The epiphany is this: thin people hate fat people.

I can’t tell you the exact moment this epiphany occurred to me, though I can assure you, once it occurred, it never stopped occurring, and in truth, occurs to me several times a year.

Do thin people–all thin people–really hate fat people? Who knows? I certainly don’t. I wish I did. Is laughing at a fat joke a little act of hate? Is assuming a fat person is lazy, or lord forbid, undisciplined, without knowing a single thing about them, a minute, simple-minded act of hate?

On an unseasonably warm February evening in 2010, my wife and I were going out to dinner after having finished our intakes for Optifast, a medically supervised weight loss program. We’d be drinking special nutrient-rich shakes instead of eating. The real work would begin the following Monday, but tonight we were happy and hungry.

Happy because things were finally looking up for us. Happy because the struggles of our lives–visible, clear as day, unlike the struggles of most others, impossible to conceal–might soon be over.

We went to our favorite Mexican restaurant. We sat. We ordered our meals. We talked about how awesome and fun the future would be.

Smell of seared steak and chicken, and warm tortillas, and wall decorations that had very little to do with Mexico and everything to do with being flashy, and colorful, and encouraging diners to have a good time.

The guy who ruined our night was not having a good time. He’d been drinking. Perhaps beer, perhaps massive, salty, yellow and blue margaritas. I like to imagine he’d just lost his job, or his wife, or his house. I’d like to think he wasn’t really a bad guy, but had his mind made up to hurt someone as much as the world had hurt him.

I was halfway through my carne asada burrito, my wife enjoying her beef enchiladas. The guy was middle-aged, pushing sixty, perhaps younger than that, with the years and the pains and the liquor aging him perceptibly.

He walked up to our table. Eyes bleary. Eyes furious.

“You enjoying that food?” he said.

My wife smiled at him. “Yes, thank you.”

He replied, simply enough, “Fucking cow.”

Took a couple seconds for his words to register. Only a couple, the span of a heartbeat or two. And then anger like bile sloshed around my gut, churning with the carne asada, surging up my throat and into my mouth, where I tasted it like so much chili sauce and stomach acid.

I swallowed a bite of burrito, raised my hand, flipped the bird, and said, “Right here, buddy.”

The drunk guy lost it. Started snapping and snarling and saying all sorts of really shitty, really trashy stuff. I snapped back. I wasn’t alone. At the table behind us, a pair of large women–not huge, but large–joined in the yelling and trashiness. And a family in the booth to our right, the father, who was perhaps twenty, thirty pounds overweight, he shouted, “Sit down, asshole, just go sit down.”

The drunk moved to hover over my wife. I surged to my feet. I spilled my drink.

By the time the restaurant manager intervened, the whole place was watching us. The manager took the drunk under the arm and pushed him out the door.

One last vitriolic howl.

And then he was gone. Just like that.

The manager comped our meal. Not that we felt like eating anymore. Made a beeline for our car, just in case the guy had stuck around and was waiting to ambush us.

I don’t know. Was he the exception and not the rule? Man, I’ve been dealing with jerks like him since I was six years old. What’s the exception? What’s the rule?

My wife and I are still fat. Not because we like it, but because struggle means struggle. Here’s what I realized: struggle does not end, just as struggle does not begin. If I’m unfortunate, it’s because I must wear the bad parts of myself like a suit, like a second skin, on display, see the monkey, laugh and point.

Thin people hate fat people.

Thin people hate fat people.

It’s more mantra than epiphany.

Thin people hate fat people.

It’s a suit of armor, and I can wear it any time I want, any time the years stretch ahead and behind, and nights like that night don’t seem rare, but rather, seem to be the story of my life.

Jeff Bowles