It had been another one of those days. It began normal enoughâ€”as normal as any other day in the life of Stan. Itâ€™s something odd, he thought fleetingly as he huffed and puffed; you get up, make coffee, eat a small bite for breakfast, scan through the paper, and then
|The Story of Stan and Tasha by Frank Keith|
go to work. Itâ€™s a daily routine as steady as clockwork, as balanced as the movement of the sun and stars. Itâ€™s a very mundane routine, actually. He was glad. A few days ago he made the difficult decision to start this endeavor. Actually, this was his third try. Itâ€™s been ten days now, to be exact. Thatâ€™s right, Stan thought proudly, I broke my record today. In the past, Stan never held out doing this for a noteworthy length of time. And again, it was a battle with his own self before he finally managed to get off his lazy ass and do something about it and to stay with it. He wasnâ€™t always like this. Sometimes the willpower finally wins, and you start, and you stick with it, but life has a bad habit of throwing trouble at you from out of nowhere. Last year, for instance, he overcame his self-doubt too and started the training. He endured for a lousy nine days. Then he twisted an ankle. It forced him to give up. For a long time he had trouble with the joint. If you didnâ€™t weigh so much, the injury wouldnâ€™t have been so bad, his doctor told him. If you didnâ€™t weigh so much, it would never have happened, family and friends said. Yes, in a way they were right and thatâ€™s why he started it again. But this time heâ€™s going at it at a slower pace. So far this concept has worked quite well. Ten days! Stan smiled. Then his smile went away. He thought about earlier. The worst times of Stanâ€™s days are always the hours at work. Itâ€™s mostly there that he had to endure the daily letdowns. He could swear having heard every common joke in existence having to do with his problem and countless little innuendos too, veiled in innocuous words, and many others which were not. If there are any other jokes or wisecracks in existence unknown to him, heâ€™s sure that heâ€™ll hear them sooner or later. When he told his work colleagues last spring why he stopped going for walks, they laughed at him. They didnâ€™t believe him about the sore and swollen ankle. They simply assumed that it was his lack of willpower or just plain laziness. And showing them the swelling was useless, since the already generous girth of the fat ankle hid it. Stan was mulling at his desk after he had wallowed through the office, enduring snide whispered remarks and subdued giggles. He was so deeply in thought that he absentmindedly moved papers and folders around without a clear concept. Why should work be any different from school? Itâ€™s the same thing, only at a different time period. His eyes briefly scanned the faces of a few nearby colleagues. Their behavior earlier angered him and hurt his feelings. Sure, it wasnâ€™t the first time and it wonâ€™t be the lat, but he still canâ€™t get used to it. He never gave them a reason not to like him and especially not to believe him. They usually do believe Stan and even consider him to be among the more honest employees here, but when it came to his â€œspecial problemâ€, as he prefers to call it, the men and women in the large office switched to doubt-mode. Then his nervous shuffling caused a minor calamity. A folder knocked his coffee cup off his desk. The office has a hard floor and the cup shattered in what seemed like a million pieces. Shards and chips were mixed with the dark liquid, spread across the floor. Naturally, every set of eyes in the place stared at him. Especially the pretty girls, giggling and snickering at his mishap, embarrassed him furiously. He felt like crawling into one of the desk drawers to disappear. Stan finally reached the foot of the â€œmountainâ€. Now for the hard part, he thought almost despairingly. His gait slowed markedly as he lumbered up the slope. The fight against gravity caused beads of sweat to form on his forehead. His armpits soon were drenched. But he slowly gained altitude. Relentlessly he fought the â€œmountainâ€. The resultant hard breathing and wheezing interrupted his chain of thoughts. The â€œmountainâ€ was really a hill, and it was neither lofty nor steep. But nevertheless, for Stan it was a struggle getting up, so for him it was a mountain. He cursed this portion of his walk each time. But he considered it an essential part to help him reach his goal sooner. After reaching only the half-way point, he fought the urge to stop and to rest. Heâ€™d done so all the previous times. He convinced himself earlier that today he must make it to the top without stopping. Yes, the hill was the most difficult part of his daily walk and it was his personal enemy. Surely heâ€™ll conquer it today, he believed, as he laboriously set one foot in front of the other. No, it wonâ€™t happen today. Stan was out of