Sunday, August 14, 2011

Crash Dive

The Distinguished Eagle Scout Award (DESA) had been bestowed upon such notable men, luminaries really, that Vida never complained when Zach left early to prepare for his honorary ceremony in March.

(Click here for the first episode; here for the previous one.) 

As  much as he loved and needed Vida, Zach’s life as a husband, a father, and a scoutmaster was equally integral to his happiness, and even his identity.  When his son Matt achieved the Eagle rank, Zach experienced a pride previously unknown to him—and Zach believed himself to be an uncommonly proud man.Upon earning Eagle rank, Matt to his credit continued to attend troop meetings and helped his friends with their projects.

But when he turned sixteen in February, he suddenly began taunting Zach about his runaway weight gain—as if the boy had only now noticed. Once he recited some Boy Scout requirements like being loyal, brave, reverent, and clean and then asked, “But Dad, for your award, after being an Eagle Scout for twenty-five years, is the idea that the big fat eagle now needs a crane ’cause he’s too fat to get through the door?”

“Ha, ha.”

Beth rescued him. “Don’t you dare talk to your father that way! He’s an intellectual, not an athlete.”

Well no, he certainly wasn’t an athlete. “Thank you, Beth.”

He had always struggled with his weight, but after hopping on Vida’s fundraising merry-go-round he had grown steadily rotund. True, he had learned to appreciate Mozart, which he now played constantly to his teenagers’ muttered displeasure. But he hadn’t learned to dispel the illusion fine dining created, with its many lavish courses paced so smoothly that Zach had never once felt he had overindulged. If anything, lately, he often felt his selection of dishes seemed modest. Yet while Vida managed to remain voluptuous—albeit more than before—Zach’s belly, chest, backside, and thighs swelled with ever thicker pads of flesh. For black-tie events he did not wear a tuxedo but an expensive, dark suit. Halfway through his first year with Vida, he had outgrown the good name brands. No more off-the-rack tailoring at his size: Vida gave him the name of an expensive tailor who specialized in fitting portly Congressmen.

She had enjoyed, almost delighted in the transformation of his big, muscular body into what she called, “Girth.” He looked more like the company they kept: huge, rich titans that sallied forth like cruise ships, their vast paunches thrust like battering rams.

Beth, whose weight fluctuated, sometimes dramatically, insisted that she found Zach’s unfettered appetite endearing. When they had first fallen in love in college, he had been the biggest of all the beer-bellied frat boys, and she was obligingly quick to notice when his clothing grew tight. He would pop a button or split a seam and scarcely notice until several days later when everything fit easily. Without comment, she simply replaced his shirts and chinos, jackets, belts—everything.

His children might consider it hilarious. “The Eagle has become a Whale!” And as winter yielded to spring, his friends and colleagues began teasing him: “No, don’t sit on that chair, Zach,” they giggled. “A man like you needs something much wider and sturdier.”

After an evening with friends, Beth said, “Look around, Zach. You’re the rule here, not the exception.” He was no different from many suburban fathers and middle-aged professors.

Fine, as long as he grew no fatter, he might adjust. But Zach alone finally decided his heaviness was intolerable. He had to cut back; eat less; exercise more until he dropped the weight, however much it might be. Not until he had returned to fighting weight would he submit to medical appointments.

Half an hour later, however, fixing himself a generous snack, he would think that if both Beth and Vida liked him fat, maybe it wasn’t so terrible.

The evening the family was preparing for a Lenten vigil, the home phone rang and Rosalind answered the second ring. The line was dead, but the phone’s digital face informed her that the call came from Georgetown in Washington, D.C.

The same thing occurred two evenings later, and Rosalind let everyone know: same number, same quick hang-up. A mystery, she said, which she intended to solve. His daughter the sleuth. Face burning and teeth clenched, Zach told Beth he was initiating a project with the Institute’s graduate students at Georgetown.

Soon after this, Beth spent less time on her pottery and, without exactly admitting her suspicions—she wasn’t a suspicious person—she dedicated herself to baking with a vengeance: pies and cakes, biscuits and cinnamon rolls. For Beth, cooking had always simultaneously calmed and increased her anxiety. Dinner at home now rivaled the most elaborate fare in Washington’s fanciest restaurants, except Beth served it less elegantly. The courses and proportions weren’t deftly paced; they were gross.

Matthew and Rosalind no longer sat at the table until excused. They made other plans rather than watch their obese parents try to eat away their unnamed anger.

While Matt remained an excellent student, Rosalind bordered on delinquency and opted to repeat eighth grade at a different school—meaning a private day school that Zach resented paying for, since she was failing her classes there, too. She wore huge, heavy steel-toed boots, beat-up blue jeans, and a raggedy T-shirt every day. Blessed with thick, wavy blonde hair, she dyed it clown-colors.

Every week, Zach couldn’t wait to be with Vida. They entertained the same people as before. But after, they often yelled and screamed at each other between bouts of forceful sex. For their so-called third anniversary Zach gave her a pearl necklace, spending even more this year  than last. Vida wept after opening it. Yes, she loved pearls. Yes, she loved him. Yes, she was happy. And no, she was not happy! She wanted sapphires and pearls—and big, fat Zachary Severins. 

At the ceremony at the Sheraton, the National Boy Scout Councilmember noted that Zach’s accomplishments put him in company with every other DESA recipient, including: Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer; astronaut Neil Armstrong; former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (Rosalind snickered, and the toastmaster said, “A DESA man stands tall in the line of fire, young lady”); and director Stephen Speilberg, to name but a few.

That night Beth woke and walked quietly through the dark house. She found Zach still in his Scoutmaster uniform, sobbing in his wood-paneled basement study, the framed award smashed on the floor.

“Eagle Scouts do not commit adultery.” There, he had said it. “Did you hear me, Beth? I am an adulterer—in love with a woman named Vida Korbett, who lives in Washington, D.C.”

(click here for the next episode)