Touch Up in the Rearview

IMG_2514When I was a young boy I lived with my parents in a cabin at the top of a sloped field in northwestern Vermont. The cabin was situated at the juncture of field and forest; it had two rooms and a loft-ish sort of upstairs, where my parents slept. I slept downstairs, in what could be loosely termed the “living room,” on a bed my mother made, beneath a window that opened to the deep, shadowed forest behind the cabin. I remember that once my mother propped open the window on a muggy night, and that sometime in the night the prop failed, and the window slammed closed, and shards of glass covered me: Torso, legs, arms, face. According to my mother, I never even stirred.

I think I have this story straight.

We were poor, but it was the sort of opt-in poverty of the inherently privileged, not unlike what I’m living now. Funny how that happens. My father had bought the property – 165 acres and an old farmhouse – for $15,000. We lived in the farmhouse for a short time (two years? Less?), then moved into the cabin. My father had a writing shack in the woods. My mother started building a log cabin in another part of the woods, but never finished. I don’t know why. She rode her bike to milk cows at a farm up the road. My father edited poetry anthologies and wrote a book. I remember when he used to cut the lawn, which wasn’t really a lawn at all, but more a carved out piece of the field, how I used to follow behind the mower swath on my big wheel. I remember how pleased he was that he was able to siphon water uphill from a stream across the road. I bet it was a half-mile away. I remember cooking outdoors, my father sitting in his chair in the crude kitchen area, smoking a Lucky Strike and reading. I remember the smell of the smoke.

I remember less than I don’t remember.

We moved when I was six, or maybe seven. My father had gotten a job in Montpelier; I think the poverty had become too grinding, or maybe the isolation, or maybe both. For a while he commuted, but it was 90-minutes each way, and I’m sure our car was not much to speak of, and so we left that land, the cabin, and moved to a small town about 10 miles outside Montpelier. My sister was born, and I started getting fat.

I got fat for a long time. I got so fat that when I was in sixth grade, I weighed 199-pounds, and I know that’s the exact number, because I remember standing on the scale in the school nurse’s office, willing it with all my larded self not to trip the 200-pound mark. As if there were a substantive difference between 199 and 200. A pound. Sixteen ounces. On one side of that pound, a certain joyless relief. On the other, despair.

I was awarded the joyless relief, but it was not enough. Not enough to get me picked for anyone’s team at recess, not enough salve the rash on the inners of my thighs where they rubbed during gym class, and certainly not enough to compel me to ever, ever remove my shirt at the pond where I swam as a child.

I stayed fat for a while longer, I guess until I was 13 or so, when I began to comprehend that my weight was an impediment to gaining the attention of the girls in my class. Around this time, I was hanging out a lot with my friend Trevor, who lived about a half-mile down the road from us. Trevor was my age, but he already had his first car, a decrepit VW Bug that he was constantly tinkering on. He was – and remains – a gifted mechanic and carpenter, one of those people who can fix or build just about anything. I have an inherent respect for people like that, almost no matter how profound their character flaws. Not that Trevor was profoundly flawed in this way; I admired him for his integrity, too. We used to bomb around the back roads in that car all the time, and he had an old motorcycle, too, with no engine, and we’d push it up the half-mile hill to my house, hop on, and fly. His parents sort of let him run wild. I guess mine did the same.

Anyhow, it was decided I really needed to lose some weight. Trevor said he’d help me, and this was appealing to me in part because I admired him so much, and in part because he was himself a physical specimen: Tall and handsome, one of those guys who probably emerged from the womb with a six pack of abs. And still has them. I figured if anyone could help me get ripped, it’d be him.

The weight loss therapy we settled on was elegant in its simplicity and utilization of materials on hand. Basically, what I’d do is skip lunch, then we’d sit in his Bug with all the windows rolled up on hot, sunny days. In my memory, the Bug was painted rattle-can black, but I don’t know if this is really the case. But I do know it got really, really hot in there, and that Trevor would sit with me until it got too hot for him to bear, then leave me to my sweaty devices while he retreated to the shade to hydrate with a cold drink.

