Brian Oliu


Basketball is a game about angles—about the shortest path from one spot on the floor to another, about how the ball bounces off the rim, about where your feet should be set. In the game, when the players get closer, they get larger—they double in size to the point where you can see their features up close; a face becomes a face rather than a collection of pixels, eyes straight forward and never blinking. This is forced perspective: an adjustment of scale in relation to what the eye sees, the making of things brighter so that the court blurs in the background. It is all an illusion: despite getting closer, we do not grow in size—we simply are what we are despite what our wavering eyes are trying to tell us.

When I grew older, I went to Italy: I saw a church where the ceiling was flat, but painted to look like there was a dome—a trompe l'oeil, a trick of the senses. The legend was that the church next door petitioned to the city that the construction would block out their sunlight; that the skyline was already too crowded with monoliths. Instead, a painting where the goal was to make the viewer believe that there was more nothing than what appeared. We stared for what seemed like forever: our heads cocked back, chins towards the sky. While the story of the church in Rome is that the new ceiling would crowd the air, the truth is that it was cheaper to paint a ceiling than to extend it upwards. We spun in the middle of baroques, we tried to find the angle that made the whole thing less real: we cannot be impressed by something if we believe it to be entirely true—then, a nave is just a nave and not what it is pretending to be.

We remember Spud Webb as being the smallest person we've ever seen, though he was only two inches shorter than average: a man who could look most folks in the eye without much effort. We remember his leaps in the Slam Dunk contest: how we marveled at how someone that small could get that high—that everything he did seemed grand in comparison to someone who could touch the rim without their feet off of the ground.

When Wayman Tisdale went in for cancer treatments, the doctor said they'd never given chemotherapy to anyone his size. When they amputated Wayman Tisdale's leg, they created the largest prosthesis the director had ever seen. When you play the game you notice this: how large the man is—how tall he stretches in comparison.

I never took a photo with my hands holding up the Tower of Pisa. I never wanted it to look like I had the ability to do so—that I was so large I could make buildings tip over: that the second I held my hands to the air in the forefront, the earth would move and the tower would fall.

So, when I tell you that I was the biggest kid you've ever seen, that is an illusion: something parents would scream when I stood next to their child, that I dwarfed their baby, that I am too dangerous to be allowed to play, that I should be with children my own size, despite them being much older. That my elbows could too easily catch a nose, that I was an oaf in an oaf's body, that everything was unfair. I was never here to hurt anyone. I was never here to make your children bleed. There is a reason why big kids have soft hearts—one false move and our size will be blamed for everything; the game will be over, the rules will be changed. There is a reason I played basketball—it made it more difficult to hurt someone: no cleats to the face, no shoulders to the sternum. If you fight me, I will hurt you. I am a warning. If I hurt you, we were just playing: I took everything too far, I threw my weight around, I missed my mark. The term monster will always be relative: there is always someone larger. There is always someone more hideous.

Here is what I prayed: that the world would catch up. That nature could shift, that the order of things brought a demonstration to every doorstep. I would stay awake, not asking for the world to make me smaller, but for the world to get bigger: the curse of a slowed metabolism, the shame of a fat child. I was not put here to be a king: to die after having trouble breathing—of trying to fill a space with air yet having the walls remain flat. Put me in a world of giants—let them marvel at how I fill the cracks in the design.

Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey and currently teaches at the University of Alabama. He is the author of So You Know It's Me (Tiny Hardcore Press, 2011), a series of Craigslist Missed Connections; Leave Luck to Heaven (Uncanny Valley Press, 2014), an ode to 8-bit video games; and i/o (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2015), a memoir in the form of a computer virus. His works in progress deal with professional wrestling, long distance running, and NBA Jam (not all at once).

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