When I was little, my dad used to tell me, “Will, you can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.” This seemed like a reasonably astute observation to me when I was eight, but it turns out to be incorrect on a few levels. To begin with, you cannot possibly pick your friends, or else I never would have ended up with Tiny Cooper.
Tiny Cooper is not the world’s g*yest person, and he is not the world’s largest person, but I believe he may be the world’s largest person who is really, really g*y, and also the world’s g*yest person who is really, really large. Tiny has been my best friend since fifth grade, except for all last semester, when he was busy discovering the sheer scope of his own g*yness, and I was busy having an actual honest-to-God Group of Friends for the first time in my life, who ended up Never Talking to Me Again due to two slight transgressions:
1. After some school-board member got all upset about g*ys in the locker room, I defended Tiny Cooper’s right to be both gigantic (and, therefore, the best member of our shitty football team’s offensive line) and g*y in a letter to the school newspaper that I, stupidly, signed.
2. This guy in the Group of Friends named Clint was talking about the letter at lunch, and in the process of talking about it, he called me a bitchsquealer, and I didn’t know what a bitchsquealer was, so I was like, “What do you mean?” And then he called me a bitchsquealer again, at which point I told Clint to f**k off and then took my tray and left.
Which I guess means that technically I left the Group of Friends, although it felt the other way around. Honestly, none of them ever seemed to like me, but they were around, which isn’t nothing. And now they aren’t around, leaving me utterly bereft of social peers.
Unless you count Tiny, that is. Which I suppose I must.
Andbutso a few weeks after we get back from Christmas break our junior year, I’m sitting in my Assigned Seat in precalc when Tiny waltzes in wearing his jersey tucked into his chinos, even though football season is long over. Every day, Tiny miraculously manages to wedge himself into the chair-desk beside mine in precalc, and every day, I am amazed he can do it.
So Tiny squeezes into his chair, I am duly amazed, and then he turns to me and he whispers really loudly because secretly he wants other people to hear, “I’m in love.” I roll my eyes, because he falls in love every hour on the hour with some poor new boy. They all look the same: skinny and sweaty and tan, the last an abomination, because all February tans in Chicago are fake, and boys who fake tan—I don’t care whether they’re g*y—are ridiculous.
“You’re so cynical,” Tiny says, waving his hand at me.
“I’m not cynical, Tiny,” I answer. “I’m practical.”
“You’re a robot,” he says. Tiny thinks that I am incapable of what humans call emotion because I have not cried since my seventh birthday, when I saw the movie All Dogs Go to Heaven. I suppose I should have known from the title that it wouldn’t end merrily, but in my defense, I was seven. Anyway, I haven’t cried since then. I don’t really understand the point of crying. Also, I feel that crying is almost—like, aside from deaths of relatives or whatever—totally avoidable if you follow two very simple rules: 1. Don’t care too much. 2. Shut up. Everything unfortunate that has ever happened to me has stemmed from failure to follow one of the rules.
“I know love is real because I feel it,” Tiny says.
Apparently, class has started without our knowing, because Mr. Applebaum, who is ostensibly teaching us precalculus but is mostly teaching me that pain and suffering must be endured stoically, says, “You feel what, Tiny?”
“Love!” says Tiny. “I feel love.” And everyone turns around and either laughs or groans at Tiny, and because I’m sitting next to him and he’s my best and only friend, they’re laughing and groaning at me, too, which is precisely why I would not choose Tiny Cooper as my friend. He draws too much attention. Also, he has a pathological inability to follow either of my two rules. And so he waltzes around, caring too much and ceaselessly talking, and then he’s baffled when the world craps on him. And, of course, due to sheer proximity, this means the world craps on me, too.
After class, I’m staring into my locker, wondering how I managed to leave The Scarlet Letter at home, when Tiny comes up with his Gay-Straight Alliance friends Gary (who is g*y) and Jane (who may or may not be—I’ve never asked), and Tiny says to me, “Apparently, everyone thinks I professed my love for you in precalc. Me in love with Will Grayson. Isn’t that the silliest crap you ever heard?”
“Great,” I say.
“People are just such idiots,” Tiny says. “As if there’s something wrong with being in love.”
Gary groans then. If you could pick your friends, I’d consider Gary. Tiny got close with Gary and Jane and Gary’s boyfriend, Nick, when he joined the GSA during my tenure as a member of the Group of Friends. I barely know Gary, since I’ve only been hanging around Tiny again for about two weeks, but he seems like the normalest person Tiny has ever befriended.
“There’s a difference,” Gary points out, “between being in love and announcing it in precalc.” Tiny starts to talk and Gary cuts him off. “I mean, don’t get me wrong. You have every right to love Zach.”
“Billy,” says Tiny.
“Wait, what happened to Zach?” I ask, because I could have sworn Tiny was in love with a Zach during precalc. But forty-seven minutes have passed since his proclamation, so maybe he’s changed gears. Tiny has had about 3,900 boyfriends—half of them Internet-only.
Gary, who seems as flummoxed by the emergence of Billy as I am, leans against the lockers and bangs his head softly against the steel. “Tiny, you being a makeout whore is so not good for the cause.”
I look way up at Tiny and say, “Can we quell the rumors of our love? It hurts my chances with the ladies.”
“Calling them ‘the ladies’ doesn’t help either,” Jane tells me.
Tiny laughs. “But seriously,” I tell him, “I always catch shit about it.” Tiny looks at me seriously for once and nods a little.
“Although for the record,” Gary says, “you could do worse than Will Grayson.”
“And he has,” I note.