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Self-proclaimed ‘Fatty’ undertakes a bulge battle

Edward Ugel didn't set out to write a weight-loss memoir. But after his life took a few alarming turns, he was forced to ask himself tough questions like “Can I really live without bacon?" This is the story of his journey.

Chapter 1

I’m at the age where food has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact, I just had a mirror put over my kitchen table. — Rodney Dangerfield

August is an insufferable time of year in Bethesda, Maryland. Once the cherry blossoms have come and gone, a dense blanket of heat and humidity falls on the city and doesn’t let up until well past Labor Day. During the late summer, there is little to enjoy in town besides local blue crabs and good central air-conditioning. Other than that, you’d be just as happy baking in the sun down in Florida. At least there, everybody’s got a pool.

During the height of the summer, I usually try to stay indoors as much as possible. For a six-foot-two guy who just recently surged past 260 pounds, the heat makes sweat pour out of me like Albert Brooks in Broadcast News. But with two young daughters, like it or not, I’m outside all the time.

We have one of those $14.99 Toys “R” Us plastic pools in our backyard. Unfortunately, Sasha and Romy cry every time I try to get in with them. It drives me crazy.

One day last August, I made a big show out of throwing the back door open, stripping down to my boxers, and jumping into the pool. Thinking I’d get some credit for my wacky-dad-jumps-in-pool routine, I was met instead with the shrieks of two terrified girls and a familiar look of disgust from my wife, Brooke. The fact that half the pool’s water had spilled out onto the deck didn’t help my cause.

“This is OUR pool, Daddy!” Sasha yelled.

“Edward, get out of the g---amn pool.” Brooke added. “They’re upset.”

“There’s no more water,” Sasha added. “You’re too big. Mommy—he’s too big!”

I was too big.

With my feelings hurt, and my ego bruised, I got out of the pool and threw some early childhood guilt at Sasha.

“Daddy bought the pool. You’re not sharing with me. That makes me feel bad. How about I take it back to the store, or give the pool to a girl who wants to share with her daddy?” I said, trying to maintain the illusion of being a grown-up.

“Very helpful, honey,” Brooke said. “Thanks for stopping by.”

“She was mean to me first!”

“She’s four.”

“There’s still such a thing as manners.”

“Edward, go inside.”

I could not wait for the cool fronts of autumn.

My kid was correct. My eating had gotten entirely out of hand. I spent the entire month of August frantically eating like a bear prepping for hibernation. In fact, August was a full-blown disaster. What exactly happened? I gained ten pounds. (He bows and waves to the crowd.)

I’m told gaining ten pounds in such a short period of time is actually quite hard to pull off. Normally, someone who gains that much weight in a month is either pregnant, trying to win a bar bet, or preparing for their role in Raging Bull. For the rest of us — it’s not viewed as an accomplishment.

That night in bed, Brooke finally brought it up. She not only pointed out that there was an elephant in the room, she took aim and shot at it.

“We’ve got to talk about what’s happening with your weight.”

“Is this because of what happened in the pool today?”

“Are you serious?”

“Sasha was rude to me.”

“A child, your child, was rude to you?”

“Yes ... she made me feel fat.”

“Honey ...”

“What? I am fat? Is that the point?”

“I’m not calling you fat. But I am concerned about you.”

“I’m just, I don’t know ... in a bit of a funk.”

“A funk?”

“No good? You’re not buying the whole ‘funk’ thing? I thought it had a shot—”

“— I want you to hear something.”

Brooke reached into her nightstand and pulled out my microcassette recorder—never a good thing. I quickly went through a horrifying montage of all the things that could be on the recorder. It was a coin toss whether or not to simply listen or smash the recorder to pieces and jump out the window like Chief in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Thinking better of it, I did as she requested and pressed play.

The recording sounded like an animal doing something unseemly — perhaps having sex, killing and eating its prey, or slowly dying. Whatever it was, I felt sorry for it and quietly hoped it was done suffering.

“What is that?”

“It’s you.”

