The last day I saw you, you drove up in a new car.
When you arrived at our one-on-one happy hour, I asked about your new job, but you told me only about your salary. You were making six figures, nearly triple my salary, and were disappointed not to be making more.
“Jason told me I should be making at least $200,000, but we didn’t get there. Not quite.” You took a long sip of your drink. “You should be up there by now. I mean, you’re worth at least that much,” you said.
I looked at you blankly. You knew my line of work, knew what my salary had been two years earlier when we worked together. “Not quite,” I echoed.
“Why not? You’ve got five years on me — you should probably be closer to 250, to be honest.”
My stomach twisted on itself, soured by the familiar nausea of being told I ought to have a life that was categorically out of reach. It was the sharp sickness of choosing between convincing a smaller person that we live in different worlds or quietly agreeing to the premise that we are somehow received as equals.
I wanted to tell you that only 15% of managers would even consider hiring a fat person. I wanted to tell you that fat people make thousands less than thin people each year. I wanted you to feel that nausea, to tell you that this is how I felt when I thought about trying to find a new job as an undeniably fat woman.
You sighed and said, “I guess I don’t divide the world up that way.”
You brightened. “They gave me a great deal — I couldn’t believe how much they brought the price down. You should go get one! You’re due for an upgrade. I can give you the name of the guy I worked with.”
“I suspect that was just for you,” I offered and immediately regretted it.
“I don’t get any special treatment,” you said sharply. “He really was just a nice guy. He’d totally give you the same deal.”
“I don’t think he would.”
“Why can’t you just accept something nice?” you asked. “Why is it so hard for you to believe that someone might just help you out?”
Suddenly, my hot mouth overflowed. I told you that I wouldn’t get the same deal — fat people rarely do. I told you that the last time we’d gone to the buffet near our old office, I’d eaten half as much as you but been charged double. I told you that when you were surprised with a major raise during your last review, I’d been denied even a cost of living adjustment. I told you that even if you didn’t want special treatment, your size and your looks invited you into a different world — one that mine wouldn’t allow me to enter.
As I spoke, you punctuated my statements with sharp intakes of breath, perpetually ready to refute my take, ready to push past the differences in our experiences. As I continued, your eyes sharpened. When I finished, you sighed and said, “I guess I don’t divide the world up that way.”
That was the last time I saw you.