So the first summer of my weight loss ended. I was secure in my hold on both not eating after 6 o’clock and anything carbonated had now become the liquid equivalent of my mother’s “no-no” room. I basically had anxiety attacks anytime I got within a few feet of it. Then the school year started. I was worried about how I would handle living with constant food access and no helpful family members to give me the stink eye. I was terrified that the work I had started would be entirely erased in a month’s time.
Luckily, my will held out. The first few weeks I had to really watch myself. I had moved to the bigger house, the one that has the kitchen in it. That meant access to food was that much closer, that much easier to sneak. As I said previously, I was becoming two different people: the one who wanted to lose weight, and the one who wanted things to stay the same. The one was stalwart, wanting to give it all for some serious weight loss. The other wanted to dive into a bag of Cheetos and surface somewhere around a quarter-ton. It wasn’t to the point of schizophrenia, but I had to be careful not to fall for the constant arguments that I put forth. “This one time isn’t going to hurt anything.” “It isn’t that big of a deal.” “I’ll go to the Colvin later and work it off.” All of these thoughts would pour through my mind as the clock chimed 7:30, 10:00, midnight, and I would have to fight them. An uninsurable life was a very big deal. This one time would lead to other times, which would lead to every time. And I wasn’t fooling anyone; I hadn’t been to the Colvin in ages.
The biggest morale boost came in the form of change. I HAD lost weight, just by doing these two simple things. I had lost several tens of pounds since the beginning of summer, and while I wouldn’t know until later the exact amount, I knew that things had gotten better. My size 56 pants were fitting almost too loosely, I didn’t have to pop my t-shirts as often, and I just felt better about me. I was building a small but steady reservoir of confidence in myself.
There was also the notion that eating after six slowly stopped bothering me. By the middle of the school year, around six months after I really started doing it, I stopped being hungry past a certain time in the evening. The closest I can explain it would be that I trained my body to stop wanting food so late, and finally it began to respond. Or maybe it just decided to cut losses and give up. Every evening I wouldn’t be hungry by 8 o’clock. It was like an internal alarm just stopped ringing and shut down for a few hours of peace, finally away from the demand of food. I have to say how liberating that was. I could go out (and often did) with college friends looking for a late night bite, and I would sit there and eat nothing. Before, when I first started and all summer long, if I missed the deadline, or was around food past curfew, I would sit morose, wishing I was eating. Then with time, it didn’t bother me so much, I didn’t have to resist snatching the nearest plate away from whomever I was eating with and gorge myself, oblivious to baffled stares and curses. Then I became completely apathetic about it. Then I took pride in it.
“What can I get for you?”
“Oh, nothing for me, thanks.” At first I said these with disdain. Then I said it with a knowing smile.
“Aren’t you going to eat anything Broc?”
“Nope, I’m not hungry.” The weirdest words that would ever come out of my mouth, but for the first time in a lifetime of lying, I meant them.
I would just sit there and watch everyone else eat around me. It may sound morbid, and I bet it made my fellow restaurant patrons uncomfortable, but it was cathartic. I started looking for reasons to go with people to eat, and then NOT eat. It became a great boost to my morale, being able to control myself. I had spent my life impulse-eating whenever anyone around me so much as considered getting a snack. Now, I could watch, smell, and not have to want to do the same. I was in charge of my impulse, finally not the other way around.
So I was able to keep my own personal promise. Thank the powers above for giving me a flexible dinner window that started at five o’clock. That was a key element. Not necessarily that my schedule worked out to a five o’clock time window, but rather I made it work. Then with the addition of no soda, I utterly destroyed the juice machine daily. A huge automatic dispense unit the size of an industrial espresso maker that was installed in my house. Apple juice, orange juice, and fruit punch. These were my new liquid lifelines that kept me anchored into hydration. I didn’t like drinking milk. I had too many bad experiences pouring clumps at my grandmother’s house. I lost my taste for it as a beverage after the day we had nearly cultured our own brand of cheese.
I still couldn’t quite get used to drinking water. Luckily though, I was finally leaning more toward apathetic about it. I tried to drink water with at least one meal a day, even though I had begun using the juicer as my new drug dealer of choice. Water had stopped making me sick to my stomach. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t prefer it either. I saw it as a necessary cross to bear.
