Like so many clichés that have preceded me, in the months before my wedding I exercised vigorously and lost a bit of weight. (Aided in no small part by the Charles Atlas Program I was researching for a story.) It has been less than three months since the day I was married and if someone asked me to recite my vows today I would only be able to frown and shake my head. It’s not because I have forgotten my vows, or have rescinded them; it’s just that these days my mouth has been so preoccupied with a constant stream of cakes, cheeses, bourbon, and candy that there’s scarcely any room in there for words.
I am out of shape. Or, more accurately, I am in shape but it’s a new shape — one that no longer requires a belt, and suddenly finds the elastic band of underwear “restrictive.” This new shape also came with a weird exhaustion with the slightest exertion. Something as simple as walking around my apartment and eating refrigerated cinnamon roll dough from its cardboard tube makes me almost dizzy, and causes my breathing to become labored, like Mickey Rourke in the opening minutes of The Wrestler.
On this sprint to ruin, I’ve tested Lisa’s devotion, patience, and gag reflex over and over by drawing constant attention to my new flab. Any time Lisa makes eye contact with me, I take it as a cue to lift my shirt, expose my belly, and tug at it like a suspicious-looking beard. If Lisa isn’t looking at me — something that’s been happening with greater frequency these days — I’ll go through the same belly-grabbing drill, making sure to also cry out, “WHAT HAPPENED TO ME?!!?” It’s become an almost unconscious behavior. Sometimes I’ll just find myself in front of a mirror, distractedly cupping the curve beneath my stomach, Thomas Beatie-style. After a large meal, my knee-jerk response is to expose my stomach like some kind of animal, and just stare at it hatefully, whether I’m in my own apartment or a fancy restaurant filled with French people. I know this embarrasses Lisa, but it’s something I do without any self-awareness at all. It’s some form of Tourette Syndrome triggered by self-loathing.
To help save my marriage — to her great credit, Lisa is not horrified by my flab; only by the way I constantly draw attention to it, privately and publicly — I returned to the gym earlier this week, barely sure what to do once I arrived. Jumping Jacks? Squat thrusts? Suicide drills? And I could almost deal with the exercising if I didn’t have to suffer through the dressing and undressing part. Maybe if I lived in Gary, Indiana, I would feel more solidarity with other gym patrons but at my gym in Manhattan many (all) of the other men are in such excellent shape that all I can think is, “Why are you here? You’re finished getting in shape. Congratulations. Now go home and have some waffles–you’ve clearly earned them.” Next to them, with my medium-soft breasts and the faint outlines of abdominal definition concealed within a fatty quilt, I expect I look like one of two things: Either a guy who was once in reasonably good shape and has recently gotten out of the hospital after a three-month-long battle with pneumonia, or a guy who has never been in shape before and is just discovering where his muscles are located.
I plan to keep returning to the gym, even if it means undressing privately in a bathroom stall for a few months. I’m also going to try to change certain habits in my diet, because I’ve learned that good choices can gain a certain amount of momentum, just as bad choices beget more bad choices. For example, drinking four glasses of wine last night begat defrosting the last remaining slab of our wedding cake and caking it up at one a.m. last night. I guess that’s an example of bad leading to bad. Unfortunately, I can’t think of any examples of good choices right now. It’s probably because these sweatpants are cutting off some of my blood circulation, and making me light-headed.