Big had grown to be a word I hated. It used to be that big meant that I was different, that it made me special in that way I was looking for. Then it changed. Then I realized what it was. The word “big” is a defense for people when someone who is overweight inquires about how they look. You aren’t going to sit there, look what could very well be your closest friend in the eye, and tell him, “honestly Herald, you sort of resemble a cross between a baby elephant and the Grinch if he decided to just REALLY let himself go.” Of course you don’t say that. You think, “what is a word that isn’t necessarily untrue, but isn’t exactly what I really think.” You figure honesty is not always the best policy and choose to spare their feelings. You don’t say what you really think because that would be tactless. It would require a much bigger dose of honesty than you want to part with, and much more than that person really wants to hear. It is great to find a way around the truth, but we don’t stop to realize how the little ripples of the words not spoken can allow for much bigger waves in the long run.
People don’t realize just how harmful euphemisms can be to someone who spends their days in plus size attire. Everyone needs to realize something about this type of tact, if you hear something enough times in your life, no matter how eschewed of an idea it may be, you will start believing it. That is why I hate this miniscule, single syllable bomb shell. It is a way that everyone spent deceiving me, but much more to the point, how I spent deceiving myself. I have to wonder if those around me had just been forthright, told me exactly how I appeared, if things would have been a little bit different. If instead of 20 years of being absolutely miserable with myself, not understanding that I even had a problem for the first 12, then having no idea how to change my life. I could have spent my years like a normal child. If only someone would have had the stones to actually say something.
Oh wait, they did. I just chose not to listen to a damn word anyone was saying. I just liked eating too damn much.
The mind is an astounding and powerful thing. If we give our minds the power, it can do some crazy things. The power of placebo has been known to cure everything from garden variety warts to liver cancer. Simply because a person believed that they were given the cure, they were able to BE cured. Along that same vein, we have to realize that the incredible power of that brain can hinder nearly as often as it chooses to help. One such hindrance is the tremendous power of self delusion. Regardless of the evidence provided to us, we can often disregard it in lieu of what we want to believe. Here is the ironic little Catch-22 of the whole scenario, sometimes even if you put on some honesty knee pads and get a little brutal with your hard-handed opinions; we husky folk don’t always want to hear what you have to say. Humans don’t really hear what they don’t want to. Obese people aren’t any different.
My feelings were spared so often that I started believing them. Instead of asking myself how I got to this point, why I have to go up another pant size again, third time this year alone, I chalked it all up to me just “being big.” It was a nice suit to wear to keep from seeing the tattered mess of self esteem I was wearing underneath. Am I saying that every time a person chooses to say “rotund/big/husky” instead of “fat/obese/oh gosh” a chubby kid gobbles down another ham sandwich because he doesn’t realize he has a problem? No.
The finger of blame should never be apportioned toward a person just trying to be nice. But to understand you must be educated and to be educated you must realize the things you don’t say to preserve propriety can often hurt as much as the things you do say. Regardless of this, the final blame, the whole of the festering and irrevocable truth of my situation, resided with me.
Just because I knew I had a problem doesn’t mean I wanted to put forth the effort to do anything about it. So by the time I was 13 I knew I was fat. I tried rationalizing it, ignoring it, which is kind of like pretending a cancerous growth will just go away, and everything else I could think of to overlook my condition. I will give fatties one thing, and that is we can get remarkably creative when we want to overlook the problem we have with our weight. But realizing there’s an issue and starting the process to correct it are two very different things. I’m pretty sure the most deluded meth head knows deep down that he has a problem. They don’t wake up wondering, “I very much believe that something is wrong in my life. Maybe I should try to pinpoint it while I find my lighter.” It isn’t something they have to ponder for very long. They don’t have to stumble far past their pipe to find the answer either.
This chapter is about the people in my life. How they buggered into my life in every aspect, tearing haphazard holes in my eating and exercise habits in an effort to change who I was, and still arguably am. I’m talking about the actual attempts of concerned members of my family, not the ins and outs of “fun running.” They gave as much as they could to a fat son/grandson/nephew to try to make him see the errors of his ways. This is sadly the story of how they failed.
