Physical Fitness tests. Some New York State standard. Flexibility, strength, endurance. Flex arm hang, sit & reach, crunches. The height we got to write down on the paper ourselves, even our resting heart rate. But when it came to weight, the gym teacher had to weigh us. Why would a school even have a scale—I don’t get it.
I spent my early years in Mother’s closet, pulling out thin silk scarves and tying them around my chest. I spent hours at her vanity table—working foundation into my skin, like creamed butter. Pressing my lips together in pink—flawless. I drew a beauty mark beneath my eye with a brown eyebrow pencil. I was gorgeous. Fabulous, took the pins that kept her rollers in place, silver metal clips, dangled them from my ears, the closest I could find to make me resemble Olivia Newton John at the end of the movie Grease.
For Halloween, I always wanted to dress as a witch, an excuse to wear black. I never looked like a witch; I looked like a hooker. Mother’s black feather boa was my favorite item. I was never allowed to paint my nails red, either. Pink nails dressed in navy were the closest I got. She dressed me in pastels and florals. Laura Ashley sneezed all over me.
When my father’s mother Beatrice died, I had nothing to wear. In a closet full of nothing to wear, all that fit were shoes. In the changing room at Ann Taylor, I broke down crying. Mother had brought me there for a suit to wear to the funeral. The largest size they had didn’t fit. I cried without tears, silently, in the fitting room. She walked me across the mall to J. Crew. There we no more options. We found a size 16 black gabardine skirt suit. $600. I heard her arguing with my father that night, through their closed bedroom door. “Donald, I didn’t want to spend that much. We had to.” My father was used to having Mother carry back armloads of garment bags.
“How much did that cost me?”
“Oh, wait until you hear how much I saved. Such a bargain.”
The only thing I ever heard them fight about was money. She resented feeling like she was on an allowance, having to account for each penny spent. She bought dented soup cans to save, but she shopped at Tahari for her clothes. He resented that all she did was spend. To this day, he has no idea what ladies shoes cost, or sheets or towels or a new frying pan. I’m glad about the ladies shoes.
When mother changed to show me her different outfit purchases, she changed in the bathroom or in her closet. As she changed, she would emphasize the bargain, calling to me through the door. She fingered her cellulite thighs, jiggling them. “Bad, so bad. Will you look at this?” Enter my role model. She was of course, thin, and beautiful. She can eat like a trucker, never dieting. Now, we’re finally the same size—size 6. Except when I’m miserable, I’m a size 4.
I read books about blonde twins living in Beverly Hills. Girls who make midnight wishes for some boy to like them—their wishes always came true.
My dad said we wore the same size in jeans.
When it came to boys, it always came down to which one liked me. I only liked a guy I thought might be into me. I always had to pick a guy to like, a hobby, like choosing a variety of yarn I wanted to spend my evenings knitting.
Wooden hangers, all facing the same way, hang beneath shelves of piled jeans and one pair of black leather pants that must have only fit me for a minute. They’re unreachable in every way.
The summer after Eric Fink broke up with me, two months later, he called to see how I was doing, to ask if I planned on attending Shiva’s party. “I’m good. I lost weight since we last saw one another.” I was certain he would want me if I were thinner. Man, even now, writing this, drinking my water, ignoring the growls, planning how little I can eat for dinner and be satisfied. I feel that being thinner will make me happy. When I’m fat, I got gardeners. When I was thin, I got everything. I always had emails and new voicemail messages waiting. Being thin is being popular. Attention from boys made you popular.
Lust makes me diet. Wearing his shirt and nothing else—smelling seex on my fingers, at it all day, my stomach growls. My ache feels like hunger. Meals, menus, shopping lists are replaced with dates, candles, lingerie.
There is always one girl who wears the same shirt too often, her smell makes you turn. She walks like a giraffe, careful and suspecting. When you’re ostracized you walk differently, trying not to be noticed, to yield to the stronger colors, to fade like thin water.
Spanikopita is my Christmas. Sweet butter pooling in the pan as the pastry crisps up, it’s ledges lifting. Flakes melt. Salty feta bounces. I am too impatient for the cooling—I let it roll in my tongue—short Lamaze breaths. Christmas.
Strips of phyllo are tented in damp cloth. Work quickly. Spoons. Clear plastic bowls of melted butter—the milk solids separate and hover near the edge like beginner swimmers clinging to the ledge. A larger bowl is home to the eggy spinach puddle. Feta floats like buoys. I want to taste it raw. Salmonella. “Eh, eh, eh.” Mother smacks my hand as it reaches for a dip in the bowl. “Get folding.”
Layer of phyllo, zig zag butter drizzle, phyllo, butter, phyllo—it’s music. “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Spoonful of spinach mix is tidy on the phyllo runway, folded in its triangular pocket, like a gem hidden in a handkerchief.
Other kids went on teen tours of Israel or across America—playing Jewish geography on bus rides. In fat camp, we made detailed lists of all the foods we craved to eat with our return back to the “real world.” We remembered our favorite foods in detail—like speaking of a dear friend with whom you had a fallout. Living in the past, where friends seemed truer, times were more fun and outrageous, where the guy adored you, where your jeans were so damn tiny. The past tastes better.
I continue to finger size 12 rack. When I hear “fatty,” I am certain they mean me. When I got to college, I heard someone chant "Moose." "Oh dear God, it followed me here!" I was panicked. Thankfully, once I turned around, I noticed a football player with moose antlers attached to his helmut.
There’s a small fear in revealing that I’m a former Crisco Chick. I imagine it’s akin to letting a guy know your mother hasn’t aged well and that she has let herself go. Ugs. It’s an indicator of what could be. Well, ya know what, screw it. This is me, stretch marks and all. Deal.
A car brings freedom. Music as loud as I wanted, making out. Smoking. It brought me freedom to binge—to hide in my car and shovel. During binge drives, I feared I’d run into fran, with a shopping cart full of “how could yous.”
Being intimate at camp took work. They had PDA rules. Councelors were instructed to break up public displays of affection with a whistle, or a hose on a hot day. I got wet a lot. Evenings provided opportunities. In the dark, no one was responsible. You could eat what you found, and kiss until your lips hurt. In the dark, we found freedom.
At night I writhed and heaved into my pillows. Curled in fetal position, I cried for God to please take the pain away, please protect me, please give me strength to get through this, please. Then I swallowed and let the tears go. I felt left behind and alone. It is the scariest place I’ve ever been. I hated my life—my fat empty life.