Big Bob Johnson
I vividly remember the day that I called big Bob Johnson a “fat fuck.” I remember because that was the same day that he died. The thing that I have not decided though, is if some of myself died with him.
The day started out so ordinary, so average. I walked down the street, as I always do, I bought a cup of coffee from Sal’s, as I always do; and I said to him, “hey Sal, how ‘bout a cup of coffee for you pal,” as I always do. But I didn’t talk to the postman as I normally do, nor did I talk to beautiful Linda Weaver. I did though, talk to big Bob Johnson.
Bob went to my high school. I didn’t much like him then. He was “that guy,” the fat kid. He smelled, as I recall. And he ate a shit-load of food at lunch. It was as if his eating was a way to spite our whole town.
One day, I overheard big Bob talking to his only friend Gretchen Blackwood. He said to her, “I hate this godforsaken town and all of the judgmental bastards who live here.”
It was this comment that initially set me off, and that ultimately started the demise of big Bob. Actually, it may have been me that started the demise of big Bob, or perhaps it was his eating that started it. Anyway, this comment made me hate him.
I told my friends what Bob had said, and the general reaction was that he could get the hell out of town. I agreed.
The thing that I don’t know though, is why he or his obesity bothered me so much. There was something about it that I either couldn’t understand, or that I didn’t want to understand. But I hated it. I hated it so much that I made it my secret goal to make big Bob Johnson’s life even more hellish than it already was.
I was able to be successful because I was one of those judgmental bastards. I was popular among them in fact, and because of this popularity I could get people to do as I liked.
I’d moved south after college, but after a few years of selling ocean-side property in Miami, I realized how much I missed the feel of the cool northern air in autumn. So I moved back to my hometown.
After moving back, I had to change my car insurance, so I went to the local agency. The agent was one B. Johnson. And though I didn’t recognize his name at first, I sure did recognize big Bob when I saw him. The years had not been kind to him. What had previously been a large frame was now something of a marvel. He had to be wider than he was tall, and each breath he took seemed to be filled with effort. Either that or he was trying to hoard his share of air, as well as the shares of all others around him.
Bob must have remembered me too, for I noticed a slight quiver when I walked into his office. He was kind enough to my face, but he did seem quite eager for me to leave. He assured me that I would be well taken care of, and he shook my
hand. He held it a little bit too long, and he said to me, “you know Joe, you really hurt me in high school, but I think I’ve forgiven you.” I didn’t acknowledge his comment, but I did acknowledge the amount of hand sweat he had. I made sure to wash my own before I left his office.
I remember asking myself how that fat-ass had the balls to talk like that to me. But because of this comment, my hate resurfaced.
Despite the years, my hate for large people has not subsided. And on this particular day, I paid even closer attention to the growing number of fat people walking up and down the street; so when I happened to see big Bob Johnson in town, I guess I just snapped. He was walking out of the doughnut shop, appropriately named “Heavy Betty’s.” He’d just purchased a box of doughnuts, which I knew he didn’t intend to share.
When I looked at him he said, “hello Joe Brady.” I looked right back at him with no emotion, and I said, “shut up you fat fuck.” Then I walked away.
I went in to get my daily cup of coffee and to shoot the shit with Sal. After a brief conversation with him and a flirtatious game with my regular waitress, I got the morning paper and read what was happening locally in real estate. This morning ritual was followed by a day that was rather routine, at least up until the phone call I received at nine p.m.
It was my friend Bill from high school. Bill worked for the same insurance company that Bob did, only Bill worked with life rather than with auto insurance.
“Joe,” started Bill, “I have some news for you.”
“Yeah? Let’s hear it,” I said.
“Do you remember Bob Johnson from high school?” he asked me.
“Of course I remember that fat-ass,” I said.
“Well,” came Bill’s shaky voice, “he shot himself today.”
Bill must have considered my silence to be an adequate response, and after allowing what he considered an appropriate amount of time he continued, “this may be too soon to ask, but because these things must be handled rather quickly, I must tactlessly ask you if you would help to carry his casket at the funeral.”
“Billy,” I said, “I don’t even know why I’d go to his funeral. I never liked him.”
“Well regardless of your feelings Joe, Bob left you a letter. In addition to this, he left a note that personally requests you to help carry the casket. Bob and I became close over the years, so I’m helping to organize the funeral. He didn’t really have any family. In fact, I may be his only true friend. Before you answer, why don’t you read the letter? I’ll bring it over soon.”
“Alright,” I replied before hanging up the phone.
Bill arrived about an hour later and gave me the letter. I didn’t know whether or not I wanted to read it; so while deciding, I walked to the corner store and bought myself a soft-pack of Marlboro’s.
And though I had quit smoking years ago, I took out and lit a cigarette. I then proceeded to read the letter. And though I don’t have it if front of me, I can still quote it verbatim. It said:
Dear Joe Brady,
I would like to explain the comment I made to you during our business transaction the other day. In high school, I made myself believe that I didn’t like you. I had to force myself to believe this lie because I knew in my heart that it was not the truth. I knew that you hated me. So to admit to myself that I really aspired to be like you didn’t seem to make very much sense.
I became fat during my adolescence, and due to this fact, I was generally not accepted. But, what most people around town, including you, don’t know, is why I am obese.
While I was growing up my mother was a model. Her agent pushed her to lose weight, she took his advice but ended up losing so much weight that she died.
She was anorexic Joe. By the time of her death she only weighed ninety pounds.
When I found out the cause of her death, I began to hate our society for pressuring people to so thin. This caused me to rebel against society, but also caused me to be hated by society.
I was only ever honest with one person about the cause of my weight. This person was Gretchen Blackwood. I made her promise that she would keep the cause secret. She was true to her word, and never told a soul. I have also kept my secret hidden. After you read this letter, you will only be the second person to know.
Like most acts done out of rebellion, mine too became a lifestyle. Through its longevity, my eating pattern became something I could not control. It was strange, because one half of me wanted to be thin and popular, like you were, but the other part of me needed to avenge my mother’s death. This caused my mind to be torn, which in turn made my life feel like a virtual paradox. This kind of life is a difficult one to live.
When I experience interactions like the one with you, I am reminded of how hard life is. I cannot take it anymore and am going to escape from it today.
However, before I leave this life, I wanted to explain my situation to you. I also want to ask a request of you, which is for you to carry my casket at the funeral. If you accept this job, I can rest peacefully in my grave,
because a person who has plagued and not accepted me my whole life will have done something that I wanted. This has never happened to me before.
I’ve now said my piece,
“Big” Bob Johnson
After reading the letter again and lighting up another cigarette, I thought about my hatred of big Bob Johnson. I wondered to myself if I had the right to hate fat people any more than big Bob had the right to hate society. I have no resolution. I wish I did, but that would not be honest. All that I have left is a funeral to go to. I have decided to carry the casket, but I do not know if my hatred can rest with the dead.