sharper than a serpent’s tooth

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
regret that.

13 Replies to “sharper than a serpent’s tooth”

  1. Out of my head already!

    I cried when I told my mom about my plans because I was so afraid of how she would react. And she never said a word to me about being fat but I’ve watched her do Weight Watchers and OptiFast and the Zone and who knows what else only to end up right back where she started plus more. That and her genes did just as much damage as her calling me fat on a regular basis.

  2. When you do tell her, you should mention the blog. I’m sure she’d be very proud about your writing accomplishments and how you’re story is helping inspire other people. My mom loves checking out my stats counter everytime she visits my blog. She’ll tell me “Someone from Trinidad and Tobago visited your site!” like this is the most amazing thing ever that they even HAVE the Internet in Trinidad and Tobago.

  3. My two standard replies these days on how much I’ve changed are: a) I’ve found this amazing new moisturizer and it’s changed my life and b) I stopped voting Republican and the ugly pounds just melted off. These will probably not work for your mother. Hopefully, she will see you having broken the Fitzgerald Curse and will be inspired, not guilty or hopeless.

  4. Never underestimate the power of loyalty and what it means to your heart (read: your inner-child’s heart) when you fear you’ve been disloyal to your mom. That little kid in you is really spooked that you two aren’t in the same club anymore, and what that means for the future. Scary, yes, and necessary for healing. I sincerely wish you the best in this part of your journey.

  5. My mother, who has Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and high cholesterol, is actually *angry* with me for having lost weight. She liked having a massively overweight daughter because it made her feel better about herself.

    The only comment my mother has *ever* made about my 90 pound weight loss is to ask what the funny little bump on my forehead is. (I hadn’t even noticed it – it’s a tiny bump on my skull that wasn’t visible before because it was well-padded with fat.)

    Yeah, tell your mother it was cardio kickboxing.

  6. Hmm… reconsidering my previous post. You say your mother is a “lovely woman” so she’s probably nothing like mine.

    I imagine that your mother will indeed be happy for you that you’ve lost over 100 pounds. But because these issues are very complex, at the same time she may well feel resentful towards you, and also sad that you no longer have the shared bond of being fat.

    So yeah – while the tenor of my advice has changed (because after all, this is about you, not me) it remains the same.

    Tell her it was cardio kickboxing.

  7. You know, my family is the same way. My mother and I (and my sister, and daughter) all have inherited my grandpa’s genes: we’re fat and bald. Well, my sister (who is 18) and my daughter (who is 12) is not bald yet. But my mom is, and I’m losing a lot of hair at an alarming rate. So not only do we get to look like popsicles, but *shiny* popsicles.

    Anyway, my mom and I are close. I was reading your post, and it reminded me of the relationship between me and my mom. She was the same way – I remember Slim Fast, NutriSystem – the cabbage soup diet, for crying out loud.

    I would have told my mom before I went in for surgery. BUT, if I did not, and waited to see her at a wedding, then I would treat it as a surprise for her. Because my mother knows my issues with weight – she has them herself. She also has a husband who cannot help himself, and has to make comments on everyone’s size. (My little sister went on her first diet at age 5 because of his snarky remarks.)

    Sounds to me like your mother will see you, and cry. She will be sooo happy for you. And yes, she’ll want to know how you did it. Be honest – because maybe she’ll see what you did, and think of doing it herself.

    And for the record, I know what it’s like to be terrified of someone’s reaction. I remember coming home one day – unmarried and pregnant, with no job. I *knew* my mother would be horrified, ashamed and upset. I was so sad and angry with myself for disappointing her. I sat down and told her – I had to. We had a discussion – but the look of utter anger and shame never crossed her face. Not once.

    Do you know what she did after we finished our talk? Went out and bought a freaking 3-foot tall stuffed rabbit, holding a baby stuffed rabbit. Then squealed with joy that she was going to be a grandma. It still makes me cry to this day thinking about it.

    My mother is my rock – I don’t know what I would do without her. She knows all. And even if she didn’t agree with it, she would still support me, and be happy for me.

    Your mother sounds like mine – just sayin’.

  8. Interesting blog, to be sure! I have just lost around 130 or so lbs with an adjustable gastric band. When I mention to my Mom how much I have lost she just says she can tell I must have lost some, but 130 is a LOT. Does she think I am lying?
    I have more to lose obviously.
    I never told her I had the band installed. For some reason, I just don’t want to.

  9. pbird – I bet you didn’t tell you mother about your lap band because you knew she’d be judgemental.

    I am now going through the long and expensive process of having plastic surgery to fix the loose skin after my weight loss. There was no way I would tell my mother about the surgery. When I last saw her (at Christmas) I wore baggy clothes so she wouldn’t notice that I suddenly had a flat stomach.

    If, in the unlikely event she does notice my different shape after my next procedure, I’ll tell her it was cardio kickboxing. ;-)

  10. Tell Mom you had your FitzGerald fat gene removed surgically.

    Truly, that’s no lie!

    I would have told my Mom about the surgery. I did tell my Dad, and he actually gave me the money for it. And this was even after I told him I was going to Mexico to have it done!

    Alas, Momma died in 1998. I had my surgery to remove myself from the inevitable progress that directly led to her death.

    I miss her still.

    Momma would have been delighted for me.

    ~VOW

  11. OHTHANKGOD!!!

    I mean @ Susan (I commented earlier but didn’t leave my name, GOD I hope it went through, ‘cuz I typed A LOT)…Why didn’t you leave an address?

    Boy, we could share some stories, I’ll tell you what!

  12. I feel ya on the Mom thing but mine gets on me about being “Too thin”. I guess she’s used to her little fat baby b/c that’s what I have always been fat, very fat, even as a child. Maybe she’s just not used to it, I never remember seeing her or my Sis or even me, of course, thin EVER.

    Pepsi was ALWAYS around and we didn’t exactly have the best eating habits that I can recall.
    I was usually the lightest of us 3, my Sister had a different father and was significantly heavier than I.

    Now that I’m hitting under the 200’s at 5’7 My Mom thinks I’m “too skinny”.
    I don’t think so, I feel another I have another 20 to go, but that’s only b/c I wanna start to do serious muscle toning and strengthening.

    My heart goes out to you and I feel you. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person alive who has a Mother upset about her Daughter losing weight. Everywhere I hear is the opposite.

    Then I read Susan’s post and of course, as always this whole entire blog and you and Wheet’s fantastic, captivating, gripping writing make a bit*h fall in looove with you ladies!!

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