My mother is a lovely woman. She is kind to animals, tithes
regularly, and has excellent taste in children. She is also, if you
go by genetics and fancy science (and who doesn’t go by fancy science? It’s fancy!
And science!) the reason I am fat.
She’s been fat for as long as I have memory of her. She was
fat when I was a kid, and got fatter throughout my school years. She was
thrilled when I seemed to have escaped what she called the Fitzgerald curse–how every woman in her family was fat since childhood, and enjoyed a steady
progression onwards and upwards toward high blood-pressure land and heart
attack town, population: dead.
I was a skinny kid, like my brother, all the way up until I
was about 8, I guess? And then, one summer, I got fat. Baroomp, like that, as
if the fat had fallen from the sky and covered me in creamy deliciousness and
social ruin. I didn’t know that anything had changed, or that it would be a
problem for me in oh, so many ways; my mother was kind enough, maybe smart
enough, to not immediately start berating me for my size, my shape, what I was
putting into my mouth.
But maybe she also expected me to grow out of it. Maybe she
thought that somehow, this was an aberration and a fluke, and I would get tall
and escape what she went through her life, what her sisters went
through, what her mother went through. Maybe she was hopeful, holding her breath and holding out. She held her
breath for a long time. I stayed fat.
It was my father, I think, who alerted me to the fact that I
now had a responsibility to him and my family and my body, and that I didn’t have
to butter both pieces of toast. I could just butter one, and press them
together, see? My father was skinny. Tall, and scrawny, and I was embarrassed
to see him and my very short, round mother together, looking like the number 10. I am not privy to the discussions he and my mother had; it is possible
that he did not like her body, that he found her too fat (she had only been
overweight when they met), that he hounded her about her size. As far as I
know, though, it was only me who embarrassed him.
My mother was the one who did something about it. She
dragged me along to Weight Watchers, each one of the dozens of times she tried it. I lost weight
each time, but then she forgot, and I forgot, and the ice cream came back into
the house. She took me to NutriSystem, which back in the day had offices you visited and counselors you
talked to and food you had to actually pick up that was extremely
disgusting. Have you ever poured boiling water onto a freeze-dried hamburger?
You will not lose weight this way. Instead, you will look at your reconstituted
meat patty, cry a little bit, and then go eat a
ham. And then your mom will say, "Why is there a ham bone in your
room?" and you will shrug and it will be uncomfortable.
I didn’t lose the weight, and she didn’t lose the weight,
and we both kept gaining and gaining and I am still trying to remember her ever
telling me that I was fat, or ugly, or instilling within me some seriously
fucked up issues with food and my body–and I certainly have fucked up issues
with food and some big old issues with my body–but I don’t. I wish I could. I
wish I could blame my mother for making me fat. I wish I could call her up and
ask her what the fuck she did to me, and demand to know why she did it, because
then maybe I’d have some answers. Maybe I’d have some closure. I’d definitely
have a finger to point, and I definitely wouldn’t have to blame myself anymore. I could sit back and relax and say, "Hey! This ass? Not my fault! Pass the
bucket of cream cheese. I’m going to take a nap."
Instead, the best I can say is I didn’t ask to be born, especially
not with these motherfucking genes. But fuck. I am glad I was. Some days I
am gladder than glad and I think, even when I sink down into the bottom of the
big black hole that I carry around with me, I am still, maybe stupidly, glad. So that’s no good at all. Thanks, mom.
I don’t get to blame her, but instead I get to worry about
her. She is 5’3" tall, a full four inches shorter than me, and she weighs, the last
time I saw her, about what I did at my highest weight. She is on blood pressure
medication, medication for her diabetes, medication she airily tells me that her
doctor put her on that’s supposed to "fix," somehow, her appetite,
and the weight will just fall off! "The weight is just falling off!"
she says, but she has a history of lying to my brother and me about her health,
her weight, her body. We haven’t got a right to pry into it–but we worry.
I didn’t tell her about my weight loss surgery. I didn’t
tell her I was thinking about it, or going to seminars about it, or seeing a
doctor for a consult or submitting my insurance. All the way up to the night
before my surgery, I didn’t tell her. "You’ve got to tell her," Guy
said. "I swear to God, if I have to call her up and tell her that her
daughter died on the operating table–"
Okay, I said. I’ll write her an e-mail. I wrote her an e-mail,
and backspaced "gastric bypass surgery" and replaced it with "diverticulitis," which Guy’s co-worker had just been operated on for.
"I’m sorry," I told Guy, and he said, "You know, she’s going to
find out. When you come home for your brother’s wedding, and you’ve lost a
hundred pounds? She’s going to know."
My brother’s wedding is in two months, and I’ve already lost
a hundred and four pounds. In two months, I’ll be well under 200 pounds. She
will notice, I think. Maybe a little bit. She will ask me, what did you do? And
I will probably look her in the eyes, and open my mouth, and say, "vegetables!" or "vitamins!" or "cardio
kickboxing!" and be ashamed.
I don’t know why I haven’t told her. I want
her to get the surgery, herself; she is a perfect candidate, it would help her
heart, her diabetes, her varicose veins, her life expectancy. She has always
supported me. She has always been proud of me when I lost weight, and politely
not said a word when I gained it back.
Am I afraid she’ll be angry at me for taking the easy way
out? For leaving her behind? It feels, a little, like I’ve left a whole chunk
of my life behind, and she–our shared history of struggling with our weight
and our bodies–is another one of the million, million things that make me