“Me? What am I doing, protecting my cubs from hunters?”

“You’re snoring.”

“Impossible.”

“That’s why I recorded it. It’s unbelievable.”

“How long does it go on?”

“Forever.”

“What do you make of it?”

“I think it’s because of all the ... I think it’s weight-related.”

“I never snored before?”

“Not like this. This is something entirely different. This seems . . . medical.”

“Medical?”

“I googled it.”

“You googled ‘snoring’?”

“I googled ‘snoring and weight gain.’”

“What’d it say?”

“It says we need to talk to a doctor.”

It’s not that Brooke was tired of walking around with a fluffier version of me. It wasn’t my jowls or the closetful of clothes that no longer fit me. It was the snoring. In the end, the snoring did me in. You can’t maintain the illusion that everything’s under control when you’re fast asleep.

As was often the case during the months since our second daughter was born, I blamed Brooke for my less-than-perfect mood. No doubt, she blamed me for hers, too. In the dog days of our sixth year of marriage, we spent our time juggling poopy diapers and burp cloths, and muttering sarcastic comments under our breath. At night, when our two beautiful daughters were asleep, we’d do our best not to suffocate each other with a pillow. Luckily, with a three-month-old baby, you always sleep with one eye open. Every time I even thought about smothering Brooke, she knowingly told me to stop fidgeting and go to sleep.

Yes, dear.

We were no longer newlyweds. We were simply married people. This was a cold war. She was winning. Détente would likely come only once the new baby was off to college. Until then, we were North and South Korea.

Despite the recent ... tensions, Brooke was still my best friend. I can’t help it — I like my wife. She’s the one I first want to speak with when things go right, and the person I lean on when things go wrong. Either way, I want her by my side. Fiercely loyal and eerily well-organized, she’s the ideal counterbalance to my chaotic self. She’s the Lucy to my Pig-Pen — if Lucy weren’t such a raving bitch.

As either of my two chins would tell you, I’m cursed with bad genes. Every time I eat a sandwich, it sticks to me like glue. Brooke, on the other hand, is graced with a beautiful, curvy body tied together with a tight, flat tummy. Even after two kids, she’s got the same body she had in high school. She’s actually more beautiful today than she was when we first started dating. She’s aging like Meryl Streep. I, however, look more like Henry Kissinger with every passing hour. She got the short end of the stick in this marriage. I’m walking around like a lottery winner with her on my arm. She’s stuck with a socially awkward Mr. Snuffleupagus for the rest of her life. On the bright side, I’m a good cook and I’ve made the playoffs in my fantasy football league two out of the past fourteen years. So, I’m quite a catch myself.

Brooke’s a natural beauty, with flawless skin and big brown eyes — think the best parts of Tina Fey and Jennifer Grey. She’s also so damn nice to everyone, it drives me absolutely batty. I spend a substantial part of my life trying not to despise everyone who walks on two feet. Brooke sees the good in everyone — even me. How can she love this doughy, annoyed malcontent? Her goodness, set against my badness, well, it absolutely mystifies me. Yet in those long, hot days of August, I found myself pushing her further and further away. It’s hard to love someone when you barely like yourself — even if that someone is your doting wife.

What a mess I make of things.

Brooke was genuinely concerned about me. In fact, she was scared. And she had a right to be. After she consulted our family doctor, she learned that I was probably not just snoring too much, but suffering from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is when you stop breathing while you sleep. The kicker? If you do it long enough — stop breathing — you die from heart failure. Not good. Brooke had decided to light a match to shed some light on my sleeping issues and was handed back a stick of dynamite instead. Serves her right.

Boom.

I never used to snore. It only started a few years ago, when I began gaining weight as if I were raising money by the pound for charity. Like everyone else, I have always hated snoring. I consider it a major character flaw, like chewing with your mouth open. Once, I even refused to share a room with one of my best friends on our annual Vegas trip because his snoring ruined the precious few hours of sleep you get out there. Suddenly it was looking like I’d be the sad sack with my own room in Vegas. Brooke had to put up with my snoring. My best friends spending the weekend with me? Not a chance. Fifty-fifty odds say they’d wheel the sleeping me onto the elevator and send me down to the casino level to get arrested in my underwear. I, no doubt, would do the very same to them.

