During physicals in doctors' offices, I averted my eyes from the scale and instructed the doctor not to tell me the number. Usually the doctor just chuckled as he wrote it on his chart. Sometimes he said, ''I'd like it if you lost 5 to 10 pounds.'' He never said, ''You're fine the way you are.'' I know because I listened for that — listened for some indication that I was wrong about myself. Ten pounds: it wasn't a disaster. I recognized that. But it was aggravating. Maddening. It was the distance between me and some confident, enviable, all-American ideal that might well be mine if I could just turn away from yet another quarter of club sandwich, from the third buttered yam at Thanksgiving, from the second bowl of ice cream I carried up to my bedroom on a weeknight when I was up late studying.
The extra weight was the confirmation: once a fat kid, always a fat kid, never moving through the world in the carefree fashion of people unaccustomed to worrying about their weight, never as inconspicuous. It was the stubborn thing I seemed least able to control, and I often felt that all my shortcomings flowed from it — were somehow wrapped into and perpetuated by it. If only I could fit into pants with a waist size of 31 or 32 instead of my 33s and 34s, I could walk briskly and buoyantly into a crowded school party instead of hovering tentatively at the door, unable to decide whom to approach and questioning whether my approach would be welcome.
With 31s and 32s, I could wear whatever color and cut of shirt I wanted instead of the vertical stripes and the dark blues, browns and blacks that Mom said flattered me most. I could wear the madras sports jacket I'd tried on in a Hartford department store, the one she told me wasn't ''particularly slimming,'' or the kind of red plaid flannel shirts that looked so good on some of my male classmates. My romantic thoughts turned to them in a way that clearly wasn't going to be fleeting, and while my realization of that didn't unsettle me as much as it does many gay teenagers, it aggravated my self-consciousness.
During my senior year at Loomis, I got to know a girl, whom I'll call Beth, who was also self-conscious and at war with her hunger. I sensed that instantly, and it was the main reason we became best friends. Like me, she was angry at her body, which didn't match her face and undercut the beauty of it. Due to genes more than sports or anything else, she had the broad shoulders and thick thighs of a football player. And though her stomach was flat, her waist was broad. She was on a constant mission to whittle it down. And I joined her, convinced that together we would reach what neither of us had reached alone: the wondrous Xanadu of the willfully emaciated.
One day she put a thin paperback in my hands.
''Read this,'' she said. ''Then we'll fast.''
The book talked about the evil that sweets did to blood-sugar levels, the spikes and valleys they created, the insatiable hungers they bred. It recommended a three-day cleanse — no food, only water — that would break the cycle, purify the body. It promised mental clarity in the aftermath, along with an ability to manage cravings, if they even returned.
''You're doing what?'' Mom asked when I refused dinner on Day 1 of my cleanse.
''Fasting,'' I responded.
''That's ridiculous,'' she said. Even Mom had limits.
''This book Beth gave me says a person can last a really long time without food,'' I explained. ''Longer than we think.''