Matt Micheli did everything he could to go beyond “fitting in”. Ten years later, he gets the bill.
I remember my first time… anxious, my heart beating, my hands clammy. With my pants down, leaning forward, my hands on the counter in front of me, he presses the cold needle into my upper ass cheek. My outer epidermis tries to resist but the blade is so sharp it punctures through with only the slightest bit of pressure. The rest of the way in is like butter. There’s minimal blood.
I was twenty-one years old and now taking anabolic steroids. Why? you ask. To be big. Actually… to be bigger than the next guy. Living in the aesthetically beautiful more-artificial-by-the-minute city of Austin, competition was stiff for a young man in his twenties. Every other guy in the gym had bigger arms than me or better abs. I was in pretty good shape, but pretty good shape was simply not enough. To compete, I had to find a way to be above average. I experimented with over-the-counter stuff that was probably just ground up baking soda and aspirin for all I knew (FDA not approved) but that shit never worked, as much as I wanted it to. I knew the risks of steroids, but somehow I convinced myself that steroids were the only way to fairly compete and that what happened now was more important than anything that would happen later. The reward was bigger than the risk. Live for the moment. I recall the saying, “As long as you do it right and don’t overdo it…”
Eight weeks into juicing, I was a 250 lb golden-bronze Adonis (the golden-bronze color a result of my two tanning memberships). Every shirt I owned was too small. Women began throwing themselves at me. Something about being big brought out a sexual aggression in them. It overtook their shyness. Late nights downtown, my arms, chest, and abs were a petting zoo where fondling the animals was allowed as long as you were an attractive drunk girl. If I went home alone, it was by choice.
As big as I was and as much attention as I got, it still wasn’t enough for me. Hidden insecurities were still there. There was always some guy who was bigger or more cut or who had a better tan, and that thought controlled me, forcing me to eat better, work out more, take more steroids, and tan more. By this point, I was taking one pill per day and an injection every other day (I was quite comfortable administering my own injections by this point). My ass, despite switching cheeks every other time, was sore.
I was tanning twice a day when I could. Stripped naked, I’d generously lather up with whatever fifty-dollar lotion the girl at the counter sold me—hemp-based, accelerator, bronzer, quadruple extra-dark, mocha this, mocha that, and other types of popular coffee drinks—and lie down, putting the timer to the max time, never covering my face. Never. Afterwards, I’d look at my naked self in the mirror—the cement floors were always cold—my entire body on fire, red, tingling, the smell of burnt underarm deodorant… I continually felt like I was almost there… almost where I wanted to be. Almost.
Ten years later, I disrobe in the doctor’s office at the instruction of the doctor’s assistant. I sit in the cold faux-leather chair with nothing but my boxer briefs and what they call a “modesty rag” thrown atop of my junk and wait for the doctor. I look into the mirror to the side and notice the layer of fat at my lower abdomen right above my waist. I pinch it. That shouldn’t be there. My wife sits ahead of me, smiling proudly at her man.
The doctor comes in after about fifteen minutes and does a complete body mole check. All the moles and spots my wife and I were worried about are deemed non-harmful. It is the one little discolored patch of dry skin behind my ear that the doctor is concerned with. She asks me about it and I tell her I never really put much thought into it, just figured it was dry skin. “It’s shiny like cancer.” Swallow. Breathe in… “But behind the ear is a weird place for it because that area’s typically not exposed to the sun.” And out. I think about all the tanning and feel embarrassed for a moment before telling her, “I used to tan . . . a lot.”
Her assistant hands me a waiver form to sign. The doctor numbs the area with a shot and uses a scalpel to slice the top layer off for a biopsy. “I’m sure it’s nothing,” she assures my wife and me. I get the call two days later. It is cancer, but not the fucking bastard kind that kills you, so I’m lucky.
Once the spot healed up from the scalpel scraping, I was prescribed a topical cream that I have to apply to the surface of the area for 5 to 6 weeks. Around the third week, it is supposed to burn (the word venomously was used) and boil up. They said it would not be pretty. I am in my second week.
Just like in my steroid days, I still take one pill per day but that’s because I have to. Because of the steroids, I have low T (testosterone) caused by Hypergonadism which basically means my balls don’t work unless told to by a prescription. I’ve tried to come off of the medication but without it, I’m tired, have no sex-drive (sorry honey), and lose all ambitions. The good news is, just by taking a pill, my testosterone levels are now of a healthy young man and I like sex again, a lot (you’re welcome honey). I’m lucky that both the cancer and testosterone issues are easily treated. I can handle a burning cream for a few weeks and a pill every day… that’s easy. Unfortunately, there are less treatment options for my low sperm count. I’ve been through one surgery and the results do look promising, but these things take time. And when you’re 33 and talking children, there is no abundance of time. The clock’s ticking. We’ve been trying for two years, now.
Looking back at the steroids and the tanning and all of the stupid things I did in my early twenties, I am grateful for where I am today. I have an amazingly supportive wife. My cancer will be gone before I know it and my wife and I feel we are closer to being able to have children. I still work out and eat right and take supplements, none of which involve hormones of any kind. Remnants of that pressure to compete, to be above average, are still there lingering. I’ve never found out where that feeling stems from.
The days of steroids and meat-heads have passed. Yes, they’re still out there, the guys who didn’t get the memo (or at least couldn’t read it), their arms stretching out their little brother’s Affliction shirts, veins popping out, their neglected legs the size of a little girl’s. Time stopped for these select few except for their wrinkles and continuously receding hairline. The difference is, everyone else adapted. We evolved. Even The Situation has layed off the juice and leaned down and Snooki has moved to spray tanning. My generation—the generation of bigger is better—has finally grown to see that what will happen later is just as important as what happens now. Live for the moment? Yes… of course. But you also have to live for tomorrow.
I have an appointment to get my sperm count rechecked in a week, which will be 6 months from the surgery. My last check looked “promising” and the Dr. says 6 months is a really good indicator of where we are and where we go from here, procedure-wise. My wife and I are hopeful.
Originally published in ManArchy Magazine (out-of-print)
—Photo toiletbowl martini/Flickr