Of course, our family doctor just happens to be good-looking and charming and generally a great guy. Dr. Williams is in his early forties, has a few kids of his own, and is the spitting image of Joel McHale, who hosts The Soup on E! Odds are that the good doctor doesn’t snore at all, much less snore and stop breathing — scaring the hell out of his wife every night. I wish I were married to him, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the thought has crossed Brooke’s mind a time or two. I’m sure it just killed her to confide in Dr. Wonderful about me.

Once he realized that I might have sleep apnea, Brooke said Dr. Williams acted all worried about me, completely freaking her out — laying the foundation for her to move on to an eventual life without me. I, the elephant not in the room, wasn’t there to hear what was said or defend myself. That was probably for the best, because I’d likely have gotten all pouty and defensive, making Dr. Williams’ case against me that much stronger. It was an intervention without the patient — just two caring, non-snoring, thin, happy people with postgraduate degrees standing there in the examination room — all full of concern and straight teeth and great eyes and diplomas on the wall. Get a room.

Dr. Williams said that my way out of the snoring mess started with a mandatory field trip to the Center for Sleep and Wake Disorders in Chevy Chase, Maryland. This would include a night sleeping under the watchful eye of a lab technician, a myriad of computers, and several beeping machines. Together, they would break down my sleep habits and report the data back to Dr. Williams. What specifically would they look for? They wanted to know if I stopped breathing while I slept. If so, how often? Did they care about the snoring? Sure, but more out of empathy for my wife. In reality, snoring isn’t going to kill anyone except if, out of frustration, your wife whacks you over the head with a frying pan. The sleep apnea actually can.

When I finally went to see Dr. Williams myself, he assured me that I needed to do the overnight test. He promised me that he wasn’t just taking Brooke’s side. He promised me that if I didn’t, I was at risk of not making it past forty. He added that, on a personal note, from the way my wife was talking, it was either the sleep center or the guest room in my basement. Dr. Williams had a point. I needed to do this both for myself and for the good of my marriage.

Clearly, I was going to the sleep study. Apparently, I was going soon. Unbeknownst to me, Brooke had already made an appointment for that Sunday night — the same night the Bears were playing the Colts in Indianapolis. So much for football.

Standing in the sleep center’s elevator on Sunday night, I could feel the blood falling out of my face. This was getting serious. I was alone, and I’m not my best audience. Normally at a time like this, when I’m scared, I’ll make jokes to Brooke or anyone else who will listen. I’d joke my way through this — as I do most everything else. Anything to keep me from thinking about what’s waiting upstairs. I knew I’d walk out the next morning with paperwork documenting what I’d known for some time — I was fat and I was in trouble. Right now there was no punch line, no water-squirting flower, no spit take. Once those elevator doors opened on the seventeenth floor, Fatty’s not so funny.

The Center for Sleep and Wake Disorders claims to be “a full service sleep center caring for patients with all disorders of sleep and wakefulness.” Translation: if it keeps you up or makes you tired, they deal with it ... as long as you’ve got the cash.

On the seventeenth floor, a technician opened the door to the sleep center and asked my name without saying so much as hello. I was the latest in a long line of fat guys to come for this slumber party. Still, what gives? I know it wasn’t the Four Seasons, but the sleep center was charging me $700 for this g---amn room — $700 my insurance company told me they wouldn’t be covering. So I think a smile and a “welcome to the worst night of your life,” or at least a “hiya” wouldn’t have been asking too much.

I was shown to a reception desk. There were four other technicians milling about doing various tasks. They were all dressed in matching khakis and blue golf shirts with the company’s logo on the breast. They looked like the graveyard shift at Best Buy. Check-in was virtually the same as at any hotel. Yet the air tubes, face masks, and electronic gadgets lying about didn’t exactly give off a Marriott vibe. I was in my very own canto of hell.

