Getting hit by a Big Mac is no fun, even when you’re hungry.
It’s happened to me twice, most recently two days ago. Fortunately, both times it was the burger, not the Big Mack truck.
My first close encounter of the unexpected kind with a Big Mac was when I was 14. The latest was … well, suffice it to say I’m decades away from being 14.
On Tuesday evening I was walking to the YMCA. A truck with three passengers kept honking at me. When I stopped for a traffic light, the truck rounded the curve, the guys shouted “Faggot,” and soon I felt a Big Mac they had thrown land on my chest. Fortunately, it was without ketchup.
It brought back memories.
At age 14 I walked two miles home rather than take the bus and endure the avalanche of “Faggot!” jeers. At least when the bus passed me walking, the shouts from the bus lasted mere seconds. You would have thought the kids who rode the bus would have gotten tired of saying it over and over, or that the bus driver would intervene, but it didn’t happen.
One day a few passengers on the bus shouted my name. I turned around and plunk, a Big Mac that was thrown at me landed squarely in my sternum and stayed there for a few seconds as my sternum is pretty indented.
Eventually, I found ways to walk home that were different from the bus route. I loved the walks. I would dream of a day when I would have friends my age who didn’t just like me if I did their homework or practiced tennis with them when they couldn’t find someone else. I dreamt of having a girlfriend or sometimes even a boyfriend. I composed poems in my head that I couldn’t wait to write down. I imagined what it would be like to live in Germany.
And I thought of Hans Christian Andersen.
Hans considered himself ugly all his life, a self-image that no doubt inspired his writing The Ugly Duckling. His personal heartache may well have spurred his desire to reach people through his written words. Perhaps he felt this was his best chance to escape loneliness.
To this day, I struggle to understand the cruelty of people. Growing up, I had a few explanations why it was directed at me: I was gay, had a severely indented sternum that made me hunch a bit, and a face that my mother would say I would “grow into some day.”
I compensated by writing poems, lots of them. By the time I graduated from high school, I had won a dozen national awards. I willed myself to be an athlete. With my doctors’ reassurance about my sternum, I’ve completed 18 marathons. As for the face, well, I briefly tried modeling and even appeared in a few sweater ads. I could tell pretty quickly, though, that it wasn’t my calling.
I think what fate has called me for is surviving Big Macs. And learning life lessons for my daughter. And being a friend.
If you are out there reading this blog and have gone through stretches of self-doubt, I’m rooting for you. If you have felt ugly, know you are not. If you are struggling to prove yourself, stop now and celebrate who you are. Embrace your talents and gifts. Others will too. It might take a while, but eventually they will. Ask whoever you consider your angels to be to help you. They will, perhaps not quite the way you would expect, but they will come through. Be good to yourself. And never stop loving even when others are cruel. You are not alone. I may know you or not, but I believe in you.