I just got back from the gym. It’s stupid and useless, I know, but listen to the rationale, twisted and error riddled, by my continued journeys there to engage with gravity and mass. Maybe that will clear up the picture I’m building of myself, this life space that I’ve wrapped around me? Who knows why you’re continuing to engage with this?
So, growing up, I was a fat kid. My mother, should she be alive today, would naysay this claim, but it’s objectively true. I know for I have seen pictures of me in my middle childhood. There is one in particular where I’m holding a U.S. flag inside of a church. I’m standing on the raised platform from which the pastor would bloviate - I can distinctly remember the specks of white spittle that would collect at the corners of his mouth that he’d wipe away with a quarter folded white handkerchief - and I was smiling, my face a serene and pudgy melon through which already shone the appetites and heinous desires that haunt me to this day. The shirt I wore was button down, a checked pattern, and it swole at the belly. The pants were baggy, jeans, that I knew had been shopped from the local Wal-Mart, specifically in the “husky” section of the Rustler brand. That idiotic visage heralded everything my current gym-going self would come to loathe about my frame.
My middle brother knew of my fatness as well and, hurtful as he is known to be, used this shape to shame and mock, forever burning in me a fear of the obesity that could befall me should I ever stop berating myself for being a fatass. I can remember summers spent with him alone in the trailer. He’d keep up a near constant barrage of insults, calling me out on eating. I’m sure there were physical barbs too - a poke here, a twist there. He specifically hated that I chewed with my mouth open. This was a product of growing up in a non-fluoridated water system, poor dental hygiene, and a sugar rich diet that made my milk teeth rotten and cavity filled, a pain to chew with and horrendously odorous. My mother and father when they were home, would remind Jude that I couldn’t help it, the teeth being what they were, but this failing of mine seemed, to Jude, to be my own personal one and one for which the remedy was my not being a continual piece of shit. It’s funny how the past sticks with us like this, no? To this day, people’s normal chewing noises drive me mad and I can’t oblige when some savage of an adult allows their children to smack their lips without correcting their behavior. It’s disgusting, truly, and if anyone here chews mouth agape, you need to fix yourself you troglodytic maniac. 50000 years of civilization and there are still people out there smack smack smacking away at their repast. Utterly foul.
So I was fat, right? Enter the food. The fare around home was typical lower rent highly processed trash of which my father was a fan. He claimed he had a “sweet tooth” and would buy all manner of confections and delights and cookies and cakes. This was on top of the weekly ration of six or more liters of soda for the house, Coca-Cola, that was parceled out, grog style for dinners or an after school bevvy, or whenever really and maybe the parceling was more akin to an open bar than climbing the main mast for a cup of water to accompany your rum. In addition, my mother was no rookie at baking and the cookies and cakes flowed, from scratch. It was an odd compromise, in my mind these days, that she had to allow my old man his indulgences in the sugary arena and this, coupled with cigarettes - non-filter Camels when times were fat and trash-tier Dorals or Cavaliers if we were experiencing a belt tightening - was a sort of poultice on what must have been the throbbing pustulent wound that was abstinence from booze. I can recall Mom looking down on boxed dinners and canned meals of the Hamburger Helper or Chef Boyardee type in favor of “home cooked” and just as calorie dense meals like pork roast with creamed corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, bleached flour rolls, with as many chocolate chip cookies as we could wash down with whole milk. It was as if she were hearkening back to a time in which she grew up where her 8th grade educated mother and antiquated father had struggled to feed their brood. Many times was I shamed for my parents’ provided opulence when I would complain about this or that, when I rightly should have praised God that there were more than enough to eat and Christmas presents weren’t a solitary orange “wrapped” in a paper bag with the top twisted shut. The old man had similar views, likely inherited and infrequently referenced, about his family dinners in a house full of six children and a father who labored greatly under the southern Mississippian and Louisianan suns.
He told this story once about Sunday dinner. My gramps and grams were Depression babies and grew up in one of the poorest (still) regions of the country. Grandma was part Mobile Indian and grandpa had half Biloxi Indian blood running through him. Even into their senescence they were brown beyond all reason, a phenotype unexpressed in my skin. They’d become adults accustomed to hardship, but also, from my impression, people who knew the good things in life. Grandpa’s saying whenever we showed up to visits still rings in my brain, “Eat what you see and what you don’t see, ask for.”
The story the old man told went like this. Sunday dinner, after Mass, Grams would always make a roast chicken, of which, every part was consumed. Well, Grandpa had been doing better, bringing home more dough from whatever construction jam he had been running, and grandma decided she’d be indulgent and buy a second chicken for dinner the next week. This bird too was consumed in toto along with the first and yet the children clamored for more. Checking the digits, Grandma decided that a third chicken was feasible. The appointed day of rest came and three birds were devoured and still the mouths cried for more. Grandma was so incensed that she claimed, and this isn’t a direct quote, that if all the children were so spoiled that they could eat three times the amount of meat and still protest they were not filled then she could save the money and go back to baking one chicken if the resulting bitchery was the same.
Me and food. Jesus. Just the other day my third wife, A, got into a monstrous row over food. Here’s the jam. I work late some days and when I come home there is very little I want to eat in the home. Harboring my old shame about the corpus, I elect not to buy the trash food that I would microwave had I that appliance and so the larder is unstocked with things I want to eat. Now, A was a vegetarian (vegan at some point?) and so her fare tends towards things of the meatless variety and so the leftovers from dinner at my house are very often veggie or soy based. I could heat up these items but then it’s late and I’d have the dishes to clean and I don’t want to as it cuts into my substance abuse time. Choices B.T., as my friend Dan would say. So I don’t eat because I don’t want the extra work and caloric load because I don’t want to run to fat but the ensuing lack of blood sugar leads to the grumpies. I became increasingly incensed that there were no Hot Pockets or Pizza Rolls or similarly garbage pre-frozen treat on which to gorge and furthermore that we are without the proper machine to prepare those things and so I got MAD and then I got even more wine drunk and I went to bed, stewing. Morning next, A and I had it out and many things were hashed and she assured me she wasn’t judging my food choices and didn’t care what I ate so long as I had something and were not a toddler, kicking and screaming on the floor because his stomach was empty.
In an effort to increase domestic tranquility, just today after the gym and before a pre-work trip to the weed shop, I stopped by the grocer’s and ordered two pizza sticks. The pizza stick is a truly abhorrent snackable, similar, in a way, to deep sea thermal vent worms in its appearance. It is an enclosed, deep fried stick of dough whose core is a molten amalgam of Mozzarella cheese, sauce tomate, and pepperoni bits. Utterly foul in execution yet appealing to all the primate brain fetishes of calories, fats, sugars. On the way to the shop, I inhaled the sticks, holding the too hot bites on my teeth and blowing through them as I drove. I felt better, sated, but disgusted at the action. Some old beliefs die never.
Young me, a roly-poly tub of a white boy, smiling languidly on a stage, holding Old Glory, having his picture made in a South Mississippi church. He’s still in here, propping up that flag, simpleton grin, screaming against the passage of time.
About the Author: Benjamin Toche is a baffled man wandering about his current hometown talking to birds. He received an MFA in creative fiction writing from the University of Alaska Anchorage and is winner of the 2018 Write Well Award. Internet him for further details.