“Grandma, I don’t have time, can you fix the hole? I’ve gotta go to school and I can’t really do that with a hole on my ass.”
“Brocy, don’t cuss, and don’t you have another pair to wear?”
“They tore last week. No saving them either.”
“Well I am fixin’ to run out of patches.”
I had ripped another pair that morning. Who knew the simple act of leaning down to tie your shoes could be so hazardous to your wardrobe. It very much was for me. The real crux is that I don’t even tie this pair of shoes. They were a broken down pair of Duffs skater kicks. I was the farthest thing from a skateboarder that ever existed, but that didn’t stop me from living vicariously through a quarter pound of processed rubber. Shoes without strings had become a silent necessity. Just the act of bending over, pressing my overlarge stomach into my creaking knees, was too much. Your knees creak past a certain hundred pound mark, and mine were sailboats. My point is that I would be out of breath with a red pressure behind my eyes before I finished the first string.
Even with just a quick bend to fold in a lace and things could go wrong. I bent too fast and kurr-fwip, there went the structural integrity of my last pair of Big Daddys. Not to mention that they were already on life support for the growing hole in the crotch. While she can do a quick fix for the ambitious butt window, she says the growing tear along my inseam cannot be fixed.
“I wonder why you are so hard on clothes; none of the other ones have ever been this hard on them.” That was proper grandmother speech for “you are the fattest grandson I have.”
“Maybe you can sew it?” I said, but she shook her head.
“But it’s on the stitching, see?” I tell her, standing in Pink Floyd boxers, careworn trousers thrust toward her, seventeen year old dignity all but forgotten. She was just my grandmother after all.
She says she doesn’t have a sewing machine. Any self-respecting grandmother should have a sewing machine. So that’s what I told her.
What she doesn’t have in my mother’s crooked finger, she more than makes up for with an annoyed eyebrow. I decided I shouldn’t push my luck and I let her go back to ironing a patch along the torn back pocket of what is arguably the last pair of wearable pants I had. It wasn’t the last pair exactly, mind you, but it was the last pair I wanted to wear.
There were three types of pants in my wardrobe. The pants that are too tight. Those often hang forgotten. They make me constantly anxious because I can never get comfortable in them. Wearing them is like having a nagging feeling like you are forgetting something, constant in the background of your thoughts, all day long. Sometimes when I am feeling frisky I’ll wear them because they make me feel skinnier, even if it just in my own mind. I’m still the same size in them as I am out of them, just a bit more like a muffin top than usual. I did it because forcing myself into a size 46 makes me feel like a 46. I haven’t been a 46 in 2 years.
Then there are the pants that fit. These are the pants that I wear the most, and they are the ones that rip the most too. I say fit, when you are as big as I was, no pants fit like they are supposed to, like I seem them fit for smaller people. Because regardless of what size I wear, I’m constantly pulling up my pants so my butt doesn’t hang out. It really did like to hang out too. It is like putting pants on a fat funnel; they will inevitably start sliding down to the thinner end of my legs. It isn’t a much thinner section mind you, but gravity has to take them somewhere. Then there are the blessed pants that are too big: baggy and blowing in the wind. They made me look like M.C. Hammer but I didn’t have to suck in to put them on. Plus when I turn to sharply there isn’t the ominous creak along the inseam. They are a rarity because finding pants in any store was becoming harder and harder. I’m sort of sitting on the cusp between stocked pant sizes and taking my chances with a tablecloth sarong.
I wondered why I was so hard on pants. Acea, who was one of my high school friends, claims that he still has a pair from 3 years ago that he wears all the time. The idea of having a pair of pants for that long baffled me. I go through a pair in three months max. Then they tear, either along the crotch, or along the back pockets. Over the short weeks I wear them they start to get thinner and thinner with each progressive use. Then I pull out the belt loops with constant tugging to keep my pants set around my hips. I think I bring new literally meaning to the term “wear and tear.” Restocking to that caliber gets expensive after a while.
