I didn’t notice that I started shrinking, my wife did. It was about three months ago, and she asked me before bed one night if I’d been feeling all right lately. I told her that I felt fine, and she said OK, but then the next morning she brought it up again.
“It’s just that,” she said, “I don’t know, you just seem a little off is all.”
“What do you mean, off?” I said. Because like I mentioned already, I didn’t feel off. I still don’t feel off. Even now, I still feel fine. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
“Well, I don’t know,” she continued. “You just look, weaker … I don’t know. Smaller somehow.”
Smaller? I didn’t know what she meant, and I told her that I didn’t understand what she was getting at. I started to get a little upset, even though I tried not to show it. It must have been obvious though, because she dropped the subject and didn’t bring it up again for the rest of the day.
But I could tell she was worried, that whatever had gotten into her head, just because she stopped talking about it didn’t mean that it wasn’t still bothering her. And sure enough, the next day she started in again.
“Look,” she said, “I’m just worried, that’s all. You look smaller, I don’t know how else to explain it. Here, look.”
And at that she stepped closer and started pulling at my clothes. She grabbed the shirt at my side and tugged.
“Don’t you see?” she said, balling up a fistful of fabric around my waist, “It’s like all of your clothes are bigger. And you’ve had this shirt forever.”
“Well, maybe I’m just losing weight,” I tried to put up a defense.
“Yeah, maybe,” she said. “But that’s not good, right? I mean, people don’t just lose weight for no reason.”
“I guess,” I said. Now I was pulling at the shirt too. All of the sudden it felt huge on me, like I hadn’t noticed before, but now it was all that I could think about. Because why would I be losing weight? Did I have cancer?
“Maybe you should go to the doctor,” she suggested.
“Yeah, I probably should,” I mumbled.
“And it’s … well …” she trailed off.
“What is it?” I said.
“No,” I said, “Tell me, please, I’m already freaked out, just whatever you’re thinking, tell me.”
“Well, it’s just that, you don’t just look smaller, you look shorter too.”
“Shorter?” I repeated. I looked directly at my wife. Down at my wife. “I’m still taller than you.”
“Yeah, I know, but I mean, I don’t know …” she trailed off.
And right then she kind of went like she was going to bend down, but then stopped herself. I knew what she was getting at. It was my pants. Just like the shirt, it was this moment where I became aware of, not just how big my pants were, but how long. They were longer. The bottoms of the legs were worn a little at the ends from having been dragged under my shoes. Why hadn’t I noticed this earlier? I felt at my waist, I felt like I must have been hiking them up a little bit to compensate, but without even thinking about it. Why would I be getting shorter? Can that happen?
My wife looked really concerned, which wasn’t helping me calm down any. I wanted some sort of reassurance from her, even if it was just a false sense of comfort. And normally that’s what she was always good for, a smile when I was down, some sort of hope in the face of tough times. But this … this felt bad.
“Why don’t I call the doctor for you?” she said.
“Yeah, that would be great.”
The doctor was able to squeeze me in that day, and standing there scratching his chin in his office, he didn’t know quite what to make of my concerns.
“Well,” he said, “You’ve definitely lost weight. And as for the height, you know, a lot of people don’t realize that height’s kind of a daily variable. You see, in between vertebrae, there are these sacks of fluid that either compress or expand, depending on several factors.”
“Oh, OK,” I said. And for a moment I felt the slightest bit reassured. But it wasn’t to last.
“Still,” he continued, “I’m going to send you in for some blood work, just to rule out anything serious.”
And so the next week and a half was pure mental torture. I had to go to some lab off-site to have my blood work done, and then I had to wait around for the doctor to get back to me, all while I couldn’t help obsessing about my body, about the fact that my wife saw me as smaller. It shouldn’t have been that big of a deal. Everybody’s body changes. But this wasn’t something I was ready for.
At night in bed while I’d wait to drift off to sleep, in that space between the waking world and my unconscious, I felt like a little speck in my bed, as if the sheets were swallowing me whole. Who knows what was real and what was imagined, but I’d have the sensation of stretching my limbs out as far as they’d go, but I wasn’t touching anything, not my wife somewhere on the other side of the bed, not the corners or sides of the mattress.
It wasn’t any easier when I was awake. At work, it was like everything at my desk was just out of arm’s length. There was the now-constant feeling that my clothing was almost comically oversized. I felt like I was hiding in my office, afraid to show my face to my coworkers, embarrassed that any of them might notice my diminished size.
And at home, well, my wife tried to reassure me. She could tell I was having trouble getting on with my daily life.
“Look,” she said, “you went to the doctor. That’s all you can do at this point. Try not to worry until you have a definitive reason to be upset.”
And that sounded like good advice. Because why stress myself out when I haven’t even heard any bad news yet? But even though that’s what I tried to tell myself, by the time I got the call from the doctor’s office, I was convinced that I was dying.
“The doctor would like you to come in to discuss your lab results,” the receptionist told me over the phone.
“Can’t you just tell me over the phone?” I begged for an end to my mental torture.
“Sorry,” she said, “but that’s policy, it has to be an appointment.”
They didn’t have anything for another two days, and in the meantime I had very vivid daydreams about a cancer diagnosis, about all the chemotherapy I’d have to endure, and would it even work? Would this be something I could bounce back from?
And maybe I’d already become invested into my own narrative of doom, because when the doctor told me that he couldn’t find anything to be worried about, the good news did little to relieve my concern.
“Are you sure? What about the weight loss?” I asked.
“Look,” the doctor said, “the body is a funny thing. It’s always changing, even after you stop maturing physically, you never stay you for any one period of time. Cells die, new cells are made. I read somewhere that, if you look at the human body over the course of seven years or so, most everything has been replaced with completely new cells.”
“So, what does that mean?” I tried to find meaning in what he was saying.
“I don’t know what to tell you. It means, nothing’s wrong. I’m looking at your blood work, no cancer, no tumors, your cholesterol’s fine, blood pressure’s good. Just take it easy, all right?”
But I couldn’t feel right about any of this. My wife smiled and gave me a hug when I told her the good news, and for the most part I tried to keep a lid on my mounting sense of unease. But as the days passed I grew more uncomfortable. Worse, I could tell that my wife was starting to feel something off also. She wasn’t saying anything, not out loud, but when you know someone as well as I know my wife, I could just sense that she was still worried.
Maybe it was because I was worried, I tried to tell myself. Maybe she knew me just as well as I knew her, and maybe my anxiety was spreading.
But then one morning before work, I was taking a shower when I heard my wife open the bathroom door. I was just finishing up, and she needed to take a shower next. When I pushed aside the curtain, as I faced her, dripping wet, she stood opposite me, naked, waiting to step inside. In that moment we locked eyes, and the truth was unavoidable.
I was now eye-level with my wife, which was impossible, because I’d always been bigger, taller. Standing there across from each other, with no clothes to mask what had become painfully obvious, we were now almost exactly the same size. Something was horribly wrong. I wasn’t just losing weight, I was getting shorter. I was shrinking.