Fighting Fat Randy

Photo: Creative Commons

Photo: Creative Commons

When I saw Randy Hadley’s obituary on my hometown newspaper’s website, the only recognizable feature in the photo of the grown man was his gaping mouth. In the brief summary of his life after the last time I saw him, Randy left the Midwest and returned to Kentucky. The absence of any references to a wife and children, career, education and community involvement gave me a clearer picture of the lonely trajectory of Randy’s life since moving away from the neighborhood.

Randy died of complications from Type 2 Diabetes. In his obituary photo he resembled Fatty Arbuckle. His boyish face was anchored by his excessive weight, expressionless brows and lost eyes. See, we knew Randy back then as Fat Randy. In the pejorative and crude way kids related to difference, Fat Randy represented the world outside of our urban neighborhood; it was a world unkind to boys of color.

Besides his weight, Fat Randy had his challenges. While undiagnosed at the time, mild autism and a stunted intellect prompted mood swings and little in the way of assimilation with neighborhood kids. Yet he was exploited for his height and size which served well in pickup football games. Though he couldn’t catch a ball, he was a good offensive guard. He took victories cheerfully but had a peculiar tick. Whenever he laughed, he clapped, and then flapped his hands as if shaking off the pain of his laughter.

At dusk when we collected ourselves curbside to play kick the can, Fat Randy was on the periphery, staring at fireflies, laughing; it would be easy to think that he was lost in his thoughts, clapping; he was fighting inside, flapping. Even then, he seemed angry at his world, at us, at fireflies – anything that would remind him that life was better than his lot. For a moment I watched him watching the orbs. When I turned back to the group, I could hear him breathing with his mouth wide open.

One winter afternoon when I was in the front of my house kicking snow drifts with my friend Cory, Fat Randy emerged from the driveway of his house across the street. He yelled back at the door from where he came and wandered to the front of the house. Cory and I kept to ourselves. Like Ultraman I went on with kicking snow boulders and drifts.

Agitated, Fat Randy approached us with determination in his stride.

I wanna fight, he said.

Cory and I stepped back. Cory, the bigger of us then stepped forward, calling Fat Randy’s bluff, C’mon then.

Fat Randy looked behind him at me, No I wanna fight him.

I froze at the idea that a boy twice my size was challenging me. I’d never been in a real fight before. No I don’t want to fight you, I said.

C’mon sissy! he yelled. He jerked forward and Cory stopped him with his arm, I wanna fight you!

I didn’t know how to respond. The three of us stood there silent for a moment. In my mind I couldn’t reconcile my rational self with my instinctual self. Though I’d been raised around boys who resolved their differences by pushing and shoving before our friends would stop us from going further, there was no such regulator in place.

Randy leaned forward. Hold on! Cory yelled. Then he looked at me apologetically, You gotta do this.

It was all happening so fast. I wanted to run away, mind my own business. I thought I could stay on the margin unnoticed for the rest of my life avoiding the rites of boyhood. I didn’t see the point. I had no faith in them. Wasn’t there a place to which I could fast-forward myself to get on with the order of reason? I wasn’t ready for my first fight, or any fight. I wanted to kick the snow in protest.

Then Cory stepped back.

Fat Randy lunged forward and pushed me. I slipped on ice in the street but got back up. I envisioned Grizzly Adams fighting a bear. I had an idea of Fat Randy’s intellectual limits and had to devise a strategy. Though Fat Randy was in it just to fight, I was in it to survive.

As we circled, he appeared even larger. With orange hunting mittens fitted like oven mitts and a matching orange hat, he stared intently at my smaller form in front of him. I was his animal. I was his game.

Whenever he lunged, I dodged ahead of his delayed movements. I was smaller but I was faster.

I could hear Cory yelling somewhere in the background but my mind kept me focused on Fat Randy’s every move. He lunged again and as I backed away, I slipped on the ice. When I regained my stance, he pounced on my side before I could pull away. I realized then that my winter jacket and the layers underneath saved me from feeling anything more than mild jabs.

As my mind raced in places it hadn’t been before, I convinced myself that I needed to get Fat Randy off of his feet. As long as I could get him to the ground, I not only could spare him the humiliation of defeat, I could run satisfied with my little victory.

I lunged forward but was wrapped in Fat Randy’s arms. He squeezed and shook me before letting go. I fell to the street unharmed. I was alert. He laughed, clapped and flapped. As I saw two blurred orange forms I fumed. He taunted. I waited for my moment. Just when he stepped backwards, I lunged at his knees. I could feel his fists on my back but I wasn’t letting go. It was clear I hadn’t the strength to lift him, so I kept pushing him toward a patch of ice. He continued to release his anger on me with each punch but I drove him to the spot at which I could feel his body shift. I felt his weight come off the ground. I saw his mass collide with the ice. He rolled, unable to stop himself.

When I stood, I could hear him swearing at me, and I listened. Rather than run I listened, and then I kicked, and kicked: to his abdomen, to his thigh, to his arm, to his chest, to the side of his head. Cory yelled at me to stop, but I kept on kicking. He ran to me, pulling me back, but I was enraged. My senses numbed. I watched myself kicking. With a final kick, I saw Fat Randy’s orange hat fly. When it landed on the ground, I exhaled. Was this really me? I hated the angry me I was expected to be. I hated it with every fiber of my being. I heard crying. I looked down and saw Fat Randy rolled in a ball. He was crying like a two year-old.

Cory sat me on the curb. He checked on Fat Randy. Soon my body stopped shaking. When my adrenaline rush leveled I stood and could feel the cold air again. I walked to the back of my house. I could still hear whimpers from the street. I went inside quietly hoping my mother was still in the basement doing Sunday laundry.

After removing outer layers of clothes, I walked into an empty living room. From the window, I saw Fat Randy’s mother walking him back to their house. I watched her face: hurt, protective, guilty. Randy’s orange hat remained in the street. It stayed there, eventually forgotten as it was folded into slush and salt and the remaining winter.

After reading Randy Hadley’s obituary. I thought for a moment about what if: I could go back and find that orange hat under a shrub in a neighbor’s yard and I would clean it up and give it back to his next of kin. But the moment quickly passed knowing they wouldn’t understand the rites of boyhood that Randy and I tried so hard to flap off.

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