My dad left when I still had a month to go in the darkroom, and historically when people have tried to figure me out (as in, "What went wrong?"), they usually conclude that Mom spoiled me; gave me everything I wanted because I had no pappy. Truth is, Mom thinks I'm a whole lot better off without that particular pappy and has told me a thousand times she's glad I had the good sense to stay packed away until he split. They were young. My mother was my age now when I was born, and so was my dad.
I don't know very much about Dad, really. In eighteen years he's made no effort to contact me, and all I have is a picture. He's a college professor somewhere in the Midwest, Mom thinks in Geology. She doesn't think Geology is in the Midwest, she thinks that's what he teaches. The fact that he's excited about rocks hasn't had much genetic influence on me as far as I can tell, but what I see in the picture of him has. My dad is a tub of lard. At least he was at eighteen. I'm not talking about a guy who should have gone light on the desserts and between-meal snacks. I'm talking about a guy who should have spread Super Glue on his lips before showing his face outside his bedroom each morning. My dad could have sold his extra chins for marble sacks.
And my mom is a fox. Really. Bonafide, hundred-thousand-dollar silver-pelt fox. She has dark brown hair and green eyes and this slinky, long, muscular body that she keeps in perfect working order, and I know for a fact half the kids who come to my house hope to catch her in shorts and a tank top. Christ, she's only thirty-six years old.
"Mom," I said one morning a couple of years ago, Dad's picture clutched tight in my beefy paw, "tell me something. Tell me why somebody who looks like you would fall for somebody who looks like this." I plopped the picture on the coffee table in front of her.
"Looks aren't everything, Eric," she said.
"His looks aren't anything," I said back. "And he left them for me."
She looked up and smiled. "You look a lot better than your dad," she said. "He was compulsive, ate all the time. You're big and solid. That's different."
"Big and solid as twelve pounds of mashed potatoes in an eight-pound bag," I said. "If you dressed me up in an orange and-red sweater, you could ride me around the world in eighty days."
"And you have a much better sense of humor than your father," she said, probably remembering Dad's high regard for rocks. Mom was never one to let me dwell on the parts of me I didn't like.
My name is Eric Calhoune, and though I have spent hours in the weight room since that conversation, most folks call me Moby. My English teacher, Ms. Lemry, who is also my coach, sometimes calls me Eric the Well Read, because I'm pretty smart. She also calls me Double-E, for Eric Enigma. "I can't figure exactly how you're put together inside," she says.
"You're a jock who doesn't compete in his best sport, a student who doesn't excel where his aptitude is highest, and you surround yourself with a supporting cast straight out of 'The Far Side."'
"Tweech his own," I said, and pirouetted to tippy-toe out of the room, in keeping with my image as Double-E.
If my belly button were a knothole it would certainly be more congruous with my keg-like body. I have chiseled away at my father's genetic code since I realized I was better equipped to roll to school than walk, but the bare-bones me is still more Raymond Burr than Arnold Schwarzenegger. All of which wouldn't matter, but for the amount of time that belly button is exposed, which approaches four hours a day. I'm a swimmer. I probably don't have to tell you the Speedo people don't employ William Conrad as a fashion designer, and I therefore do not step onto the starting blocks looking like a Sports Illustrated fashion plate.
Looks alone would be enough to keep most guys with my particular body design as far away from water as the Wicked Witch of the West, but swimming is a thinking man's sport and Ms. Lemry is a thinking man's coach. Besides, it keeps me far from the clutches of Coach Stone, who has been trying to get me to come out for wrestling since I was a frosh because he fancies me unbeatable as a heavyweight, which I very well might be. But the idea of a permanent gash across the bridge of my nose and mat bums on every pointed appendage does not appeal to me no matter how many trophies I might walk away with. I'm not a great swimmer, but I'm good--a lot better than you'd think looking at me-and I like the challenge of the clock, as well as the people involved. I also like the wake I create for the guy in the next lane.
We're eight thousand yards into the workout. Lemry's whistle blasts. "Let's wrap it up. Twenty-five yards. All out. Five breaths." Five breaths. No sweat.
"Twenty-five yards," she yells two laps later as we pull ourselves onto the deck at the far end. "All out. Three breaths." The oxygen bill is in the mail.
"Twenty-five yards. All out. Two breaths." Serious oxygen debt begins.
"Twenty-five yards. Did I say all out? One breath." The whistle...Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes EPB
Excerpted from Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher
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