On the afternoon of my 34th birthday, I woke up like I did every other day, ravenous and having difficulty breathing. I did my usual first thing upon waking, glance to the bedside table and stare at my honeymoon photo. We were so happy then, early 20s, full of hope and dreaming of the fabulous life we were about to start together. I had just gotten the job at the factory, with hopes of eventually leaving for a career in an office somewhere, a prestigious writer. She was only a few classes from her Masters degree in accounting, and already had offers from a few firms who had taken notice of her work in college.
I can easily point to the moment when it all started to go downhill for me; it was the day I was laid off. We had heard of layoffs, but I foolishly thought my job was secure, since I was faster than most and had the ambition. I can still feel the boss’s hand on my shoulder, the weight of it seeming to crush my future in one fell swoop. The walk behind him to the front offices was agonizing, all my workmates watching and knowing, glad it wasn’t them yet. I didn’t cry in the office, I held it together just barely, no the crying was for the car afterwards. I know, I’m off on a tangent, I do that from time to time but I just wanted to remember some of the last happy days of my pathetic existence.
Once I was laid off and on unemployment, I just sat in my chair or in bed, watched TV or read, and of course ate. All I did was laze around and eat; I did no housework, no yard work. I contributed nothing to the household except helping the grocery bill grow. As my weight started to grow, I kept rationalizing it to anyone who asked, I would start working out soon, would start dieting soon, and as soon as I got back to work it would level off and I could fight it easier. Ha! How stupid I was being, I just wish I knew then how bad it would get by the end.
As the days went by and my saint of a wife kept going to her classes and working late nights at a restaurant to help pay our ever growing number of bills, I could sense in her a growing disgust. Not so much directed at me as a person, but what I was allowing myself to become. I knew that her love for me was still strong, but there comes a point when love no longer can hold the ship together. That point was then, as I entered the middle of my 3rd decade on this planet, I couldn’t see yet that it was time for me to change, mentally and physically, but I was close to that revelation.
I knew there would be a small party with the few people who could still stomach to come around me, and of course, cake. As I called for my wife to help me into my truck (which, by the way, is my wheelchair, my wife hates me calling it a truck because she thinks I’m being facetious or something), all I can remember thinking about was “I hope the cake is devils food”. She came into the room with little flour spots on her face, and even with the heavy lines that time had forced onto her, she was still heartstoppingly beautiful. It was at the moment when our grunts filled the room trying to get me onto my truck that the idea started to blossom in my mind.
Once I was finally safely in the truck, sweating profusely of course, she leaned in to give me a peck on the cheek, “happy birthday” she whispered in my ear, and left to go back to the kitchen to continue preparing for my big dinner. This was no small task, since I usually wanted bratwurst, burgers, multiple kinds of taters, chicken, bread, and there always had to be something of cheese. I only wished I could smell so I could completely take it all in, but the childhood problems had taken that particular sense away from me.
I rolled into the TV room, and started my daily routine of watching the morning shows stored on my DVR. Munching on stale chips from a pile of snacks on the table where I was generally parked, crumbs tumbling everywhere to the floor. I opened my mouth to call for a drink, and I belched, as I belched, a large chunk of poorly chewed food came halfway up and lodged in my throat. I started feebly gasping for air, softly bringing my fist down on the arm of my truck with all the strength I could muster.
If it hadn’t been for my wife missing the sound of me laughing or swearing at the TV, I may have died right there, but she came in and saw me turning darkening shades of purple, she then did that move that people are supposed to do on chokers, I always forget the name, but it sounds German. She still called an ambulance even though I was trying to signal her not to, for I hadn’t left the house in around 4 years. I know she saw me, but she was too scared that I may have damaged my insides somehow with my violent choking, and in my ‘condition’ you can’t be too careful.
At the hospital, I was cleared from internal damage and given the ok to go home. As I was wheeled out of the hospital in the wheelchair (completely different from my at home truck), I heard whispers, and not only from other patients, but from staff, nurses, and doctors! I heard the phrases and words “moribund obesity” “disgusting” “just look at him, where’s his self-respect” and they cut into me deep, and the moment of clarity was nearly upon me.