Of course, this didn’t lose me any weight beyond the temporary shedding of excess fluid (and I always to so damn hungry from skipping lunch that I’d eat twice as much at dinner), but I think it felt good to finally take control of things, and over the next year or so, I lost the majority of my baby fat, and have been fairly thin ever since. I still have a little belly, have always had it, probably always will have it, but I’m ok with that. I am not vain, at least not in relation to my physique; for the most part, I accept its quirks and flaws. I swim with my shirt off all the time, now. Maybe it helps that there is no mirror in this house; I shave over the sink, then carry my razor to the truck, so I can do touch-up in the rear view. I don’t mind what I see there. It’s just who I am.

That’s it, I guess. Just in the mood for story-telling.




23 thoughts on “Touch Up in the Rearview”

  1. Fat and cheerful, as if you knew nothing of the downside to being fat. I liked that wee cabin, and especially the snowshoe tracks that were made in the woods behind it.

  2. Love this story! Since I just found out yesterday that my 10yo son (who is no couch potato) just gained 22 lbs. [and 2.5 inches] over the course of the past year, your story is particularly relevant. Also, love the feeling of the wood in the (new house?).

  3. Interesting story of your early years. My sons went through a fat stage around 10-12 yrs. of age. I guess it’s genetic as apparently the same was true in my spouse’s family. They all grew out of it, thankfully!

  4. After a 30-year medical career during which time I witnessed a 99% failure rate with weight reduction efforts, I am compelled to understand that anyone who succeeds at this can succeed at anything. Congratulations Ben . . . and continued successes!

  5. That was a very interesting story. Makes me think about in 4th grade a friend and I decided we needed to go on a ‘diet’ and the terms were that we would only eat 2 king size candy bars a day…each. I think about this American diet that I was fed as a kid, and continued on eating into adulthood, and I get a little upset about it. Even things we were told were healthy (vegetable oil!) were not. Wtf. Your house looks awesome!

  6. Nice. Also interesting cause I know your dad.

    I always wonder if one’s body is an expression of one’s soul or just an accident. I don’t suppose we’ll ever know.

      1. That is awesome! I know the small sense of accomplishment and pride that comes with something you make/build yourself, but it must be an amazing feeling within your own home. I occasionally see an odd scrap in my shop and I remember cutting it and exactly what I was making and perhaps even who stopped by while I was making it or a question my 5 year old asked while I was making it. Some of those scraps are years old now but still hold powerful memories. I would be willing to bet that there is a knot or two in your home that invoke memories of a particular moment on a sweaty, sawdust covered afternoon by the saw mill. Now if I could only find my car keys…..

  7. I’d be happy to bring over a spare mirror, as I happen to have one, but I know that’s not the point and you’d probably politely decline it anyway. Great story today.

  8. Good one, Ben!

    I hope all is well.


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  9. Reminds me of the picture of you shaving in the rear view mirror on your wedding day which appears in one of your books. I’m sure you could not imagine then what experiences would be in your rear view now.
    Love the interview with Diego! I always learn something new each time I hear you speak. Peace!

    1. Dawn, what is the interview with Diego? I must have missed something. 🙂
      Talking of interviews, I enjoyed the interview of one of my favorite inspirators, Scott Noelle: https://www.dailygroove.com/ednextgen-follow-up/

      Ben, that is a nice story. I like the humbleness and approachability in it (details of the exact diet missing notwithstanding 🙂 ). I imagine, these type of stories are so interesting for your own boys to hear.

  10. Hi ya Ben, Yeah running wild. I did that and still do of sorts. It became a theme for my life – get interested in something, get good at it, get a job doing it, get over it – repeat. It makes for a pretty satisfying life. Kids no-a-days just get shunted from one sport, activity, school, whatever to another. Sort of like artificial stress. I am so glad I didn’t have that. It’s kind of shaped me in a way that is hard for other people to understand – maybe not for you. I hear of dead lines and some of my friends jumping to it. Me I aske them who is going to die? Why does it seem so important. Why bother. If you miss it then mostly they will shift the dead line so…..

    Bestest wishes

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