I peeked down the hall and saw two heavyset older men fecklessly looking for their rooms — think James Gandolfini and John Madden. They’d obviously been there for a while, because they were both wearing pajamas and already had wires and electrodes attached to their bodies.

They were just walking the halls dragging all these cords behind them. To complete the ensemble, they were both wearing dress socks and slippers. It’s not a good look. In fact, it was frighteningly surreal. These were my roommates. It hit me like a sucker punch ... These are my roommates? Holy Christ! What have I done to myself? All the other guys who were being forced by their wives, children, or doctors to sleep in a cage were my dad’s age — or older. There was no one in there vaguely within spitting distance of my age. I wasn’t expecting to have to see anyone else when I got there, much less men who looked so old, so out of shape ... so much like me. I wanted out, but there was no way Brooke would let me in the house if I left. I was there to make her happy. If I left, she’d be plenty upset and a bit panicked, too. Like it or not, I was staying.

They put me in Room 10, the one closest to the reception area. It had a twin bed, some hooks to hang up my clothes, and a sink surrounded by all kinds of tubes and ointments. That’s it. Basically, it looked like a massage parlor ... or so I’m told. There was no TV, no phone, no toilet, no Brooke, nothing.

The guy checking me in mentioned in passing that this was the worst room because it was unbearably hot. Admittedly, it’s an interesting sales technique, simply stating that the room sucks. And all this for $700. He quickly added that they were all booked up so they couldn’t move me to another room. Perfect.

He wasn’t kidding. It was hot in there. The air was stale, pungent. It smelled like they’d been cooking curry just behind the wall to my room. Perhaps the smell was left over from last night’s fat guy. Maybe he ordered takeout. Could we do that here? I was curious but way too intimidated to ask.

I would have complained to the management about the heat and the smell and the lack of a happy-hour buffet if I hadn’t been so totally mortified to be there in the first place. Making a stink right now, since I was about to be in their hands for the rest of the night while they glued electrodes all over my body, didn’t seem the wise play.

I was told to sit down and wait for my technician to come back. “Feel free to make yourself comfortable,” he said. I considered pooping on the floor.

Instead, I waited in the curried heat and stared at the door. I wondered what the tech would look like. Was it someone I’d seen out front? Was it a man or a woman? I prayed that it was a man — a big, boring man.

Not quite.

My tech walked into the room. She was gorgeous. She was a sexy giggle machine not a day over twenty-four. Her name was Margaux, pronounced as if you were a French bartender, not Forrest Gump. She had beautiful caramel skin and emerald green eyes. Plus, she laughed at everything I said. She couldn’t seem to help herself. I was apparently adorable. It became clear that my night, which was supposed to be spent trying to save my life, would undoubtedly be derailed by me making jokes and trying to impress her. Perhaps she’d like to split a pizza?

Talking to a beautiful woman, much less actually saying something charming, has always been tough for me. I’m insanely insecure, and this scene, the sleep clinic, where I was the fat patient, wasn’t exactly teeing me up. What was she going to find most seductive, the wedding ring wedged onto my fat finger? My size 40 pants, which were conspicuously unbuttoned—my belt the only thing keeping them from falling to the floor? Any one of my chins? My man boobs? Exactly which of these qualities should I try to highlight in the brief time we had before she tucked me into bed like a sickly child?

“I have to measure your nostrils,” she said.

“My what? Why?”

I flashed back in a photo montage of the 8,941 times I’d picked my nose prior to that moment. I think I picked my nose in the car on the way over  — and again on the elevator. Damn boogers. I wish I could quit you.

She came at my nose with some sort of sadistic measuring device to gauge exactly what she was up against.

“My nose has an apology letter from my grandfather in my bag.”

“Tell your nose it’s charming ...”

“It thinks you’re just saying that to be nice.”

“It’s very distinguished.”

“Like Jimmy Durante ...”

“I don’t know who that is.”

“He’s a point guard for the Knicks.”

“Oh, cool.”

