There’s Always Time for TV

23 06 2010

Last week a friend of Liza’s, a delightful and studious young woman, was over for a visit. As we hung out around the dining room table the talk turned to the most recent season of American Idol. Much to Liza’s shock, our young guest confessed she had never seen the show, announcing she “didn’t have time for TV.” “Oh my dear,” I responded, “the rule in our house is that there’s always room for ice cream and there’s always time for TV.” My proclamation was greeted with smiles from Kelly and Liza and nervous laughter from Liza’s friend, as if she didn’t quite know what to do with the knowledge that we were an unabashedly TV-loving family. Later we chuckled over her reaction, but it got me thinking about my lifelong love affair with TV and how at times it’s an addiction I hide like my love of Little Debbie Donut Sticks.

When I was a kid, growing up on an island, with much older siblings, I was on my own quite a bit. Fat, awkward, and constantly confused by the fast friendships of kids my own age I discovered a new set of friends on the sitcoms, game shows, and buddy cop dramas of the 70s and early 80s. They were always there for me when I’d come home from a day of being called Elephant on the playground. I’d fix a snack (of course) and settle in for an afternoon of Hollywood Squares and Match Game (looking back on my young fascination with Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly is it any wonder I grew up to surround myself with gay men?). If I was lucky there would be a Star Trek repeat on, and then following dinner I could settle down with the CBS comedy line up of Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda, the ABC Saturday night one-two punch of Love Boat and Fantasy Island. I read TV Guide’s like they were novels. I could explain in detail who had replaced whom in the squad room of Barney Miller or the kitchen of Mel’s Diner. I stayed up late crying the night Carol Burnett went off the air, and lived for the Emmy’s or better yet the fabulousness that was the Battle of the Network Stars. To the fat lonely girl on the island waiting for her brother and sister to come home from college, these characters became my friends. I knew them better than I knew the girls who sat around me in grade school or junior high, with their alligator shirts tucked into their khakis. I felt sure that while these girls would never understand me, it was ok because at home my real friends waited: Julie and Barbara, the teen daughters on One Day at a Time, or Kelly, Jill, and Sabrina, those angels of Charlie. I knew that Starsky and Hutch, or Kirk, Spock and Bones could rescue me from anything, but most of all from the crushing weight of my loneliness as all around me my friends developed social lives and worldly ways that left me baffled. I wanted a best friend who would run through a burning building for me like Johnny would do for Roy or a best friend that would make me lose my composure the way Conway did to Korman. I wanted someone love me the way Luke loved Laura, or heck, even the way Mike Brady loved Carol (talk about acting!).

My clandestine love affair with TV continued in the safe confines of my family until I went to college. While I was happy to escape my tiny town, I was still that shy fat girl nervous about making friends – so I took the best ones I had with me. Armed with my tiny 13 inch black and white TV, I entered my dorm room where I was alarmed to find my roommate (who would actually become one of my best friends and stay so ‘til this day) was an athletic type, majoring in science and clearly not one to have time for television. I continued to nurse my addiction in secret, sneaking in shows when she was out of the room or at the library studying. Time and a bit of maturity intervened though and as I spent more time in rehearsals I spent less time with my TV friends. And it was finally in college that I met Joe. Joe was that best friend I’d been waiting for, that person who cracked me up with a look or a word, but who more delightfully could also work references to Shirley Hemphill, (the sassy waitress on “What’s Happening?”), name all the kids on Eight is Enough, and most of all would so wonderfully play Charles Nelson Reilly to my Brett Summers. (And while I’m fairly sure either of us would run into a burning building for the other I hope we never have to find out). With Joe, it wasn’t weird that I knew that former Broadway hoofer Betty Garret played Laverne and Shirley’s landlady or that the youngest girls on Little House on the Prairie were played by the Greenbush twins. In fact, my secret love affair with TV, which once marked me as a major high school loser, became something I could celebrate with Joe. Nearly twenty-five years later, we can still make each other laugh at inappropriate moments just by invoking Bea Arthur or quoting our favorite Carol Burnett movie spoof (which we feel strongly was “Mildred Fierce”, even more so than “Went with the Wind”). I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t found Joe and I can’t even imagine how grim life would be without him.

