Carl is my name, but that isn’t what most people call me. Tubby, Toby or Toby-lard, fatty, Lard-butt, Hugo -pronounced huge-o – and even worse were what I was called.

I’ve always been big. In first grade I was three inches taller than anyone else in my class, and weighed twenty pounds more than the heaviest kid. In fact, I was bigger than most third graders. By the time I got to eighth grade I was already six-one, but I weighed in at two hundred ninety-five pounds. Then I hit a growth spurt, and reached the height of six-eight at the beginning of my freshman year. I also hit four hundred fifty pounds, en route to my high weight of four eighty by the end of my sophomore year.

Needless to say, sports were never an option. I pretty much hid myself away in the house when I didn’t have to go to school, and I missed as much school as I could. The constant torment and abuse from other kids in the school was sometimes more than I could bear. I seriously considered suicide when only in the sixth grade and even my teacher started mocking me. Mom didn’t believe it when I tried to tell her my teacher was abusing me until I snuck a recorder into my desk one day and taped the teacher calling me “Fatty” and telling me I would never amount to anything.

Mom took the tape to the Principal, but he just tried to blow it off, so Mom called a lawyer and filed a lawsuit. I transferred to another school, but the only thing that really changed was where I got called names, not the names themselves.

It was about this time I found music, in particular, the piano. Mom found a teacher for me, and since I was burying myself in the house anyway I spent hours a day playing it. Needless to say, by the time I hit High School I was quite proficient, but I never let on. I thought that would just be something else for everyone to mock. When no one was around I also sang while I played, but I wouldn’t even let Mom hear me sing.

What I didn’t know was my next door neighbor, Annie Gibbons, could hear me practicing and singing when I had the windows open, and she thought I sounded good. Annie was a real sweetheart of a girl. She and just a very small handful of others were the only ones who didn’t make fun of me, but since I transferred schools we didn’t go to school together anymore. That is, we didn’t until High School.


My high school required us to take fine arts of some sort every year, and I wasn’t about to get up in front of a crowd and make a speech or act, so I joined the chorus. Of course I had to take the mocking that I would collapse the risers. I didn’t want to stand out, and I was really somewhat embarrassed about my voice. I didn’t think it was all that good, so I just sang along with the others, having no trouble with learning my parts due to my piano training, but I always sang softly, and very few even heard me.

The third week of school my sophomore year is when things started to change somewhat, although I didn’t like it when it happened. Mr. Simon announced the mid-winter (formerly known as Christmas) concert would be made up of small groups rather than the entire choir. It would be up to us to come up with our own groups or solos. That was entirely the last thing I wanted to hear! No way in the world did I want to do a solo, but I knew no one would want me in a group with them.

Quite a few of the chorus gathered amongst themselves, but as expected no one approached me. Imagine my surprise, shock even when Mr. Simon asked for at least preliminary groupings and I heard Annie’s sweet voice speak up. “Mr. Simon, I’d like to sing a duet with Carl.”

Of course, that set off a firestorm of jeers and jibes that totally drowned out Mr. Simon’s attempt to restore order. I sat off in a corner of the room trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. Obviously, that was not very successful. Fortunately, the bell rang and most of the students beat it for the exit since it was last hour on Friday.

I sat there with my head down, trying desperately not to let out the tears that were dammed up behind my tightly closed eyelids. It wasn’t fair! I didn’t ask to be born big, nor to grow even bigger to stand at seven feet one inch and four hundred twenty-five pounds. The thing was, I wasn’t really all that fat! Sure, I carried some extra, but percentage wise, not as much as some.


I let out a long sigh of frustration when I heard the last ones leave the door, and rubbed my eyes to be certain no tears would show on my cheeks when I felt a soft touch on my shoulder. I shrank within myself, just waiting for whatever cruelty someone had devised for me now.

“I’m sorry I caused everyone to laugh at you, Carl. I didn’t mean to.”