I started watching all these infomercials that I used to just skim past. They promised massive weight loss, providing delicious meals and full portions and it was so easy! There were pictures of football players standing in baggy chinos signifying their achievement with this “breakthrough system.” They were all smiles and promises. I picked up the phone to call half a dozen times but something always stopped me. I couldn’t say exactly what it was, but I had a strange feeling that if this was so “breakthrough” then it would be more mainstream, more widely known or talked about. I already knew by looking at America that if weight-loss was so easy, then no one would be overweight. So I put the phone back down and wished things could be that simple, while knowing that they wouldn’t be. I played around with the idea of pills, drank a couple of supplement shakes here and there, and chomped through the gluey cardboard of a protein bar. They were simply distractions, good for a laugh or a hope, but not effective for me. I had no idea what I was doing, so eating a couple of healthy alternatives wasn’t going to make me run a mile without a defibrillator.
Then there were the negatives. I felt like I had begun to plateau. I had reached the point in the regiment where I wasn’t going to lose any more weight or have any more positive gain unless I changed something up or added something new. This is the point in which I could have screwed up again. The whole weight loss affair was walking an edge, with temptations and setbacks pulling me one way and then another, trying to pull me back down. For some reason, I knew in my (very) slowly decreasing gut that I couldn’t get complacent. It would be so easy to just go on with my two steps and hope that everything panned out in the end. Life doesn’t work like that. I had started, I had accomplished, now it was time to add something else. That was the key. By not piling everything on at once, I could manage. But still continuously adding as I could cope with each task would soon create a snowball that would obliterate weight like zero gravity.
Secretly, I felt things starting to stagnate, and as much as I wanted to believe it, I wasn’t making the gains that I thought I was. I thought I had been. I thought that I was on the perfect path to a new and thinner, more manageable me. More to the point, I thought I had made some serious strides down that path.
Then I met Helmer at the end of the summer.
I had been feeding off my family’s compliments for a long time. “You are looking so good Broc!” “You have lost a lot of weight!” Finally, I started to believe them. I thought I had made a serious difference. In truth, I had lost about 60 pounds at the end of summer, and under any normal circumstance that wouldn’t be something to shake a stick at, but for me it wasn’t that big of a deal. It all comes down to weight ratios, 60 pounds to me was only about 6 pounds to someone else. At the time I thought it was wonderful. My shirts fit a little better. My thighs didn’t want to start a fire every time I walked more than 20 feet. All in all, I felt better about myself. I felt like the greatest thing since sliced bread. I wanted to show it off to someone, someone who I hadn’t seen all summer, and someone who would appreciate just how much I had done.
So I called Helmer and invited him out to a round of golf. Things didn’t quite go as I expected them to. We met at the country club, and I stepped out of my truck with a jaunty tilt to my step, waiting for him to remark about my new looks. He greeted me warmly, as two friends apart for two months often do, but remarked nothing toward my looks. I bided my time, hoping that he was just waiting to bring it up at some point during the day. He never did. Over the course of a 4 and a half hour golf game he didn’t say one single word about the weight I had lost. For a while I thought he was a jerk. I fumed at how insensitive he was to something that was this important to me. My golf game suffered accordingly and I lost my 4 iron.
Then the truth sort of just crept on me, oozing from the pores of cold, stark truth. He didn’t say anything because he didn’t notice. If he didn’t notice, than what I had done must not have been that noticeable in the first place. That made me drop anchor, dragging across denial, disbelief, and anger. It was a two day fit of despair where I considered what I had done. If I was honest with myself I hadn’t done that much really. I tried to pretend otherwise, and my family was being supportive and encouraging, but I really hadn’t done anything but start. SO what if I had stopped eating after six? It helped sure, but like a piece of gum staunches a cracked in an hourglass. Sooner or later, it is going to start leaking again. An effective, more permanent plug is needed if the sand is ever going to stay where it belongs. If I was going to join this weight loss dance party, I was going to have to do more than just stand in the doorway. I was going to have to get into the thick of things and get dirty. Trouble was, I was making up all my own dance moves.