On the ride home in our sagging car, which was not prepared to carry weight such as mine, dark thoughts were swirling through my head. (Maybe I should just kill myself, that way she can be free) (I wish I’d died choking, then I wouldn’t have disgusted so many people) (I wonder if I’ll have a heart attack soon, maybe that’ll ease her burden) And then, BANG! My brain opened up with an idea; a wonderful, beautiful, driving idea! I would live! I would live for her, and that would mean a lot of work, but I would do it. I’d lose the weight, I’d go back to work, we could still live a good life together, mid-30s wasn’t the end of life. I started mentally repeating a mantra that I hoped would keep me motivated and driven:
“This stops for my wife, now”
So, I started slow, just cutting back on my meals each time, eating less and less of the red meats and starchy potatoes, and eating more and more leafy greens. I totally cut out the fried snack foods that were a staple of my everyday living. I started doing little exercises in my truck, and in bed, just leg lifts in order to get my legs strong enough to carry me again, and all along I kept the old adage in my head “a 1,000 mile journey begins with but a single step”. My goal was that first step, I hadn’t walked under my own power in 3 years, and I was ready to do something about it.
At first, I noticed no difference other than it was starting to be easier to breathe. Oh, and I was helping much more when it came time to roll me into my truck, there were less grunts and a lot less sweating after that task was done. I was also, at little intervals during the day, pushing myself short distances with my arms instead of the electric controls. My wife did notice my eating habits, and asked what was going on; I think she was worried I didn’t like her food anymore. I avoided the real reason and just said that I had a taste for the greens instead of meats and taters right then. She was very smart, and I think she suspected some of what I was up to, but she let it go at that time. I think she wanted me to have my secret for as long as I could keep it.
Around 5 weeks after the episode at the hospital, and with constant strengthening going on, I tried to stand up on my own for the first time in a long time. I’m thankful I had been doing the arm exercises too, because I needed that power to help my legs lift me. My entire body was shaking as I rose slowly from the truck, sweat bursting from every pore, veins popping out, muscles tightening, I was almost erect, and then fell back with a crash because apparently I just wasn’t ready. I was happy I’d tried when my wife was at class or she would’ve been frantic, wanting to know what I was doing. I may not have succeeded that first time, but I got further than I would have gotten if I hadn’t tried at all, and I was encouraged.
“This stops for my wife, now”
It was another 8 days of exercising and trying to stand before I was able to stand up without so much bodily strain. I stood there for a full minute, just looking around with my newfound perspective, and I got over-ambitious. I took a step forward, and fell right on my face! It didn’t hurt very much, and I just laid there and laughed at myself for awhile, because I considered it a positive fall, not a negative one. At least I had the strength to get back into my truck without help, unlike that disaster 2 years ago which I hate to think about. When she came home, my wife asked what the bruises on my knees were from, and I fibbed and said I ran into a table not paying attention.
A week later, I was walking a few feet from the truck, and then back with no trouble. 4 days after that, I could walk to the bathroom and back, a journey of over 20 feet! Then, 1 week after that day, I decided to try and get out of bed by myself. I grabbed the arm of the truck to brace, and started to maneuver, I got one leg out of bed, then the other, I even managed to stand up, still kind of hunched over holding the truck. My courage finally up all the way, I straightened up without the help of the truck, and just stood there, a proud man who’d gotten out of bed by himself!! I know that these sound like small accomplishments to some people, but to me, I was climbing Everest, or curing cancer.
“This stops for my wife, now”
It was another 3 days before I got out of bed without the help of the truck, walked out of the bedroom on my own power, into the kitchen and grabbed my wife for our first real hug since I got the truck. I grabbed her from behind, and she screamed and started hitting me thinking I was some intruder. When I finally got her turned around, and she saw it was me, she almost fainted from the shock of seeing me standing. That was the moment we talked about my idea to get better and just live for her. She placed her finger on my lips, and said, live for ‘us’, which resonated through the empty channels I had been existing in, bringing with it a glimpse of life into this place, and I knew we could be whole again as a couple.
