By Brittany L. McCann
(This story contains disordered eating.)
The numbers on the digital scale blur through my watery eyes as the Birthday Song is belted out in a possible worst signing voice contest down the hall. I wipe the back of my arm across my eyes and stare down at the green glowing numbers on the scale: 122. My heart catches in my throat, and I try to gulp through the sudden pain as I envision my college dreams flushing down the drain.
There’s no possible way I’m going to make weigh-in before tomorrow’s meet. How did I gain two pounds in a single day? My mind whirs through a list of food from the past 24 hours: green tea, two celery sticks, two doses of Ex-Lax, five carrot sticks, ¼ lb. of plain baked chicken breast, and one glass of water. I didn’t even enjoy any of the cupcakes or food at the party, filling up on my glass of water to pass the dehydration test tomorrow.
Last year I finally made the Varsity Wrestling team, and this is my final year to show my potential to college recruiters before graduation. I grew three inches over the summer, and there was finally an opening in the 119-pound weight class after Deke graduated. Moving up into his weight class has come with new pressure to succeed and pull my team to the state championship. I made weight at the beginning of the year, but now I’m afraid I spent too much time becoming stronger, and the heavier muscle mass is weighing my body down.
Scattering bottles and toiletries around in the guest bathroom’s storage, I hold up an off-brand maximum strength laxative over my head in triumph. I break the seal on the bottle and take two long pulls that slide chalkily down my throat. I lift the lid to sit on the toilet, hoping to expunge this oppressing weight from my body before returning to the birthday party. Nothing happens, and I vow to return soon before putting the seat down.
No one seemed to notice I was gone, and when offered a cupcake, I expertly sneak it to the dog and pretend to have enjoyed it by wiping some of the frosting on the side of my mouth.
Lately, I have become an expert at pretending to eat.
As I’m finishing up my homework before crashing for the night, my mom clears her throat in the doorway. I cringe inside and mentally prepare myself for another conversation about her being worried about me and me assuring her that I am fine. Mom rambles on about how I am a growing boy and not eating my fair share of dinner. I mentally respond with agreeable noises.
At dinner, mom keeps glancing my way to see if I am eating. In between the glances, I quickly ball food into the extra paper towels I grabbed and shove it in the front pocket of my hoodie to hide it. I will get rid of it later.
If I set my alarm clock early, I can pour cereal into a zip-lock bag to throw away at school and leave a mess on the table as evidence for mom. Some days I change it up and crunch up a bunch of toast on a plate while taking the rest to throw to the ducks in the park, rather than adding empty calories to add on to the already excess weight of my wrestling body. I pinch the fatty skin at the waistline of my pants in disgust.
The final wrestling practice before the opening season meet is tonight, and I find myself staring down at the scale in the training room, willing tears to stay in my eyes. Coach Davis looks at me, shakes his head slowly, and says that I have until tomorrow morning to lose at least one more pound or I won’t make weigh-in.
If I don’t make weigh-in, I won’t be wrestling in the season’s first meet. If I don’t wrestle, then I don’t make the Varsity team. If I don’t make the Varsity team, then I don’t go to college. After practice, I wait until the rest of the team has dressed and left the locker room before I start punching my locker. My hand throbs as I pull back for another punch, but Coach Davis comes up behind me and sternly tells me to see him in my office.
Failure looms over me, strangling me with a one-pound rope, and I stand sheepishly in front of coach’s desk, trying not to choke on my emotions. Coach Davis isn’t one for a lot of words, and there’s no need to talk about something that is already a known issue. He pulls open his desk drawer and grabs a round tin, sliding it across the desk toward me. This object isn’t foreign to me or any other wrestlers across the country. It is a valuable appetite suppressor, making it an invaluable tool for cutting weight: chewing tobacco. I have always prided myself on not needing to resort to it, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I swipe the can from his desk and quickly shove it into the open pocket of my bag, zipping it up before I can change my mind.
As soon as I get home, I feel like the world can see through me. The world now has x-ray vision into my bag and my future actions. I know nothing will keep me from putting that first dip into my mouth. I check to make sure mom is preoccupied making dinner before I sneak the can with me into the bathroom and take a huge pinch of the black tobacco mass in between my thumb and forefinger. I try to remember what the older boys looked like when they did this, and I make a macho face at myself in the mirror before pulling my lower lip out and shoving the wad down hard, crossing into manhood.
Manhood is bile rising into my throat.
Manhood is a taste more disgusting than licking my month-old dirty wrestling singlet.
Manhood is everything I have ever eaten in life, gorging up from my stomach into my throat.
Manhood is violently heaving toward the toilet and unable to lift the lid before spewing black and pink chunks all over the porcelain and the wall behind it for what feels like an eternity.
Manhood is painfully dry, heaving on the floor any time the smell of vomit or tobacco reaches my nose.
Manhood is wanting to die and never have to think about cleaning up the dripping mess of chunks that smell worse than the bog of eternal stench.
I never want to cross into manhood again.
The plus side of entering and quickly exiting manhood in a massive ball of disgusting tobacco-y puke failure is that I somehow manage to make weight.
The downside is that I have two of my worst matches ever, with only one take-down and one reversal. I ended up pinned in both matches due to the weakness of my body.
I have quickly started the season with the lowest ranking of my high school wrestling career. Deke has shamefully made an appearance and wants to talk to me after the match. I have failed his legacy in this weight class and have fallen football fields away from filling his shoes.
I wallow in the locker room, wishing I could lock myself into one of the lockers. It is with a deep sense of self-loathing that I eventually shuffle out of the locker room. I look down at the ground when I reach him, studying the whiteness of his sneakers. My chest tightens, and Deke clears his throat. I wince as I meet his eyes, braced for reproach.
Instead, Deke places his hand on my shoulder, and, squeezing, the tightness begins to let up as he starts to talk. Miraculously, Deke is not mad at me. He comments on my height and advises me to wrestle up for a higher-weight class spot on the team.
His college laser vision seems to see right through me as he holds his hand out wordlessly for the can of chewing tobacco. I slowly unzip my bag and place it into his hand with eyes downcast, trying not to gag as a whiff of it slips into my nose.
He offers to help teach me better ways to maximize my body strength. He tells me that what I am doing is making me weaker. He offers to help work on a nutrition plan and tells me about lessons he has learned.
But his final words are the ones that stick with me.
“There are healthier routines for making weight.”
Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story