By Jean-Michele Gregory
Though he is only two inches taller than me, his girth is twice my own, and his weight more than double.
I look at these rail-thin men on the street and I wonder, how could I lay in bed next to something as small as that? How would I ever feel comforted by their small-boy embrace?
When he enfolds me I almost vanish. His arms are thick and heavy, and once he’s asleep, almost impossible to move. His belly warms the small of my back and fills in all the space between us so there is no point at which we lose contact. I sleep curled like a fetus, my toes barely extending beyond his knees, and when I look down I see his feet poking out from under the covers, two rough loaves of bread.
My aunt, the beauty queen from Texas who could have any man she wanted, also chose someone enormous. She loved his wit, his heart, his songs, and she wanted to keep him as long as she could, so when she caught him eating steak she became angry. My mother told her to leave him alone—“He’s a grown man! Let him eat what he wants!”—but when he died two months later from heart attack I wonder if my mother regretted her words.
My husband and I tell each other that he is a bear and I am a bird. When we walk on crowded sidewalks I take advantage of my size to weave around the people—and then look behind to find I’ve lost him and have to circle back. “Little bird, you forget I can’t fly,” he once said.
He wants to lose weight. Every eight months or so the fire is lit anew and he swears that this time it will be different, this time he will lose pounds instead of resolve. And then he suffers through low-fat, low-calorie diets; he drinks gallons of water; he consumes boneless skinless chicken breasts in every conceivable way; he eats dressing-less salads three times a day. As he falls asleep, he moans to me, “I’m hungry.” And then he dreams about great feasts with cheeses and olives and large roasts with crispy, crackled skin and wakes up feeling guilty.
And I wake up feeling guilty too, because I’ve let my husband go hungry.
Some mornings I will wake to find a jar of peanut butter has gone missing. Or that the six-pack of diet ice-cream bars we purchased just the day before is lying empty on the counter. He is never good at covering his tracks and I don’t want to scold him. Never come between a bear and his food, you know. Instead, I’ll quietly break the box down and throw it away. But the next time we’re in the grocery store and he lingers over the ice-cream section I will hear myself say, “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” and he will know that I know and he will hang his head low and we’ll move on to the next aisle.
I hate it when he does that. Or rather, I hate that my words have done that to him. He is larger than life, on a different scale than the rest of us, and I can’t stand to see him diminished in any way. And I love to watch him eat. I think it was that first burrito that made me fall in love: the shy unwrapping of the foil, strip by silver strip, until the naked tortilla emerged and he took it in his mouth, eager but gentle, like its contents were something precious.
Will you laugh if I say I wanted to be that burrito?
A bear in the wild learns to eat as much as possible when the eating’s good; winter will take care of any excess weight. A bear in the city, a bear with a credit card, a bear with a job and a human face—no winter’s coming for his belly.
After another diet failed and a shared orgy of brownies and ice cream, I lay across his perfect belly and sighed. “Oh, bear . . . what are we going to do with you?” I asked.
“Peck, peck, peck,” he said. “Why are you always so sure something needs doing?”
a New York-based director, works with solo performers and writers to
create works based on autobiographical material. Over the past decade
she has directed productions at the Public Theater, Cherry Lane, Berkeley
Rep, ACT Theatre, Intiman,
photo by Dinty W. Moore