruised eye wasn’t it. I hit the ground. Hard. All I heard was a collective gasp from the rest of the students. That was what humiliation felt like. It wasn’t great.
I looked up to see Donny jump across the table at Lewis. They started fighting. Throwing fists full of anger back and forth as everyone in the cafeteria chanted, “Fight! Fight! Fight!”
Security soon came in and broke them up. Once that happened, I ran out of the cafeteria both hurt and embar- rassed. I just wanted to go home. I grabbed my belongings from my locker and fought back tears. I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t let myself be weak, so I hid my misery and made my way home.
I was home before my parents so I had time to think of an explanation for the bruise on my face. I went straight to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. It looked pretty bad. I had a huge red mark under my left eye. I couldn’t let that happen again. I couldn’t let Lewis bully me over my weight, I couldn’t allow myself to be his punching bag, and I couldn’t let my parents see me being beat up.