It's not easy being the fat friend.
It's such a nasty word, fat. My mom always used to call me her fluffy boy, big boned, hefty-anything but the dreaded f-word. I used to think I could say "fuck" and get away with it more than I could if I said "fat".
And it's really not easy being the fat friend when all around you are thin guys and pretty girls. Especially when they're your teammates, and you're supposed to be an athlete, and they keep hooking up with each other, switching partners, and laughing a lot, and you're never included.
Not that I'm excluded, not really. I can still make them laugh, especially when I flub up a goal save in practice or any time we go out on rollerblades and I fall down a hill, because I'm still the clown.
And especially not when we go out to eat. Because I'll make some crazy food combination, or start sticking straws up my nose, or laugh really hard and shoot water across the table, just so they will be happy. So they think I'm funny.
So they don't realize how lonely I am.
Because even though they don't exclude me, even though I'm always going to be a friend and a Duck, I'm also always going to be Goldberg, and I'm always going to be the one who messes up simple things, the one who stinks up practice, the one who everyone can laugh at and be friends with but never be attracted to.
Be the fat one.
I was used to watching girls fall all over Fulton and Banks, Charlie and Jesse, even Guy, when Connie wasn't around to stop them. And even when Connie wasn't with Guy, and we'd had a couple of good conversations about being hockey players, she wouldn't have looked at me twice if I'd ever asked her out, because I was just good old Goldberg, comic relief and not real.
I wasn't the best player on the team, probably the worst instead, but at least on the ice I felt like I belonged. With everyone in pads, I wasn't the fat kid in the back, I was the goalie, part of the team, and we were all thick with jerseys and knee pads and skates and everything else. I was a part of them, the beautiful ones, the thin ones, because of course they were thin, you have to be to be real athletes, right?
I felt like that, part of the whole but alone, bitter but not unhappy, and not really angry at anyone, just resigned, all the way up to our trip to Los Angeles. There, I wasn't the only fat guy on the team, not after Russ joined. And he was good, with that knucklepuck that I hated, could never stop.
And he was cute, round cheeks and hips and stomach and ass. Thick and heavy and somehow more real than anyone else on the team, because when he looked at me, I didn't feel like the fat friend anymore, but a person, with more than one side and more than one meaning.
I wasn't gay, I'm not gay, but being around him made me feel better, so I started to seek him out when the others paired up and off and snuck out to do crazy things. And when he came to visit us in Minnesota, courtesy of Coach Bombay's money, we spent more time together, because everyone else had each other, or outsiders who were thin and beautiful and wanted and we were not.
Not by anyone but each other.
Russ got me my first alcohol, beer in dark bottles, shoved hastily under my bed to hide from my parents. They went out on a date one night, left me home alone with Russ, and though we'd talked about sharing the beers with the rest of the guys, when the time came, it was just us, drinking and watching movies and laughing, not at me, but with each other.
I drank a lot, four, five bottles, and he said it was easier to drink more when you had some heft to you, it made you stronger. I liked that, liked being stronger because I was bigger, not fat anymore, just large and solid and a man with my beer.
But my head began to spin and the room grew fuzzy on number six and by number seven I couldn't stop giggling, which wasn't very manly. Neither was my squeal when Russ plopped down next to me on the bed, shaking the frame, and poked me in the ribs, pressed his fingers down and tickled me.
When he kissed me, I was all man and all scared boy, hard and eager and afraid, because I liked girls and Russ was definitely not a girl. But he was soft and thick and felt so good, tasted so right with the beer and pizza and him. He touched me, looked at me, and I wasn't fat Goldberg, I was sexy and aroused and arousing. And for once I just closed my eyes and let it go, because I wanted to be important to someone, too.
That was six months ago and Russ has been back to visit twice. Bombay is looking into getting him a scholarship here at Eden Hall, just like the rest of us were just offered, and if he moves up here, we're going to be roommates. Because if we each lived with someone else, there would be complications and maybe explanations and we'd have to talk and think and not just drink and laugh and feel.
And I like that so much better. It's different and crazy, if I think about it too much when I'm alone, and definitely weird, but it's also solid and comforting and good. It's real. And when you're fat in a supermodel world, this kind of real is just about all you can hope for.