“Don’t forget that your mother gets in this afternoon.” Grandma said, pulling me out of my denim reflections.
“I know she’s coming, don’t worry so much about it.” I hadn’t remembered she was coming. She must be coming for my graduation. Yes, that was it. I was graduating high school and she was coming to see me do it.
It all made sense so I took the pants from my grandmother, pockets still steaming as I pulled them on in the middle of the kitchen. The patches created little warm squares on my backside. If it wasn’t for the deteriorating state of my pants, the heat would have been quite pleasant. In truth, only one pocket needed the patch, but Grandma, in her infinite wisdom and frugal checkbook, decided to reinforce the other side as well for its eventual downfall.
“Your eggs are on the table.” My grandma casually filters through her continuously lit cigarette. Only truck drivers can talk with a cigarette like my Grandma can.
Eggs. If there is anything in this world I have grown to hate eating, it is eggs. It may have been the vegan in me shouting to be heard over the tumult of chickens never lived, but I would wager it was because I had eaten eggs, every day, for over a month. At that point, I was an expert on every single way to cook an egg there was, but she still cooks them for me. The one time she told me to do it myself I purposely burnt them so bad that she never asked me to do it again. They taste better when she fries them.
I’m allowed one piece of toast with my damn eggs. I slathered it in butter and jelly naturally. I was deprived of sugar and looking to regain some ground. I sat morose at the Formica bar of my grandma’s little horseshoe kitchen and forced down the eggs first, a look of martyred disdain on my face. She didn’t seem to notice. That was probably on purpose. The eggs had long since lost their taste. My grandmother could have secretly been frying aged yellow insulation foam and I wouldn’t have noticed any difference. I lived for the toast. Some of the only carbohydrates that I would get all day—at least so far as Grandma knew. When I got to school I would do everything in my power to bend the hell out of that rule until it was pretty much broken.
I devoured my toast in a few rapid bites never stopping to breathe. I was always out of breath when I ate, but I was too set into my culinary habits to change them. Then the staring contest began. My grandmother didn’t just rustle up my breakfast each day, but also prepared a multitude of sweet rice, cinnamon rolls, frosted turnovers, and any other masochistic delight that she could imagine for my younger cousins. Basically everything that my stomach tells me it desperately needs and everything that my grandmother desperately wants me not to have. Not because she is necessarily cruel or rueful (the thought crossed my mind on more than one occasion to be sure) but because she was invested in the idea of a thin Broc. Wishful thinking sucks. Today the current staring contest was between me and a devilishly clever dozen apple turnovers. This batch was still steaming, waiting for the late arrival of who they were meant for. They were winning. I waited until her back was turned, doing some mundane grandmotherly task that I couldn’t possibly pay attention to in my current state of concentration, then, when her back was turned, I made my move. Snatching at the greased baking sheet, burning my fingers, a cost worthy of the reward, Success! I grew richer by one particularly large pastry. Half way to my mouth, in the precognitive fashion of every mother, she spoke up as the first bite was mere inches from my waiting lips.
“Do you need it?” She says these four words with an almost lazy earnestness. Without looking away from the sink she was currently stationed at, she didn’t even look back to confirm what I now realize is a too true accusation on my all too predictable eating habits. Four little words that can piss me off more than any others she could mutter or shout. She has been saying them for years. It is an annoying habit that she shares with my mother and is the only way they can hope to slow my furious eating, with guilt.
Of course I don’t NEED it, not in the traditional, “life or death” sense of the term to be certain. But I have a raging want that is bordering mighty close to need. I’m not going to physically waste away if I forego this delicious pastry, but I may certainly die a little bit on the inside. Still, this quick assessment and mental justification of the situation is not enough to overcome the little tic-tac sized guilt trip that she sprung on my like a mental ninja of gastronomic terrorism. The battleground in that analogy is the unrequited halls of my lonely stomach that, if graced with eyes, would be looking up at me with a look of sheer incredulity and betrayal. So, do I NEED it? No grandma, I don’t need it at all, but you knew that, you true succubus of all things cheerful.
