Because this T-Shirt is the perfect statement for so many social situations...
If you’re not a guy older than, say, twenty, you might not know this, but human male growth spurts can be… bananas. And that is exactly what Byron was counting on throughout the entire decade until he turned twenty. He was a late bloomer - really, super late- and he hated it.
“Being a man isn’t all it's cracked up to be,” his father would muse over his bifocals as he poured over his morning paper and instant Folgers coffee. But, his dad was 6’6'' so what the hell did he know?
Interrupting Byron’s ability to ruminate on that specific thought was his 3rd older brother, Harry, who came bounding down the stairs, into the kitchen, and dunked an imaginary basketball onto his younger sibling’s head. Byron was sick of it. He was sick of being called the ‘runt of the litter.’ He was sick of being denied entry in PG-13 movies because he was half a foot shorter than the rest of his friends (and thirteen year-olds don’t have IDs). He was sick of shopping in the kid’s section of JC Penny with his mother and completely, utterly sick of being small. He wished, with every wishing muscle that this suburban middle-schooler had, that he would stumble upon the Zoltair machine, like Tom Hanks got to do in the movie Big. Guys, Byron dreamed about this exact scenario at least every other night of the week.
He spent his afternoons hiking his mutt, Edouardo, through the foothills at the edge of his subdivision. He would stop and do squats or push-ups as Edouardo sniffed and rolled in something that Byron’s mother would consider disgusting. These workouts didn’t seem to yield much in the way of a visual transformation but that didn’t deter this prepubescent go-getter. When he discovered a forty-page pamphlet in the school’s library about how to gain ten pounds of muscle in a month by eating an astronomical amount of protein, Byron was all-in. And, luckily, Thanksgiving was around the corner. And Thanksgiving meant turkey. And, according to the pamphlet, turkey meant protein.
Now, Byron was the youngest of four boys. His mom was the oldest of seven sisters, and, to be quite honest, no one could exactly pin down how many offspring were in his father’s family. This is all to say, their holiday meals were gigantic. And people brought friends. Both of his parents loved to cook and took pride in their spread no matter what the occasion.
Folding tables with rented silverware would take over every room in the downstairs of their cookie-cutter house. Holidays were raucous and boisterous affairs with enormous amounts of food and laughter and shouting. There was a downside to a family this large and Byron had experienced it the year prior. He had done his best to flirt with a girl whose eyelashes took up at least a third of her face and make his stomach knot. That was, until, his asshole brother pointed out very loudly that the girl was a cousin on their father’s side and sent Byron directly to the front hall closet to hide in shame under the down coats.
So he was small, on a mission to get bigger, and not going to lay an eye on a girl his own age in his own home. And that was all how he noticed Linda. Linda was, well, a 90s bombshell. Byron’s own mother kept her hair close-cropped, wore a uniform entirely of blue jeans, and occasionally would pull out some blue eyeshadow and Maybelline lipstick for an important event. This was not Linda. Linda floated through the side door of the house in a cloud of (what he would learn) was Calvin Klein’s CKOne perfume. She had cleavage that almost touched her chin and blond bangs that didn’t move, even when she did. When Byron first laid eyes on this suburban woman of mystery, he knew in his heart what he was feeling was love. Another body part agreed.
The following year and a million grams of protein later, Byron spent close to an hour in the bathroom getting himself ready for the holiday. He’d seen the placecards written out in his mother’s loopy handwriting and knew that Linda would be in attendance. He hadn’t so much as spoken a word to her the previous Thanksgiving and vowed that this would be his year. The towering man holding her elbow as they entered the house put the kibosh on that plan, however.
This scenario replayed throughout Byron’s entire high school career. Every year, Linda would come to his parent’s house, drink Chardonnay, eat turkey, and never so much as glance in his direction. Her husband, a man with a serious Tom Selleck moustache, would drape his arm around her, a doorman to the entrance of her conversations.
Oh so committed to his growth, Byron kept working out. Edouardo got in the best shape of his life and was praised by the vet. But, that wasn’t the case for his running companion. For Byron, the insults about his size cut deeper and deeper. He wasn’t getting any bigger. He was still the pipsqueak of the family. He had never had a girlfriend, could barely coax a sparse goatee from the bottom of his face and at seventeen, he could barely pass for a seventh grader. Despite his unfortunate situation, Byron was headed to college that fall.