So she wasn’t the girl of my dreams. That was likely for the best.

“You’re gonna need a large-sized nose piece.”

“What? You sure I’m not a medium?” My voice quivered ... I’m so cool.

“I wish,” she said, completely serious. “Ain’t happening.”

Our date was going well. She was going to love my parents.

Before Margaux started attaching all manner of wires and electrodes to my body, she explained that I had to choose between one of two different styles of CPAP mask. A CPAP is a machine that shoots a constant stream of air directly into your nose. It stops the soft palate (the flappy thing in the back of your throat that makes you snore) from wiggling around. When you snore, the soft palate flops around like an unhinged screen door in a windstorm. When you’re wearing the CPAP mask, the second the flap falls down, the air from the machine knocks it right back into place. It’s not as technically savvy as an iPhone, but it certainly works. No flapping, no snoring.

When you wear the CPAP mask, you’re supposed to inhale and exhale through your nose, something I find extremely hard to do. Why can’t you breathe through your mouth? Because when you do, the air being pumped up your nose makes an awkward U-turn and comes screaming uncontrollably out of your mouth, accompanied by a vicious hissing sound. It’s exactly like the sound the suction hook at the dentist’s makes when it’s getting all the saliva out of your mouth. Make love to me, Margaux....

The CPAP machine itself sat on a table and was attached to an air tube, which connected to the face mask that was now strapped to my head. She was outfitting this absurd elephant’s tusk to properly hang off my face, but I was still hamming it up for her. I looked like that fat guy who flies Starfighters with Luke Skywalker at the end of Star Wars. He’s the one who dies just before Luke shoots his blaster into the Death Star. The fat guy dies. How original.

Of the two mask styles from which I could choose, the first looked exactly like a men’s athletic cup sitting upside down over my nose. I passed. The second had two stubby air tubes which fit snugly inside my nostrils. The benefit? There’s no actual cup covering the majority of your face. The negatives? Imagine having Joe Garagiola’s thumbs jammed up your nose. It was so uncomfortable, so alien, that I suddenly understood the draw of option one.

Pressured to make a decision, I chose the mask with the nostril tubes — the lesser of two absolute evils. Margaux fit it on my head using Velcro and a chin strap. Yes, from now on, I was to wear a chin strap to bed. It was a nightmare. I sneaked a glance at myself in the mirror. I wondered what my kids would think if they could see me. Would they laugh or cry? And what about Brooke? This little contraption would do nothing to spice up our love life. What the hell was she supposed to think should I have to strap this baby on at night? Paging Barry White.

I told Margaux that I looked ridiculous. She quickly agreed with me. She added that I should wear the mask to the grocery store so I could park in a handicap space. Charming.

This was the plan for the rest of the night: I was supposed to fall asleep with all these wires and electrodes taped and glued to my scalp, chest, belly, and knees. If I actually fell asleep, they would monitor my sleep habits without the CPAP mask for a few hours. If I didn’t show signs of sleep apnea, they’d let me sleep through the night and that would be that. If I showed signs of sleep apnea, Margaux would come in and make me put on the mask. In essence, if they wake you up, you’re in trouble.

As she made final preparations before turning off the lights, I informed her that I was going to be one of the lucky ones, the data buster, the sleep-through-the-night guy. As she slid the door shut, she whispered back, “Good luck with that.” I was starting to hate her.

The room was now pitch-black, but I knew they were watching me. Not only were they watching — they were taking notes. They were judging me and laughing and drinking sodas and having an all-around good time at my expense. Tomorrow, they’d share the results with my doctor, who would make me wear this sadistic clown mask to bed for the rest of my life.

Lying there in the dark, knowing the staff was right outside, knowing they could measure my heartbeat, my oxygen levels, et cetera, I’d never been so self-conscious in my life. For Maryland’s most self-conscious man, that was really saying something. The night-vision camera’s red eye stared down at me from the ceiling. I stared back in depressed horror and tried to imagine a less appropriate time to masturbate than right there, right then. Finally, I drifted off to sleep.