“No.” Withdrawal obvious in my voice, I slowly put the pastry back on the still warm cooking sheet.
“Good boy.” She made me feel like a puppy, which just wasn’t fair. The dog at least gets a treat when such an utterance is heard, no such luck for excessively greedy fat kids.
Damn this diet. The whole sordid affair was my aunt’s idea. Shawnna, in her infinite wisdom as a Gynecologist’s administrator, always had big ideas for how we were going to lose weight. Yes, WE were going to lose my weight, together. The latest rave was the Atkins diet, the destroyer of carbohydrates. I had no idea what a carbohydrate was but I knew that losing them was not going to be nearly as fun as she was making it sound. The first time she mentioned it she made it sound like it was a wonderful diet. “You get to eat all the meat you want!” She had said beaming at me like this was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I soon learned what a carbohydrate was, and more than that, I realized we had been the best friends for years.
Not anymore. She had a plan that consisted of nothing but meat, cheese, nuts and greens. Sounds easily manageable in theory, started to suck right off the tee during practice. I love bread and sugar in all its wonderfully processed forms, and these angry women (for now my grandma was adamantly behind the idea as well) were taking that from me. I couldn’t stay mad at my aunt; she genuinely seemed to want me to be a thinner person, to be healthy. I think my grandma just wanted to stop spending so much money on clothes. They each had their motivations for my weight loss. There was only one thing in their way, and that was me. I was a much bigger obstacle than either of them could have could have anticipated, if you can pardon the pun.
I wasn’t even sold on the diet when she first brought it up to me.
“Are you sure we should take Freeman’s word for it?” Freeman was the gynecologist she worked for. He was a doctor, so he was a god when it came to knowledge in all forms, female oriented or otherwise. He was the one who brought up the whole high cholesterol filled affair. “I mean, the guy is a Gynecologist, I think I’m lacking a few necessary parts to find him exactly trustworthy.”
It took her a second to understand the quip. “Don’t be a smartass. I’ve done the research on this; it worked for several people. Stop your whinin’ and suck it up.” She said with absolute conviction. Shawnna, whether she is a hundred percent on something or has no idea what she is talking about, always fully commits to what she says. The truth of that something is irrelevant.
So the regime began, and I was dying a little more each day with every egg I consumed. I heaved a great sigh at the obstacles everyone seemed to put in my path and watched my grandma’s back out of the corner of my eye and waited. I waited until grandma was busy and snapped up a turnover anyway. I grabbed my clear plastic backpack, tedium of a restrictive high school, and left the house before she could notice my deception. Stealing out from under her nose had become a constant necessity of my life. At first I did it because I wanted to see if I could, these days if I was honest with myself, I did it because I had to. At least I thought I did.
I savored that first bite of victory, and then stuffed the rest of the morsel in my mouth without a second thought. Savoring took very little precedence with my eating habits. I knew each flavor. There was the sugary bite of frosting. The processed apple filling that tasted far sweeter than the real thing, side-effect of an amount of sugar equal to the frosting. And the flaked pastry crust, which was a perfect counterpart to the sweet tang of the artificiality of the other two. I recognized these flavors, and I had to have them, no matter the cost. Easy said, because I didn’t see the cost as it really was. I saw being fat and my love of eating as two separate things, and not cause and effect as they very simply were.
Going to school was as tedious as an affair as for anyone else. The tedium of the day to day routine is just as monotonous as when you are overweight. I had a blue 1970’s Chevy pickup truck. Anything smaller and I wouldn’t feasibly fit in very well. It was always hard getting in and out of anything smaller than a 4×4. It was a rickety old boat that I would hardly consider sea worth, but it got the job done in transferring me from my grandmother’s house to the hallways of my high school 3 miles down the uneven pave of perpetual back road that is Kellyville, Oklahoma.
I pass through this town every day and have done so all my life, at least during the summers. It has never changed. It is small and nondescript; whose only noticeable features are peeling churches at nearly every intersection in true Bible belt swagger. I made my way down the same sun-bleached path to the school that everyone takes, a road rutted by a continual stream of student cars in varying states of teenage shabbiness.