As the majority of us can relate, college or not, the first years after high school were transformative. The new found freedom of living on your own away from the shadow of head-dunking siblings, the ability to find your true self without the constant badgering from your peers reminding you how uncool they thought you were. But Byron had a huddle to overtake that year which the majority of his classmates knew when they were 14: puberty. And maybe because he had to wait so long, but it was a big deal.
Growing pains are real and damn, did Byron have them. His freshman year, he shot up over five inches and gained almost fifty pounds. He didn’t recognize his body. His clothes didn’t fit. A muscular frame seemed to appear overnight as he laid in his dorm room bed with aching legs. And the girls started to notice. It was funny, though: since he’d never received any attention from the opposite sex, he had never made room in his schedule for girls. Between his studies and his gym visits and his time at the animal shelter, Byron didn’t know how or when to date. He was still pondering this issue when he swooped home for Thanksgiving his sophomore year.
Gone were the days of his older brothers squishing him between the couch sectionial. Byron was 6’1 by Thanksgiving of 2003, a solid 180 lbs, and had finally grown enough facial hair that his chin wasn’t a total embarrassment. And people noticed. You know who really noticed that year? Yeah ya do, it was Linda. And in November of 2003, Linda was alone.
Without the ring on her finger or the 90s hairspray, Linda was even more beautiful. She had a Nikki Taylor thing going on and Byron had a hard time focusing on eating his dinner. After dessert, the college-age cousins and friends both with real and fake IDs decided to hit one of the better bars downtown. Linda tagged along.
Byron lost count of how many shots of Jaegermeister Linda bought him. But there were many. And Jack and Cokes and some karaoke and pictures on newly purchased digital cameras. The jukebox was on fire and Byron swooped up Linda and twirled her around the bar, dipping her back under her blond locks just grazed the filthy floor. His siblings and cousins hooted and hollered and bought so many rounds of beers, the time at the bar turned into a bit of a blur.
And he was so young and healthy that he didn’t even feel the effects of the booze when he woke up the next morning. He turned his head, stretched his newly grown body, and looked at Linda lying on the pillow next to him.
It was insane. It was the exact night that he’d dreamed of since he was thirteen. Linda had been fabulous. Sure, they were both pretty drunk but she didn’t mock his inexperience, she directed the show. Byron didn’t know if half the moves she made were even legal in their state but he didn’t care. He couldn’t wait to do it again. He reached his arm over to her platinum hair, stroking it away from her face with the gentlest touch. She jolted awake.
“Good morning,” Byron whispered with the most adoring smile taking over his face. Linda smiled, looking quite satisfied with her conquest.
“Well, that was fun.”
Byron inched his body closer to hers, pulling her into an embrace. Or, at least that’s what he was trying to do. Before he could clasp his hands around her back, Linda gracefully popped herself out of bed, pulled a robe around her and was shaking a double dose of Tylenol out of a bottle in her bureau drawer.
“Are you ok?” Byron asked with utter sincerity.
“Oh, yes, honey,” Linda turned to her bed-buddy, “but, I think you should go.”
As Byron pulled his old green, Ford truck out of her driveway, his first instinct was to feel pretty hurt and very rejected. He felt like the skinny little boy who couldn’t get into the movie theater and had to shop in the children’s section. He was embarrassed and sad. He looked up into the rearview mirror and caught a glimpse of himself. Byron pressed his foot against the brake.
He wasn’t a little boy. He wasn’t small or incapable or ignorable. He was a man. He was (pretty close to) an adult. And he knew he could be bummed out about being essentially kicked out of the woman of his dreams’ kitchen, or he could be stoked with the two very acrobatic hours that he got to spend with her. He chose the latter. It felt good. His father was wrong, being a man was all it was cracked up to be.
Byron thought of Linda often the next year at school. He met other women and enjoyed their company but nothing serious ever blossomed. Was he waiting for the next fateful Thanksgiving to roll around? He told himself that had been just a one-off crazy night. He told himself that Linda was probably embarrassed since he was so young (did she even know how young he was? She’d never even spoken to him before that night at the bar…) And that she probably wouldn’t even show up for dinner the following year. But, of course, there was a big part of him that hoped that he was very wrong. And, he was. Because she did.
