I am fat. Yes, you read that correctly, and yes, I really said that F-word. I am not being self-deprecating, and I’m not a victim of poor body image. Actually, I’m not a victim, period. By any measure, on any scale, I am fat. I could rationalize it for you, explain all the reasons I may have ended up a fat person, but frankly, it would feel like making excuses, which carries its own kind of shame, so I am confining myself to the simple declaration: I am fat.
I haven’t always been fat. As a child, I was thin to a point that caused my parents some consternation—for me and for themselves. They worried that I might be ill, and that strangers might think my parents were neglecting me. Of course, neither was the case. But at puberty, everything changed. I started to gain weight—and embarked on the single most body-, heart-, and soul-crushing struggle of my life. Make no mistake—there have been periods during my adult life, too, where I have not been fat. Every few years, I’ll decide that I’m up to experiencing that special combination of joy and misery that comes with any effort to lose weight. Inevitably, though, I return to being fat.
Here is what I am not: I am not lazy. I routinely work 10, 12, 16 hour days, not because I have to, but because I enjoy my work. I rarely sleep more than four or five hours in a night. I am not self-centered. I take care of my four dogs and my cat, my sister, and my dad (when he’ll let me). I look out for and support my friends and my colleagues. My sense of responsibility and loyalty demands it. I am not needy. I try to be as self-sufficient as I can possibly be, and prefer not to ask for help if I can avoid it.
I do not make myself a priority. I do not eat a healthy diet. I do not exercise regularly (at least not on purpose). I do not complain when I am in pain or feeling sick. I do not take vacations regularly. I do, however, put a tremendous amount of effort into ensuring that my failings do not affect or are not visited upon those I care about.
And that’s why I am worried about Achilles. Over the past few months, he has gained weight. He’s not a small dog, but until recently, he has always been rather lean. Now he’s starting to look more round.
I feel compelled to stop here and explain my history with this dog. He was born feral—I seem to have a penchant for the type—and was brought to the local Humane Society as a pup. He was adopted twice, and returned, twice, through no fault of his own. When I met him for the first time, he had given up on people. In a last-ditch effort to find him a forever home, his foster mom showed him as pet of the week on the local morning news show.
Guess who happened to be watching that day. There he was with that beautiful hound face and those haunted eyes. Days later, I could not get him out of my mind. My heart told me that if I did not take him, he would never be adopted. So I made an appointment to meet Achilles.
His foster mom warned me about his lack of trust. “Don’t be hurt if you can’t touch him at first,” she said. “He’s extremely shy, and he’s lost everyone he has ever loved.” She explained that she would have him on a leash when we arrived to help him feel calm and safe, and to prevent him from hiding under the bed the entire visit. When Debbie and I arrived, Achilles was sitting on the couch next to his foster mom. After introductions and small talk, she invited me to sit next to her, so that Achilles would be between us. I admit it—I was nervous. I wanted him to know that if he put his trust in me, he would never, ever have to worry about seeing the inside of an animal shelter again. He’d never have to wonder if he mattered to someone. He’d never have to be afraid of being alone.
So I sat next to him, almost gingerly, and resisted the impulse to reach out to him (fingers curled under to resemble a paw, of course). I settled in my spot and almost immediately, Achilles lay his head in my lap. Only then did I rest my hand gently on his side and run my fingers over his silky fur. I think I breathed, but frankly, I don’t remember. I am pretty sure I teared up, and I know I smiled and looked at Debbie, whose smirk said, “Oh yeah, he’s coming home with us,” as surely as if she’d spoken the words aloud.
Two beings who both craved and feared connection had found each other. You may need to know that your spouse or partner is close by so that you can rest comfortably. I find that same solace in Achilles. I usually fall asleep to the pressure of his head pressed against my shoulder and the sound of his gentle snoring. We keep each other grounded, give each other purpose.
This weight gain is worrying me. I watch him walk to be sure he isn’t in any pain. I feed him super-premium dog food (and very few treats) to ensure his diet is nutritionally sound. I check his skin for rashes. I hold his face in my hands and look into his eyes. Are they bright? Interested? Mostly, though, I am terrified that I have somehow caused this weight gain. That I have somehow managed to make my dog suffer for my sins. That I’ve transferred my fatness to someone who is as important to me as any human I know. And I think constantly about how I’m going to rectify this wrong.
First step: we’re going to the vet. Zach had thyroid issues, so maybe that’s what’s wrong. Right now, I just don’t know—and frankly, that’s what’s so scary. But I’ll tell the vet the same thing I always do: “If it’s fixable, I want it fixed. Whatever it takes.”