A story about being enough, inspired by hearing Meat Loaf on the radio a long time ago. A version of this story appeared in an anthology of short fiction, edited by my friend John Brantingham. It’s one of my favorites. Thank you Meatloaf.
“Honey, I’ll gain today – I just know it,” I promise the tightrope walker hopefully as I’m on hold with Room Service. He looks at me with sad eyes, over the corners of his latest issue of High Wire World, sprawled – all 350 lbs of him — on our hotel room bed.
The waiter arrives and I eat a huge breakfast – bacon, eggs, sausage, pancakes, and grits.
Afterwards, I step on the scale. The tightrope walker rolls off the bed, walks heavy like Godzilla, and watches tensely over my shoulder.
157 and a half. 158. I inhale and concentrate. 159. That’s the highest I can ever get to.
The tightrope walker shakes his head and sighs.
“Too thin,” he says.
These days in New York are our last days, although neither of us says so. I try moving as little as possible, since I can’t cram any more into my body. But as soon as I get to the circus, the plan falls apart. I take my seat at Madison Square Garden, but when I see the tightrope walker perform on the wire in the center ring, I jump up and down with excitement, despite my best efforts to remain calm.
I can feel the calories burning me down. Little flames of energy melting our love to sad skinniness.
But at the beginning it was so wonderful. It still IS so wonderful. For me. But he gazes down upon me from his great height underneath the Big Top and I can feel his disappointment in me. In my body.
I watch my tightrope walker and remember how I met him.
It was in St. Louis. I had been very depressed from losing my boyfriend at the University of Geneva. I went to Switzerland for my junior year of college and I met a Swiss man right away, and he was tall and handsome, but still, things didn’t turn out as I hoped. I was a really good skier, but the Swiss guy hated skiing, although he was thin and long-legged and built for sports. And after about 6 months of sex, cheese, and chocolate, he admitted that he loved someone else. A different American. She looked like me, he said, but she was taller, and more something.
“More what?” I said, speaking with him in French.
“More something you’re not,” he replied.
Je t’aime, he told me at the airport. Mais j’aime l’autre encore plus.
So I had gone back to college and graduated and I went to work for a Holiday Inn in Saint Louis. I cut my hair and ate macaroni and cheese, and a Burger King bacon cheeseburger on Sundays. I went to the circus one night with a friend in Reservations, and I saw my tightrope walker for the first time. He was already pretty famous, and the impossibility of him made the expectant audience hushed and ready to be awed.
“Imagine,” said my friend. “A poor white cracker from Texas making it big in the circus. A boy that fat walking the high wire. And he can sing at the same time!”
My tightrope walker came out and began his slow ascent. His chest bulged and his big belly hung over his tight, shiny red shorts. He carried a red satin handkerchief to wipe the sweat from his eyes, and he twisted that around his wrist like a shiny blood bracelet. He wore eyeliner and he gazed at the audience intensely before hauling himself up the ropes, the fat on his arms jiggling in a meaty earthquake of flesh. His long hair hung from his shoulders and he looked like an exploded, bloated and totally sexy Jesus. He balanced on one foot and then the other, doing incredible tricks with knives and hoola hoops. He opened his mouth, and a rich tenor voice came out. At the end he did a back flip; he turned his his huge, heavy self over like a giant piece of fettuccini, and landed hard, the wire twanging like a guitar string as it trembled to bear him up.
After the show, my girlfriend and I went to the Denny’s under the famous downtown St Louis arch, and there was the tightrope walker sitting at a big table with all his circus friends. We sent the table a super-size basket of onion rings with our compliments, and when the tightrope walker went outside to get cigarettes, I followed him. We made conversation by the cigarette machine, and I kissed him, just as the Marlboro’s fell down into the slot.
He said later that I looked plumper in the darkened doorway of Denny’s; I looked more spread out and ample.
I went back to his room with him, and quit my job the next day.
I come back to the present. The high wire act hasn’t changed. My tightrope finishes his song, and dives off the wire into the extra strong net.
He bows to the audience. Turns to each side. Bows again.
“It’s over,” he mouths to me.
What do you do when you want someone so much that you don’t even care whether they love you or not?
I don’t make a fuss. Since we live in hotels, there’s no place to move out of, no furniture to divide, no pets to fight over.
My tightrope walker tours with Ringling and then goes to Russia. They understand and prize size there.
I pack a suitcase and get another job in a big city – the biggest, widest city I can think of.
I work the front desk at the W in Los Angeles now. I’m in the heart of Hollywood, right near the metro and the theater where the Lion King plays — where the guys try to take you on tours of the stars that are lying right there on the pavement beneath your feet. At night I walk past the tired tourists on Vine, and the people waiting for a bus that never seems to come, and I walk into my big unfinished loft just south of Melrose, and I lay my 159 lb. body on my king size bed, and I dream of climbing mountains of skin, armed with lengths of wire.
Today, my new fancy hotel colleagues and I go through the smooth white halls and turn on the computers in the manager’s office.
The cold, air-conditioned corridors make me think of Switzerland and the Swiss boyfriend. I remember something about my tightrope walker too. Both those men – although physically so different — always kept their eyes squeezed tightly shut when I made love to them. They never saw how I shuddered in the moment, and became – for just an instant – enormous.
I go back to the front desk, and the phone rings. It’s a lady – the wife of a famous rock star – who has booked the presidential suite. I click on the buttons and get her set up with flowers, champagne, and someone to play the grand piano so she and the rock star can fall asleep to Chopin.
“Anything else?” I say.
“Yes,” she says. “Yes – I need it to be perfect so he’ll think I’m really lovely, so he’ll think I’m –”
“More?” I say and then just then, even before she answers, I feel an avalanche of hunger.
I disconnect, say I have an emergency and walk out the door. I go down the hill past the stars and tourists to Gower and get 6 orders of fried chicken and waffles from Roscoe’s. Then I go back to the front desk, plop the food down on those sleek counters, tell everyone they are too fucking thin, and call my old girlfriend in St. Louis.
We talk on the phone for an hour. The little red lights of the different reservation lines flicker like flames of wanting on the ice-cold plastic of the oversized phone.
I eat while I talk and slowly, I begin to feel full.