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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.