made it self-destruct. My body. I destroyed it.
It takes work to get as fat as I was. Not a fat child, I had to start pushing the limits in my teenage years. I’m five feet ten inches and at my most ambitious I weighed nearly four hundred pounds.
I filled out most in my shoulders, my back. I was massive; sometimes I went sideways through a door if it was slightly narrow. I liked it. It was a presence, my girth, that split crowds even from fifteen feet away. I could be benign and friendly without getting walked on like most quiet people. The only drawback was with women.
Luckily, I’m black. And because I am, being fat wasn’t the death of my sexual life. I was not quite middle class, but the pool of women I floated in as a teenager were working women: not nurses, but their assistants, secretarial trainees, cosmetologists and food servers at the concession stands of Yankee Stadium.
In the U.S., if you’re really heavy you’re probably not well off. Cheap, unimaginably unhealthy food is plentiful from Jamaica, Queens to the hills of West Virginia. In this setting even 250 pounds wasn’t beyond the realm of attraction. At 275, I was with a single mother who was considerate, kind and funny. These women didn’t find me gorgeous, but in their lives other characteristics far overshadowed my fifty-inch waist. Loyalty, consideration, a job. I coasted on their woeful expectations for as long as I could, a chunky knight in shining stretch pants.
But then came college.
Five hours upstate, I discovered another continent, one that found my fat distasteful, even offensive. And it was black women as much as any others who rejected me. I was in the middle class, the women were self-sufficient, thus the size of my ass was as important as my personality. More.
Though I made friends, socialized, I often found myself marching spitefully through a dining hall, my tray loaded with donuts and imitation Philly cheesesteaks, as if I could hide from the collective grimaces and smirks in my rising pile of candied treats.
It was a tantrum, but I enjoyed it. I like eating. When I’d swallowed half a log of raw cookie dough and my temples hurt, my stomach felt distended, near bursting, I would peel off the rest of the wrapper and force myself to eat the remains in front of a mirror in my dorm room. I was watching myself, chastising myself, saying, “Okay, if you’re going to die like this, let’s die.”
The summer before my senior year of college I was three hundred and fifty. I couldn’t get a date, but I couldn’t be quite sure how unattractive I’d become. I was still friendly, I made jokes and, in my mind, if I saw a woman smiling at me as she laughed I still had a chance.
I did not.
This became clear finally when one young woman and I spent many days together in the summer of 1994. She was slight and moved easily, always, as though she’d never had to give her body a thought. At the end of the summer she told my friend that I was “her perfect man, but he’s big enough to be two perfect men.”
It was an alarm bell, but I ignored it. I decided that all women were bitches and I returned to my dimly lit cave with a bag of Slim Jims and a forty-ounce container of Cool Whip.
My room did have a phone. A copy of the Village Voice sat on my bed. I flipped through the back pages, looking at the naked girls posed in the phone sex ads (there hadn’t yet been the boom in “bodywork” ads). Beside these I found another number, half a page high. The ad read: meet real live women in your area who are horny and dying to meet you.
I met some.
They were not prostitutes.
The women on the line lived in the Bronx or Brooklyn. Not all the women who ever called, but all the women I ever met.
The first time, I took a Shortline bus down to Manhattan from Ithaca, then a train back up to the South Bronx. I weaved through a cracked lobby door, then climbed to the second floor to meet a woman in her thirties who, based on two phone conversations, had assured me that if I wanted, she’d have my baby. I was up for the offer. Not the result of procreation, but the act that can result in it.
At her door I was aware of that eye that every man gets used to, the eye of a woman’s appraisal. In this case, the once-over was done quickly and expertly, like a jeweler’s, though willing to accept a great many more flaws.
She wasn’t pretty, but she looked better than me. We sat on her couch in the living room of her two-room apartment. We talked, but she sat far back, like an interviewer. Which she was. I lost my charm in front of her and she decided against a night of passion. She stood, went to her bedroom, unlocked the door and let out her son. He was about six and happy to play card games with his mother and me. Eventually I cobbled together enough indignation to leave. “I’m going,” I said. She was on the phone. She said, “Yeah.”
The next time I came down to New York City, I made sure to ask first, “Are we going to fuck?”
The woman said, “If you eat my pussy first.”
I went to her apartment, also in the Bronx. She called herself Big Time. She was a grandmother and she was thirty-nine.