“This isn’t possible,” my wife stared at me while I reached for a towel.
After all of the mental anguish I’d gone through in the past two weeks, I was just starting to think that maybe it would be OK to relax a little, that maybe the doctor was right, that I was getting myself crazy over nothing. But this was four or five inches, this wasn’t something I could just write off as me being overly paranoid.
“I thought the doctor said that everything was fine,” she said to me as I stepped into a pair of boxers. I was swimming in them. They practically came down to my knees, and the elastic waist wasn’t tight enough to close around my hips. I started to panic.
“I don’t know, I thought, it’s just that …” I spoke quickly, hoping that if I just thought or talked or gestured fast enough, it would somehow make up for my total lack of action. Because all I wanted to do was act, take action, something, that was my instinct. I had a problem and I wanted to deal with it. But I had no idea what a first step would have looked like. And after standing there in front of my wife for a couple of minutes, holding up my underwear around my diminished frame with my left hand, I found my words starting to fail me also.
Because what was there to say? That I was shrinking? That doesn’t make any sense. Cancer makes sense. Tumors, diseases … a terminal diagnosis, that’s something that I can wrap my head around. You go to the doctor, he shakes his head and says he’s afraid there’s not much to be done. But at least that’s an answer, right? At least you can you look at a piece of paper and think, OK, this is what’s happening to me. I’m faced with my undoing, but there’s a name for it, there’s a certain protocol in how to deal with these sorts of things.
But standing there mostly naked in front of my wife, I don’t even know how to describe the fear of not knowing what the hell was going on. When I eventually stopped spitting out, “I don’t know,” and, “this can’t be right,” we wound up facing each other in silence for a long minute or two.
I felt a profound sense of embarrassment, which was a little unexpected. Maybe it was the way she was looking at me. She was worried, I could tell, and it was the type of worry that broke through her naturally strong defenses in the face of adversity. Seeing her scared made me even more afraid, yes, but for whatever reason it also made me feel a little less than, like I was no longer the same person.
She shook it off and said, “All right, well, let’s go see the doctor.”
“Again?” I said, unhappy with the answer. “He already said I was fine. What are they going to do?”
“I don’t know, all right?” she snapped back. “Look, what else can we do? You have any other ideas? Because I don’t know.”
“No, you’re right,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
“No, I’m sorry too,” she said, “this is just really freaking me out a little.”
It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but I was actually a little relieved by her honesty. Because yeah, this was really freaking me out too. It had been freaking me out near constantly to varying degrees over the course of the past two weeks. And now to have that feeling reciprocated, validated, I was still freaked out, sure, but now a little bit of that shame started to melt away.
“We’ll figure it out,” she said, giving me a smile, small but sincere nonetheless. “I love you.” Then she paused and, gesturing toward the boxers draped around my waist, she said, “But …”
“Yeah,” I said, “I guess this isn’t going to work. Do you have any ideas?”
“I mean, what have you been doing for the past few days?”
“I just … I’ve just been bunching everything up and tucking it all in. But yeah, I don’t know, I think it’s gotten to the point where my belt’s not even going to be enough to keep these on.”
“Well,” she said, tentatively, “And try not to get upset here, but I think we’re more or less the same size now.”
I knew where she was going with this, and my burning embarrassment doubled back. She must have seen my face turn bright red, so we didn’t talk about it. She just went into her closet and picked out an outfit of her most gender-neutral clothing. Which, again, I’m sure it was mostly in my head, but I couldn’t help but thinking that even though it was called a boyfriend shirt, it still looked like it was obviously cut for a woman.
“Isn’t that better?” she said after I got dressed. Nothing really felt any better, but for the first time since this all started, at least my clothes fit.
The doctor was booked that day, but I insisted, and when the receptionist refused to give me an appointment that day, I eventually wound up driving to the office, demanding to be seen.
I had to wait a few hours, but finally they called me in, and I was brought to the same examination room I’d been to just a few days ago.
“Listen,” I told the doctor, “I know you said that everything’s fine and everything, but I’m telling you, I’m getting smaller. I’m smaller now than I was when I came in for those test results.”