I figured a good place to start would be the place that made the most sense. I decided to do the one thing every “chubby or above” person knows they should do, but try to find any possible way to get out of. Since not eating after noon seemed sort of silly, I thought I might try my hand at something more physical. I was going to exercise. So when school started, I went to the Colvin. More than that, I did something besides clank around two plates. This is where Acea came in. Acea was a guy I had known since high school, I have undoubtedly mentioned him before. The thing about him was that he wanted to lose weight too. He didn’t really need to in the same since that I did, but he stood to lose a bit of flab. He was looking to lose, and we had a bond in that.
I strongly recommend this to anyone. Not the flab losing, I will let your final motives be your own prerogative. I mean having a partner. You will HAVE to start doing something physical at some point, and having someone to do it with works on several different levels. One, it helps keep you accountable. You already know that the main hurtle that you are going to have to face is your own apathy, now you have someone else to keep you on track. Two, it gives you motivation to actually get up and go, because you know you will be letting someone else down if you don’t. You help them the same way they help you. Like using someone’s back to not sleep with your head in the sand, the fact that they are using yours gives you the support you require. They are forcing you to go, and in return, you are forcing them to go because they are having the same mental battles as you are. So it all works out for the best.
Acea was my accountability. If I had to go of my own volition then it would have been an easy choice. I easily would have made the decision to not go at all. I would have sat in my room and talked myself out of it, time and time again. Self discipline is a trait that is integral to weight loss, but it doesn’t happen after 20 sit ups, and it most certainly doesn’t come with new gym shorts. I needed a crutch, and I highly recommend this type of crutch to anyone trying to get started in doing something physical on a regularly basis. It is so very easy to go once or twice and let it drift off into a forgotten fancy, a lost ambition to the annals of “I just couldn’t find the time/energy/place to do it.” It is a comfy funk that is easy to slip into, and extremely difficult to claw your way out of.
So we debated on how often we should go. We both had a healthy respect for the type of guys that went there every day, packing jugs of muscle milk and pump-up pills. We simultaneously decided that we weren’t quite at that level. That seemed a little too intense for either of us, and we were fresh out of connections for “muscle building” anything. Plus, I didn’t really want to abide by the tool-bag code of dress. A little bit less then that seemed acceptable. So three times a week, we went.
I started off about the same way I began with my first outing to this facility. CLANK. CLANK. Awkward movements. CLANK. CLANK. I had no idea what I was doing. But like playing an instrument, with each goofy stroke, I got stronger, more confident. I started feeling what muscles were being worked and finding, underneath the copious amount of body padding liberated throughout my body, that I had muscles. Like any amateur bassist, I started to explore my fret board, making up routines of my own within what I felt comfortable with. Like an instrument, I needed practice. Then more practice. Wait, then I needed some more after that. That was when I found my rhythm.
I still avoided the frat-pit, with it’s “thought to be shirt optional” dress code. I stuck to my regulated weights, surrounded by the types of people who looked like they really didn’t know what they were doing.
I did the same thing every day. I developed a (not to intelligent) workout routine that covered the same random muscle groups every day. This was a good place for me to begin though, because I honestly needed to get comfortable with the idea of working out. That was the most important part of this step, getting acquainted with iron.
I would start with a basic incline press, then I’d bounce to a lateral pull down, then over to a bicep curl, then to an abdominal crunch machine. These are all words and terms I learned far later in life. At the time they were ruled by names like the “lean back push thingy,” and “this one makes my tummy hurt.” I didn’t need to know the name of something to figure out how it works. That is the majority of successfully working out, experimenting until you find something that works for you. A name tells you nothing. Then I would do 10 minutes on a stationary bike. I tried to run on a treadmill the first day but that much weight clomping on a moving belt was about as smooth as gravel in a washing machine. It made running impossible and sounded like I was torturing a robot. So I stuck to something that could bear my weight without too much complaint.
I tried not to get too complacent with it either. I could have just sat there for 10 minutes on the lowest setting possible and called it good. I did that for a few days and an inanimate piece of metal never made me feel so guilty. So I played a game with the rpm. I would race up the electronic hills above a certain speed, and cruise down them at another, pumped on by heavy rock ballads that helped me pretend I was living a montage. It must have looked ridiculous. It was a new definition of stout on a straining stationary bike bobbing his head and looking like he was going to lay the world’s biggest egg. It wasn’t fun. It felt like I was giving birth out of the stitch in my side. It was progress.
