I was the one who got the best report cards and who preferred mental to physical activities, in part because I was so uncoordinated — the klutz, as Mom often called me.
''How's my big klutz?'' she would say — tenderly — as she mussed my hair and investigated a bruise on my cheek that I had received from losing my balance on the way up the stairs and falling.
''Watch it, klutz!'' she would yell — testily — when I plopped an empty plate on the counter in a way that made a plate already there plummet to the floor and shatter. ''How can you be so klutzy?''
I didn't know, but I suspected it had something to do with my weight. That was the most obvious physical difference between Mark and me, between me and Harry. By the time I was 6, I was bigger than Mark: not just taller, but heavier, by a good 10 to 12 pounds, only a few of them attributable to the then-slight discrepancy in our heights. I wore pants with a waist size two to three inches greater than his, and I sometimes had to be taken to the husky section of boys' departments to find them. Husky: I knew that wasn't a good thing, a flattering thing. Other kids made sure of that.
They joked that my initials, F.B., stood for Fat Boy. Mom told me to ignore it, but there were moments when she herself reminded me that I was larger than I should be. Frustrated by my failure to fend off an older girl at school who regularly taunted and shoved me until I gave her my lunch money, Mom said, ''Next time, why don't you just sit on her?'' Mom had never seen her but made the safe assumption that I outweighed her.
Whenever I went to the doctor for a routine checkup, I hurried off the scale, trying my best not to hear him tell Mom, yet again, that I was more than a few pounds above the recommended weight for a child of my size. I could see, in the Christmas-card pictures that Mom took every year, how much fuller my cheeks were than Mark's or Harry's, how much broader my waist was, and I knew that in one of these pictures, I was holding Adelle — the last of us, born four years after Harry — because I had volunteered to, figuring that it was a way of obscuring the whole middle stretch of my body.
I wasn't obese. I didn't prompt stares or gasps. I was just chubby, and sometimes quite chubby, with a hunger that threatened to make matters worse and a gnawing, deepening self-consciousness that Mom picked up on and that she decided she might have a solution to.
Mom was a sucker for fad diets. Like Dad she was always heavier than she wanted to be, though her range was smaller — she'd be, at any given moment, between 5 and 15 pounds over her goal weight — and her resolve to do something about it was more frequently renewed.
She did some diet that required the consumption of a half-grapefruit at a half-dozen intervals during the day — it didn't work, as I recall, but it certainly kept her safe from scurvy. There was a popcorn diet, and for a while the sounds that most frequently escaped the kitchen were the vacuum-like whirring of an air popper and the crack-ping-crack of the kernels. My mother believed that somewhere out there was a holy grail of weight loss, and she would be damned if she wasn't going to find it.