"We are all bodies, so I figured I wanted to be a strong one.
Without your body, you are nothing. You aren't even an idea."
—The Realm of Possibility, David Levithan
three words. eli had spent his entire life living by these words, coming back to them in times of trouble. he heard them all the time, from all the people closest in his life. when life got hard and he wanted to cry, when his attention strayed to things he was always told it shouldn't stray to, when he felt too tired to keep living. three words.
eli is eight years old and scared. he can feel the demons slipping under the door, curling around his bed like smoke and suffocating him. he tries to sleep, tries to close his eyes and rest but images flash across his mind's eye too fast for him to stop and he's screaming. rushing parents, frantic shushing, a warm embrace. eli feels the demons dissipating and slipping away as he's carried to another room. through the darkness he can feel the eyes of his father on him as he softly whispers three words to his son.
eli is fifteen years old and scared. the girl from two grades up is standing in front of him, tapping her foot expectantly as her friends wait behind her. eli says what he has to say, voice shaky and eyes trained on the ground. a beat of silence, soft snickers, a regretful sigh. eli knows what she's going to say already, and before he can stop them, the tears well up. he doesn't stay to listen, but as he walks away he hears three words shouted from her friends.
eli is seventeen years old and scared. this isn't exactly what he wants, but it's a future. he wants to make his parents, his father, proud at any cost. he's waiting in a cold room shaking from head to toe in anticipation and wondering how he even got to this place. images of college brochures and textbooks fill his head, clouding his vision with doubts. an intake of breath, a judging look, a quiet laugh. there's a man in the room with him, the one who set this up in the first place. the man shakes his head, laughs louder this time and simply says three words.
eli is twenty one years old and scared. maybe the alcohol is hazing his mind, that must be it, but he can't take his eyes away from the sight. there's a pink flush on his face that matches the one eli has and there is something about the lights of the restaurant that is causing him to glow. eli finds himself smiling easy, the others at the table sending knowing glances between the two but keeping their mouths shut. a drunken kiss, a heated night, a morning escape. eli spends the rest of the day at the gym, ignoring phone calls and text messages. when he risks a glance at his phone, he sees an angry accusation and the protection of a friend. he tries to erase the idea that he could make someone cry and instead whispers a mantra of three words.
exercising and dieting will give you muscles. muscles will make you strong. being strong means you can never be hurt.
three words. words to live by, words to die by.
be a man.