In my youth once a show had aired it was over – until the summer repeats, and the excitement of syndication. But in my early post-divorce days, feeling lonely and scared I discovered a wonderful new development. My 70s shows were out on DVD and they were all there for the taking on Netflix! I’d get Liza settled to bed and hang out with a few Wild Wild West episodes or Starsky and Hutch, (who really always were my go-to guys). They connected me to a time when my problems could be solved with a good cry in my mother’s lap or a walk with my dad and their familiar opening credits were like visual comfort food. Now, comfortably ensconced in my mid-forties and on the cusp of a new life married to Kelly, I still love my TV. And while Kelly will occasionally greet one of my TV references with her patented “nope I didn’t see that I had a LIFE in high school,” I know she understands. We’ve worked our way through seasons of Mad Men and Big Love and House, and don’t even get me started on all the incarnations of the Real Housewives My love affair with television is perhaps one reason why I, unlike many moms my age, don’t fret about Liza watching TV. We’ve cuddled together for nine seasons of American Idol, shared popcorn during our Sunday night Amazing Race nights and recreated the best musical numbers from that week’s episode of Glee I used to turn to TV to find friends or a little comfort, but those early days in front of our Panasonic did something else for me – it helped me take life less seriously, made me a force to be reckoned with at pub trivia nights, honed my comic timing and gave me a lifetime of zingers. So fire up the set my friends and enjoy. There’s always time for TV.


Eating for One

24 09 2009

My best friend in the whole world is coming for a visit next weekend. With him will come nearly 25 years of shared experiences, highs, lows, laughter, tears….losses….and gains.

Joe and I met at an audition for a college production of “Equus” in 1985. He was a funny talented freshman who made a point to come talk to me after my audition to tell me how good he thought I was. I responded with the cool assurance of a sophomore who thought she knew the theater department ropes pretty well by then. We basked in our mutual admiration and went on our way.

Neither of us got cast. Turns out we weren’t as spectacular as we thought we were. But that failed audition brought a force of nature into my life I can’t imagine living without. My Joe. MY Joe. Having drawn a monosyllabic weight lifter as his freshman roommate (your basic nightmare for young gay theater boy), he’d show up at my dorm room door with a blanket, a pillow and a stack of books asking plaintively “can I study in here?” Both of us were English majors who spent far too much time in the theater department and as such were glued at the hip. We snarked our way through three years of poetry and drama classes together — one time even naming everyone in our contemporary poetry class after the poets we were studying. “ I think HE looks like a W.S Merwin don’t you?” I’d inquire. “ Yes but SHE is absolutely a Louise Gluck.” When a classmate asked for an extra bluebook during a test Joe snarked “boy, you’re optimistic aren’t you?” Like me he shared a deep love for really great writing, a passion for musical theater and Sondheim, and a strong desire to mock the uber-serious students around us who refused to see that the world was one big glorious playground if you looked at it the right way. In acting classes when we’d pile on top of each other for the inevitable soundbeast (where you’re supposed to become all inventive and listen to each others sounds and build a wonderful cacophonous noise) Joe would instead start saying the names of 1970s tv stars. Around us earnest young actors would be click-clacking and “ahhhhhh” ing and woofing and there he’d be calmly injecting “Gavin McLeod.” “Polly Holiday.” “Charlotte Rae.” When a new building on campus was dedicated to the memory of a woman named Edith Stein we promptly renamed it the Edith Bunker building. We insisted there had to be a way to get a MacArthur fellowship to study the importance of sitcoms and buddy cop dramas on American culture. We’d steal guns from the theater department prop room and play Cagney and Lacey or Charlies Angels in the hallowed halls of academia. Joe was beloved by everyone in his orbit and I was just grateful to be along for the ride.

