Monday, December 29, 2014

an excerpt from Fat Girl

 From Chapter Seven of my upcoming novel Fat Girl:

     My week is a roller coaster. Just after I reveled in seeing my first column in print in the illustrious New York Times, I received this lovely, expertly-crafted message on the dating site: “U don’t show pics here cuz u a cow. Moooooooo.”

     My cheeks were instantly engulfed in flames, glowing with red hot embarrassment. The involuntary reaction swiftly transported me back to an equally humbling event from my childhood. I was twelve years old and in the seventh grade. It was the first year that I actually became interested in the opposite sex beyond playing kiss tag on the playground at recess. It was during the week, a school night, and we were on our way to some school function, maybe a band concert? In our haste, we stopped by a local fast food establishment for dinner where I sat at a table with my parents and my sister. Across the restaurant were three teenage boys, probably a little older than me, I’m guessing eighth or ninth graders. I didn’t recognize them, which meant that they were either already in high school or they went to a different junior high than I did. In any case, through the whole meal, I caught them staring at me and smiling, joking around to each other, and then looking back at me. I sincerely thought they were flirting with me. One of them was pretty cute, so I was flattered and, yes, even a slight bit twitterpated as I wasn’t used to attracting the attention of boys.

     My mother got up to take my sister to the restroom while my father scooped up all the trash onto two plastic trays and began to head off toward the receptacle when the boys approached me. They dropped a napkin face down on the table before me as they exited the restaurant. I flipped it over expecting a love note of sorts. What I saw was: “Quit staring, fattie.”

     Blood pumped to my cheeks like magma preparing to explode from a volcano. I crumpled the napkin into my hand and forced myself to act normally as my family returned to the table. I remember feeling like my legs each weighed a thousand pounds as I plodded toward the door, the weight of their ridicule pressing into my lungs. At twelve years old, I was on the chunky side, but not grossly overweight. I was around 5 feet 4 inches, tall for my age, and I weighed about 150 pounds. I wore a size 12 in women’s clothes, having left girl’s sizes behind in fifth grade. That particular night, for the concert, I had squeezed into my mother’s size 10 blazer. I was feeling pretty mature and feminine as I believed the jacket nicely accentuated my developing curves. But that little spark of self-confidence had been instantaneously obliterated by three hateful words scrawled on a fast food restaurant napkin. 

     It wasn’t the first time that I had been publicly shamed about my weight. And I knew even then that it wouldn’t be the last. What to this day I could never understand was why or how people could be so cruel. Many kids who are bullied run to their mothers, earnestly needing the comfort and consolation that only a mother can provide when one’s intrinsic value has been attacked. But I never told my mother about any of these incidents. Sometimes the comments she made about my growing body were as hurtful as any bully’s.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

to my brother

Dear Brother,

About a year ago, you made some nasty comments about me on Facebook. I hadn't talked to you for months and you ignored me the last time I made the 750 mile trek to the Homeland. So I sent you a private message and offered the solution of talking over the phone about why you are so angry with me instead of you acting out in public in front of all our mutual friends and other family members.

You declined talking to me and said you didn't want anything to do with me. You claimed I was a "selfish bitch" and that I "abandoned" (your word, not mine) my children when I moved across state lines to be with my (now) fiance.

Here are the facts:
1. I moved 45 minutes away from my children.
2. I lived with their father for 2 years while we were separated because we didn't have any other choice financially. When we had the opportunity to finally go our own ways, we BOTH jumped on it. It was a carefully discussed, mutual decision.
3. My children wanted to stay in the town where their schools are rather than start over at new schools. I honored that.
4. I send their father money every month and managed to do so even when I was unemployed.
5. I see them once a week for the evening and they spend every other weekend at my house. They spend most breaks (Christmas, Spring Break, Summer Break etc) with me as well.

I'm not sure how that classifies as abandonment, but whatever. The point is, you feel very strongly that I am a horrible mother and asked that I never contact you again.

Now nearly a year has gone by and I've heard several reports that you are very sick. Your diabetes is out of control and you have never been the best patient. From what I understand, you may not have much longer to live.

I could argue that if you die because you choose not to take care of yourself, then you are essentially abandoning your daughter in the most literal and final of ways. But I'm not going to do that. The last thing I said to you is that you will always be my brother and I will always love you.

And that is the message I want to send out now. It's not too late to salvage our relationship. Although I was very hurt by your accusations, I was even more hurt that you didn't want me to be part of your life anymore.

I look at this picture, circa 1978, from time to time:

And I think about how happy and innocent we look. It breaks my heart to think that I will likely never see you again and that you will die hating me. I don't understand why families have to be so hateful to each other and know exactly how to inflict the most pain. I don't understand why we can't have this pure, simple bond like what I see in that picture.

So I'm putting this out there, my dear brother, in written word, because that's what I do. I'm not doing it to clear my conscience because I have not done anything wrong. I'm extending the proverbial olive branch, telling you that I still love you and forgiving you for saying those hurtful things to me. It's not too late for us to come to an understanding. We don't have to be friends, but it would be nice if we could at least show our children what acceptance, forgiveness and love are. And those are three things every family should embrace.

Love always,
Your Sister