He looked at me for a second before talking. “I’m not sure I’m really … all of your tests came back fine …”
“No,” I interrupted him. “I know you said the test results were fine. But this is like, something’s happening here where I’m getting shorter, smaller.” I was getting myself worked up. I could hear myself growing hysterical. I took a few deep breaths and tried to say as measured as I could, “Look, I’ve always been about four or five inches taller than my wife. OK? And today we’re the same height. Look, I’m wearing her clothes. These aren’t mine. All of my clothes are too big for me now. I mean, that’s not normal, right? That’s … something’s wrong here. I need help.”
After a minute I could tell that there was a wave of uncertainty breaking through the doctor’s professional exterior. The skin in between his eyebrows crinkled in a way that betrayed his loss of what to say.
“I …” he started, but trailed off. He took out his phone and, after swiping this way and that, started again, “There’s … there’s a bone specialist in the city. He might have a better idea as to … on how to go forward. I mean, we could try for an endocrinologist, but your blood work came back fine and … and these specialists, they’re not easy to get appointments. I’m not sure what you’re insurance is going to say about any of this.”
The way he was acting, it was like he was retreating into himself. It was that same subtle fear I’d seen growing in the corners of my wife’s eyes for two weeks now, that fear of the unknown that was on full display that morning in the shower. He didn’t know what was going on, that much was obvious. But the worst part wasn’t the lack of answers, it was the way I could tell he wanted me out of his office. I felt like I represented some sort of a blind spot to his training, to his profession. My very existence seemed to stand in defiance to the foundation of all that science and modern medicine promised to offer for modern man’s peace of mind.
“Thanks,” I said, taking the phone number he’d written down.
I walked out of the office and got in my car. The same two-door hatchback that I’ve had for years now, it never felt roomy, but in my smaller state I might as well have been sitting in a Crown Vic. I checked and rechecked the mirrors. I still wasn’t used to my new perspective, and regardless of how much I shifted the seat or adjusted my rearview, I couldn’t settle into anything resembling normalcy.
When I got home, I called the bone specialist, and not only did they not accept my insurance, but there was a three-month waiting list for the next appointment. I tried arguing my case to the receptionist on the other end, but he wouldn’t budge.
“You don’t understand,” I begged, “The doctors don’t know what’s going on, and I’m getting smaller.”
“OK well you said your blood work was fine, right?” he said over the phone. “So we’ve got a waiting list for patients with bone cancer. I’m not trying to be rude here, but three months is your best case scenario.”
He hung up the phone and I was once again left alone for my thoughts to run wild and fester. I’d called out sick from work to go the doctor, and my wife wasn’t going to be home until later tonight. I thought about giving her a call, about telling her how it went, but I couldn’t bear the thought of even a moment’s hesitation on the other end of the phone.
I needed some lunch. I got some food from the deli. Normally I could plow through two sandwiches easily, but today it was like all I could do to finish half of one.
With the rest of the day to myself, I tried to watch TV, to take my mind off of what was going on. But I couldn’t pay attention to anything. In my mind I saw myself shrinking, smaller and smaller, nobody able to figure out what was going on. When would it end? How much more could my body take?
The clothes my wife had given me, she had picked out some of her more loose fitting items, but even now they felt bigger than when I’d put them on. Was that possible? Or was I imagining it? Could I have really gotten smaller just since the morning?
Later that night when my wife finally got home, I jumped off the couch, relieved to not have to sit alone with my toxic thoughts any longer.
“Hey babe,” I said, greeting her at the door.
“Oh my God …” she dropped her purse at the entranceway.
There was only maybe a second where I didn’t comprehend why she was so alarmed. But right away I knew I had to have gotten noticeably smaller since we last saw each other. And yeah, looking up at her, she clearly had a height advantage on me now. It wasn’t much, maybe an inch, inch and a half. But there was no mistaking where this was headed.
“It’s getting worse,” she said. It sounded like she was out of breath, like this was triggering some sort of an anxiety attack.
“The doctor didn’t know what was going on. He referred me to a specialist, but they can’t see me for a while now.” I started to panic too. We both stood there, our hearts racing. “What do I do?” I looked up at her, desperate for some reassurance, for a suggestion, just any measure of comfort.
But she looked down at me and then away. I could see tears in the corners of her eyes.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know.”