I have always had issues with weight. I grew up in a family of eleven children and I was the only one that was overweight. Going to school was bad enough with kids picking on me because of it, but going home and actually seeing it was another story all together. My brothers and sisters never made fun of me, or ever made me feel bad for it. Sometimes my parents would make a comment and it would sting, but I wouldn't let them see that it hurt me, because I didn't want to give them ammunition to use in the future for any other times they wanted to upset me.
I had lived with being overweight my entire life, but by the time I was a freshman in high school I can honestly say that I hated myself. I had no self esteem. None. I wouldn't look people in the eyes. I would wear baggy clothes to try and hide my weight, and every day I wanted to die. My freshman year in high school sucked. My older sister was viciously mean to me and would pick fights with other kids in school and tell them I was saying things. This resulted in many confrontations with kids I thought were unbelievably scary, but somehow I managed to walk away without being beat up...at least not physically. I walked home two miles every day from school and thought about how awful I looked and what a horrible monster I was. To me, weight was a very big issue. So big, that I was convinced the only reason people would talk to me was because they felt sorry for me. I was super shy, and content to be invisible, though I knew my size prevented me from being such.
In my English class there was a kid who sat a few seats in front of me. His name was Nick Conn. He was a "skinhead" (or at least as close to a skinhead as you could get in Southern California) with his hair shaved half way up his head, while the rest of his hair fell straight down to his neck. He had light blond hair that he would occasionally pull back into a ponytail, and light blue eyes. We didn't know each other before class, but he was friends with another boy named Aaron who I kind of knew. I didn't pay much attention to either of them. My one goal for every day was to make it through the day and get home without saying much of anything. I hated going to school. I felt so out of place and so conspicuous. I wore this gray sweater that zipped up the front every single day. It didn't matter if it was 50 degrees or the more constant 110 degrees. I hated the way my arms looked and so I wore it no matter what. I hate that gray sweater to this day.
Every day I came to my English class Nick would smile and wave at me. At first I just ignored him because I thought he was making fun of me. Later on, whenever we had free time in class, he would come over and spend a few minutes talking to me, even though I rarely, if ever, said anything back to him. After a while, he started giving me hugs. At first I was super apprehensive about this, certain once again that he was making fun of me. The hugs were never returned. My guard was up and I was on to him.
One day I was sick so I stayed home from school. I relished those times because it meant that I didn't have to be seen by everyone at school. I didn't have to walk the halls wondering what kind of insults people were going to throw at me, and reviewing in my mind the quickest escapes from those type of situations. When I went back to school the next day and walked into my English class, there was Nick. He had a big smile on his face, and he came right up and gave me the biggest hug before I even had a chance to step all the way into the room. He said, "I missed you yesterday. Where were you?"
"I was sick," I replied curtly.
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Are you feeling better today?" He inquired.
"Yeah," I said, then quickly went to my seat.
He followed me over and continued to talk to me about everything I missed and shared with me all the things that happened to him as well. I could tell in his eyes that he meant what he was saying and that it wasn't some kind of joke that he was leading me in to.
It took me three quarters of the year to realize that he considered me a friend, and wanted me to be his. I realized that he was being nice because he wanted to, and that maybe it was possible for someone to talk to me out of wanting to be my friend, and not just because they felt sorry for me. One day, Nick gave me a hug and I gave him one back. I could tell by the shocked expression on his face that it surprised him, but before he could say anything about it I raced to my seat and buried my face in a book. I saw him smile as he sat down and class began. The next day we had a free period and Nick came over to talk to me. He told me a funny joke and I smiled. He stopped and looked me right in the eyes and said, "You have a beautiful smile. You should smile more often." I got embarrassed and looked down again.
The last few months of the year found Nick and I talking about all sorts of things. I didn't offer much in the way of conversation, but I liked that he enjoyed talking so much. It gave me a chance to escape my own troubles for a little bit and listen to stories about his life. By the end of the year he really changed my thinking about how I felt about myself and my weight. I noticed a change in my thoughts and attitude towards how I looked, and it was good. Nick gave me one more final hug good-bye on the last day of class, then smiled and left.
The school year ended and summer was in full swing. I felt free to be myself in my house and my yard, and around my family a little too. It was a learning and growing summer for me. I knew I had to be back at school in a few short months and I was changing so many things. I couldn't wait to go back to school and show Nick the new me. I hadn't lost any weight, but I had gained self confidence and self esteem, and it probably didn't hurt that I gained a bit of an attitude toward those who would try and make fun of me for my weight. I armed myself with insults and comebacks that would cut down the best of them, thanks to my sister who helped me learn how to deal with those type of jerks.
The first day of school came much too quickly, but there I was in Birkenstocks, blue jeans, a black short-sleeved shirt (can you believe it?!?!) and a new hair cut. People didn't even recognize me. It was such a great day. I searched everywhere for my friend Nick, but I couldn't find him. At the end of the day I saw Aaron and asked him where Nick was. Even he didn't recognize me. I was an entirely different person and I was happy. He told me that Nick had moved away at the end of the school year the year before and he didn't know where he went. I was sad as I walked home from school because I really wanted to thank Nick for taking the time to befriend someone who was so down on themselves and truly hated the way they looked and who they were. I wanted to give him the biggest hug I could possibly give and express my gratitude for his friendship and his persistence. He changed my life. It's been almost eleven years since then and I still think about him. He really helped me understand betterh who I was and how I looked. I still have issues with my weight to this day, but I know how to handle it now, and it's all thanks to this tiny blond-haired kid named Nick Conn.