When I park I take in one final deep breath and immediately suck in my stomach. This action is so second nature that I hardly even realize I am doing it to begin with. I will spend all day in varying states with an inhaled abdomen, depending on if I’m sitting, standing, what I have eaten, or which was the wind is blowing versus how much I even give a damn about it that day. Most days my damn giving is just as much as everyone else. High school is a predictable terrain of carefully crafted appearances. So I put in the appropriate time crafting mine with pained precision. In hindsight, I don’t think it helped me look “thinner” as much as I hoped it did, but it was a whole lot easier than jogging or using some weight wary paradigm to stay fit. It made catching your breath a lot harder than normal. I found that I would do anything to appear thinner than I actually was. Everything besides take my mother seriously with her biweekly pleads for me to lose some weight. She says she will quit smoking if I lose 100 pounds. She hates my being overweight as much as I hate her smoking. Everyone seems to smoke in my family at any rate, so it didn’t seem like quite a bargain. I knew this, but I discarded it anyway as I stepped out of my cab. At any rate, sucking in seemed the way to go today. I took a last full breath and sucked in, I wasn’t going to be able to breathe normally again for a while.
It had been years since I was oblivious to the way I looked to others. The times when I thought my weight was something great, something to be proud about lay long forgotten, erroneous to an existence where every stuttered breath I took reeked of the indignation of the way I saw others seeing me. These days I couldn’t even recall a time when I didn’t look at my body in a negative light. Now every moment I spent in the company of others was saturated by it. I felt like everyone was looking at my fat, instead of at me. As sad as it is to say, social conceptions made actual fact and what believed about my physical appearance one in the same. The vast majority of what I perceived them to be thinking about me was just that, perception. There was no basis in my fears. I knew that, but it didn’t change anything. Just because you may know you are being neurotic, doesn’t mean you can stop doing it any time soon. My fear became a phobia, dwelling on the grounds of the irrational, silencing all thought of reasonable accord.
So I sucked in my already bulging belly. It’s not like it went anywhere, the art of trying to appear slimmer never left the drawing board of wishful thinking. The trick about it was that wishful thinking can get you a lot farther through the day then cold, cynical acceptance of your situation. That just leads to some serious depression, and nobody likes a downer.
I made my way into the familiar school halls of any that have ever existed, economic linoleum spread over concrete, trophy cases filled with prizes no one is left around to recall, and the overblown and blaring colors of mascot bred tradition. There was an unusual blast of maroon and white crate paper festooning the walls and lockers. They hung above discarded graduation notices and hastily scribbled posters declaring the event.
I was early so I found someone to talk to so I could pass the time until classes started. Then I went to those classes, avoiding the desks I knew would make me uncomfortable or were at risk of breaking. As I stated at the carnival, my life took on the form of multiple mental checklists that allowed me to remain incognito to the reality of what I was becoming, what I already was for that matter. I had to check for a support bar along the right side between the front leg and the seat itself. If it wasn’t present, as it increasingly happened more and more due to poor school budgets, I would have to find one that was at least stable enough to hold me secure if I stayed vigilant and didn’t wiggle around too much. Doing so was often awkwardly disruptive, but at that point I had become well versed in the ways of subterfuge. My silent checklists to function in ways everyone else took for granted abounded every moment of the day. I had broken more than on desk by being careless and forgetting how big my butt actually was. Errant thoughts of computing Pi were to no avail when shattering a desk, even when that desk was shattering during Geometry.
The day persisted, long and unyielding as it wound down toward the few remaining days until summer broke. I wasn’t learning anything in my classes, and that was if I even attended the right class to begin with. At this point, I knew the all the teachers well enough for them not to care how I spent my time. Graduation was imminent, my grades were secure and I couldn’t care less what I did. The end of my final days of high school was crawling closer, and I wore that collar as uncomfortably as any senior student. I walked through the field of faces, all of them known or, at the very least, recognized (byproduct of a small student body) and thought about the coming evening.