After what seemed like only a few minutes, Margaux came in and told me that I had to put on the mask. She said I was “well over the limit of acceptable results.” I scurried to write down her words, because I knew I wouldn’t remember them in a few hours.

“How long was I asleep?”

“About two hours.”

“How bad was it?”

“Bad.”

“Bad enough to need a machine at home?”

“Bad enough for your wife to move out.”

“Do you know something I don’t?”

“No. Just a hunch.”

With that middle-of-the-night-insult placed squarely in my lap, she shoved the tubes into my nostrils, tightened my Velcro chin strap, told me to breathe through my nose, and walked out of the room.

And there I was, in that dark room, all by myself.

There were two plastic tubes shoved deep inside my nose, blowing cool air into my brain so I didn’t drop dead. I was thirty-six years old. What had I done to myself? For the first time in my life, I was scared of being fat. This wasn’t about looking good or fitting into an old suit. This wasn’t about having the confidence to walk into a bar without feeling like everyone was measuring my love handles. This wasn’t funny. This was life support. This was literally life support. I was the elephant in the room.

I didn’t end up there because of my genes. I didn’t end up there because I fell ill. This wasn’t some bad hand of cards that I’d been dealt. I was there because I wouldn’t stop eating. I did it to myself. It didn’t have to happen.

With the slightest bit of control, I wouldn’t have been there. I wanted to cry. If I hadn’t been completely convinced that one single tear would electrocute every single inch of me, that’s just what I would have done. For the second time, I fell asleep trying to imagine lying next to my wife with this monstrosity hanging off my face. I never wanted to eat again.

At dawn, Margaux woke me up with all the tenderness of a drill sergeant and told me I could leave. Reality had set in, and I was done playing the silly fool. I was too spent. Plus, like any good psychotic, I’d decided to place the blame for my situation squarely at her feet. I hated her now. This was all her fault. I imagine that, after listening to me snore the night away, she was just about done with me, too. We barely spoke as she pulled all the wires off my body. It was awkward. I wanted out. Worst one-night stand ... ever.

Before I left, she asked me to fill out a survey. I checked off the boxes in random order and didn’t go out of my way to write anything nice. I grabbed my stuff and headed toward the door. As I made my way out, I heard her mumble, “Enjoy your CPAP machine,” under her breath.

Traitor.

Two weeks later, I was looking for my grandfather’s old leatherwork hole punch. Once again, I’d outgrown my fat belt, my “in case of emergency” belt. My closet offered no further solutions. This belt was the solution. At this point, it was the leather punch or the Big and Tall store near the mall. There’s nothing I like less than going to the Big and Tall store. To date, I’d been only once — okay, three times. Shameful, that place. Everyone there is sad, embarrassed, or both — it’s a little like the waiting room at my shrink’s office. The Big and Tall store is where you go when you’ve broken every promise to yourself, when all else has failed, when the only comfortable wardrobe offerings in your closet come with drawstrings or elastic. It’s where you go when there’s nowhere else to go.

I had a follow-up appointment with Dr. Williams that day and I was desperate for a pair of pants that actually fit, in case he asked me to take off my shirt. The last thing I needed at that point was for my own doctor to see firsthand that I could no longer button my size 40 pants. It wouldn’t go over well when I was still trying to convince him that I didn’t need to sleep with the medical equivalent of a dunce cap strapped to my face. If nothing else, I should show up in a pair of pants that fit.

Dr. Williams had already reviewed the data from the sleep center. I knew what the numbers were going to say. I knew what this appointment was really about. I was about to get a big pep talk about how great the CPAP machine is, how it was going to change my life and all that crap. The bottom line was, he was going to make me promise to wear it, and I was going to say yes. I had to say yes if I wanted to stay married and, perhaps, live past football season.