That was it. The whole workout routine only lasted about 45 minutes or less. A few random machines followed by an elliptical. That was how I started. I forced myself to go at a certain time each day with Acea, and he did the same with me. Every day we hated doing it a little bit less. Then we were apathetic about it. We had developed a habit of going to the gym. Words that I never thought would enter my paradigm. It was enough to keep me making progress, but not so much that I didn’t want to go back. I was toying with a fine line, especially when half of my psyche was playing jump rope with it. Let me make one thing very clear, I didn’t exercise as much as I wanted but as much as I could. I won’t pretend that I was a perfect gym-rat from the gate. I loafed more than Sara Lee on occasion, but I didn’t let that lethargy outweigh actually getting something done.
I think the main motivation to keep moving forward was how I felt when I had actually worked hard, versus when I didn’t. I would feel satisfied and content when I came back exhausted. I could eat and not feel irrationally guilty. A habit I had developed since I had started this whole affair. I knew deep down that I still had to eat no matter how big or skinny I got, but I said it was irrational. When I came back knowing I had cut corners or entire pages, I couldn’t get comfortable in my own skin. I felt like I had stolen something and I was just imminently bound to get busted. Then every bite I took for the rest of the day, be it steak or salad, made me feel like I hadn’t lost any weight at all.
So I had a looming sort of incentive. It could be great and it could be terrible, all depending on how I chose to act. I still always knew when I hadn’t done enough, and I couldn’t fool my own mind.
We kept it up all year. The first semester was brutal. For one thing, I never wanted to go. It was just something I wasn’t used to yet. I had never worked out of my own volition, usually leaving it to an authority figure, a coach or doctor, to force me into some sort of physical activity. Now the only person who could talk me into it was someone who didn’t want to go in the first place.
Then there was the fact that everyone had behaved in a similar vein as Helmer. My first day back I hoped that his not noticing was just a fluke, a trick of the sunshine and the putting greens, but that wasn’t it. No one seemed to notice that I had lost sixty pounds. People I hadn’t seen in months, people I barely knew, and people I knew intimately all reacted the same way. That is to say, they didn’t. I don’t think someone who has lived their lives under 200 pounds understands the difference between a 480 and 420 pound fat man. That is maybe because there isn’t much of one. Once you reach that point, you are just in one clustered category of massive human being. I didn’t realize how much I was looking forward to that encouragement until it didn’t come. That first semester, it didn’t. That really tore me down too. It made me really reconsider if I had lost any weight at all. I knew that I had, that I had lost more than I ever had in my life, but if no one even noticed, what was the point? I could say that I was doing it for myself, but it was a convoluted personal gain. I was doing it so people would look at me differently, see something besides the mass that was my exterior. I know I wasn’t alone in that train of thought either. Human beings allow their drive of perceived of appearance rule every aspect of their lives. I just wanted the chance to change my own transmission.
It was probably the hardest time with my weight loss; not knowing for certain if I was really doing anything worthwhile. I had my own motivation sure, but it had been heavily depleted. It is always so easy the first day of your diet, the first day of a new promise. You can do everything you set out to do in those first twelve hours of cognitive thought. The real work comes at day two through six hundred. Those are the days you find out just how motivated you really were. I got through three months relying solely on my own motivation, so I had some drive in me to be sure. That drive wasn’t gone, but it was in desperate need of a boost. I was hoping that I could get it from my peers. I was mistaken.
Still nothing. Not a damn word had reached my yearning ears. It was the darkest days of weight-loss. I still kept at it, mainly because I had someone relying on me, and partially because I was too damn stubborn to quit. Being bull-headed can get you into trouble a lot sure, but, channeled in the right direction, it can become a downright alarming tool for gritty optimism. It is a valuable trait to have in the weight loss department. I promised myself that I wouldn’t quit, and I kept to that stupid promise like it was the only spoon in a sea of cereal. I spent 4 months in a dark, painful tunnel of my own design, led on by a silly idea of loyalty that I had created in my head. I did it all for the fleeting ghost of a compliment. The one thing that kept me working out was the notion that I should be told that I looked good. It was stupid, but it got the job done. That is what it boils down to; you have to find a way to get the job done.
