Erin Soros,

I started lifting weight the summer my friend
overdosed on heroin. I wasn’t at the party.
When the party ended they came across him
lying on the porch, dawn touching his skin, his
lungs empty, his body stiff and blue and not
waiting, not anymore. He used on weekends,
and I knew it, or should have, from the way
he reminded me of my brother. My brother’s
heart had stopped in winter, in his boyhood
bedroom, that still small bed. It was years ago.
It was my father who heard him choking and
ran to his side then to the phone. He couldn’t
tell the ambulance the address of the home he’d
lived in twenty years, all the years of his son,
the numbers disappearing from his mind the way
lightning makes everything too visible and too
sharp. Paramedics carried my brother outside,
past my parents who had to wait on the couch.
They shouted at my parents to get out of the way.
He was dead in the moment when his body passed
my mother and father’s wake on the couch and then
his body reached the night air and he was tucked into
the ambulance and the paramedics pressed and they
pressed, red flashing, heart quickening. One beat.
The next. My brother returning live like our private
Jesus. Awake in a white box solid as a matchbox car.
His tracks led nowhere. He’d lost four years to a daily
habit. My friend lost the remaining years of his life.
I punched my trainer. He held up those padded black
mitts and I’d whack him fast and mean. Nothing
felt as good. Next to him, a bag’s dead weight. Back
and forth hitting, from the bag to the man. I knew
the hunger of the fix. I knew the hunger of hunger.
The summer my friend died of a heroin overdose
I finally visited a doctor who examined the women
who starved themselves, as I had done, narrowing
my adolescence until I became a human needle, one
of those stretched metal statues that are beautiful
because they are not alive. What stomach like a line
could hold need? And on those spindly stiff legs
who could walk or run or dance? A needle is both
the tool that penetrates and a hollow vessel to be
filled. I was such a hungry girl. I walked on soles
unfleshed, the concrete hard and harsh. I rubbed
shoulder bones into sheets, skin raw as my skeleton
tried to escape. I became hard. I knew no one
would hit this body because this body would hurt
no one as much as it did me. When my age doubled
I lifted weight not to gain muscle but to gain bone.
Thirty-three that summer when I rode the elevator
to the doctor of thin women. He told me I had the
bones of an eighty-year old. Osteoporosis sounds
just like what it is. He offered a lifetime of white pills.
The fix, I read alone at the screen, was weight-bearing
exercise. I found my Scottish trainer, trading lessons
on how to write for lessons on how to lift. The plural
possessive, for example, was a good hour’s work. We
laughed. We listened to Belle and Sebastian. I fought
in a war and I left my friends behind me to go looking
for the enemy, and it wasn’t very long before I would
stand with another boy in front of me. Starvation
lurked at the edges of the gym. Those mirrors showed
that girl. Boy girl; pencil sketch; lead tip tears the page.
At age sixteen she’d reached my adult height at half
my adult weight. I am my body doubled. I could fit
one of me inside. A skeleton in the closet, so many
years away I will never not see my flesh emaciated,
internal shadow, that body under this body, child
sight to draw the eye and repulse it. Women stared
and talked about me all through those starving hours
of my sixteenth year just as the teenagers did at school,
as if I couldn’t hear them, as if my eyes were already
dead. Look. She’s frightening. Disgusting. My friend
is dead. I hit the black mitts hard and long as I could.
I’m going to give you the biggest hug, my trainer said.
When we finish, I’m going to give you the biggest biggest
hug. He taught me the big difference between free
weights and machines was that weights mimic the shift
of natural movements, the way your own body has to
support your balance in real life. Machines, he said,
give you too much help. I pulled metal sleds up and
down an empty road. Go! We masked our affection
with the wounding cruelty of insults. He called me
Skinny Malinky and Spider Man and Olive Oyl. I said
he reminded me of Shrek. And with your round bald
head, every day when I look at my roll-on deodorant
I can’t help but think of you. By the end of the summer
I had gained fifteen pounds. All my curves, I said full
of pride as I flexed arms to beat my father’s, are in
my biceps. I could bench press the weight of a man.