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The "Empathy" Belly

Labor Pains

The next day, my wife, daughters, and I went back to my parents' house for lunch, where the main course was my grandmother's fried chicken. Not two minutes into the visit, my wife was volunteering to help me put on the belly. Susan yanked the rib belt around my chest much tighter than my mother and her friend had. "Comfy?" Susan asked.

"I cuhnnn-n-huhhly-breathe," I said.

"Then I guess it's working," Susan said cheerfully, and then hoisted the rest of the weighted contraption on me, with no trouble at all, as if she were John Wayne saddling his horse for the thousandth time. With my lungs doing double-time, the weight seemed to double or triple, too. Okay, it's a big deal, I thought. Big deal, big deal, I get it, I get it, I get it!

And if the experience was strange the day before, now it was surreal. We all sat down to lunch. My Uncle Joe was annoyed that I was sitting beside him, because I seemed to take up all of the space around me. My Uncle Larry just appeared amused. As did my brother, his girlfriend, my parents and my wife, who all asked at regular intervals how I was holding up, as if they thought it would be funny if I wasn't holding up so well. At least my grandmother seemed supportive. Until, that is, after dinner, when she looked my way and offered a challenge: "I'll bet you can't tie your shoes." Et tu, Grammy?

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