Greatly Reduced

CHARLIE BOYERS WASN'T TERRIBLY OVERWEIGHT but he was flabby, and he had a beer belly. And he was big to start with. Being big and flabby was a bad combination, bad for one’s image at the office, to say nothing of one's self-image. No one would guess Charlie Boyers harbored negative feelings about himself—he was confidence personified. Nevertheless a tremor of impending disaster had now registered itself someplace in his thirty-six-year-old gray matter.  

It started the morning he stepped out of the shower and, as he reached for a towel, he saw his dripping, naked body in the full-length mirror. The sight of all that flesh made him wince. Maybe it was the way he was bending over with his stomach hanging down like that, like some pregnant woman. He stood up and let his stomach muscles hang out. The man in the mirror was a stranger. This wasn't the Charlie Boyers in his head. He straightened up, wrapped the towel tightly around him and drew himself back into shape, more or less. But it had registered. Things about him had changed right underneath his nose, while he wasn't looking, so to speak.

The Charlie Boyers of the mind had assumed its final definitive form about ten years ago, around the time of his first big promotion. He had been out of college a few years, was working hard, was well-liked at the office, and was going to the athletic club every day at lunch to work out with the guys. 

The break for him came when the marketing vice-president began looking for him to play racket-ball. Charlie Boyers was six feet three, had a big reach and played hard. He had been a defensive lineman at Cornell, not a starter, but he got to play. The image of himself ten years ago was a defining one for Charlie Boyers, and he held onto it. This was who he was--lean, hard working, sort of easy-going with maybe a flinty edge hinted at, generally well-regarded, no negatives anybody could point to. Eminently promotable, in other words. That was him. But then he got his second promotion, and Charlie stopped going to the athletic club. Lunches were for business, and the thought of going to the club evenings was a nice idea but couldn't compete with the comforts of home and a wife. 

That was years ago, so when he told his wife the other day that he had rejoined the club and would be coming home late two nights a week, she understood her husband was probably entering the proverbial mid-life crisis a little early. Her friend Nancy said it was bound to happen and told her what to expect. “They start noticing their body,” she said. “Then they start noticing your body,” she added. “That's when they start looking around.”