THE WEIGHT OF IT ALL
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There is no hint of the sun. The darkness is complete. My breath makes small clouds when it hits the frigid air as I make my way into the gym. It always surprises me, I am not the only one; class will be full. 5:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning and every bike will be taken. I’m a bit later than usual and someone is on my bike. I know it’s not my bike. I can’t lay any claim to it. But it is the bike I always ride. I like its gears, I like being up front, close to the instructor, dead center, it’s what I like. The woman on it is big. Fat. Her ass is huge. The bicycle seat has disappeared under all her weight. I’ll just bet, someone, maybe her husband or boyfriend, maybe her parents, who knows, gave her a gym membership for Christmas or Chanukah. They always show up at the beginning of the year, new members filled with the resolve to get fit. Most of them put in the effort for a month or two, and then disappear. I wonder how long this one will last. It took a while to gain all that weight hanging off my bike. It’s not going to go away anytime soon. She’s in for a rude awakening; this is a hard class. I’m sure most everyone in here will consider this class their workout for the day. For me, it’s just a warm-up for my run. I can’t believe she’s on my bike, up front, dead center. Why would she want to be up front and dead center with that huge ass? I can only imagine what that ass will look like when we have to get out of the saddle and pedal; I guess I’m going to be forced to find out. Why didn’t she pick a bike in the last row? No one would have to look at her fat ass if she were in the last row. I just don’t understand people sometimes.
I climb onto the bike to the left and one row behind her. I tell myself to be nice, at least she’s here, at 5:30 a.m. on a Sunday, give the woman credit. She’s trying. I have to think she’s here because she wants to lose that fat ass. It can’t be easy. Still, couldn’t she try losing it in the back row?
“Good morning,” I say to my son, as he comes into the kitchen, rubbing his sleep-filled eyes. His hair is tousled and his pajama bottoms are falling off his skinny hips.
“Morning.” He smiles that impish smile of his. “What’s Doris doing here?”
“It was really late when your dad and I got home last night. I didn’t want Doris driving home so late, so she spent the night.”
“What, you’re not happy to see me?” Doris smiles. She’s been the kids’ babysitter since the day Ella was born.
“I’m happy.” Conner throws his arms around her. His small arms can’t quite reach all the way around.
“I’m going to Disneyland,” he says.
“We know,” Ella says, sounding bored and impatient. “You’ve been talking about it for like all week.” She is sounding like a true teenager.
“You’re not going.” Conner sticks his seven-year-old tongue out at his sister.
“Yeah, well, I’m going ice skating.” Ella takes a bite of her omelet and points her fork at her brother.
“Sounds to me like everyone is doing something fun today.” Eric comes in, his hair still wet from the shower. He gives me a kiss, prompting Conner’s, “Gross.” Ella smiles, she’s beyond the age of thinking her dad giving her mom a kiss as gross.
“What are you doing today, Mom?” Ella asks. “I might be going shopping for someone’s birthday.”
“Somebody has a birthday?” Eric teases as he pours himself a cup of coffee.
“Ella. Her birthday’s Wednesday.” Conner likes to keep track of events that involve cake and ice cream.
“Really? Are you sure?” Eric teases.
“Let me help.” Doris can’t stand that I’m making breakfast without her help. I tell her to sit down and let me take care of it.
“Mom, can we go running later tonight, if it’s not too cold?”
“Sure. You know who should run with us some time?” I serve Ella a piece of nine-grain toast and place my hands on Doris’ shoulders. “Doris! You should come with us,” Ella smiles.
“I don’t run. I’m allergic to it.”
“You are? I think I’m allergic to broccoli,” Conner says.
Everyone begins talking at once. Ella is excited about her birthday. She reminds me of all the things she wants. Conner is excited about Disneyland; “The happiest place on Earth,” he says, grinning. Eric and I discuss the upcoming fundraiser I’m in charge of to benefit the local animal shelter. We briefly touch on politics, but with Doris present, I feel a familiar pang of guilt for all the recent political arguments about immigration, knowing how many of her family want to come to our country to work, how some have come in illegally and are trying to make a better future for themselves and their families. We talk about our upcoming triathlon season. Eric complains how hard his morning workout with his personal trainer was, and filled with fake empathy, I tell him about my morning run that resembled a roller coaster ride because of the hills. Conner wants to know why we don’t go to church. Ella tells him God is all around us and we don’t have to go to church to appreciate Him. I think of how lucky I am to have two kids who are so bright and beautiful. Toby begs for a treat, prompting me to say the dogs need their teeth cleaned. It is a typical Sunday morning, filled with good food and easy banter.
“Matt says we’re going to have an earthquake and the earth is going to open up and swallow all our houses up.” Conner is always quoting something his friend, Matt, has said. It makes me think Matt should be a novelist one day.
“That’s so stupid.”
“No one’s stupid. And even if we do have an earthquake, the earth isn’t going to open up and swallow our house okay?” Eric is trying so hard not to laugh.
