I was told when I went to college I’d immediately put on fifteen pounds. I was told my metabolism would fall apart and my young, thin body would slowly give rise to the misshapen horrors of adulthood. And I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I’d meet a white-haired man under a blood moon who would trade rose-tinted memories for dark, best-forgotten secrets.
In short, my friends were totally wrong about the first two. That fortune teller, however, is currently batting 1.000.
But this isn’t a story about the time I wandered into that abandoned amusement park and found an old crone who beckoned me to a cracked, murky crystal ball. I mean, I’d be lying if I said that isn’t a way better story. It’s just not the one I’m telling right now.
In hindsight, that lead-in kind of makes the eventual story about my college eating habits sound pretty underwhelming. But, well…here we are.
The problem began around the age of 13. After spending most of my adolescence as a wad of pancake batter, my growth spurt hit me like a freight train. From there on out I was seeing an annual 4-inch growth that sent me from “just above average” tall all the way to “can you get me that box on that high shelf? no, the high high shelf” tall.
If you’re having trouble picturing it, just imagine what happened to Tom Hanks in “Big.” Just, you know, without that “sex with minors” thing.
Coming into college just south of six and a half feet and 162 pounds, I was probably the last person who would worry about “the freshman fifteen.” In fact, I honestly didn’t have an alternate strategy to put on pounds if I didn’t stress-eat my way to a healthier figure freshman year. Keep in mind that I was only 17 and hadn’t officially stopped growing by that point. At the rate I was going, I worried my waistline would just blink out of existence somewhere around the age of 24.
(Making me just seven pounds too heavy to be a runway model. Hiyo!)
I won’t keep you in suspense. It didn’t go well. In fact, due to the fact that I handle stress in exactly the opposite way as most people, I left my first semester down eight pounds from where I started.
“Well,” you might ask, “why didn’t you just try eating more?”
First off, stellar question. Thank you for that deep, insightful solution to my weight issue. It’s about on par with asking people with depression why they don’t just try being happier, or people with bipolar disorder to try being happier, then less, then more, etc. I assure you, perhaps not surprisingly, that it was the very first thing I tried when I saw I was shedding pounds.
The answer to that question is fairly simple, though. I couldn’t. And when I say I couldn’t eat more, I don’t mean I had a tiny bird stomach or something. The dining halls were set up as all-you-could-eat buffets three times a day and located within a hundred steps of my door. I literally mean I couldn’t have possibly eaten more than I already was.
And yet, like the victim of a horrible gypsy curse, I continued to waste away no matter how much I ate. I mean, in all fairness, that gypsy had cursed me in the abandoned amusement park. But that was a different curse where….well, like I said. That’s a whole other, far more interesting story.
Probably the strangest thing, though, was seeing so many others pack on more and more pounds as I slowly disappeared up my own digestive tract. My floormates would see me and nod appreciatively at my runner’s physique. “What’s your exercise routine, man? You’re looking good.” They’d then quickly mutter, “No homo,” because it was 2002 and that was a still a necessary addendum to complimenting a guy.
Having no exercise routine, I was never sure what to say. So I’d always come up with something like, “It’s a lot more poutine than routine.”
They’d laugh as though I was making some sort of joke. So I’d laugh with them to avoid making it awkward. And all the while my stomach would slowly slide ever deeper into the growing pocket dimension inside me.
Of course, in hindsight it all made sense. Most of my symptoms were simple enough to explain away if I’d known I had early stage Crohn’s Disease at the time. It might have come in handy for the people (and there were several throughout my years in college) who were openly hostile about my weight loss, as though I was gradually evaporating just to spite them.
“Well,” more than a few people would say, rolling their eyes, “I’m sure I’d be thin as a rail, too, if I ate like a hummingbird like you.”
It was then that I’d put down the entire rotisserie chicken I’d been eating and frown. “This seems like a bad time to explain that hummingbirds actually need to drink a huge amount of nectar compared to their own body weight just to survive each day,” I’d answer sheepishly. Their eyes would narrow, suggesting that it was indeed a bad time to explain that. “I mean, you’re already in way worse shape than me. It’s probably just salting the wound to show how much more I know about birds.”
The exchange would usually conclude with my being tackled to the ground and ferociously pummeled. I’d blurt out apologies between blows – usually saying that all my talk of “salting” was probably just making them hungry.
Then again, seeing how people treated me even after the diagnosis, I doubt it would have mattered much. “I wish I had a disease that let me eat whatever I wanted and never gain a pound,” more recent hypothetical people would say. The conversations changed, but the eye rolls stayed the same.
I bring this up as a way to explain that, in its way, the story of my college years was also the story of my tumultuous relationship with my own broken innards. Even if I wouldn’t know about it for many years until finally, under a blood red sky, I entered the burned-out remains of what had once been a hospital and met a man with hair as white as the driven snow.
But that, too, is another far more interesting story for another day.
I mean, if there’s time. There’s a lot of other stuff to cover first before we cover my odd habit of wandering into abandoned carnivals, warehouses, mines, insane asylums and hospitals.
So…you know, we’ll see.