I, Ollie William Benson, am obsessed by mirrors. Itís not that I want to collect them, or that Iím fascinated by them. Au contraire! I wish that I lived in a world where there were no mirrors.
The problem, you see, is that when I look into a mirror, I see myself.
That may sound strange to ďnormalĒ people. Obviously, mirrors were made for just such a purpose. But ever since I became aware that I was different from other people, Iíve hated mirrors and avoided them whenever possible. When I say ďdifferent from other people,Ē you probably think I have a hideous deformityómaybe something like John Merrick, the Elephant Manóbut I donít. On the other hand, maybe I really do, for at the height of exactly six feet I weigh four hundred and six pounds.
I donít think anyone of normal size understands what it means to be obese. You have to be there. When a normal person flies in an airplane, he buys one ticket. But I have to go first class or buy two tickets. I canít waltz into Tommy Hilfigerís and buy a shirt or a pair of slacks. I have to find a shop on a back street that makes clothing that could be worn by whales with arms and legs.
I guess you have to be obese in order to recognize the disgust and pity that flickers in the eyes of people when you meet them for the first time. Iím sure that some doctors can feel compassion for the obese, but most of them Iíve met seem to have a covert attitude of: The big tub of lard, he ate himself into this.
Itís his own fault. They smile and say comforting things, but thatís what they really think: He brought it on himself. So thatís my problem. Iím fat, shake like a bowl of jelly, and at the age of twenty-nine, when most young guys are at their best, I spend my life hiding from the world in my little cubicle at the rear of Maxieís Electronics. Then I scurry home to my apartment and pull up the drawbridge to keep people out. I cook meals that I know I shouldnít eat but eat anyway, wondering from time to time what it would be like to be a normal person. What would it be like to have a girlfriend? What would it be like to put on a pair of swimming trunks and not feel like a pale hippopotamus?
Maybe if I had a family, things would be different, but my dad died before I was born, I lost my mom when I was only seventeen, and I didnít have any other relatives living nearby. Even before Mom died, I was a fat freak.
So thatís why I hate mirrors, and thatís why I donít have any in my apartmentóexcept in the bathroom. I got rid of all the rest, but that one was built in as part of the decor. Itís three feet wide and goes all the way to the ceiling. It must have been designed by a bodybuilder or a beauty queen, someone who loved to look at themselves.
As soon as I moved in, I knew I couldnít face taking a shower, stepping out, and seeing a mountain of gluttonous fat, which is what Iíve become. My solution was simple enough. I simply bought a life-size poster of John Wayne, a still taken from Stagecoach, his first big hit. Youíve seen itóthe one where heís carrying the rifle and standing beside his saddle. I fastened it over the mirror with Scotch tape so that when I got out of the tub, instead of seeing myself, I saw the Duke.
Over the next couple of years, I changed the poster several times. Steve McQueen did his duty for a few months, and he was succeeded by Randolph Scottóan actor nobody remembers except us old-movie buffs. Lee Van Cleef was one of my favorites, and he lasted nearly six months. The most recent one was Clint Eastwood wearing his Mexican serape and his flatcrowned hat, with a thin cigar clenched between his teeth. I suppose a shrink would probably have something to say about how all of these dudes were what I was notóstrong, virile, lean, mean, and ready to face anybody down before or after breakfast.
Well, let them say it.
When I think about all that happened, it seems to have started that Friday night with the mirror in the bathroom. Just an ordinary day, nothing special. I got home early, took off my sweaty clothes, for itís hot in Memphis in July, and threw them in the hamper. I turned the water on as hot as I could stand it, and soon the room was filled with steam. It was almost as good as being in a saunaóor so I thought, although Iíd never been in one. Thatís another of those things I would never expose myself toógetting into a small room naked with normal men.
By the time I was about ready to vaporize, I turned the water off, flung the curtain back, and stepped out of the shower. Then I stopped dead still.
Clint Eastwood wasnít thereóI was there!
The steam had peeled the Scotch tape from the mirror and the poster lay coiled in an obscene sprawl on the floor. I stared at myself, unable to move. No way could I avoid seeing the double and triple chins, the flab that hung on me, and the stomach that looked as if it had been inflated by a huge bicycle pump.
Everything about me was disgusting, and suddenly I was trembling uncontrollably. I grabbed a towel and wheeled away from the mirror, trying to forgetóbut I have a very good memory, too good in fact. Even as I toweled myself down, a scene flashed on the back of my eyes in full color and with stereophonic sound.
I could even smell the odors of the weight room where I had gone to try once again to lose weight. I was on the stair-climber, which I had set at the very lowest level. The little red dots were all across the bottom of the screen, and I was huffing and puffing, trying not to fall off.
Then a girl eighteen or nineteen, wearing a tight, white spandex top and black shorts that clung to her like an extra skin, stepped onto the machine next to mine. She set it on max, with all the red dots at the top, and as soon as it was going full speed, she moved with an easy rhythm.
I remembered that when she finally stopped the machine, she turned and looked at me, fat and huge and gross and sweating like crazy. She smiled, showing a lot of teeth, and said cheerfully, ďKeep at it. Youíll make it.Ē
But I saw the pity and disgust in her eyes, and when she walked over to her friend on another stair-climber, I heard her whisper, ďHippo will never make it, heís too far gone.Ē
I shoved that memory back into a dark closet (knowing full well it wouldnít stay there). Well, we all have things to get over.
I dried and put on my underwear, and then I went back to the bathroom. The rodeo guys say when you get thrown by a horse, you go get right back on.