As always, Dr. Williams was great. He blew into the room like a magician at a kid’s birthday party — all full of life and energy. I admit — it was infectious. He was all pumped up, so I got pumped up. He told me all kinds of bad news from the sleep study, but his Zig Ziglar delivery worked beautifully. I was apparently dying, but I was enjoying the hell out of our conversation. Dr. Williams told me that if I didn’t do something about this body soon, I’d die. He actually used those words to describe my situation: Ed, fat, crisis, death. Being called fat wasn’t the least bit surprising to me. I own a mirror. But when he said the words crisis and death, all the air left the room. I was caught off guard. I felt about a hundred years old. I felt scared. I wanted a meatball sandwich.

The data said that while I sleep, I stop breathing to the point of turning blue once every minute.

Once every minute I’m turning blue.

I was literally suffocating myself under the weight of all that fat. He said the CPAP machine would add years to my life. He said I was playing Russian roulette if I didn’t wear it. He said I had to wear it or he’d stop being my doctor. For all his threats, there was just one thing that I couldn’t get out of my head: the look on my wife’s face when she saw me wearing this thing for the first time. I can find another doctor, but there’s only one Brooke.

I did the math. It wasn’t pretty. There were precious few angles here, no real corners to cut, not a lot of wiggle room to sell my side of the story. Still, I thought I might have a way out of this mess. It wasn’t a quick fix, and it couldn’t be bought. I’d have to earn it. I hated the idea of earning it. What if I got healthy? Could I make all this go away if I got in shape? Was that even an option?

Scared to know the answer, I asked Dr. Williams the big question.

“If I lose weight, will I still have to wear the mask?”

“I’m not sure, but there’s a real chance you won’t.”

“A real chance? Or are you bull----ing me so I’ll wear it?”

“A little of both.”

“How little?”

“If you lose a significant amount of weight, your snoring will definitely get better, no question.”

“Quantify significant.”

“How much have you gained this year?”

“Let’s say fifty pounds.”

“Jesus, Ed! Do you have any idea how bad that is for your body?”

“The thought has crossed my mind, yes.”

“Lose those fifty pounds and you’ll lose the mask.”

“Do you promise?”

“Absolutely not.”

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

“Don’t.”

“Too late. You promised.”

For the 32,139th time, I was lying to myself. Nothing new there. However, this time, for the first time, it was for my own good. I was pretending that my doctor made me a promise that he never really made. After all, what else did I have right then if not hope — even false hope? To borrow a phrase, I guess I was the change I’d been waiting for. Who knew.

I couldn’t fathom a future where this mask was a permanent fixture in my life. I’d go mad. I had to hold on to the notion, even if it was largely made up, that losing all that weight would not only save my life, but more importantly, it would mean throwing out that goddamn CPAP mask. And, in the end, if I was wrong, if I lost the weight and I still had sleep apnea . . . well, so what. What are you going to do? Worse comes to worse, it was better to wear a gas mask to bed weighing 213 pounds than 263. At 263 pounds, the CPAP mask was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was simply asking too much of my wife. Completely fat and the mask? No. She shouldn’t have to suffer through that, not even for me. But, a lean, muscular 213 pounds along with the mask? Well, that was a whole different story. I’d be like Tom Cruise in Top Gun with that thing on my face. At the very least, I’d look like Goose, and I can settle for that. Goose never accused Matt Lauer of being glib.

And so began my journey to get that mask off my face. First, however, before I got rid of the mask, I had to worry about the one I’d already been wearing around for all these years. There are all kinds of masks—different ways to hide behind a character. For as long as I can remember, I’ve played the role of the funny fat guy — brilliantly, mind you. I have always believed — or hoped — that if you make folks laugh, they won’t notice your girth. I’ve spent a lifetime joking away the pain that comes with this body. Well, looking in the mirror, it seemed the joke was on me.

I wasn’t looking for a life-changing transformation. I didn’t want to go on Oprah in a bikini. I didn’t want to impress everyone at my twentieth high school reunion the following year. I probably wouldn’t be going anyway. I just wanted the American dream: to sleep like a normal guy again so my wife could see my face when she refused to have sex with me.

Excerpted from "I’m With Fatty" by Edward Ugel, published by Weinstein Books. Copyright 2010

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