There was no more trying to pretend that this wasn’t a serious problem. No matter how much I denied the possibility of what was going on, no matter how much I wanted to wake up as if this were all some sort of a bad dream, I kept shrinking, smaller and smaller. Over the course of the next week, I shrank more and more every day. It seemed like every morning I’d wake up to find myself looking higher up at my wife. And we had no idea what to do.
The shrinking was noticeable on a daily basis, maybe even more frequently. But I couldn’t always tell, seeing as how I physically felt like the same person. Even now, when I close my eyes and just try to imagine myself in my own body, it’s not like I feel any smaller. It’s more like the world around me is getting bigger. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective. But what I mean to get at is, without feeling any different, without being able to notice my own changes, I had to rely on my wife’s point of view, and my physical space relative to the world around me.
In the beginning, there were a lot of logistical hurdles that kept us busy, little actions we both had to take so I could adapt to my constantly changing body. It made us both feel like we were being proactive, doing something to get ahead of the problem, although this was mostly an illusion, because the bigger issue of why I kept getting smaller wasn’t at all being addressed.
And there was a lot to do and redo every day. Clothing was a huge issue. For a while I was able to get by digging further into my wife’s wardrobe, borrowing skinnier pairs of jeans, smaller fitting t-shirts. But after a week or so, I’d say that I had to be maybe a full head shorter than her. This called into question a couple of things: one, this wasn’t going to work for too much longer, so I needed to get my hands on some smaller clothing, and two, I realized that I needed to start trying to keep track of how much size I was losing each day.
These weren’t things I was eager to do. This whole situation, it was really hard to confront directly. It was kind of like having a really nasty wound. I remember one time a few years ago I fell off of my bike and cut up my shoulder pretty badly. The pain was intense, yes, but the worst part was having to clean and dress the injury every day. I couldn’t stand to see my skin torn apart, to have to come face-to-face with the fragility of my body. I found that I was having a similar reaction to my constantly changing size. No, I couldn’t avoid the fact that I was losing mass, but having to measure it, to write down numbers, it was the equivalent of peeling back the bandage and having to stare right at my own mortality.
And the clothing, my wife kept offering to run out and buy me some new clothes, but I couldn’t get myself to engage. She’d bring up the issue, and I’d mumble this or that about not knowing what to do, all while sitting in one of her tops or pairs of shorts that kept getting bigger on me every day. Finally she came home one afternoon with a shopping bag from a department store.
“Here,” she placed the bag by me as gently as possible, “I bought a bunch of different sizes, in case this doesn’t get any better,” she said. Then she left me alone to do with them what I want. I tentatively looked inside. There were all sorts of children’s clothing, simple shorts and t-shirts. There was nothing especially juvenile about the styles, but I felt a pain in my gut, a sharp sting that lit up deep inside and spread outward across my body.
For whatever reason, actually having to put on those clothes made me even more ashamed, even though I knew that I had no reason to be embarrassed by what was going on. If I were sick, would I feel shame? No, I’d tell myself, look, you’re sick, this happens, there’s nothing you can do about it. But despite my trying to distance myself from my emotions, the rational part of my brain simply wasn’t enough to get my feelings under control.
I asked my wife to cover all the mirrors. I put on the little kid clothes, but I didn’t want to face myself in the mirror. I closed my eyes and tried to picture myself as I knew I really looked. That despite the world around me, I my arms still felt like my arms, my legs like my same old legs. In my mind’s eye I was big, strong, still living in a world built around my scale and proportions.
By this point I’d already called out of work indefinitely. I didn’t know quite what to say to my boss, other than that I had a pretty mysterious medical issue, that the doctors weren’t sure what was going on, and that I was having trouble getting seen by any specialists. She didn’t want to let it go. Over the phone she truly sounded concerned, asking me if there was anything she or the company could do to help. And as much as I really did need help from wherever it might have been offered, I couldn’t think of anything anybody at work would have been able to do.
The last thing I wanted was for other people to get involved, to see me in this state. Like I said, I started keeping track of how much height and weight I was losing every day. And while the results weren’t totally consistent, it was obvious that the rate of shrinkage was getting faster over time. The first day I measured, I found that I was missing an inch the following day. The day after that I had lost a little more.
After two or three days, I couldn’t deal with the numbers, it was overwhelming to think about. My brain started doing the math, and I didn’t want to imagine where I’d be a week from now, or a month. My wife started measuring me, every day she’s try to put on a stoic expression as she read the tape measurer and wrote down whatever it was in a little notebook. She really did try to play it cool, but I could see the way the pencil shook in her hands. She had to have been running the numbers herself.
About a week after that, I must have been two heads shorter than wife, there was a knock at the door. Immediately I jumped up, not expecting any visitors.
“Honey,” I whispered to my wife as she went to answer the front door, “just, whoever it is, just get rid of them.”
She gave me a look but didn’t say anything. I watched her open the door, and she greeted whoever was on the other side as if she were expecting them.
“Hi,” I heard her say, “thanks so much for coming.”
“I don’t know why you didn’t call us sooner …” I knew that voice. I couldn’t believe that my wife had gone behind my back like this.
“Oh my God,” my father said as he followed my mother into the living room. “Son, are you …” he trailed off, obviously at a loss for words.
My mom stepped forward and reached her arm out to where I was sitting, but her hand trembled and she broke down in tears.
“Mom!” I yelled. Then I turned to my wife, “Jesus, honey, what are you doing? I told you I didn’t want to get anyone else involved.”
My dad turned to my wife and said, “When you told us over the phone, I didn’t believe it … I can’t … and the doctor didn’t say anything?”
“Dad, listen,” I said, “you and mom shouldn’t be here. We’re trying to …”
“No,” my wife interrupted me, talking to my father, “like I said, they ran blood work, and everything came back normal. They referred him to a specialist, but they can’t see him for a while …”
“Hey, could you all please stop talking about me as if I weren’t here?” I tried to insert myself back into the conversation. I was already feeling small enough as it was, and the way they were talking over me, I felt almost invisible.
My mother sat down at the opposite end of the couch and regained her composure somewhat. “Well,” she said, “have you gone to a hospital? Where else are you looking for help?”
“He doesn’t …” my wife trailed off.
“I don’t what? What does that mean?” I said.
She looked away. “He doesn’t want to … and I don’t know how to … we’ve just been in the house. He’s called out from work. I don’t know what to …”
“Hey, that’s not fair,” I said. “This has been really hard for me.”
“I know,” she said, “but it’s been really hard for me too. I don’t know what you want me to say.” Then she turned back to my parents. “Yeah, we probably should have been better about figuring out what to do, but I can’t … I guess that’s why I called you. I don’t … we don’t know what to do here.” Then she started crying softly.
“That’s not true,” I said. I was defensive. I didn’t like being put on the spot like this. “I have the specialist’s appointment in a little over two months. What else can I do in the meantime? What am I going to do, go for more blood work? A CT scan? You think that’s going to help?”
I was getting worked up now. My heart was pounding and I didn’t even realize I was lashing out at the person closest to me. Nobody said anything, and I tried to get my breathing under control.
Finally my wife broke the silence. She looked at me and managed to choke out through her tears, “Listen, I know you don’t want to hear this, but just take a look at the numbers. We can’t wait around for that appointment.”
“But …” I tried to interrupt.
“No, listen,” she said. “We need to figure this out now. In a couple of months, I don’t know if there going to be any … it’s just math, plain math. At the rate you’re … at the rate you’re shrinking, you’ll be too small. It’ll be like there won’t be anything left.”