Byron looked forward to the holiday weekend starting on Labor Day. He was now a junior in college, scored an internship at an engineering firm, had grown another two inches, and was feeling more confident than he ever had in his life. That third week in November, he got so antsy at school, he actually came home a day early, on Tuesday.
“I just wanted to help you out,” he told his mother when he let himself in the side door. He got a big hug from his father, lots of comments on his height, then was put to work bringing all the firewood from the fallen tree and stacking it on the side of the house. Being Big apparently had its downside.
Thanksgiving morning, he woke up with a thousand butterflies banging around in his stomach. He hopped down the stairs in his plaid pajama pants and got started making a pot of coffee before his father treaded down the stairs in his blue, terry robe.
“Well isn’t this nice,” he mused, pouring himself a hot cup, “you’ve turned into quite the man. I approve,” he patted his son on the shoulder, pressing his lips together like a proud parent is bound to do.
“So mom,” Byron tried, really, he tried, to keep any kind of desperation out of his baritone voice, “do you have place cards this year?”
“Of course,” replied his mother who not only had placecards but had these tiny metal turkey place card holders that she’d just bought at The Christmas Tree Shops at the mall. Byron took his time placing each of the cards in the little painted feathers of each turkey. His head was definitely somewhere else. And we don’t have to guess where it was. It was in Linda’s bedroom almost exactly 365 days prior. Byron paid just enough attention to the seating arrangement to put his name next to hers and then went for a run to clear his head and took a shower to clear the rest of him.
Soon the house was buzzing with cousins and aunts and uncles and the specific cousin with the long eyelashes who he still avoided like a cat near water. Every time the doorbell rang and Edourado barked, Byron would feel his heart jump into his throat. And every time that it wasn’t Linda in the vestibule, his heart dropped back down to the pit of his stomach, like one of those strong men bells from the carnival, flying up and down.
“Supper!” Byron’s mom called from the kitchen and the youngest cousins immediately fought to be first in line at the buffet. Byron looked around.
And the place setting next to him was empty. Disappointment doesn’t begin to describe our hero at that moment. Maybe he’d built it all up in his head? He’d gotten so worked up about this, he felt silly and ridiculous and like a little boy. Right then, as if on cue, the doorbell rang. And there was Linda. Linda was back. And so were her bangs. And her perfume. And… her ring. Standing right behind her, helping her remove her navy peacoat, was Tom Selleck. He seemed older, stiffer than Byron remembered. And that’s when he looked our hero in the eye. It was not a… kind look.
The house suddenly felt small, as if the walls were shrinking. The air seemed to slowly disappear from the room. Tom Selleck’s moustache appeared to double in size. Byron immediately went to his seat to move around the placecards but the majority of the table had already sat down and there was no way that he could totally rearrange the seating. This was not good. Nope, it was pretty bad. In all of his imagining and daydreaming about this very specific moment, he had forgotten that the college-age cousins and friends had all witnessed him leaving the bar with Linda. In a moment of a new memory smashing into his already vulnerable brain, he instantly recalled carrying her out to the sidewalk in a newlywed-esque gesture of chivalry. Oh. My God. It felt like everyone was looking at him. No, it didn’t just feel that way. Everyone was looking at him.
It’s ok, Byron tried to reassure himself, You’re a man now, you’ve got this. And what would a man do? He glanced over at his father who was pouring gravy for his great-uncle Paul. Byron swallowed hard. This wasn’t going to be easy. And it wasn’t going to be fun. He had no doubt that Tom Selleck knew what had happened between Byron and Linda after the previous Thanksgiving. He knew because of the way the moustache’d man’s eyes bore holes through his own head and the almost tangible smoke that seemed to escape his flared nostrils. But Byron was an adult, or so he thought. He knew what to do.
He turned from the table and walked with as much courage as he could muster, ignoring Linda clutching her husband’s arm, reaching out his hand, preparing himself for the manliest handshake he had in him. And how did that go? Well, not well. But, luckily, Byron doesn’t remember.
When he came to, he was in the kitchen with a raw steak pressed against his eye, his head throbbing, surrounded by his three older brothers, none of whom could stop laughing. Linda’s husband had clocked him right in the eye and, by official guy-code, he’d deserved it.
“Well,” the second oldest shook his head, “I guess you’re a man, now.”