My mom would come in, first she would be all smiles and “how do ya do’s” but after the sense of mass greeting that would meet her arrival there would be a much more dour turn for the grim. The grim was going to of course be my weight. She hadn’t seen me in a while so the impact of how I looked would be much more potent and much less concealable when I first saw her. The people I see everyday sort of got used to the way I looked, and in turn I had gotten used to the way I looked to them. It wasn’t a solution but it was a manageable existence for the moment.
She was going to screw that up of course.
I spent my final two hours of the school day walking around school alone, visiting the teachers I enjoyed and just basking in how lazy my senior year had become. Football had ceased at the end of fall, my sole method of exercise with it. I had steadily gained weight all through my high school career but all the weight training and forced running had staggered it somewhat. I couldn’t begin to think how sharp that incline would have been sans the routine physicality of those months. Staying true to my lazy ingrained paces, I couldn’t be happier with that change. When the final bell rang signaling a well deserved 3 o’clock I was one of the first out the front doors seeing as how I wasn’t in a class in the first place.
It was a muggy spring afternoon, promising a hot and unruly summer. Sun baked the black asphalt with still and unwavering heat. Nothing like the syrupy humidity of Oklahoma to make you feel fat, I was sweating before I finished the 40 yards to my truck. I hopped in the cab and Chuck was somehow already there at the window, tapping for me to unlock the door and let him in. I popped the automatic lock as I turned the ignition over and cranked the AC, we were both larger than average and the courtesy was equally appreciated by both passengers. We didn’t say anything, having seen each other no longer than 20 minutes ago a renewed greeting seemed silly.
Chuck was a chubby guy, there was no getting around it. He was about average height but was the type of guy who seemed shorter because he was well rounded in the middle. He had curly brown hair and a kind face that was always quick to either smile or head butt. He had nothing on my girth if I was honest with myself, but it was a fun game to pretend I was smaller than he was or at the very least the same size. In any case I judged his looks critically to avert having to criticize my own. He didn’t carry his weight the same way I did though. I tried to ignore what I was, he embraced it. This seemed like a little detail but it made all the difference in how we handled our situations.
He was swilling around the contents of two opened and mostly drained soda cans in my truck’s cup holder, drinking what he could and discarding the rest. I tried to take at least one with me each morning and Chuck seemed to be enjoying them even more than I had. We sat there for a while, listening to loud music and making a teenage social scene. Waving and talking to some, and smiling at others. We were nice to everyone, Chuck especially. The kid couldn’t have an enemy in a gun fight.
“You ready to go Little Brother?” Chuck said after a time, using the playful moniker he had given me the first day we had met.
I had no objections so we left the parking lot; Chuck had cleared it with his aunt and uncle to spend the night with me. I had forgotten about my mom coming in tonight naturally, so I wasn’t sure how she was going to take the news, but I couldn’t rightly take back my word now.
So we went home to meet my mom. He talked of nothing in particular and I would fill in with something generic whenever gaps appeared, my mind elsewhere. She was supposed to have gotten there earlier that afternoon. Hearing no evidence to the contrary I worked my way up the gravel slope of my driveway with a merited sense of foreboding. Chuck was a good friend, but I hadn’t thought his presence in this moment through. No one should have to be present when my mother went on her weight rants. There was no helping it now though. So we got out, and I prepared myself for the worst she had to offer, not to listen but to ignore and rebuff.
Sure enough, when we came under the patio and through the west side glass door facing out onto the pool she was peering out through the glass, giant smile filling her face.
I was in deep shit.
She was a round woman of average height with a huge mess of wiry brown hair that made up the majority of what you first saw when you looked at her. Under the massive bunch was a wide and handsome face that was equal parts smile and scowl depending on the situation. The perpetual cigarette was at her lips, so like her mother in that respect. She could flash from one to the other at a moment’s notice which was why I didn’t let that smile let down my guard. She came at me on short powerful legs that were always moving, just like her mothers.
I hadn’t seen her in almost a year so I threw my arms around her once I got through the door. She embraced me back fiercely, and for a moment it was nice. Then she had to ruin it.
