I remember a time when I wanted to defy gravity until I had an exoskeleton. I wanted to push weight away from me until I achieved a state of constantly-impressive. I imagined having a neck as thick as a young redwood tree if there is such a thing as a young redwood. I wanted to be able to crack eggs with my pecs. And shrug off any jacket with my traps. And rip any sleeve with my tri’s.
I prayed for the day that someone, some fool, would try to mug me with a little snub-nosed something and put the gun right against my abdomen and when the crook/thug/perp demanded my money, I would laugh and say something like “Are you sure you want to do this?” and the perp would look rattled by my confidence, my care-free attitude in the face of painful death. And he would shoot not because he was evil (private school education has taught me that there is no such thing as evil). He will shoot out of desperation and fear and confusion, all products of a cold, capitalist society, and my abs would absorb the bullet and with one quick flex, I would send it right back at him at a lethal speed—not because I am evil or afraid, but because I could not let this person shoot someone with flabby abs and no hard-earned defense against such an attack.
What I really wanted was the confidence, the ability to display my middle finger to a complete stranger and be sure that I would be able to deal with the consequences. Being able to “deal with it” was an enormous concern of mine from the age of 16 onward. The exoskeleton was my best bet. “I can bench 280 pounds, bitch.” The exoskeleton would allow me to end all of my sentences with “bitch.”
“You see this, bitch?” I would say, displaying my veiny-pumped-muscular middle finger.
“That’s my parking spot, bitch,” I would smirk, pointing to an oil-stained black patch of the world between two weathered yellow lines with my authoritative center digit.
“Yes, I would like to see the dessert menu, bitch.”
But it never happened. I pushed weight away from me, I pulled weight up to me, I brought my elbows to my knees thousands of times, I used words like “reps” and “sets” together in breathless sentences, I bought the fingerless gloves and the sleeveless shirts, I became a member to a fitness center that was more like a house of mirrors, I got tattooed and pierced.
But none of this stage-dressing convinced my still-soft brain to erase the memories that were destined to be the foundation of the less-than-confident man I was to become. Not even a growth spurt between sophomore and junior year of high school could repair the grade school trauma (I went to St. Christina for 8 delicate years where I ate out of a desk and puked in a lunch-towel) of being the first when we lined up by height and the last when we were picked for teams. I just hunched my shoulders and stooped slightly so I didn’t appear as tall as I was. In my mind, I wasn’t tall; I was just an easier target.