Surprised I lifted my head slightly and opened an eye a crack to see Annie standing there next to me with a tear dripping from her chin. “Why are people so mean? I just don’t understand it! You’ve never done anything to anyone ever, but they treat you like this. I’m so sorry!”

I just dropped my head, nearly losing control of my emotions. Annie was the first person ever to say something nice to me at school that I could remember. I mumbled something about it being OK, but she stamped her foot and nearly yelled at me, “No, it’s not OK!” My head popped up, eyes wide, as I stared at her. I was awestruck! For the first time in my life I had someone other than my mother coming to my defense and telling me I was something worthwhile.

“Look, Carl, I remember I used to think you were a pretty cool guy back before you had to change schools, and then I never saw you anymore, because you would always close yourself up in your house when you got home. I could hear you practicing the piano, though, and singing. You don’t know how many days I would sit in my window just to listen to you play and sing. In fact, that’s why I signed up for Chorus this year instead of acting. I wanted a chance to sing with you and to see you again. Even though we live right next door I never see you!”

Let me interrupt my account of what happened to tell you a little bit about Annie. She stands a whole five foot nothing, and there’s no chance she weighs over ninety-five pounds. Her hair is as black as a raven’s wing, and shines in the light, and she wears it long and straight, nearly down to her waist. Her eyes are a soft green, except when she gets angry, and then they are like storm waters at sea. She has a strong Irish temperament, Black Irish she calls it, and the cutest smattering of freckles across her face that accent her cuteness. Black hair and freckles don’t normally go together, but they go well on her. When I looked into those green eyes pooled with tears my heart nearly stopped.

I shouldn’t have done it, but I let out some of the hurt I’ve tried so hard for so many years to hide. “What will we do? Something from King Kong? You sing while sitting on my arm?”

“That’s not funny, Carl! I’m serious!”

“I’m sorry. I’m not used to anyone wanting to do something with me that isn’t intended to mock me.”

“I have never mocked you, nor will I. I think you are a wonderful person, but you don’t know how wonderful you are.”

I began to believe, or at least I wanted to believe she was serious, but it was hard. I mean, do you have any idea how hard it was to believe that just maybe there was someone who really cared? I couldn’t let my guard down. To do so would only invite more hurt. Every time in the past I tried to open up and let anyone get close to me it happened.

Hesitantly, I asked, “What did you want to sing? A Carol or something?”

“Oh, no. I think we ought to do much better than that. You can do so much better. Could we maybe go to your house and try some things? I heard you singing Panis Angelicus a while back, and I think it would make a beautiful duet, or maybe you have some ideas?”

Me? Ideas? Ideas about singing in front of people? She had to be kidding! I do all I can to not be noticed, as much as you can do at seven-one and four twenty-five. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was get in front of people and do something that would draw their attention and make me a bigger target for their scorn and derision.

“Mom’s not home.”

“I know. You quit singing when she comes home. Please?”

I shrugged. “I guess. You’ve got me stuck with this.”

“You would rather do a solo? We don’t have to do a duet if you don’t want to.”

“Oh, no, no, no. No solo! I was . . . I don’t know. Nobody has ever wanted to do something with me before.”

Annie smiled sweetly up at me. “Carl, that’s not true. I’ve wanted to do things with you for a long time, but I could never get you out of your house. And trust me, once we do this, people will be flocking to do things with you.”

I snorted derisively, and then I stood up and gathered my things to go home. It felt really strange to walk out the door with a girl, with anybody, really, but in particular with a girl. We only lived three blocks from the school, so we walked it. I noticed Annie’s backpack was really heavy for her, so I grabbed it. She looked up at me and gave me a sweet smile, then slipped her hand into mine. Well actually, she held two fingers. Her whole hand would fit into my palm with room left over.

“Wow! I didn’t realize the reach you have! I can’t even span an octave, but I’ll bet you can do an octave and a half at least!”

I blushed and nodded. “A little more than that.” Nobody had ever commented on my size in a good way before! I’m sure we looked a little funny going down the street, with Annie’s head not even reaching my shoulders. I struggled to not allow my normal dark mood to dampen things as I walked home with someone for the first time in my life.

