Tuesday, August 4, 2015
Could you outrun a Samoan on roller skates?
Anyone who grew up in the 80s knew one of the most popular forms of recreation was roller skating. We could not get enough of this sport. We loved wearing pictures of them on our jeans, t-shirts and the backs of our satin jackets. And roller-skating rinks were the place to be. I celebrated my 9th birthday at The Big Wheelie across the river in Vicksburg, MS. I have always had my finger on the pulse of what’s happening, even while wearing husky-sized Tuffskins on a dirt road, y’all.
Many small towns had their own rink and Bogata, Texas, was no different. It had a rickety wooden floor, scandalously shaky walls and a clientele of every socio-economic level, hence my semi-regular attendance during holidays prior to our move to this fair burg. A week or so before the fateful event I had thoroughly enjoyed skating in a circle with all of my new friends. I did not, however, enjoy the couple’s skate as I was solo and not in a cool way. I have never been cool by even the broadest definition. Awesome, sure. Cool, no.
I decided I would ask Marty Burns (and I apologize if I just totally embarrassed you) to skate with me during the allotted time. My cousin Kendra heartily approved and the stage was set. Unfortunately, the stage did not factor in inclement weather or my father’s definition of masculinity.
One the night of the roller rink rendezvous, it began to rain, heavily. As the rink had a reasonably sturdy ceiling, the downpour did not affect our plans. As we were exiting the trailer to pile into the Suburban, I slipped and fell, the top step hitting me in the middle of my back, knocking the breath out of me. When I recovered, I began to cry because it hurt. I was 11 years old, cut me some slack, people.
Well, no slack was cut for the oldest son of “Big Red” Thompson. I was "big" and red but machismo is something I have never shared with my father. Once I was returned to an upright position, I was informed I was to stay behind as the others left for fun on wheels. The reasoning was, I guess, crying boys don’t get to do fun things. I shouldn’t have cried, was punished for crying and then cried as a result of my punishment, which made the punishment even worse.
“Men don’t cry” was his response when asked why he was punishing me. No one bothered to ask his opinion on boys crying. As the oldest son and scion to the family fortune, which consisted of a plaid couch and used station wagon, I was expected to carry on the Thompson name with masculinity to spare. My age was irrelevant.
I grew up with a skewed view of what is meant to be a man. Most of my uncles on both sides of the family were blue collar, farmers, carpenters, welders, mechanics and laborers. I just wanted to be indoors reading, in clean clothes. There are so many characterizations of masculinity, but I experienced none of them. The one uncle who was typically in a good mood (and of whom we were not usually frightened) was handy when it came to fixing all things plumbing or electric, so again it was pressed home, this blue collar definition of masculinity. My Dad’s characterization was specifically rooted in girth and stoicism in the face of physical pain.
I know there are many facets to masculinity and myriad placements on the spectrum of what is means to be male. I have learned to define being a man by my actions, not by my father’s opinions. However, as I talk to him every Saturday (or rather I listen to him complain), I have to manage the reality of his designations. One of them has been on-going since my weight loss.
For those who don’t know, at the height of my weight (and sickness) I weighed 422 pounds. Having lost 200 pounds and kept it off for 7 years, I am what I would consider a normal-sized person. I am 6’ and weigh 220 pounds. Due to our divergent opinions of big, my father often expresses concern about my safety. He truly feels I am now “too skinny” to take care of myself. He worries I will be attacked in the parking lot of the grocery store due to my tininess.
I’m not sure where he thinks I purchase food, but the only people who consider me tiny would be residents of American Samoa, some pro football players and possibly the stage crew for those hair metal bands squeezing every available dollar from their one power ballad.
And each weekend I assure him I am able to care for myself and remind him I haven’t been attacked, other than by a pigeon, since the one time in a bar by a lesbian during my delayed rebellion at age 25. And I remind him I was victorious in that particular interaction. Trust me when I tell you I am not proud of this fact.
And while I am still solo-skating through life, I am content and unafraid, coral chinos and all. I don’t consider myself a target but I continuously promise him I’ll keep my eyes open for Samoans in the parking lot of my grocery store or The Dollar Tree. I feel fairly certain I could at least outrun someone that size should it be required. Maybe I should keep some roller skates in the car. You know, just in case.