Our friendship endured through a marriage (mine), a few relationships (his), a divorce (mine), death (my parents and sister), major career changes (his), a child (mine –but his goddaughter), a major life change (mine) and a sad and painful breakup (his). And through it all there is nothing that makes me smile more than to have my phone ring and hear on the other end “what do you think that girl who played Dee on What’s Happening? Is up to these days.” Or to receive an email with an attached photo of Joe dressed up in a kimono with the caption “do you think I’d ever get cast in Pacific Overtures.” Every Oscar night was spent glued to the phone with each other dissecting fashions and acceptance speeches. For me, nothing was sweeter than making him laugh so hard he couldn’t breathe. I’m often told I’m funny…but to make Joe laugh is the gold medal of humor.

One other thing bound us together. Our love of food. Lifelong struggles with weight and self confidence plagued us both. Life can really whollop you but a really good lemon cake never disappoints we’d say. I loved eating with Joe. When you’re a fat girl and you find someone you can eat with without self-censoring yourself it’s like manna from the heavens. Any excursion we took would be peppered with “you know, I could go for a snack” or “hmmm …why don’t we eat?”. We explored high-brow restaurants and diners, stopped for ice cream, and sat for hours over the Saturday morning breakfasts he and his (then)partner would prepare for Kelly and me when we visited. Of course we’d talk about how fat we are, joke about moving to Afghanistan where burkas were all the rage (“they’re so LUCKY over there” we’d say). Oh sure along the way we’d yo-yo at different times, I’d go through one of my many flirtations with Weight Watchers, lose a bunch of weight then gain it all back plus the requisite 10 more pounds. We’d always talk about getting up early to go for power walks but would sleep in and drive to get coffee instead. He had his time at the gym and I had my time at jazzercise and my attempts to turn my gigantic body into that of a cyclists. (Probably the most futile effort in weight loss history ).

Right now I’m heavier than ever. Always a stress eater I turned again and again to comforting carbs as I tried to deal with the most difficult work climate year of my entire career, parenting difficulties, and residual grief from the loss of my mother. Excessive snow and ice made it easy to stay home and eat and hide my fat under layers of fleece. The bigger I got the less excercised, feeling sure that everyone who saw me walking or at the gym was mocking me. Clothes stopped fitting. I bought an assortment of colored tops so people at work wouldn’t notice I only had two pairs of pants I could wear anymore. Photos depressed me. Life, as it always does with me, became about my fat. This cycle however, coincided with Joes renewed commitment to fitness. Stronger and leaner than ever he looks wonderful, healthy and handsome. But when we got together a few times in June something was different. He didn’t join me and Kelly for snacks, he didn’t want to stop for lunch. He was thin and had acquired a thin person’s sensibilities.

I felt like an alchoholic who loses his bar-crawling buddies. My food buddy had abandoned me. I felt awkward and self conscious about what I ate in front of him. Of course I made the usual jokes about my girth and panicked when he suggested we start off his visit with a trip to an exercise class. Near tears I wrote him begging him not to ask this of me. I couldn’t go back to that class. It was too hard to wheeze and groan in front of women I used to keep up with. I didn’t want to be the subject of the “what the hell happened to HER she’s bigger than ever?” comments. I couldn’t bear the conversations where people’s eyes would furtively dart to my fat rolls instead of my face. “Of course honey of course,” He replied. “It’s you I’m coming to see we don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.” He’s my best friend, someone who would never hurt me and who understands me better than anyone on the planet next to Kelly and loves me with a fierce devotion that humbles and honors me. But in the back of my mind as I look at the new photos of his lean buff physique and compliment him on how great he looks (for indeed I don’t think he’s ever looked better), I wonder what he thinks looking at my photos.

Yeah I know. It’s not all about me. I get that. Nor is this meant to be a pity party. I got myself this fat and sooner or later I have to get myself out of this cycle. The responsibility for my obesity sits squarely on my shoulders. And honestly I couldn’t be happier for Joe that he’s found such a great new state of health and fitness at a time in his life when he needs to feel really great about himself. But as I prepare for his visit next weekend, eagerly anticipating the laughs, the snark, the musical theater references, and the long quiet talks about what’s happening in our lives, there’s a part of me that will miss my food buddy. But maybe, just maybe, it’s time I learned how to navigate the world of food without him by my side. Maybe it’s time I finally learned to eat for one. And I know as I try yet again to make this journey toward a body that doesn’t shame me, he’ll be there for me as he always has been to make me laugh, let me cry, and love me for who I am and not my dress size. My Joe. MY Joe. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My Joe...