breath and his heart pounded against his ribs. He was afraid of passing out, so he stopped. Yes, he was disappointed. Maybe tomorrow. I mustnâ€™t get overzealous. After all, I still weigh too much. He wiped his forehead with a kerchief. His lungs worked hard breathing deeply. As soon as his respiratory and circulatory systems were more level Stan went onward. It seemed ages before he finally reached the summit. It sounds like a soaring heightâ€”summit, but itâ€™s merely a hundred feet above the surrounding terrain. For a man like Stan, who wears quadruple X, it is a far way up. Stan stopped again, this time to enjoy the view a little before resuming his walk. The landscape lay stretched out far and wide before his feet. Yes, it was a low and fairly flat hill, but it still provided a splendid view. He took pleasure in the many colors painted across the land this time of year. There were many different hues of greens and browns of the forests, farm fields, and yellows, reds and whites of the flowers and blooms. The stunning beauty of this area seemed to be here just for him. Maybe it seemed so because he was all alone out here. There wasnâ€™t another soul around. He peered down the narrow paved country road as far as he could, and sure enough, not a single person was to be seen. Stan liked that. The nearby forests seemed alive with the sounds of birds and rustling leaves. He closed his eyes to imagine hearing the ocean waves. Uncanny how similar they sound â€¦ the waves and the leaves. Yes, he liked it out here. Actually, he loved it. All this nature â€¦ the sweet smells of grass and flowers and fresh air. He turned back around to resume his walk. Where was I, he thought. Oh yeah â€¦. Stan thought about his life again. He always does when heâ€™s out here. Itâ€™s the best place to think. Out here heâ€™s alone â€¦ alone with his sadness. This is where no one stares or snickers at him or whispers behind hands, held up to disguise lips that say words he shouldnâ€™t hear. Stan could be alone in his apartment too, but heâ€™s here for a few other important reasons. The loneliness plays a big role, no doubt, but itâ€™s also the beauty and peacefulness of the place too. The deer donâ€™t care if he stutters or not, and neither do the rabbits or the birds or the trees. Out here he is what he isâ€”simply a human being. But above all else, heâ€™s here to lose weight. Yes, it was a good decision to go walking every day. It took him a long time to gather the necessary get-up-and-go and then several tries to get this far, but he finally did it, and he didnâ€™t regret it for a second. Ten days! Gosh, for other people holding through ten days to walk seems ridiculous. He knows of others whoâ€™ve been walking or jogging or going to workouts in gyms for months, even years. Why this one woman at his workâ€”in another departmentâ€”goes weightlifting each day! And another one jogs three miles every day. Three miles! There are guys at work who play squash or do weightlifting or go jogging or swimming. Why some do several types of sports. It was a couple of years ago already when the fitness craze had infected his company. The bosses provided incentives to those who lead healthy lives â€¦ said it would boost morale and reduce sick days. The program seemed to work. Nearly everyone participated and certain things did improve for the company. Only Stan and a very few others didnâ€™t get involved. It made him feel yet more out of place. Yes, Stan always feels little when heâ€™s near such sporty people. Not in a physical sense, that would be silly with his 370 pounds, but in a psychological sense. Stan doesnâ€™t like people very much in the first place. It had something to do with his â€œspecial problemsâ€. Actually, his life wasnâ€™t always like this. Things werenâ€™t that bad in grade school, although there was the one or other bully that made going to school a bit difficult at times. However, it was the same for the other kids too, those that had suffered at the hands of those bullies. It was also a time in which his handicaps werenâ€™t nearly so bad. Stan especially fondly reminisced the times at recess and gym. Those were the days he could still run around, play ball, climb the monkey bars and wear swimming trunks without being called whale or guppy. But things started going downhill for him in junior high. Heâ€™s been stuttering for as long as he could remember, but it got worse in seventh or eighth grade. Kids will be kids, and those in school took full advantage of his handicap. His therapist once explained to him that his growing awareness of the opposite sexâ€”hormones and all thatâ€”had triggered an acute sensibility to his own self, in particular to his minor handicapâ€”stuttering. Ultimately, this made him eat more, increasing his happy feelings and his weight. Naturally, the added weight compounded his problems even more. The kids made terrible fun of him. They even gave him unkind