Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A fat four-eyed fifth grader with frizzy hair...

Let me tell you a story about food and love.

When I was in the fifth grade at St. Joseph's Catholic School in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, I was fat, I wore brown cat-eye glasses and I had frizzy hair. The kids used to play kiss-and-chase on the asphalt playground, but nobody ever chased me. There was a girl named Carmela who was beautiful and loved by everyone. She was tall and thin with a smile that left everyone breathless. Everyone tried to chase Carmela. The cutest boy in our class was named Rick and he sat on the side of me and we were the best of friends. He loved to talk to me. But only in class as we sat side by side. He could never be seen with me on the playground or in the cafeteria. I was a fat four-eyed fifth grader with frizzy hair.

I would eat lunch with a skinny, short, tiny little blonde-haired girl with crooked teeth. She was my best friend. I loved her. I think she wore glasses too. I can't remember her name anymore, but I will never forget her. Everyday after lunch, we'd go out onto the playground and play jacks. She would bring snacks from home and share them with me. Sometimes she'd let me have both the Twinkies in the pack. She seemed to enjoy watching me eat them. She'd smile at my delight. She was so nice to me.

I'd had lunch, of course, but I loved snacks. Nothing made me happy like food that tasted good and made me feel better--even if just for a little while. Twinkies make you feel better. I was a very ugly, fat and sad little girl. I started gaining lots of weight after I got molested and then found out I was adopted. That one-two punch really did me in. Then we started moving every year to a new place with my father's bridge company. We were building a bridge in Arkansas that year. I only had two friends. There was one little Downs Syndrome girl whose mom took kids swimming at the country club if they came over to play with her. Then there was my friend with the Twinkies.

One day, while we were playing jacks, I asked my little blonde friend with the crooked teeth why she was so nice to me. She laughed a mean little laugh and said: "What makes you think I'm being nice to you?" I thought for a minute. "Well, because you play jacks with me and you bring me snacks every day?"

Her eyes squinted as she examined me closer.

"I'm not being nice to you," she said. "I just want to see how fat I can get you."

I stopped breathing.

I got up and walked away. I was feeling so dizzy. I couldn't think clearly. I think maybe I went to the library. I can't even remember the rest of the school year.

In Arkansas, in that same year, my father's bridge building company hired a former Arkansas Razorback named Dean Brown. The first time I saw Dean, I stopped breathing then too. He was the most beautiful man that fat little four-eyed fifth grader with frizzy hair had ever seen. It wasn't just how he looked, though; it was everything about him. He was funny and charming and strong and kind. I was so awed by him and so confused by the feelings that flooded my little preadolescent heart that I had to escape that first meeting quickly. I went into my room and looked in the mirror. I felt such overwhelming shame. Somebody like that could never love somebody like me. I bawled at the realization.

The very next year, we moved to Dallas, Texas to build a different bridge. Dean and his wife Connie travelled with us, now part of our gypsy band of bridge builders. I was 11. They were 22. For the first time in my life, I had what felt like a big brother and a big sister. Connie and Dean were cool and sexy and athletic and active and fun. They adored me and became my biggest cheerleaders. They took me fishing and camping and on all kinds of adventures. I so wanted to look like Connie so one day somebody like Dean might love me.

I knew nothing about nutrition or dieting, except that you were supposed to eat less. So every day for lunch I ate only one piece of chocolate pie and one cup of grape juice. That was it. I don't remember what I ate at home if anything at all. I was dieting for the first time in my life. What a silly diet, I know; clearly this was not a very optimally-thought-out weight-loss regimen, but I was in sixth grade and it was the 70s. Gimme a break.

Then the school got a new coach who was INSANE. Truly. We were all out of shape, but he would force us to run until we could barely stand. I'm surprised he didn't kill one of us. One day I ran so long and so hard I started my period. I guess my hormones changed after that. Somehow with that inhuman amount of exercise and my chocolate pie and grape juice and my hormones changing, the weight began to melt off of me. Maybe it was just a growth spurt, but within a year, I looked like a totally different person. My eyes somehow stopped needing glasses, I cut my frizzy hair into a cute curly bob, and I was relatively thin.