I opened the door for us when we arrived at my house and ushered Annie in to our living rooom, where she was ecstatic over my baby grand piano. It was my baby, given to me by my grandmother for my sixteenth birthday last year. It wasn’t new, but it was a Steinway that had been refurbished after sitting basically unused in some rich people’s house. My grandmother purchased it at their estate sale and had it refurbished for me.

“It is so much nicer than my little spinet! I just love it! Play something for me, please.” She stood looking up at me and I couldn’t bring myself to turn her down. I kept waiting for the punch line to the joke, but it never came.

“What do you want?”

“Play your favorite piece.”

I sat down and started playing Karen Marie Garrett’s “Tip-toe Dancer”. I had to learn this piece by ear because sheet music has never been released. I’ve written and asked, but she has never released it. When I finished “Tip-toe Dancer” I paused only momentarily and started “Ballade pour Adeline” written by Paul de Senneville. When I finished I looked behind me to see Annie struggling to look over my shoulder and I saw tears in her eyes.

“You really put yourself into your music, don’t you? That’s why I wanted to sing with you. You don’t just play music, but it flows from within your heart, from your soul. Thank you.”

I bowed my head, suddenly shy again. Never before had I played for someone else other than my piano teacher and my mother and grandmother. I’ve always managed to get ‘sick’ whenever my teacher held recitals. If it had not been Annie I wouldn’t have played for her either, but she has already heard me practicing as she said, and besides, she has been so nice to me today.

We started playing and singing a number of songs together and just plain having fun learning how to blend our voices together. I was amazed at her musical knowledge, and not just pop stuff either. It ran the gamut from light pop from the sixties and seventies to classical and light classical. We sang some of Karen Carpenter’s stuff, John Denver, Rogers and Hammerstein, and then started on some real classical stuff. Panis Angelicus by César Franck I had arranged for piano and voice for myself, not ever intending for it to be heard outside of this room, but obviously that just went out the window, no pun intended . I sang it self-consciously and Annie blended her voice in. I had no idea she had the kind of musical education she had, but our backgrounds were very similar musically, although I was way ahead of her due to my obsession with music and hiding from society.

I’ve never had voice lessons as such, but I knew I had a vocal range that fit in either a high Baritone or a low Tenor range, although I could also hit many of the high tenor notes, but not comfortably. Annie on the other hand had a light, sweet lyric Soprano range, easily hitting some rather high notes without strain, singing them without forcing as so many vocalists do, particularly those in the operatic field. When she sang some higher notes all I could think of was the trilling of a bird, and I loved it.

I had not written my arrangement down, so we just sang it together a few times improvising a part for Annie. She insisted she harmonize with me in a descant ranging higher than my notes. I have to say, all modesty aside, it sounded pretty good! We had gotten so deeply involved in the music and the fun we were having singing together I didn’t even hear Mom return home from work. She walked in the back door and came through the house without our knowledge and totally startled us when she walked into the room.

“Carl! I thought I heard the radio, but it was you! Hi, Annie. You two sound really good together! Why didn’t I know you could sing like this, Carl? I really thought you had the radio on.”

“He does have a good voice, doesn’t he, Mrs. Hudson? I used to listen to him sing after school, but he always quit when you came home.” My face was red with embarrassment. I sang for my own release, not for others to hear.

“Carl, you shouldn’t hide your voice! That is a gift, and it ought be shared.”

Annie smiled at Mom and said, “Oh, it will be!” I hung my head and turned red again. “Mr. Simon said our Mid-Winter Concert this year is going to be made up of small groups and solos rather than the whole chorus, and he told us to come up with our own groups. I asked to sing with Carl.”

Mom’s eyebrows went up. “Really? Why?” She was obviously pleased.

“Because I’ve been listening to him sing since back when his voice kept cracking, but I knew even then he was going to be good. Oh, my. I didn’t realize it was this late. Thanks, Carl. I had fun.” She gave me a bright smile and squeezed my shoulder before picking up her backpack and heading for the door.