And so, I started making a daily trip to get the mail, always at night so no one would see my slow shuffling waddle. The first time I stepped outside into the cool crisp night air was exhilarating, since I was basically walking the Great Wall of China there! It took me so long to get down a 200 foot driveway, and then I was terrified about crossing the road for fear that a car would pass and see me and I would get laughed at. (This is before I stopped giving a crap what people thought – still so self-conscious then) Well, anyway, no cars, just an interminable amount of time before I was safely back within the walls of my personal womb.
After I was walking to and from the mailbox with little strain, and in the daylight, mind you, I decided it was time for me to look into maybe buying a used treadmill. I still wasn’t ready to leave the comforts of my own property, so, I figured I would just walk inside until I felt brave enough to leap that barrier. As it turns out, used treadmills not only are cheap, but operate like they’re cheap, but, I was a beggar then, so couldn’t afford to be a chooser. I started light, walking a half mile a day, and even that set my leg muscles on fire. It’s amazing how terribly nasty exercise can be to a body that has repelled any kind of activity for so long.
“This stops for my wife, now”
As my legs got stronger, I started walking longer distances each day, even going so far as walking a mile in one setting. (What? You thought I was doing all this all at once? Nope, little bits when I found the energy). After I walked my first continuous mile, I got ambitious again. I cranked the speed and thought I could RUN a mile, and I did manage to finish the mile. Afterwards, however, I not only puked, but laid there on the floor in a puddle of my own sweat, completely drained and gasping for air. What an idiot! I learned then and there not to push too hard, too fast, and also learned that I didn’t give a rats butt if I ran, I would reach my goals by walking harder and faster.
I’m still to this day unsure when the switch clicked to obsession over the walking, but it had to be somewhere around the time I decided to go outside and walk. I had reached the limit of what the treadmill could give me, it was no longer stimulating me in the way I needed, to get where I wanted. I was walking ten miles a day on it, and just dreading it because staring at the wall was such a chore, and even with the TV on, I got so bored. I yearned for the air, and the sounds of nature, and the crunch of the gravel under my feet, the sound of cars whizzing by at top speeds. So, I ventured outside for my first long walk from home.
I only made it to the corner and rushed back to my safe zone, so scared of the outdoors. I stood just inside, leaning on my front door, breathing heavy, eyes closed, wondering what sort of madness had overtaken me. What you have to understand, is that my wife was always in class or at work when I was doing these things. She’d gotten an internship at a decent accounting firm, and was getting closer to her Masters, so her life was going just the way she’d planned it, aside from the situation married life had put her in, but that was improving by the minute. OK, back to my saga. I stood there at the door for about 15 minutes, then I didn’t physically slap myself in the face, but it was a virtual slap, and it got me going.
“This stops for my wife, now”
I went back outside, and started walking, not all that hard and fast yet, it was tentative that first time, but I still went about 2 miles out, so 4 miles total. When I returned to the house, I just stood in the sunlight for awhile, basking in the rays of my victory. I had beaten not only the fright of the outdoors, but my own insecurities. What an amazing moment in my existence, I hoped for many more. I just didn’t know then what I had started, or how bad it would get before the end. That switch I mentioned, it had been flicked, and I was about to embark on something that would be a great and terrible thing all at once.
From that day forward, I was not to be stopped, if I was awake, I was walking. I acquired some water bottles, and added little energy snacks to the weekly grocery list, things like granola, fruit bars, etc. I was making 10, sometimes 15 miles a day, always half out, half in. Here is where the obsession really took over, I started walking more than 25-30 miles a day, I couldn’t stop, didn’t even want to stop, just wanted to be moving my legs and feet. All the while, the sweat dripping like a rainstorm from every pore, I was always soaked. I’m sure my smell let people know I was coming long before they saw me.
“This stops for my wife, now.”
At this point, my wife was beginning to worry about me. Maybe what I was doing was no longer about ‘us’. I always assured her it was, but in my mind, even I wasn’t so sure, even when I was listening to her talk about her day, all I could truly think about was more miles. My few relationships that had held on through the bad times started to fail. I was never that good with friends, I’m just too insecure, but I had managed to keep a few however, with the walking being all I ever did, or talk about, and the failure to respond in any way to them, they eventually stopped trying. I’m still not sure why my wife kept with it so long, she’s got staying power that has to be seen to be believed.
