Too Big

(01/21/2010) My dog and I got too fat. I didn’t realize it until that nice couple visiting from Colorado took photographs so they could reminisce.

Durell Godfrey, Photographer

When they sent me the picture, I was dumbfounded by reality. I had to lose weight, to get small again. That very day my dog, whose name is Ralph, and I ate less.

The diet was going fine until the afternoon walk, at which time Ralph found chicken bones, crab claws recently pecked, a deer carcass, and paper tissue, all of which he ate. It was as if the universe were sending out false food, sort of like the Federal Reserve printing out more money.

I had made the mistake of securing potato chips in a glass container to keep them fresh but I could see through the glass. I was looking right at the potato chips knowing that they were the enemy, knowing all that salt would blow me up. I tried to convince myself that if I didn’t actually think of them as potato chips it was permissible to eat them.

My left hand opened the jar not knowing that the right hand would put potato chips in my mouth. When one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing, the physical body will pay.

I grew to twice the size I used to be. Looking in the mirror I wondered from where the other half came. When I was in my 20s, I was tiny. I roomed with a New York City Ballet dancer who put a heavy lock on the refrigerator. Balanchine was the name of her boss and Balanchine liked small heads, long legs, and very skinny bodies. So I had the key to the lock.

In order to make myself breakfast, I had to unlock the lock then unloop the heavy chain that wrapped around the refrigerator two complete times and then some. After getting the refrigerator door open, I took out bread, jam, and an egg. I then looped the chain around the refrigerator twice and locked the lock.

I started to make breakfast but realized I forgot the butter. So I unlocked the lock and unlooped the chain, got the refrigerator door open, took out the butter, then looped the chain around the refrigerator twice and locked the lock.

Even with the chain and lock, my roommate was still getting too much food, not unlike Ralph. What I learned from this experience was that you cannot put a fence around the kitchen or a guard beside the dog bowl. The calories always cross the border. They are everywhere. In the summer they dig the garden into my stomach. In the winter they shovel the snow into my mouth. Who knew that snow created a flurry of overeating.

Everything got too big, not just Ralph and me. I don’t know when it happened. It just sneaked up on us. The woman down the street used to sew but then the store on the corner started selling dresses. Then the big manufacturers came and they manufactured clothes for the whole world. The woman down the street doesn’t sew anymore and the store on the corner got squeezed out by the big manufacturers who then got eaten alive by the cheap labor of world manufacturers who now manufacture clothes for us.

“How can you be a military power and you can’t even make your own uniforms?” says Claudio, the scientist half of the Colorado couple. I always telephone him when I need valorous insight. I listen to him because he had the courage to marry my roommate the bulimic ballet dancer who still is very thin, still looks 24, still can defy time and space, still goes by the stage name Henrietta.

Quietly, with the air of a discredited diva, Henrietta grabs the phone and says to me, “Fortunately I like everything oversized.” I never know for certain if she is following the conversation or merely displaying her passion. If you could get into her head, you would probably find that she was thinking romance, remembering long ago luring Claudio the bachelor backstage night after night when the theater was empty.

Back then the two of them were quite the item – she with her long auburn hair, green eyes, curled smile, and Claudio with his thick hairy body crowned with black waves. Sitting next to him at the ballet I would always notice the stroking of the mustache as his searching brown eyes followed Henrietta’s flight across the wide Lincoln Center stage. Her disregard for gravity caused his thick bushy eyebrows to rise over his horn-rimmed glasses. I knew this was an affair of the heart that would last.

When Henrietta begins retelling the small triumphs and large miseries of her dancing career (most of which are a figment of the imagination), Ralph returns from a marrow-bone-gnawing ecstasy to rescue me from the phone. He and I look at each other and know that eating is imminent.

In the minutes that follow I make notes for each amount that Ralph and I are allowed. I organize 23 possible portion ideas on four pieces of paper but Ralph eats them all then looks at me as if to say, “I don’t want to hear it, just feed me.”

I say to Ralph, “My duty is to obstruct the power of my hunger and your hunger.”

He looks at me as if he agrees.

I continue, “Ralph, what will become of a country where responsibility is nonexistent and greed is all-encompassing?”

He nods yes. Ralph and I see eye to eye. Relations between me and my dog are unproblematic but relations between me and my truck-driver appetite have never been easy.

Claudio always says that when you get older you either blow up or dry up. I wonder if my fate was spelled out the moment I was given the key to the refrigerator.

My dog sort of tells me in an anthropomorphic way not to worry about it, that we will shrink in time. He and I walk outside into the embrace of the night. After sniffing the ground searching for food, he looks up and studies the harvest moon then sits, throws his head backward, and, with great authority, does a long cello foghorn howl.

Ralph died small. He got cancer and struggled for 10 months. I struggled for him and with him. We both lost a lot of weight. We loved each other, fat or thin.

Half of a moon is in the sky. I look up and wonder where the other half went.

The last thing I said to Ralph was, “The hole in my heart is going to be too big.”

Someday Henrietta on a harvest moon will dance toward Claudio while I sit next to Ralph who is playing a cello as we watch from a star.