Hansen von Reiche is simply too big to be allowed. He’s like an oak tree come to life. If a boy could be a mountain or a government-sponsored monument, that’s him—all vast and knobby and walking around.
I think about this on various occasions, usually on days when the forecast calls for ideal sports weather and I’ve been picked last for something. Hansen is always picked first, even for the games he’s not very good at. I can only assume this is due to his size, but I don’t make a big thing about it. Anyway, I have plenty of other things to worry about. PE is like a special kind of death-march.
Hansen plays lacrosse and varsity football. He plays rugby for the city league, because the high school athletics department doesn’t offer it. He does not actually have to take PE because his extra-curricular activities earn him an exemption. But he takes it anyway, which is downright mystifying. Like there are not enough opportunities for brutality. He actually has to go looking for more excuses to run around smashing people.
On the first day of the semester, he stepped on me, which was scary and painful, but mostly it was mortifying. Like, here you go thinking that you matter, or that you take up any space at all, and then someone huge and careless comes along and makes it very clear that you don’t.
He said that he was sorry. Yeah, that’s hysterical. The look he gave me was like I barely even registered—this inconsequential insect, or a coffee table that he kind of bumped into. Ever since then, he makes this big thing of protecting me. Like if we’re playing flag football and I have to block him, he doesn’t even try to avoid me. He just puts his hands on my shoulders and guides me carefully to one side. I hate him because he is constantly picking me up and moving me around like I don’t matter.
On the last day of the sand volleyball unit, it’s raining and we have to stay inside. This is as close to a stalemate as tenth grade ever gets. I hate rain, but I hate volleyball more.
Because we are not due to start the basketball unit until next week and any deviation will wreak havoc on Ms. Whitley’s syllabus, she makes us get in pairs to talk about our dreams and aspirations. Because I am desperately hoping to be paired with Anne Marie Shraeder, who is my best and only friend, Ms. Whitley conspires to make my life miserable and pairs me with Hansen von Reiche.
We stand in the corner of the auxiliary gymnasium, staring blankly when we’re supposed to be busting out the getting-to-know-yous.
“How tall are you?” I say, which is a bad way to start a conversation. Also, I’m desperately sure that he gets asked the exact same question every single day.
He shrugs this huge rolling shrug that takes far longer than it would on a normal person. “Six-six—six-seven, maybe?”
It is staggering to me that this does not concern him. The raw size of him is shocking. Also, if it were me, there’d be no maybe. I’d have memorized my freakish measurements right down to the centimeter.
He just grins a wide, toothy grin, like he’s preparing to eat houses and people and cars. “Do you want to know how much I weigh?”
I do, but it seems rude to ask. Girls are weird about weight. Unless they happen to belong to a certain minority who hover under a certain magic number, they keep it secret. Just looking at Hansen, I know that his poundage will clock in at two or three times the figure that girls are generally willing to disclose.
“Two-eighty,” he says, even though I didn’t ask.
I nod and stare at his tremendous feet, mulling this over. The fact that he is allowed to exist down here with the rest of us seems patently illegal.
“Is there anything else you want to know?” he says, raising his eyebrows and giving me a bored look.
I shake my head, which I realize is coolly dismissive and also a lie, but every question that comes to mind is bordering on insulting.
Hansen doesn’t seem too bothered. “My turn then. What’s the one thing you want that you know you’re never going to have?”
For a second, I just stare at him. All around the gym, people are sitting in pairs, sharing their hopes and aspirations, and I am stuck gazing at a human obelisk with my head tipped back like a summer tourist.
“I want to take up space,” I tell him, trying to sound like I am not resenting him.
“No, you don’t,” he says. And he doesn’t say anything else.
He doesn’t say anything for so long that I begin to feel an awful pressure to fill the silence, which is completely unfair. I typically have no compulsion to make things easy on anyone. “People would notice me more.”
“They’d notice you for being big, not for organizing the food drive or testing into smart math. They’d never notice that you pretend to hate things way more than you actually do, and that you’d be good at floor hockey if you ever actually tried.”
This catalogue of me sounds strange coming from him. His jaw is hard, and I’m not even sure what I want to apologize for, just that I do.
Hansen folds his arms, leaning way, way down so he can examine me at eye-level. “They’d expect you to be good at everything that involves a ball, even when you’re not, and expect you to be stupid at the things they think are only for smart people. They wouldn’t notice you for your ideas, or for how good you are at noticing things.”
“I’m not good at that,” I say, and then realize he’s not talking about me.
“No kidding,” he says.
All around us, people are laughing, sharing gossip and common ground, and I am standing alone with Hansen von Reiche, thinking maybe I hate lots of things, but I don’t hate him.
The sad truth is, I am negligible.
The better truth is, he notices me anyway.
*This week, our common prompt comes from . The illustration is by Rolf Winkler and comes from the story MUGEL THE GIANT.