Pinch and Pull and Look Away

Michael Colbert
nonfiction

It starts on the scale. Except it doesn’t, because something else got you to step on the scale. It started a while ago.

You’ve never been good at sports, but you’ve always worked out. Your older sister has good workout ideas. When she’s home from college for vacations or long weekends, she asks if you want to go to the gym or the high school track to do a circuit workout. Boston Sports Club in town is nice. It’s on the third floor of the building, three long flights of stairs up, so you feel like you’re getting a good workout before you even start.

When you go to the gym, you see people from high school. Except they’re not your friends, and you don’t ever acknowledge that you know each other. They’re athletes; you’re not. You feel proud that you’re in the gym too, working out, running longer than they do, but you also know you’re not going to bench because you’d make yourself look dumb.

You’re on the scale again, and you’re not seeing any changes. You think back to when you were little. Every year you dreaded the annual physical. You were told to eat healthier. When the doctor asked you about sports you played and foods you ate, you always lied a bit. Yes, you ate veggies and really didn’t eat that much crap and you didn’t know why you weighed what you did.

Which, objectively, isn’t that much more than you should weigh, but you feel the weight add and add. You pinch and pull skin during dinner with friends. You clench glutes and abs and suck on the inside of your cheeks during class to keep working at it, working away at your body. You decide in college to get more serious because it’s when you’re supposed to be in your prime, and you want to look like it. You get into swimming laps at 7 a.m. before class. You start getting good, but you stop once the team starts practicing and you’re embarrassed to share a pool with them, to hop in with love handles and bigger thighs and no good arm muscles to carry you through ungraceful breaststrokes and forward crawls.

You’ve always liked running, and that’s good. When you run with your friend on the cross-country team, he remarks that it’s nice to take a break some days and slow down. You’re red in the face and have run farther than you have in months.

You go up and down. You only have a scale at your parents’ house, so when you’re home for breaks, it’s either a little victory or defeat. A defeat that won’t be helped by favorite meals made by Mom. The summer is worse because the scale is there every day.

Senior year is a low point. Working out doesn’t help. You can’t get comfortable in your jeans, your T-shirts, your button-downs. You pull them from your body in class and at work. One day, a friend pokes your bulky sweater, looking thick. You go for a run and swear off dining hall desserts.

When you graduate, you move away, far away, and start eating differently. Your shorts fall lower on your hips; shirts billow from your chest and shrinking stomach. You buy new clothes. Layers of skin fall away from you. When you’re at your parents’ you see that those layers are forty pounds. You feel good about it, but you start to feel scared. People are talking about your body. They’re looking at you and saying what they want. They’re compliments, in a way. Don’t lose more or it’ll be concerning. Wow, you look great.

And you think so, too; you can feel it in the smaller sizes you now have to buy. But you realize that the eyes have been on you all along. When you look at pictures from college, you feel good about the change but squirm at who you were. When you’re not at home anymore, you start to worry. Is it getting to be too much? But you also feel bad when you eat dessert or skip the gym. You wonder about tattoos or a new haircut so people have something else to comment on.

When you move back home, you feel the eyes on you, and you know they’ll be there if your body changes again. You’ll know it in the things people won’t say.

Michael loves horror films (his favorites are Candyman and Get Out) and coffee (his favorites are Ethiopian and Costa Rican). His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in such magazines as Avidly, Southern Humanities Review, and Kyoto Journal. Currently, he is pursuing an MFA in fiction at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. 

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