I have a moment, just a quick moment, where I envision the earth opening up and swallowing us whole like in some horrible horror film. I have to shake the image away, the silliness of it. My life couldn’t be any better. I have no reason to be afraid of anything.
She has such a pretty face. Contrived as it is, it is the only thing that comes to mind looking at the poor girl. She looks to be about the same age as Ella, twelve or thirteen, a difficult enough age without adding an extra eighty, no, more like a hundred pounds. The mother is huge as well, wearing a garish yellow top that showcases folds of fat, looking like children’s plastic swim rings, stacked four high, from under her massive breasts to the top of her rotund thighs. Why anyone so abundant in size would choose to wear a clingy, bright yellow top is a question I can’t answer. Do you own a mirror? A fair question that begs to be asked, and I would love to hear the answer.
The girl holds up a rosy pink tank top and asks if she can buy it. Only if you want to look like a stuffed pig, I think, disgusted by a mother who would let her child follow in her obese footsteps. It’s one thing to be a little chubby, a bit round, like our Doris, but being obese is a whole other story. Try as they might, no one can blame being obese on genetics, chubby yes, obese, no. My favorite is the low thyroid excuse. Seriously, except in rare cases, I highly doubt a low thyroid is the cause for obesity. People are obese because they can’t keep from shoving their mouths full of food: fried foods, fatty foods, foods filled with sugar, huge portions of unhealthy food shoveled into willing mouths. No one has ever force-fed anyone into obesity. No one ever got fat eating broccoli, unless it was covered in butter or cheese. This poor girl is a result of her parent’s revolting eating habits. It does make me wonder about the dad. I can’t help but smile to myself, wondering if daddy is a skinny beanpole of a man, a chubby chaser—eww—or if he is as big, or bigger than the mom—double eww. As much as I try not to, I wonder about their sex life. The thought makes me smile, as I picture the couple having sex dressed in hippo costumes. The mom—seeing my smile—smiles back, two moms out happily shopping for their daughters. I let my smile stay in place, but inwardly, I feel such sadness for her child. Kids can be so cruel; I have to think the poor girl gets teased. But as I squeeze by them both, I think again, she has such a pretty face.
It is a good day. I managed to get all of Ella’s birthday shopping done in one fell swoop with just a trip to the mall. She is turning thirteen, which is a scary thought, my having a teenager. It’s hard to believe that thirteen years has gone by since she was born. I remember being so afraid of being pregnant. I was so fearful something would go wrong with the baby. Then there was my irrational fear of hospitals. There was the fear I would never get my body back.
I felt so out of control, watching my concave stomach expand as my body morphed, changed and ballooned as the weeks went by. I delighted in feeling the baby move, then would panic when it was still for too long. I was so scared of the idea of labor and delivery. All the Lamaze classes in the world couldn’t ease my fear.
It seems silly now, the worries and the fears. Eric was there for me, calming me. He has always been my greatest support in everything and anything. He was thrilled when he found out we were having a baby. He wanted a boy. I think most men do, even the ones who claim not to care, saying all they care about is a safe delivery and a healthy baby, touting the good father party line. I wanted a little girl. We both wanted to be surprised, so we didn’t let the doctor tell us what we were having. As much as Eric had said he wanted a boy, the minute Ella was placed in his arms, I could tell she would be his little princess; she would be his daddy’s girl. It seems so long ago and like just yesterday.
Thirteen years old…a teenager! I don’t know if I’m ready to deal with a teenager. I wonder if my fairy tale child will turn into the Wicked Witch of the West, but that seems impossible. Ella is beautiful, smart, funny, and remarkably mature for her age. She is also athletic. At five-six, she is already two inches taller than I am. Most of her height is in her legs. She has the legs of a gazelle. And she runs. She did her first half-marathon before Christmas and won her age division. She was quite modest about her win, saying only that it was an easy courseit wasn’t. She was all radiant smiles and wore her medal to lunch and all the rest of the day. I would catch her, when she thought no one was looking, gently holding it between her fingers, a talisman won, a smile spreading across her lovely face. She quietly exuded pride in winning, as though harboring a wonderful secret.
She turns thirteen on January 7th. I always try to make her birthday special because it comes so soon after Christmas. She routinely gets robbed with people giving her Christmas and birthday presents in one. She’s never complained about the all-in-one gift giving that everyone seems to favor. Ella isn’t a child who complains about much of anything. So, I always make it my mission to make her birthday special. Her brother, Conner has the perfect birthday, May11th. School is still in session so kids are still in town for the requisite birthday party. No two-for-one gift giving where Conner is concerned.
So, for her birthday, I bought her a leather bomber jacket she has been coveting since she first saw it in November. It was on sale, greatly reduced at sixty percent off the original price. The one great thing about a January 7th birthday is the after-Christmas sales. So, of course, I bought her clothes, probably more than I should have, but everything was on sale! And a Pandora bracelet, earrings, and the one gift she wanted most, a dog to call her own.