nicknames. He especially hated â€œStanley Steamerâ€. In his high schoolâ€™s vocational technical class they called him â€œHit and Missâ€, after those old-timey gas engines. That was a reference to his stuttering and his size. So, ever since junior high, his life had been dominated by two emotions; aversion to people and self-pity. Oh, and he gets nervous when he must speak with another person. It gets especially acute with girls and in particular with pretty ones. Oh brother, does he stutter badly when a beautiful girl speaks to him. He avoids any public places where he knows of attractive girls working there. Fast food restaurants and such are particularly unthinkable places to visit â€¦ he hardly gets a straight sentence out of his mouth. Making things worse are the other customers waiting in line behind him. He can literally feel their impatient stares, stabbing him in his back. He hears their snide remarks and snickering. Thatâ€™s why he hadnâ€™t been in a burger joint for quite a long time. Stan is sure that not even ten wild horses could drag him into one. He much prefers the drive-through. No â€¦ Stan prefers to be right out here where he was â€¦ alone in the countryside. Stan was finished with looking at the landscape now and thinking his thoughts. He turned around and ambled onward. The hillâ€™s crest was stretched-out a bit, going more or less level before heading downward again. It was easy going from here. Tasha was what some evil persons would call a fat pig. A nicer term was class III obesity, and her body mass index was 42. â€œSheâ€™s a good eater,â€ her grandmother often said at family dinners, â€œYes she isâ€, her mother confirmed. â€œHere, sweetie, take another piece.â€ Tasha had always been allowed to eat what she wanted, when she wanted and in the amount she wanted. Obesity runs in the family, she had been told, thereâ€™s nothing you can do about it. Itâ€™s in the genes, she was made to believe, and she happily ate her way from big to bigger. That is, until an attack of severe pain in her feet gave her the first warning signal. The doctor who treated Tasha told her that it was gout. They are a form of inflammatory arthritis. Although mostly men get gout, many women are also susceptible. One measure to get this painful health issue under control was to reduce her weight. Otherwise it would get worse, not to mention the other health issues that would start causing problems. She was still young, but things would worsen the older she got. Yes, Tasha heard a thousand times about the health risks, like coronary heart disease, diabetes, problems with the joints and, and, and. But Tasha could never stop herself from eating that one last piece of cake or that extra scoop of ice cream or from eating that midnight snack. Not until that awful and painful gout attack initiated a change of attitude in her. For sure, the excruciating pain made her think twice and thrice if the food was worth the hurt. Tasha withdrew from her deep thoughts and took her eyes away from her feet. The tingle in her toes slowly subsided. No, she thought, this walking is pure hell. There must be another way to lose a few pounds. A movement caught her attention. She turned her head and looked up the roadway. She sat upright when she noticed someone approaching. Great, she thought, I was hoping to be alone out here. Stan was just as surprised to see the person as she was to see him. He never saw anyone sitting on that bench before. And to top it all, he could tell that it was a woman! His first impulse was to stop and head back up the hill and return to his car. Does he really need to go all the way down the slope? Hasnâ€™t he walked enough for today? But some strange force kept him from doing that. Thatâ€™s just plain dumb! He thought to himself, and he sped up his pace again. Stan determined that he didnâ€™t have to say anything to the woman, maybe a simple hello or hi would suffice. He doesnâ€™t even have to look at her. Thatâ€™s a good idea, he thought, Iâ€™ll speed up and pretend Iâ€™m in a hurry. Tasha was angry with herself â€¦ and also at the stranger hurrying down the slope. Why must I be sitting on that bench now? Why must he happen by now? She just knew what heâ€™ll be thinking: Thatâ€™s so typical fat woman. Sheâ€™s out here in the country and whatâ€™s she doing? Sitting on her fat ass! Did the stranger pick up his pace? Of course he did! He saw Tasha and wanted to get by the heifer as quickly as possible! She was sure of it. Tasha took out her pocketbook, opened it and held it up to her face and stared at the pages without reading. She only peered over the edge of the book to peek at the approaching stranger. Well, heâ€™s no Adonis either, she thought with a smirk. Only a few more steps separated Stan from the woman. He didnâ€™t even glance to her as his feet busily carried his opulent weight over the rough surfaced road. Only his eyes peered to her from the corners of their sockets.