Mom of course had to know all about everything that happened and what our plans were. She was obviously excited that I had found a friend finally, and was thrilled we would be singing in public. Of course she wanted to go out and tell all of her friends and Grandma, but I made her promise to keep it quiet at least until time for the concert.


Saturday morning I was up and doing things around the house for Mom. She has to work a lot of hours as a Nurse Practitioner to keep things together for the two of us since Dad ran off with his secretary several years ago, so I try to help out as much as I can. I had the laundry going and had just started vacuuming the living room when the doorbell rang. I wasn’t really dressed for company with just a cut off pair of sweatpants and a ragged old tee-shirt on, but Mom was working and I had to get the door.

I was definitely surprised to see Mr. Simon on the other side of the door when I opened it. “Good morning, Carl. I normally don’t bother my students at home, and especially on Saturday mornings, but I thought I needed to follow up with you on our concert plans for the mid-year. May I come in for a couple of minutes?”

Mr. Simon was cool. In fact, he was the only teacher I had that really cared about those of us in his class, and he is the only one who would not allow the others to pick on me or mock me about my size. I might have refused any of the other teachers, but as far as I was concerned he could come in my house any time.

“Certainly! Please come in. May I get you a drink or anything?”

“No. Thank you, but that won’t be necessary. I just wanted to touch base with you for a couple of minutes and I’ll get out of your hair. Oh! Beautiful piano! Do you play?”

“Thank you. My grandmother gave it to me for my last birthday.” I led the way in to the piano and saw the way Mr. Simon gently caressed the ebony.

“It’s beautiful. Could you play me something? I would love to hear it.”

I shrugged and sat down on the piano bench. For no one other than Mr. Simon would I have agreed to play, but like I said, he was cool and I couldn’t turn him down. I started on “Tip-toe Dancer” for him and saw the look on his face change. He stood in place, hand on the piano, as if rooted to the spot.

When the last chord faded he looked at me soberly. “Carl, if I could trouble you for it, I would like a glass of water. I’d ask for Scotch, but it’s too early in the morning, and it wouldn’t be proper for me to ask such a thing of a student and underage at that!”

I went and got him a glass of water and brought it back to see him still standing in the same place. “Would you like a seat, Mr. Simon?”

“Seat? Oh, yes. A seat.” He sat down gently and very quietly obviously deep in thought. I sat back down on the piano bench to see what was on his mind and was getting a little concerned as he said nothing for a few moments. “Carl, I must say I’m more than a little surprised. Tell me, do you play by ear, or do you read music?”

“I read music. I started taking lessons when I was in sixth grade.”

“I see. Tell me, how did you get the sheet music for ‘Tip-toe Dancer’? I didn’t think Karen published it yet.”

I was surprised he knew the piece. “That one I learned by ear. I wrote her for the music, but I didn’t hear anything back. I just loved it, so I worked it out and learned it.”

“I see. Tell me, are you familiar with Tally’s Lullabye, also by Karen Garrett?”

“Sure. It’s a beautiful piece, and one of my favorites, but I don’t have a cello to play with it.”

“I must say, Carl, that you’ve put me in a bit of a quandary. I came over here to talk with you about singing a duet with Annie only to find you are also a wonderful pianist. Look, I know you are shy about being in front of the public, and I understand why. I’ve heard you singing in the chorus, and I know you have an excellent voice, although you hold back in there to keep anyone from knowing it. I think you and Annie would do well together. Are you OK with singing with her?”

“I don’t like the idea of singing in public, but if I have to Annie is the one I’d want to do it with. In fact, she and I worked on some stuff last night to see what we wanted to do.”

“Excellent! I saw you two talking together after class, and I was hoping you were going to be OK with things.” He paused and pinched his lips between thumb and finger and sat in thought for a bit. “Two things come to mind. When could I hear the two of you sing together? I’d rather not do it in class. There is no point in stirring the pot as far as the way you are treated in there. I’d like to keep it on the quiet if possible.”