“I remember when I could get my arms all the way around you so easily!” She said it with such a light air, never understanding that such an idea made me uncomfortable.
I introduced Chuck, and the commonalities were observed. My grandma was behind the Formica horseshoe bar as ever. So after I hugged my mom I went straight to the refrigerator to collect the ingredients for a quick sandwich, my mom chatting casually about subjects I wasn’t listening to. Chuck said he was hungry. I didn’t see why he had to eat alone.
Sitting out everything on the bar beside my grandmother and Chuck was on the other side, a butter knife already in his right hand. My hands were quick and practiced as I put it together, this wasn’t my first rodeo. The bread was out, two fast strokes and liberal mayonnaise had been put on each slice. Then I put 10 slices of turkey on top. I switched ingredients with Chuck and added three slices of cheese, then a large dollop of mustard. Process complete. I grabbed two cokes and handed Chuck one of them. I noticed too late that my mom had been watching me and had caught me unawares. Crap. The storm approached.
“I thought you were doing a sort of all meat diet, isn’t that what you said mom?” She said with a feigned relaxation, looking at her own mother. I saw through it immediately. Grandma just threw up a hand in defeat and continued washing dishes. I didn’t care much for either of their attitudes, and I did not have the patience for her games. I just wanted to eat my damn sandwich. Chuck was already working on his, smiling and oblivious to what was about to go down.
“It isn’t a big deal mom; it is just a friggin sandwich.” I couldn’t keep a hint of impatience out of my voice, it was hard to be this close to food and not be chewing. That was a bad move, the crooked finger came out.
“Now Jason Broc, I thought we said we were going to lose some weight.” First name brought into the mix, and here they go with the plural “we” again. It seems the only person who could do anything about weight loss was me, and I was having an internal argument with a sandwich. It was currently winning but said nothing. So I took that first bite and looked back at my mother, insolent. In hindsight, I should have realized that was a mistake. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Chuck’s smile fill his face, bits of turkey flashing between his teeth. He knew the tirade now.
My mom seemed to swell imperceptibly as she stalked me down to the base of the horseshoe kitchen. I had no escape. “We have gone over this a million times Broc, you have got to lose some weight. This has gone far enough.” She seemed to be picking up speed. “Grandma told me that you ripped another pair of pants today, and you’re still not following your diet. Sandwiches!” She threw her hands in the air at this exclamation, “tell me Jason Broc, what is the main part of a sandwich?”
I took a mock second to deliberate. “…Meat?”
“No, you smartass. Bread. And bread is the one thing you are not supposed to have isn’t it?” She lit up another cigarette before the first one was even fully out, like Mel Gibson switching out a gun magazine. This wasn’t chain smoking, this was an action movie. I flinched at the thought of what her lungs were thinking. Grandma had abandoned her dishes and was nodding silently, egging her on. She always was a bit of a coward when it came to open confrontation.
“I’m hungry mom, and I’m going to eat when I’m hungry.” I said, my temper rising to match hers.
“But are you hungry? Do you really NEED it?” She snapped, knowing full well the few words that could piss me off.
Chuck still looked amused. Leave it to him to be the only person in the world who doesn’t feel awkward in the middle of another person’s family feud. He continued eating and said nothing, just smiled his crinkly eyed smile and chewed.
“Don’t you care at all that you are 17 years old and have outgrown your own grandpa?” She was suddenly whispering, a silent look of pleading in her eyes. “What you are doing now is going to kill you, do you know that? Do you understand with how much you are eating now you are going die?”
“Is the food going to start biting back? Is my safety at risk?” I was mocking her, and I knew that she could see it in my face.
She ignored me and kept going, building speed. “You don’t care at all do you? You don’t give a damn that your heart can’t take it.” She was leaning forward, pressing her palms into the Formica, staring hard at my face. I didn’t return her gaze.
“Not at the moment, no.” That sent her reeling. Sometimes it is just enjoyable to see where I can make these little weight speeches go. I get them so often that I sometimes have to make the best of them.