My Joe...

Chasing Ghosts on the Beach: A Family Vacation Story

24 09 2009

Hazy dawn greets me our first morning in Maine. The familiar smell of salt marshes at low tide and the promise of sunny humidity makes me grin with anticipation of a day on the beach with my family. Liza wakes, all tusseled hair and eyes that suddenly seem to belong to a 20-year old. Uncharacteristically she makes her bed, straightens her room before joining me at my perch on the screen porch. “I think this seems weird momma, but I feel like it’s home here, she says.” While she’s been traveling to Maine with me her whole life her visits had mostly consisted of long days in nursing homes and hospitals during my mother’s last few years of life. This is her first bona fide Maine Vacation. But for me, it is home.

The night before, after a long sweaty day of packing, traffic, unpacking, and grocery shopping we finally arrived at the promised land – Higgins Beach in all its glory. The three of us plunge into the waves and the cold Atlantic washes away every ounce of heat-induced irritation we had been feeling. Nostalgia has already begun battling with reality on this trip – every mile of Route 1 (for I insisted we take the ‘real road” not the turnpike) brings memories “ there used to be a make-your-own sundae bar there… now it’s a hotdog stand!” “I remember our 8th grade science class trip through Scarborough Marsh…” “Oh boy,” groans Kelly, “Here we go.” And she and Liza roll their eyes at each other in their favorite pastime of “let’s make fun of momma,” but I ignore them. My trips to Maine are always nostalgic but this one especially so. With both parents and my sister gone and my brother living in Rhode Island, my tether to the state is tenuous at best. “I’m one of you!” I want to say to the locals in the Hannaford as we stock up the beach cottage kitchen. “Ignore my New Hampshire plates, I belong here!”

Higgins Beach is the beach of my youth and around every corner lurk the ghosts of the family I’ve lost. My mother, sitting low to the ground in her beach chair as the water laps around her feet. My brother, my only surviving family member, in boogie shorts, hanging out at the end of the beach where the river flows through the marsh to meet the sea, hot- dogging it and diving with his buddies. My grandfather, gone nearly 30 years now, sitting in dress pants and a button down shirt in his beach chair, binoculars at the ready to ‘watch the fishing boats,” but really following that circa 1970 bombshell in the bell bottoms and bikini top as she strolled down the beach. I drag Kelly and Liza through the narrow streets on a hunt for the house we rented for three weeks one summer. I think I’ve found it but am shocked it’s now yellow. “ But I remember it RED,” I say, not thinking that nearly 40 years has past since that summer and of course it would be painted many times over by now. I remember its outdoor shower, the back bedroom I shared with my sister, and the spiders in the corner. My chest aches the way it always does when I call Marie to mind but I feel a strong need to tell Kelly and Liza these stories, to name them as if to prove that we were here. That once I did have a family that made this same journey to this beach. That there once was a mother who held her daughter’s hands and shouted ‘Jump the waves!” Could I ever have imagined then – a chubby four year old, fat eight year old, awkward teen – that I would one day hold my own daughter’s hands and shout the same thing? “I’m getting really good” shouts Liza as she body surfs a wave to shore, and suddenly all I can see is my father – barrel-chested, with thatches of white hair — teaching me how to hit the waves at just the right moment to carry me in. I expected this visit to Higgins to be glorious, the stuff of summer dreams. I didn’t expect to come face to face with the ghosts of my dead family members in the process.

Monday morning, Liza and I sit on the porch for what has become our vacation routine, talking quietly – me over coffee her over chocolate milk – as the neighborhood awakes and Kelly sleeps. She asks why I always refer to my mother as “grandma’ but to my father as “daddy’ in stead of “Papa Joe” which is what she has learned to call him. I explain that she knew her grandmother so it seems natural to refer to her as such. But for her my father exists only in stories and a few photos. To call him anything but daddy rings false to me. “Would he have liked me?” she asks. “Oh my darling…” I start to reply…but can’t go on. I swallow and continue, “…he would have adored you.” She beams, secure in the love of a man she will never know but who would have sung her to sleep and walked the beach with her in search of sea glass if he’d had the chance.

