(This is part two in a series of interconnected stories about fatness. The first part is here. I would recommend starting there. Part three, the finale, is forthcoming tomorrow. I would come back for that one, too.)
In the years after that trick-or-treating gone wrong, so many people told me I was fat, needed to lose weight, probably shouldn’t be eating whatever I was eating, definitely should get up, get out, do something. Doctors, teachers, my classmates, complete strangers, people on the subway, in the mall, diner waitresses with the extra syrup, checkers at the grocery store discerningly ringing up the food they knew–I knew–I shouldn’t eat.
What they didn’t say to me I could read in their eyes, widening at my size, my appetite, the heaviness of my breath when I took the stairs, thudding on each step. I was a boy who could out-eat men, outweighed many twice my age, a third more my height, but none close to my belly size, which was, throughout my teen years, large enough that I needed more than a seat on the train, where the leers were intense, passengers hoping I didn’t end up in the one next to theirs, surrounding them with a wall of fat and sweat.
I could recount each incident, like the one with the woman on Halloween, where someone thought they were doing me a favor–“You just have to walk.” Or maybe it was run. Push-ups. Sit-ups. Eat right–wheat bread, juice, low-fat this or that, V-8. Cut out the red meat, the sweets and all the snacking. And don’t forget to watch my cholesterol, take my vitamins, drink less soda. It worked for their mother, their father. An aunt or brother or cousin, a friend, someone at work–the Atkins, Weight Watchers, a Bally Total Fitness membership. Everyone told me I should lose weight and how to do it, how whatever I was doing was wrong, how I should and shouldn’t eat, should and shouldn’t exercise, but I never listened, some reminded me.
No, I listened. I heard everything said. Repeated it in my head. While looking at myself in the mirror. Heard it repeated to me by my mother, only nicer, by my classmates, only meaner. I was fat as a house, a car, a cow, an elephant, Chubby Checker, Chunk from “The Goonies,” Private Pyle, Richard Simmons before he lost the weight and started wearing all that teal mesh. Earthquakes were born with each of my steps. Elastic waist bands cried when they saw me coming. The only thing left after the Apocalypse would be Styrofoam, roaches and me, and then I’d eat them both. But I could lose the weight if I just did what everyone told me to do.
I listened, but couldn’t–wouldn’t if you asked some, maybe– do it because what they all told me made me sadder than I already was (A simple equation, really: no dad + depression x too much food=fat, young Brian.) and when I was sad, I ate. And even when I tried–cut out the ice cream, walked to school, passed up seconds, thirds, I still wasn’t happy. I would always be what everyone didn’t want me to be–fat. There was nothing I could do.