We all do it for the day we can quit. Nobody WANTS to workout, not in the beginning, or even in the middle. Like I said, if it were something so easy, then nobody would be overweight. Take it from me. Nobody would choose that life on purpose. Like a well is so easy to plunge into, but so hard to claw your way out of. Weight is situation you fall into, but is damn hard to change. I knew that. I knew how hard it was because I was doing it. I think the knowledge that the only thing keeping me going WAS me became my little paradoxical glowing talisman that got me through the dark ages of my time. It wasn’t much in the way of light, but it was bright enough to see by, and keep on living with what I was doing.
We had developed our routine, and I worked by it. Any well-versed athlete or gym Nazi can tell you that complacency in your routine is a bad thing, but I didn’t care. I started allowing my eating habits to slip a little bit. I still refused to eat after six for the most part, but I stopped trying to control how much I was eating. I didn’t realize how much I had been actually controlling my portions until I wasn’t anymore. I didn’t slip completely, I wasn’t that far gone, but for the first time in months, I felt like I was losing.
We still went to the gym, but we stopped going as often as we used to. I had finally gotten down to size 48 pants, something that I had applauded myself continuously for, but now they were starting to feel a bit tight around the seams. It was probably just a psychological reaction to my behavior, a sort of “no-no” mechanism that was subconsciously triggered by that guy inside of me who was so fervent about losing weight. The only thing was, he was getting harder to hear.
I was in the Colvin, just sort of meandering through the motions and thinking about the weight just being gone. The gym smelled like industrial disinfectant and years of sweat, neither smell broke through my dreams. I just wanted to weight gone. I wanted to wake up one morning and find that it had disappeared like a half-remember nightmare, forgotten before my head left the pillow. I would give anything for that to happen. I would gladly shave off years off my life expectancy, deal with the devil, consult the Mayan Calendar; I’d do whatever it took to have it vanish. It never did. Every day I woke up and it was still there, tugging on every part of my body, a grim reminder of so much more than physical weight.
I rotated to another machine, not even really noticing which one I was on. You were supposed to feel a good workout. You were supposed to have aches and pains, knowing EXACTLY what muscles you stressed. I would be lucky to remember that I even came here at all. I looked around with my hands on foam pads. Everyone seemed focused. Maybe they were just zoned out and any second someone was about to drop 90 pounds of careless lead on an unsuspecting and undeserving toe. I might have been that person. I still didn’t notice anything.
I remembered going to the doctor again. It was a different doctor this time. This guy was equally obsessed with my weight. He was a big, rotund, bald fellow telling me the ins and outs of weight loss while using a pompous X-Acto knife to cut out one of my ingrown toenails. It was weird getting fat-fighting advice from a guy who was a hundred pounds north of proper himself. It was like getting extinguisher training from a kiss-ass who is already on fire. He told me he would be happy with me getting down to three hundred pounds. I told him I would if he would.
I didn’t have a problem with authority. I had a problem with hypocrites. It was so hard for me to do something when I was being talked at by all sides. “Broc do this, Broc don’t eat that.” All the while they DID that and ate damn near whatever they wanted.
That was when the doctor wanted my blood. I didn’t really understand why. He sort of just sprung the request on me. In response to my raised eyebrows he said he wanted to get my blood-work done to see if I had a thyroid condition. When he talked me through what exactly that was, I had pounced on that idea with fervor. It was something I could blame my weight on that wasn’t ME. I loved those little tic-tac fairytale solutions. Every fat person does. So I kept my fingers crossed for a serious and life-long physical ailment to use as a perma-crutch. “No worries mate, I have a thyroid condition. That totally makes it okay for me to weigh this much. It is beyond my control. I can eat this cheeseburger with my super-special thyroid issues” It sounded like a good plan, even more so because diseases had medicine. I was hoping for a bottle of pills that righted 20 years of accidentally overweight.
Then, about a week later, we got the blood-work back. He waddled in and flipped open his medicinal clipboard, scanning the results. His eyes glowed expectantly. They were no doubt reflected in mine. It turned out that I didn’t have a thyroid condition. He told me so as he rummaged back and forth, looking for an error or perhaps a hematologist with a nasty vendetta against folks with high cholesterol. Then I saw his eyes fall. We said damn at the same time. We both seemed confused at the other’s reaction. His seemed weird because I was a patient who was sad due to good news. Mine was weird because a doctor had just willingly wished ill on a patient. There was an infringement on the Hippocratic Oath in there somewhere, but since he only wished harm in passing I guess it was an ethical gray area.