On our afternoon trip to Old Orchard I tell Kelly and Liza how we used to take my mother there to play ski-ball on Mother’s Day each year – some years it would be cold and near freezing but there we’d be at the beach, as it if was a great treat for her to spend her Mothers Day at Palace Playland. “Uh huh” says Kelly and I’m momentarily crushed by her reaction. I want all of this to mean as much to her as it does to me. “Tell you what,” she says a bit sarcastically “someday we’ll do this same trip but in downtown Lawrence and I can tell you about MY childhood.” I look around and realize that now Old Orchard is interchangeable with Hampton, Salisbury, Weirs or any number of summer beaches where girls in swimsuits drip water onto arcade floors while playing Guitar Hero.

Later that evening after a much-needed cooling dip in the waves, we head to the Lobster Shack, where Liza has pledged to try her first lobster. So many family Christmas card photos were taken here on the rocks of Two Lights State Park. We reminisce about my mom in her last year of life so determined to make it up the long steps to the red picnic tables for one more meal of clam cakes and French fries. After dinner (where Liza professed to love the claws of the lobster but be ‘freaked out’ by the tail meat), we sit on the rocks and watch the waves crash down on the same rocks I’ve climbed my entire life. We sit in companionable silence until Liza says suddenly, quietly, “momma, I like your stories.” At the gift shop we chat with a man visiting from Lennox, MA and Kelly and I tell him about this vacation-cum-trip down memory lane but he doesn’t laugh. Instead he regards me seriously and states “that’s so great. That’s so great you’re doing this.” I no longer feel I’m clinging foolishly to a past and a family that are no more but that I’m preserving that time for me and for my new family.

Every visit to Maine brings me face to face with a certain type of woman I’ve known my whole life- one I’ve always tried to be with dazzling failure. We see them everywhere – at the beach, the lobster shack and the ice cream stand we stop at afterwards. These are the women so many of the girls I grew up with have become – tan, slim, athletic, in tennis skirts, khakis, or tiny denim shorts with perfectly faded J Crew Sweatshirts. I feel as I often do, too big for my surroundings. Marked by my rolls of belly fat and oversized hips that barely squeeze into our beach chairs, by my spiky gray hair and ensemble-a–la Target. As a child I longed to be one of those tanned young goddesses and now as a middle aged mom I’m once again plunged into their midst, still an outsider. My legs are lumpy, thighs doughy not toned from tennis or running the Beacon to the Beach marathon. Even Liza seems different from their children who sit at the neighboring picnic table in Life is Good t-shirts and board shorts with the white blonde hair of children who spend entire summers on the water. I laugh at how after a lifetime with people like this I still get it wrong. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m happy with who I am but as surely as the ghosts of my family haunt this trip so too do the ghosts of my childhood self, a fat girl in purple Tough- Skins from Sears surrounded by the golden goddesses of privilege in my hometown.

A friend of Liza’s arrives to spend a few days with us and the decibel level in the house skyrockets. We all head out to lunch with my godmother (my mothers’ best friend) and other family friends where more stories are shared and swapped. We make a quiet pilgrimage to visit my parents graves in Falmouth but I feel empty there, as though they are with me more at the beach than in this cemetery backing up to the 13th hole of the Country Club Golf Course (the only hole my father was ever able to play with any skill). We end the day telling stories on the porch and laughing long into the night. It was the kind of night I’d been waiting for – the kind of vacation I’d dreamed about giving Liza since she was born. Where she could run free on he beach, live in bathing suits, grow tan, and sleep like a rock at night. We take the girls to Funtown where I launch into more stories – my brother holding court in the batting cages, my mom ruling the mini golf course, my sister going so fast down the super slide she ran into the chain link fence at the end. These attractions are all gone now – the only one that remains is the old helicopter kiddie-ride. I’d never let my father push the silver bar down to make our helicopter fly higher so we always stayed barely bumping above the pavement for the whole ride. “Figures,” laughs Kelly as she hugs me. What an apt metaphor for my life – so often afraid to really fly I stay in my safety zone just above the ground. Liza, fortunately, is not me reincarnated as much as I sometimes would like her to be, and she takes off for repeat rides on flumes, roller coasters and the Pirate ship. I close my eyes and hope for her that she always finds the courage to push down on that silver bar and fly her helicopter as high as she can.