Fast forward two years and I was even thinner and much more active. Connie and Dean were still traveling with our gypsy band of bridge builders and we were in a small Texas town. They got to know a guy named Babe who was one of the most popular boys at the high school. When I told Connie and Dean I was trying out for cheerleader, they got Babe to rally the popular vote for me.

The tryouts, at the end of the school year, were terrifying, but I made it! I was going to be a cheerleader that next fall! For that fat four-eyed fifth grader with frizzy hair, you can only imagine what a dream come true this was. I was on the cusp of a brand new life and everything was coming up roses.

But right before cheerleader camp that summer, my daddy got a transfer order. We were moving. I came in from swimming with all the other cheerleaders the afternoon my parents found out. Mom was waiting for me with one of my favorite foods: a big bowl of peeled fresh-picked figs. Food was how my-momma-that-raised-me showed her love. She broke the news to me with my beloved figs.

I was inconsolable.

I sat in my bed, eating my figs, hugging my newly-issued pom-poms to my chest, listening to my .45 rpm record "I'm the Happiest Girl in the Whole USA" over and over on my little turntable.

Life went on, but it was never that good again. I never found a man like Dean to love me. Life just got harder and harder after that. Connie and Dean left the bridge building company and went on with their lives. I saw them time and again for awhile, then decades passed with no word.

In my teen years, I stayed relatively thin with my combination of compulsive exercising and all my food contortions and starving myself. I stayed between 125-145 at 5'6". I was in the "normal" to slightly-overweight range.

But then I married an abusive man and gave birth to two children in two years, I gained a hundred pounds the year I left that violent marriage. Part of it was taking a desk job and working long hours to support me and my girl all by myself. I went from 145 to 245. I remember being a divorced single mom in college, walking across the campus with my two toddlers. We passed three lovely college students lounging on the steps of Widener Library in Harvard Yard. I heard the beautiful girl cackle meanly and my ears perked up. "Omigod, shoot me, please, if I ever look like that," she said to her two male friends. "I'd rather be dead than be that fat. Look at her. She's disgusting."

Do you notice the pattern: I gained weight the first time at age 6 when I found out I was adopted, and I moved away from home, after being sexually abused. The second time, I was 22 and I gained weight after being physically abused, being abandoned by my husband and moving cross-country. Abandonment, abuse, leaving home. A pattern.

Or maybe they're not connected. Maybe I got thin after my growth spurt and stayed thin throughout my adolescence. Maybe my hormones went wacko during pregnancy. I don't know. I just know I got fat again at 22 and that has been my setpoint ever since: 245. I've gotten as high as 315 and as low as 172 in the 30-plus years since I gave birth to my children, but I always settle back around 245.

It's taken its toll.

I think I did a lot of good with my life, but I never had much happiness. Nothing ever worked out for me. So I loved myself with food. But a big part of the reason nothing ever worked out for me is because I loved myself with food.

After my cancer surgery and the loss of my hormones, my hair became dry and frizzy. I'm getting older so I wear cat-eye reading glasses. I looked in the mirror the other day and I saw the 54 year old version of that fat four-eyed fifth grader with frizzy hair.

We've come full circle.

I am determined that this will be my turning point. Right here. Right now. I want to go back to my original set point of 135-145. That means I've got 100 pounds to lose. I've lost 25 just in this last month, eating vegetables and doing everything else on my Sweet Sixteen List, but I'm determined I'm going all the way back down. I'm determined. Maybe because I'm getting old and it's almost too late. If I don't turn it around now, I might not ever turn it around. I might die like this. I want to experience what it feels like to jump on my horse again and gallop across a field. I want to learn to whitewater raft. I want to fit in roller coasters again and not worry I'll have a heart attack.

It's not too late if I turn it around now. I can have a short lovely season in the sun before I die.

Pray for me. Me and the fat four-eyed fifth grader with frizzy hair. Pray for us. It's now or never. And that little fat girl is counting on me. She deserves to be normal. She deserves to be healthy. She deserves to be happy. She deserves to be loved with more than a pack of Twinkies.



  1. I love you with more than twinkies, friend. We can do this. We can succeed. We will.

    Love always,