With the weight, the eczema has returned and I’m 290 pounds, again, with thick-flaking-red-scales at both my elbows, under one knee, on the joints of the two small toes, to the left of the big toe on my left foot, and covering the bulbous joint that sticks out like a little knob where the hand meets the arm. My partner, Gustavo, knows the medical name for all of these joints; he’s studying to be a nurse.
When he looks up from his anatomy books in the evening he finds me worrying at the little clear bumps around my wrist, rubbing them into a solid sheet or peeling the flakes of skin away to reveal the red swollen under-skin. He’s a slapper; whacking my hand away and, in a sort-of rapid succession, he recites a number of infections that the rough digging of my nails might be inviting in. I hesitate, sigh, stretch my hand, and return my eyes to the pages of the grammar book I’ve been perusing. I hadn’t realized I was scratching, but, slapped and given an oral list of Latin nouns, I know I must’ve been. It’s pretty standard procedure when we’re studying on the couch.
We’ve been living together for about a year and have been sequestered by one another for nearly two. There is no question about love, but there is no explaining it either. I’m comfortable with him, happy to see him every day, and driven to the brink of insanity when I find his balled up ankle socks under the couch cushions Monday through Sunday. That I stay through the latter is proof enough for me.
When we met, I weighed 160 pounds, had decent musculature, only one chin, and took pride in dressing myself in-style each day. The longer we’ve been together, the more weight I’ve put on. So far as I’ve heard, this is pretty common amongst couples getting settled in. A lot has changed since we’ve shared a bed, a house and bank accounts. A lot has become a little more difficult. It’s harder, for example, to find nice clothing when your almost 300 pounds. My wardrobe has been whittled down to some colorful, elastic waist, old man dress-shorts, a few collared button downs that, un-tucked, break my body well below the waist, and a new “Dr. Who” T-shirt, XXXL, that Gustavo ordered for me off of a website. The t-shirt is my favorite, but I can’t wear it every day.
I was wearing my DW t-shirt though, while at Fry’s last Friday. Gustavo and I had made our rounds and were grabbing some last minute produce items, broccoli and “guero” peppers. Gustavo is one generation removed from Mexico and for a while I thought that guero meant ghost, but it means white--even though the peppers are pale yellow. I was telling him how ridiculous it was to call a yellow pepper a white pepper, and avoiding running into the people in front of me, when I heard my name being yelled and turned to see my friend Maricella, her three small children, their dad (her sometimes boyfriend) and her pregnant swollen belly, bagging some tomatoes nearby.
“John! Hey, what you guys doin’out here so late in the evening?” Said Mari.
“My God Mari, you’re huge. We’re just getting some veggies for Matt’s party. When is the baby due? Are you guys coming tomorrow?”
Gustavo had been shaking hands with Akim, Mari’s insignificant other, and another short middle aged looking man wearing black jeans, a baggy white t-shirt and a black head covering. I hadn’t noticed him before, but leaned over and stuck out my hand by way of greeting. We shook and exchanged pleasantries as Mari confirmed she, Akim and the kids would be coming for the birthday party tomorrow night and told me the baby was due September 13th.
“This fool can throw down in the kitchen man!” Akim was addressing the short guy, Mari’s older brother I’d been told, who smiled and looked me up and down.
Using his left hand to flatten the hanging t-shirt against his own rounded belly he said, “Well he sure looks like it anyway.” He was smiling and we all had a nice laugh. Mari asked for my habanero stir fry recipe and I said I’d write it out for her and have it tomorrow. I hugged her, waved goodbye to the kids and smiled while rounding the corner of an aisle.
Once around, I couldn’t help it. My smile bowed and I could hear the squeaky left tire of my unwieldy grocery cart under the hum of florescent lights above. I had showered, shaved, layered my new t-shirt with a matching striped button down, wore some soft leather sneakers and accessorized with scrutiny. I had picked at my hair in the mirror for 20 minutes and finished with a sigh of satisfaction. I thought I looked cute. I was vindicated when, leaving the bathroom, Gustavo planted a kiss on my cheek, said “babe, you look very cute,” smiled and asked if I was ready to go.
And here was this stranger, a man who had only just met me. He saw none of the effort I put in, he didn’t remark upon my praised cooking or my ability to pair colors with colors and patterns with patterns, he just saw a fat guy. It’s as if, because I’m fat, I can’t be good at anything. Nothing about me is worthy of remark, except for my size. As I threw the groceries onto the conveyor belt I couldn’t help but feel worse. Here I am, Friday night, buying more food. Gustavo knew I had taken offense and tried to make me feel better by whispering mean things about Mari’s brother; telling me “he’s just ghetto,” “he’s fat too,” and then, the only thing that ever helps a little:
“I love you, no matter what.”
“It isn’t my size babe, that’s really bothering me,” I said. “Though that does bother me too, it’s just that, well…well, to be looked at…” I said while walking through the parking lot, “to be looked at and judged as something that would rather roll or plop than walk or run is just scratching the surface of it.”
He opened the trunk and as we loaded the groceries I could see his trepidation. His left eyebrow raised, his little lips parted as if wanting to say something but unsure, afraid it might be the wrong something. I knew I was overreacting, but continued anyway.
“Yeah, of course that person knows that’s what you’re thinking—sometimes, because a person knows what’s thought of them, they start to believe it too. But it isn’t very true. If I’m a fat character in a fat story I have the authority to say I’m not lazy or I’m no more apathetic, less so even, than anyone I know. I’m not justifying fat-- it doesn’t need justifying. Fat people exist. They always have and will continue, too. Their stories are big and the other characters, the ones with the lithe under-indulgent bodies don’t have the space necessary to hold them. Another gross inaccuracy, sure, but If I’m a no-good-do-nothing fatty, then I’m sure you can understand why you’re a boring, inhuman, conformist skinny-bitch. Ugh. But now I’m no better than you. Now I’m writing your story. Moving on.”
“Nope, babe I’m not following you. You’re all over the place.”
I sighed. “To be fat, babe, is to tell without saying a word, to have a story, however poorly written, before you ever feel comfortable sharing your life with anyone else. What story, differs as a matter of opinion; whether the carrier of all the extra details or the author in the produce section at the local market, writing the story sans research, the tale of fat is rife with inaccuracy, fraught with generalities and untruth. It’s more prolific than the bible or Harry Potter or Dickensian Cities and the most subjective, creative, fallacious, disturbing lie the world tells over and over and over again.”
“Babe…what the hell does fallacious mean?”
The windows were down and we were pulling out of the parking lot. I laughed. “Is that what you pulled from everything I said?”
“That and fraught,” he said. “Who even uses the word fraught when they’re speaking? If you talked to everyone the way you talk to me, no one would talk to you. That would solve all of your problems.”
Again, I laughed. I told Gustavo about fallaciousness and about the professor who used fraught so often it became a part of my everyday vocabulary and forgot, until later in the weekend, the grocery store incident. He called me a “guero” and I told him that while the term was more appropriate for me than the yellow pepper it was still being used in a fallacious manner because with all the Irish heritage and eczema, I tend to be more red than white.