I started thinking that there was a voice in my head that was telling me to go on, but it always talked in this strange language that I could never quite place. My mantra began to sound a little different too, like it was being translated into this other language. It was always so nourishing to my brain, to hear this voice speaking, and it was always in this very relaxing tone, almost one I’d heard before and was always calmed by. I suppose I should have known when the voice started being more real that I had something wrong with my thinking, but I was so focused on the goal that wasn’t even the goal anymore that I wouldn’t listen to my own better judgment.
“Thith stops for my wife now.”
I just kept going, kept on walking, I even bought a tent, and camped at night on the road so I could keep walking. I no longer went home, just kept in contact with my cell phone, through occasional text messages and short phone calls. Each time, I guess I should have noticed the increasingly weary tone in her voice, as my wife grew ever tired with me and my obsession, which whenever she mentioned that word, I snapped at her, until finally she must have just thought it, because she quit saying it.
“Thithstops for my whyf now.”
I’m not even sure where I was when I realized I might never see my home or my wife again. I knew at that realization that the goals I had started out with were not my destination. I don’t know where I was headed, but I knew I’d walk there, ha.
“Thithstops formy whyf n-ow.”
OK, that brings you to my current time, I’m walking, obviously, I don’t know where I am, I don’t know the day, or even the month. All I know is that I’m so very tired, but I don’t want to stop, my feet just want to keep on moving. My legs are very fatigued, my feet are bleeding almost constantly, but still I will not stop. I must keep putting one bloody foot in front of the other, keep pushing my ever failing body to its brink, and then pushing it farther. Ironic, isn’t it, that a body that wouldn’t even help itself get out of bed, is now starting to give way on the opposite end of the spectrum.
“thithstop frome wht ow.”
I can feel my will to go on fading, but the voice in my head keeps telling me that it’ll get better if I only keep moving, that I don’t need sleep, that for whatever reason, the answers to some unasked questions will come to me if only I keep going. Incredibly, my mind has stayed relatively sharp through all of this, I’m always hungry, but subsisting on what plants I can find. I’ve even done unspeakable things to get some meat in my system. I drink rain water from puddles, or fill my now almost cracked through bottles from streams and ditches. The thirst overcomes me some times, so I convince the voice to let me stop to quench it. My wife doesn’t understand about the voice, she must think I’m going insane, or have already accomplished that feat.
“Sithstop fromes why ow?”
The primal urges deep within force my continuation of following the voice. I can feel my muscles start to give, I know I’m malnourished. I’m probably dying, my body failing in every way, but I still plod forward. I keep repeating my mantra that the voice instructed me to keep at the forefront of my thinking, but to never speak it aloud, so I listen because it’s a very powerful sounding charm. There are small moments of lucidity where I wish I’d stayed fat and just died a comfortable death in my nearly forgotten truck. Such thoughts won’t help me reach the end of my quest, only moving my feet will do that.
“Sithstop frromes wha oh?”
I know I’m near the end, I’m crawling as many miles as I can, I know that if I was still actually on the road and not just beyond sight that someone would force me to get help, not understanding the very important journey I’m on. Very soon now, it will all become clear, I’ll know why…..I’ll know why.
“Sithstop crromes what oh?”
I called my wife a few minutes ago to tell her I cannot go on and to come save me from this madness in my brain, I only hope I can hold on long enough to see her again. I need to see the face that has forever loved
OK, this is the aforementioned wife; I’m only finishing this because my husband was so determined to get it all down. I found him laying in a pool of his own excrement, although God knows there wasn’t much of that left in him. His small frail body, only a fraction of what he was, I can pick up easily to carry back to the car. I’ll never know why he went to this extent, or what was in his mind telling him to do it. All I can do to end this sad little tale is leave you with this odd saying he scrawled in his own blood from his raw fingertips. Maybe someone out there can understand why his mind went to the lengths it did. If so, please find me and let me know how a person can sink so far so fast while on the seemingly right track so that I can begin to understand. I loved him like he was, and I’ll miss him as he is.
“Sithstop crromes what eh?”