No matter where our vacation travels bring us my morning routine is the same – arise before anyone else, usually no later than 7:00 a.m. (not by choice, I’m usually unable to sleep later than that and Kelly, a more sound sleeper than I, can usually slumber for a few hours past that at least). So I make the best of it and get up to read, write, or simply watch the world wake up around me. As usual, the morning brings an endless parade of joggers and power walkers. Kelly and I like to joke about saying “yeah run pinhead run” while we take another bite of our bagel. This morning we’re preparing for a visit from two families of Liza’s school friends for the day. After getting everyone packed and sun-screened I grow resentful of my role as mom-organizer. Kelly and Liza’s friend have taken off ahead of us for the beach leaving me and Liza to make sure we have all the towels, boogie boards etc. Liza asks why I look frustrated and I burst out petulantly “maybe I’d like to walk on the beach while someone makes me breakfast- maybe I’d like to sleep late once in a while, maybe I”d like someone else to make sure everything is ready for the beach maybe I’d like to feel like I’m on vacation too!” Liza takes my hand and says in a small voice “momma I’ll walk on the beach tomorrow morning with you if you want.” And a marvel at how such a simple gesture has the power to make me realize how foolish I sound for griping so much about a role I usually willingly assume.

When our friends arrive with a grand total of three girls and three boys between them I’m struck by how different boy energy is than what I’m used to. The kids take over the beach, body surfing, exploring tide pools where the boys exult over the find of some eels and hermit crabs, snacking on grapes and brownies, sandwiches and chips they come and go from our blankets tanned, happy and sandy. Predictably, Liza’s friend who has been staying with us finds a new friend on the beach, an older teen much more interesting than “our “ gang of kids and promptly ditches everyone for the new girl necessitating a least one full out man hunt of the beach. When we find her, not at all where she was supposed to be or said she’d be I give my first hardcore “I’m very disappointed in you young lady’ speech to someone other than my own child which, judging by the surprise on her face, might have been a first for her. Later that night after pizza, backyard volleyball and big thank-you hugs, our company departs for home bringing our teenage guest back home with them as planned. Liza and I walk the quiet streets until dark and I listen to Liza rant about how hurt she was by her friends actions, how angry she felt at being shunted aside for someone older. For the first time I hear a difference from the usual childhood “she won’t share” complaints that arise among her friends and realize I’m hearing for the first time the confused and hurt sentiments of a young lady who has just come face to face with the ugly truth that we can love our friends and they can still let us down. I encourage her to try to remember the great parts of having her friend visit and not focus on the events of the last afternoon. “Maybe,” she says, “but not right now. I’m still too angry.” We stop and hug for a long long moment. I smoothe her hair and we turn the corner back to our cottage where Kelly is waiting.

We spend the next day taking a break from the beach – visiting Portland’s shops and museums and saving our walk on the beach for early evening. A sudden thunderstorm drives us in and we head out for dinner on our last night in Maine. It’s high blueberry season and we grow hysterical at the endless offering of blueberry specials on the menu – from blueberry martinis to blueberry glazed chicken to blueberry pie. “It’s blueberry palooza!” we laugh. I love the dynamic of the three of us when we’re at our best like this. I want to freeze this moment forever. Later, while cuddling on the couch with me and Kelly, Liza says “I’m glad it’s just our family now.” Just Our Family. I may have come to the beaches of Maine to confront the ghosts of my past but in the process I was able to send them back out with the tide that retreats further and further from the shore in the late afternoon. Turning my back to the sea I see the family I have now right in front of me and realize that while I may have thought I was “coming home “ to Maine, in fact I had my home with me all along.