Then I looked at her fully, never breaking eye contact as I took a long draft from my soda, always the 17 year old rebel. I could almost hear her bushy brown hair crackle with fury. Before I could even finish swallowing she had jerked the can out of my hands, a strange manic look in her eyes.
“That is it, no more pop. You can have sex but no more damn pop!” She shouted insanely, pressing the foot pedal of the kitchen trashcan and tossing the can out before I could blink. I really couldn’t blink anyway; I was too busy trying to rap my head around what she had just said.
“What?” I heard myself splutter, trying to see where the conversation had taken such an odd turn. Chuck had finally broke his happy mask and was laughing so hard on one of the barstools that he was spitting soda all over the floor.
“Where the hell did that come from?” I could feel my mouth hanging, my jaw seemed to have permanently unhinged.
“You heard me, you can have all the sex you want, but not one more pop.” The crooked finger had come out, bent back at the final joint at a perfect 45 degree angle.
I couldn’t deny it; it would be a trade beyond his greatest imaginings for any typical teenage boy. Such free sexual reign blessed by a mother was unheard of until this point in time. I felt history being made around me, but odd, Lewis Carroll style history. It was a reasonable trade off to be sure, but a 3 month old fair told me I would have better chances with the carbonation. I’ve always thought her sense of morality was skewed ever since she put condoms in my thirteen year old stocking. Then again, maybe she just really hated pop.
“You do realize that makes no damn sense at all, right?”
“It makes perfect sense…and stop cussing.” She still hadn’t put away the finger and so I knew I had to toss in the towel. So I went back to the fridge. It was just a bluff but I hoped it would make her give up.
“In any case, what does me having sex have to do with anything?”
“I just figured someone had to take charge, because you certainly aren’t.” She broke on the last word, laughing and looking at my grandma who, despite being raised in the prudish fifties, was laughing too.
I had the only mother on planet earth who actually makes fun of her child for being a virgin. I knew deep down that she meant it playfully but it still irked me. Did she have to say stuff like that in front of Chuck? He didn’t seem to mind, having fallen off the barstool he was fighting to breathe in a puddle of his own carbonated backwash.
It was a long moment as everyone collected themselves. I helped Chuck off the ground and told my mother I would try harder and we went to my room. When the door closed I smacked Chuck in the back of the head. He just smiled.
We whiled away a few hours, waiting for my mom and my grandmother to leave the house. They had some errand to run and we were left to fend for ourselves for food. Chuck could eat again, and I never stopped being hungry. Sans any crooked fingers we were getting fast food. We loaded back up in my truck. The night had bleached the blue out of my hood and it was still muggy as hell.
A well trod series of roads later we pulled into the parking lot, weaved into the line of cars underneath sallow arches, and were greeted by a familiar cadence. I hesitated, thinking about my mom. I knew that she was right, that I should be trying harder. I wanted to comfort her then, to tell her that I would try as hard as I could. I wanted to swear to her that I was finished with bread, that sugar was now my worst enemy. I thought of a million different promises and a thousand different avenues of completing them. I wanted to see her smile and be proud of me for losing more weight than either of us could have ever hoped. I wanted to see her cast down cigarettes and to fulfill our agreement. I wanted to ride more than a “one click” roller coaster with Crystal. I wanted to do all the things that I always dreamed about doing, and trust me when I said I’ve dreamt a lot. You would be surprised how much dreams don’t matter when something this powerful has a hold of you. My eyes fell as I stared at darkened city streets filled with bodies that were almost always better than mine. I shook my head to clear the thoughts.
“The lady is talking to you Little Brother, are you going to order?”
I’ll get to that dream stuff tomorrow. I’ll start eating better tomorrow. I’ll make her happy tomorrow. Always tomorrow, but fatter days last forever when your tomorrow never begins. It was always a whispered battle. I would get a gentle nudge, a brief pang of shame at what I know I shouldn’t be doing, but then what I wanted would always win out. 17 years I had been eating whatever I damn well pleased and I couldn’t stop now.
I should have been terrified. Instead I just ordered.
“9 double cheeseburgers and a small fry.”
I was grim.
But I was resolved.