I remember standing in the shower with the steam rolling around me. The roar of the water combined with the whir of the fan created a loud, encapsulating experience. White stripes, about the width of three fingers, stretched across the middle of the door just enough to shield one’s private parts should someone enter the bathroom. In a house full of two adults and four children, such an invasion always proved likely. Even the dog committed the occasional incursion.
I remember staring at that clear glass with the white stripes. We once had a frosted glass door, but when my sister pushed it open too hard, it shattered. The shards fell everywhere and managed to slice open her forearm in the process. The neighbors put my two older siblings and me to bed that night because my parents drove her to the nearest emergency room, which was thirty minutes away.
I remember thinking my sister would not return home that night or any other night ever again.
I remember the beige stain that would appear on the floor of the shower. My mother made one of us scrub it every three days with powered bleach, but that brown residue never relented. With six people using one shower, Comet didn’t stand a chance against the constant barrage of oil, dirt, and, in my case, urine.
I remember the metal drain in the center of the shower floor. At one time it appeared silver—a round, metallic plate with twenty-three holes. The drain had taken on a greenish tint, however, with a bit of blue mixed in. It reminded me of shipwrecks featured in those shows with strange sounding men that hunted undersea treasure. Bits of mashed Dial clung to the edges of the holes on the underside of the drain. When the soap wore down to a sliver and careened to the floor, we would press it against the drain until it pushed through like sausage in a grinder. We took my mother to the brink of insanity.
I remember all the bottles lining the perimeter of the shower stall. My mother and two sisters each had their own brand of shampoo and conditioner. My dad complained he barely had anywhere to stand because of all the plastic containers. Dad told my brother and me just to use the bar of soap for our hair, but I actually used my sisters’ stuff. I would wash my hair every other day while making sure to switch from one brand to the next to the next. This method served me well for months until my oldest sister recognized her scent of raspberry atop my head during an impromptu wrestling match that resulted due to my unauthorized use of her athletic socks. As the youngest member of the family, I mastered the art of scavenging in order to fulfill my needs.
I remember looking down in the shower only to see my tummy blocking the view of my toes. The hot water hit the back of my head and flowed downward. It caught my dark hair in its currents and pushed my bangs into my eyes. I saw black tendrils hovering over a pink balloon—my fat gut.
I remember hating myself.
I remember my sisters, my brother, my father and mother—they were slender, toned, slim, strong. You could actually see my brother’s muscles through the skin of his stomach. I didn’t understand. My legs were lean, as were my arms. But my face carried a lot of flab in the jowls and my stomach—it looked like someone blew up a beach ball inside of me.
I remember being so confused. We all ate the same foods, drank the same drinks. Why were they so skinny? Why was I the only tubby member of my family? To make matters worse, it seemed like I got fatter every day. Wasn’t it bad enough that I regularly got the lowest grades amongst my siblings? Didn’t the world beat me up enough in that I always got picked last for sports? My oldest sister earned multiple academic scholarships—colleges lined up for her approval. My oldest brother consistently won the lead in every school play through elementary, middle, and high school. My other sister, though only a year older than me, could outplay anyone at soccer. Everyone agreed the Olympics could be in her future. Me? I could eat twice as much bread at dinner as my entire family combined. That was my only claim to fame.
I remember feeling hopeless. My grandmother once called me chunky when we hosted Thanksgiving. She said I inherited it from her side of the family. After her proclamation, I slowly and inconspicuously backed away from the table before fleeing to the room I shared with my brother. I sobbed for an hour before my mother found me. She tried to assure me that I would thin out. She compared me to a squirrel saving up for the winter. According to her, I would soon hit a growth spurt. This sudden growth would burn up all of my blubber as I got taller and taller.
I remember thinking that was bullshit.
I remember looking down at my gut in the shower. It would glisten like raw chicken meat as the hot, soapy water streamed over it. It stuck out so far that I couldn’t even see my thing. My best friends were thin as could be. We ate the same food at lunch—why weren’t they fat? Pudding pies, Twinkies, Nutty Bars, Swiss Cake Rolls, Cosmic Brownies—we all ate them! They drank Coke just like me, too.
I remember wondering if I would always be fat. Would I just get fatter and fatter? Would my arms and legs start to swell as well? Was I eternally destined to be the beefy kid? Would girls like me? Would I ever find someone willing to marry me? What would PE class be like for the rest of my life? Would coaches keep teasing me worse and worse, year after year? Would my dad’s friends ever stop accusing me of sneaking beer? Would the middle school kids bully me? Would people laugh at me until the day I died?
I remember standing in the steaming, noisy shower while praying to God to make my chubby gut disappear before sixth grade.
Copyright © 2018 by Scott William Foley
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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