The Elephant

24 09 2009

“Elephant Youngs! Elephant Youngs! Nothing So big as Elephant Youngs.” I’m eight years old standing on the hard packed snow of my third grade playground smiling through frozen tears as these taunts are flung at me by a pack of classmates while other kids laugh and point.

“Those are the clothes for the fat kids…they go over there.” I’m ten. Shopping with my mother at the Filenes at the Peabody Mall in Massachusetts because they have a “half sizes” department. Half sizes is a gentle euphamism for “clothes for fat kids” which is exactly what I over hear the saleslady call them. My mouth goes dry and my stomach clenches as I realize that she’s talking about me. me.

“I Feel the Earth Move UNDER my feet I feel the sky TUMBLING down TUMBLING down.” I’m twelve and jumping from the merry go round on my 6th grade playground. Every time I land with a thud sending a cloud of dust up around my purple toughskins a group of girls perched on a nearby jungle gym would burst into this particular chorus of a popular song. Oh I get it! You’re saying I’m so FAT I make the ground move!!! Aren’t you CLEVER!? Yes I know I’ll never wear my alligator shirts tucked into my jeans much less wear a grosgrain ribbon belt that matches it like you do. Really? I don’t need you to point this out to me but THANKS ever so much for doing so.

“Hey Fatso get your bike off the grass!” I’m 13. Riding my bike across the campus of the school for the deaf where my parents taught when the child of a visiting parent screams at me, probably assuming I’m deaf and can’t hear the insult.

I heard it. I always heard it. And at a young age I learned. Laugh with them. Make a joke about yourself first. Point out your fat before they can. Laughing at yourself first means they can’t laugh at you. Years later this is some of my best material. ‘oh! oh! you’re so FUNNY!” friends and acquaintances will gasp, tears in their eyes as I tell the story of “being driven over state lines to find clothes big enough” Or how I signed up for Brownies because I thought there would be chocolately snacks served. Yes. Being fat. A comedy goldmine.

When you’re fat, each day is a battle with your drug of choice: food. Friends come and go, jobs have good days and bad days, parents age and die, friends get sick and are gone, but a bag of Ruffles never lets you down. Each day is a day you think “please let this be the day I start to just think of food as fuel for my body and nothing else.” Humor is still my first line of defense. I work with some seriously skinny women who often comment on “forgetting to eat lunch.” I love to reply that not only have I never forgotten a meal in my life there’s never been a meal I haven’t anticipated eagerly for hours ahead of time. When a slender colleague remarks that she’s “Sooooo fat” from all the holiday festivities I counter with “you’re not fat until you feel the zipper on your jeans open every time you sit down because the force of your belly is too much for it to hold.” Oh she laughs at that one. She doesn’t know I was serious. When you’re fat eating out on a business lunch can be a landmine field of anxiety. Once while dining with my boss and an elderly patron of the theater, my boss commented that “oh this restaurant gives you SO much food who could possibly eat it all?.” You know what’s coming next don’t you? Her eyes fell on my plate which by now contained only the garnish. I look at her and smile and her discomfort is clear. Hey. It was lunch. I ate. All of it. Deal. When skinny girls eat it’s like a National Geographic special for their companions. “Wow! where you do put that! Oh I love to see a woman with an appetite!” No. no you don’t. Not really. Because trade that skinny girl for a fat girl and the delight of watching a woman eat her meal is gone and replaced with the raised eyebrows and the unspoken “um. did you really need to eat that?”.

I’m nearly 43 now and I’ve lived a lifetime or two since those days on the playground. Yet unlike those populare ‘fat lit’ books my story is not that of the dumpy frumpy funny fat girl who finally knuckles down, loses the weight and discovers the joy of a thin life. Those books? Can kiss my enormous fat ass frankly. I’ve gained and lost entire people on Weight Watchers, given my life savings to jazzercise, ridden literal thousands of miles on my road bike,dabbled in nutrisystem, diet pills, and perky on line “food diaries.” Guess what? Still fat. This essay will not end with the chubby girl finally getting thin and living a splendiferous life full of Jimmy Choo shoes and Kate Spades handbag. This essay doesn’t really have an end. The Elephant is still here. She’s here to stay.

But damn. She’s funny.