So that had ended those high hopes of illness. An odd hope if ever one existed. With a disease I could have kept pretending, using every crutch that would support my weight.
I was still sitting on that machine, completely zoned out. I quickly pushed out a couple of repetitions and tried to clear my head. The smell of rubber and foam mixed with fresh sweat clogged my senses. A smell that once sounded progress started to cloy in my nostrils. I still wanted an excuse. I looked around. That was something I had never really done. Usually I only focused on me and what I was doing. I learned long ago not to look too close at the way people might be looking at me, because it was never something I wanted to see. Alone in a crowded room was something I had a penchant for. There were virtually topless men with torn shirts flung across their shoulders like tattered banners of a fitness soldier’s commitment. Then there were girls in tight spandex and ponytails, tiny iPods attached to every imaginable surface that didn’t hinder 360 degree rotation. They all looked so content. They all looked so fit and wonderful. I would take 20 years off of my life just to look like one who was completely average, not fit, not fat, and not me.
I let the weights drop, the harsh clang of dense lead slamming onto form metal sounded across the open room. The sound echoed off steel beams and plaster. I didn’t care. Casual passerby would assume the noise was some frat guy ‘roiding out and slamming iron.
I couldn’t do this.
I tried. No one could say that I didn’t give it a valiant effort. I felt suffocated. I felt sick to my stomach. If I couldn’t have it now, it wasn’t worth it. I just wanted to eat. I wanted to sit on my ass and do nothing for the next 5 to 10 years. Losing anything should never be that difficult. In this case it was more than I could bear. I wiped my forehead, then let my hand hover 6 inches from my face. I could see fat there, even in my fingers. I didn’t have to look to feel it along every inch of my body. It was less than what it was, sure, but what was that worth? I was used to waking up each day fat. I would still wake up tomorrow fat. I was used to it.
I felt crimson rush my cheeks and looked around to see if a voyeur had witnessed my shame. There were none to be found. I stood up, felt my knees creak, and walked toward the exit.
I felt like I was stealing something, like I was doing something illegal. I was giving up on weight loss. There should have been someone to stop me. Someone at the door saying encouraging words to get me to turn back around, tilt my head back and charge back to fitness. There would be a modest employee keeping an all day vigil for those of us who needed him most. I looked up making my way down scuffed tile, half expecting him to whip me back into shape with a quirky comment. Then, with cartoon finesse, I would stroll back and man my montage.
No one was at the door. I pushed through, shoved meaty fists into cramped pockets and walked on into the biting cold.
The days blurred. I made a few more attempts at the gym here and there, and I tried to keep a handle on my eating. I could feel my already loose grip slacken. The only place I was still succeeding was not eating later than six. It was easy enough to keep myself in check there, fraternity dinner was at 5. As long as I didn’t see it I didn’t want it. Out of sight out of mind met out of sight out of stomach. So when it came to food I would bolt it down then bail. It worked, and it made me feel like I hadn’t given up entirely. I was still “doing something” about the whole weight-loss thing. I started eating things I knew weren’t good for me. It doesn’t take a degree to recognize what you I should and shouldn’t be eating. Anyone who tries to say that they just aren’t “aware” of what is bad for them is swearing through sugar frosted teeth. It is simple. The solution is simple. The getting there part is not. I had stopped looking almost completely.
Acea could see a change in my behavior. He knew something was up. He has never been the type to question things though, he goes with the flow, and this time he just let me float on by on a lethargic river of my own self pity. He never liked being told what to do and he never tells anyone else what they should do either. Black thoughts crept into my head almost constantly. A never ending stream of why I wasn’t good enough.
“I don’t want to do this.”
“I can’t do this.”
“No one gives a shit about me anyway or else they would have noticed.”
It was a darkness that crept in from the corners of my vision until it was all I could see. I tried to keep a grip on myself, to rationalize the truth and tell myself everything would turn out. Before I could get the words out I felt grip slacken, sweaty fingers slip, and an exhausted conscience give in. Then I was swept under, surely to drown below the blackest tides imaginable, the ones only I could create.
And I didn’t even care.
