Inspired by Charles Dickens’ timeless classic “A Christmas Carol,” this is a fable for our times. I wrote it following my life-changing weight-loss surgery on December 2, 2007. Since I will participated in Dickens of a Christmas on December 13-14 in Franklin, I thought it was time to re-publish the short story.
A Weight-Loss Carol
Eb grew up with a taste for the fast life. Fast living, fast cars, fast women and fast food. His appetite for life had been enormous for all of his adult life and he’d never met a meal he didn’t like. His indulgent lifestyle led to a slow but steady weight gain and now at age 45, Eb finally topped 300 pounds, twice what he had weighed in college, and it finally registered shockwaves that he couldn’t continue to live this way.
His sedentary lifestyle had led to a number of health-related problems. He had developed Type 2 Diabetes a decade ago and recently was diagnosed with sleep apnea. How he hated wearing that CPAP mask which helped regulate his breathing while he slept. Eb was on five different medications for blood pressure, cholesterol, acid reflux, osteo-arthritis and the diabetes. On top of that, he also continued to drink and smoke.
It was almost midnight and Eb had been home from the annual office Christmas party for about an hour. He wasn’t feeling well. A series of belches helped, but he felt like throwing up. “That might actually help,” he said to no one. Eb had lots of friends, but no one special in his life, truth be told, because of his physical appearance. None of his male friends hung around much, either. He couldn’t jog or play tennis and even a low-impact sport like golf was a struggle. Finally they stopped calling, unless it was to go out to a movie, followed by dinner and drinks.
At the Christmas party, Eb had spent most of his time going through the buffet line instead of hanging out with his friends and co-workers. He was starting to feel sorry for himself. Staring into the mirror, he didn’t recognize the guy looking back at him. Christmas was supposed to be the hap-hap-happiest time of the year and he’d never felt more depressed as he climbed into bed and drifted off.
All of a sudden, the room grew colder and a rattling noise at the foot of the bed made him jump. He recognized the 20-something pale figure wrapped in 150 pounds of guilt chains. It was who he had once been plus the weight of life’s burdens.” You will be visited by three spirits,” the lad said. Eb belched, adjusted his CPAP mask and slept soundly.
The alarm clock beeped and Eb yanked off the CPAP mask. It was one o’clock and the room was warm. He felt feverish as the giant figure dressed in a late-1970s white disco jumpsuit glided through the door and neared the foot of the bed. Eb gulped.
“You’re the spirit from the past, aren’t you?” The figure nodded, did a John Travolta move and extended a hand toward Eb as a fog machine filled the room.
Eb was back in his childhood home, seeing his 15-year-old counterpart sitting all alone on a dark couch in a somber room filled with family members and friends that he hadn’t seen in years. There was Preacher Smith, trying to console his mother. They had just come home from the cemetery after burying his dad, who dropped dead at age 48 while raking leaves. It was the saddest day of young Eb’s life. So far.
Food was everywhere, brought over to the house by sympathetic friends and church members. Aunt Marie saw the boy sitting all alone and filled a second plate for him. There was a piece of fried chicken, small spicy meatballs, little pimiento cheese sandwich triangles, a scoop of potato salad, some spinach dip and crackers and four cheese cubes.
“I know you’re upset, Ebby,” Aunt Marie said, “but you’ve got to eat to keep up your strength. This comfort food will make you feel better.” Eb stared at the plate for a minute, then slowly picked up the sandwich and numbly began to chew. Middle-aged Eb turned to the spirit.
“Aunt Marie was wrong,” Eb said. “It didn’t make me feel better. I just thought it did.” The spirit reached out with a hand on his shoulder, the scene shimmered and Eb was in his bedroom. He pulled the sheets up around his neck and immediately drifted off.
The alarm clock began ringing again. Eb sat bolt upright. It was two a.m., and a hot young blonde woman was at the foot of his bed. “Oh no,” Eb said. “You’re the second spirit from the present, aren’t you?”
“You better hope so,” she said flirtily. “Sorry I’m late, hon. The cab’s waiting downstairs.”
They drove to the hotel where the Christmas party was in full swing. Eb watched the scene unfold. It was his fourth trip through the holiday buffet of bacon-wrapped shrimp, beef kabobs and pastry puffs, and he headed for the dessert table. Some of his favorites were calling his name, so he barely heard receptionist Flo’s warm greeting.
“Hey, Eb. Great party, huh? Mind if I sit with you and catch up?”
“Sure, just let me grab these,” he said, piling mint brownies atop the carrot cake and gingerbread cookies. He poured some eggnog and joined her at the table, but paid more attention to the treats than Flo, who finally gave up and left in a huff.
“Nice not talking to you, Eb. Merry $#@*&%@ Christmas.” Eb stared blankly.
“How stupid am I?” Eb said to the second spirit, who shrugged and left in a huff.
The alarm rang a third time. Eb shuddered. Three a.m. A foreboding, hooded figure extended a bony hand. “You’re my future, aren’t you?” Eb whispered. The spirit nodded.
The scene shifted to the cemetery where his dad was buried. His mom’s grave was alongside and there was a third tombstone. An older Flo and two small children stood over the grave. The little girl bent over and replaced the old plastic flower arrangement with a new bunch. Eb and the spirit drew closer so he could read.
HERE LIES EB
HE HAD SO MUCH TO LIVE FOR
“OK, kids, say goodbye to your daddy,” Flo said sadly. “It’s hard to believe this is the eighth anniversary of his death. I love you and miss you every day. I wish you’d been here to see what great kids these are.” She took each child by the hand and led them to the car. Eb and the spirit followed closely. Little Ebby opened a bag of chocolates as mom snapped his seatbelt and brushed a hand over his hair. “You’re getting to look more like your father every day, honey. I know he’s smiling down on you from wherever he is.”
Flo was right. A tear rolled down Eb’s cheek and he turned to the spirit.
“Oh Spirit,” he implored. “Don’t let this be my fate. I can change. I have seen my future and I have the willpower to change my slovenly ways. I have so much to live for. I see now. I see the future. I want to take control of my destiny. I have looked within myself and see I have the strength to turn my life around and make a difference in the world.”
The spirit had been watching the family drive away and turned slowly toward Eb. He could no longer see the spirit’s face, only a reflection of himself, like looking into mirrored sunglasses. The bright sunlight reflected off the countenance, causing Eb to squint and turn away. He looked back around and was in front of the bathroom mirror at the grand hotel where the Christmas party was in full swing. Dazedly staring at himself, Eb wondered if he was going mad. He’d been thinking about going on a diet for the last few days after tipping the scales at 300 pounds for the first time in his life. He wondered if he had the guts to lose his.
He went back the party and headed for the dessert bar. This time he heard receptionist Flo’s warm greeting. “Hey, Eb. Great party, huh? Mind if I sit with you and catch up?”
Eb stopped in mid-stride and smiled. It wasn’t too late. He could change his future. He put down the dessert plate and put a hand on her shoulder, leading her back to their table. Eb and Flo. He liked the sound of that.
“Sure, Flo, I’d love to.”
Eb had gotten his second chance at life and was determined to make the most of it.
Many of us in this room have answered the alarms in our lives, but if you’re struggling or have some weight you’d like to shed, and those warning bells haven’t yet sounded, there’s still time. It’s never too late.