Ella has wanted her own dog for some time. We have two dogs now, Eric’s big, floppy, Good Will Ambassador, golden retriever Toby and my Jack Russell terrier mix, Alfie. He is a scrappy little rough-coated, ten-pound, crazy mutt. He is my running partner; he can run for hours without tiring. Our dogs are family, loved with great fierceness. My mother has always said never to trust anyone who doesn’t like animals. I thoroughly agree and most days, I think the company of animals far superior to people. So, I headed to the store in the mall, Hope Pets. The owners, a lesbian couple, Dee and Joan, remind me of driftwood, weathered and etched with lines, gray hair worn closecropped, both women having blue eyes, Dee’s, the color of aquamarine. They give proof to the idea that people begin to look alike after years together, the two of them, partners for over forty years. Every animal in the store is from a rescue or shelter and some, owner surrendered. The landlord gives the women reduced rent on the space, making it affordable for them to sell the dogs, cats and array of rodents that were someone’s throwaways. Discarded, unwanted, animals wanting only to be loved, Dee and Joan nurture and vaccinate, groom and socialize them until they are adoptable.
I found the perfect dog. She is ten months old and solid black. She is a tiny, little flat-faced perfect pug in miniature. When I ask about her, I am told she is a cross of Chihuahua and pug. She is a sweet little girl with soulful eyes. She snorts and grumbles—she was quite adamant I should adopt her—which adds to her adorableness. She gets along well with dogs of all sizes, but, according to Dee, can be quite bossy. The bigger the dog, the bossier she is. Poor Toby won’t stand a chance. Dee and Joan know me from my having adopted Alfie from them. They are delighted to know Quinn will be Ella’s dog. A Chug; a Chihuahua-pug cross puppy named Quinn. What could be a better thirteenth birthday present?
I left Quinn with Dee and Joan to be picked up on Ella’s birthday. So, in just a few days she will have her forever home. For her birthday, Ella asked to go to The Four Seasons hotel near us for a day of pampering with her two best friends since Christmas break lasts until Monday. Manicures, pedicures, massages, and lunch; a full day of being catered to, followed by dinner at our favorite sushi bar with just us, her family. She is a unique and wonderful girl. She is a fairy-tale daughter and I’d like to think we are fairy-tale parents, fortunate to be able to give our daughter the perfect birthday. We are blessed in our success and the success of our children. We love being able to give them all that we do.
Eric is a financial adviser and he must be good at giving advice, because at forty-five, he has what most men can only ever dream of having. We live in a gated community tucked in the hills of a suburban neighborhood that is popular with television and movie celebrities. Our house is over eight thousand square feet on almost an acre of flat land, wooded with large elms and a creek that runs through the back of the property. There is a swimming pool and a sport court and a large garage and workshop. Our house is one of the more modest homes in this multi-million-dollar enclave of real estate. By anyone’s standards, Eric is a handsome man. Blond, blue-eyed, tall at six-two, and hardbodied. He is the poster child for a successful California man. I am three years younger than Eric. We met when I was a freshman at USC and he was a senior. I too am blonde, thin and muscled. Our kids are towheaded, new and improved versions of ourselves. Ella is drop dead gorgeous and Conner is the cutest blond, blue-eyed seven-year-old boy on the planet. We are extremely fortunate.
Eric and I love each other completely; we like and complement each other well. Eric is more of a jokester than I am. He can always make me laugh. He is the more outgoing of the two of us. Eric can strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere. I’m more reserved. Some people think me aloof. I’m sure I’ve been called a snob, and occasionally a bitch, maybe more than occasionally. I’m not. I’m simply a private person, the counterbalance to Eric being a people person. Neither one of us enjoys watching sports as much as we love playing them. Triathlons were Eric’s idea. He competes at the Olympic distance, but has his sights set on doing an Ironman when he can commit the time to training. The one drawback to being a successful man is the time it takes to be one.
I get to my car, which I had to park in the farthest lot from the mall. It is an Audi TT convertible in bright red with tan leather interior. The car just makes me smile. I also have a Range Rover for carting the kids around, but the Audi is much easier to park. “Jesus, are you kidding me?” I say to no one, because there is no one around me. Someone has parked their piece of shit twentysomething-year-old, I don’t know what kind of car, so close to my car on the driver’s side there is no way in hell I can get in. I may be skinny but I’m not that skinny.
“Dammit!” I jostle my packages around and open the trunk on the Audi. I am careful to take the receipt for Quinn out of my purse and put it in one of the bags. Ella has been known to go through my purse for money, ChapStick or gum. I don’t want her finding the receipt for her new dog. I have no choice but to get in from the passenger’s side and climb over the console. I throw my purse on the car floor and begin to squeeze my way in. The car on the passenger side is an older van and parked right on the white line, making it tight, even on the passenger side, to get in my car. I have a few pet peeves and one of them happens to be people who park over their lines. I mean, really, how hard is it to park between two white lines? Not that hard. I mean, that’s what they’re there for. The van isn’t over its lines, not really, but squarely on the line, making it a tight squeeze. “You have got to be kidding me,” I say, as I begin to climb in. It is the last thing I say before my life takes a detour.