That was how life went for me for a long time. I fell back into old rhythms, found familiar niches of existence and watched as if from another person’s life as I let myself go. I stopped going to the gym. My hair got longer. I hadn’t shaved in weeks. I looked awful, and for the first time in memory, I wasn’t wrapped up in every other person’s opinion of me. I went to class for something to do. I was in the very definition of a funk, and proportionally my funk was pretty massive. I just lay there in the base of it too, looking at the pregnant clouds overhead and not caring that I wasn’t wearing a jacket.
I didn’t really talk to anyone, just went through the motions of life as I still cared to project to the world around me. I ate what I wanted and when I wanted to eat it. My waistband did not approve. I ripped a few more shirts by trying to stretch them out to go around my swollen body. I did it all without thinking or feeling. I just was.
Then one early spring day still clinging to windy Oklahoma frost, I was given something that was going to be a pebble to my avalanche. Without discord, warning, or reason something happened. Breath was given to me, a guy who was intentionally holding his head under the waves. That is sort of how life happens though, one minute we are drowning and the next we are drinking.
Acea and I were going back to the gym one day. He was now the only person who could talk me into going at all. I drug my feet through the whole preparation process, dreading the whole affair, knowing it was pointless. I promised him we would do this together, and I was going to try and keep my word to whatever extent I could. Pulling on an old t-shirt became painful. Putting on each shoe became more pointless than the last and I only had the two feet.
I knew I was in an extremely dangerous place in that moment. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do anything. Every single day of doing something you don’t like is a day you don’t want to. That is why you didn’t already do it years ago. The very best you can hope for is to get to a place where you can tolerate it, where you can stand the dieting, the weird eating habits, and the late night staring contests with processed chicken fingers. There will be a time when you can take what you know to be the right course of action at the right time. Until that moment though, it is a damn struggle every second you are conscious. I knew that. I expected it. It is a price you have to pay to be in a place where you can be happy. The part that scared me in this precise moment was that I no longer cared to eve try. Still, I decided to go, if only for Acea’s sake.
We were walking out the big, ornate front doors of the fraternity house when one of the guys who were sitting on the front porch did a lazy, almost confused sort of double take. He seemed like he didn’t really know who I was, or like he had forgotten my name. I don’t remember what he said, it was a generic sort of statement, appreciated but forgotten in the presence of that look. That was when I realized something tantamount: I didn’t want to be recognized anymore. I wanted to fully transform who I had been into who I wanted to be. The best compliment was going to be not being acknowledged for what I had been all my life.
“Holy crap Broc, you look amazing.”
I felt needles dance along my spin and heat grow to my face. My stomach swooped and for a second I thought I had missed a step going down a 60 story set of bleachers. It happened without warning or regard, but it was the dose I had needed to survive. Even more than that, it was a shot of adrenaline injected into my eyeballs clearing my vision better than any lens.
I smiled at him and nodded. In that one instant, with one look, he had lit me on fire. My skin tingled; the wind blew past my face, but all I could feel was the heat of spoken word. My internal pilot had almost guttered out, and with one sentence it had been doused in the kerosene of a kind word and was now blazing bright. I knew exactly what was about to burn.
I took a deep breath and checked my waistband. It was a habit I’d been doing every day, mentally recording my progress. A big, goofy grin filled my face like a half eaten orange peel.
I started walking in the direction of the gym. Then I started to run. Shortly after beginning I stopped. Heaving and panting, clutching a stitch in my shoulder like a bullet wound, I slowly straightened up. I wasn’t in shape yet. There was no need to have a treadmill montage just yet.
It is amazing how much one kind word can completely change your perspective. Words always seemed to tear me down. I never thought they could build me up just as quickly. I envisioned that surprised double take and smiled, alive with the glory of possibilities. I took a deep breath and felt all my muscles protest in fear of the coming beating. It was going to be a long day for all of us. But the day had dawned, and with that spark of light I could see where I needed to be, I could look down and see who I had the potential to become.
There wasn’t a moment of epiphany, even though everyone always asks me when my occurred, as if it is a prerequisite for life change. It isn’t a stunning realization to recognize you are extremely overweight. You live it every moment, stepping on landmines and watching your feet do it, then wonder why your feet hurt. It doesn’t take a drastic event. Instead, it takes a few words. And a few words, said at the right time, for the right reasons, can make every ounce of difference.
To hell with whether I could do it or not. So what if it was impossible. I didn’t care if I fell. I was going to get right back up. I was doing this. I lifted two brazen middle fingers to a world who always told me I couldn’t.