Friday, February 12, 2016

Ladies in Waiting: GIVING UP AMBER, Part 1

When the "waist" on a pair of jeans went to the hips we all stopped caring about how thin our actual waist was. Waist bands went from a 28 inch average to a 34. We created the “muffin top” by wearing those kinds of jeans over the years. The further we wore them down on our hips, the less fabric was there to help us hold it all in. We lost our true waist. We've let it all hang out. The kids these days don’t even know what I’m talking about when we do a period drama and I find myself yelling “pull that skirt up around your waist” They look at me like I’ve gone nuts. So over the years my zipper got shorter and shorter but my waist got thicker and thicker (like everybody else). But I didn’t see everybody else get fat. I blame it on fashion. I just saw my middle “tire” expanding. Eventually, if I sit down, my tire now sticks out beyond my boobs. Which is good in a way, it’s a kind of shelf holding my bust up now.

Glass half full.  

I was never a thin girl. When I was a kid my relatives told me that my baby fat would go away. It never did. I still have it. I come from stocky German blood. Solid as a rock, big-boned and muscle-y. All I lack is a couple of braids, a milk bucket and a soundtrack filled with “World’s Greatest Polkas," to complete the picture. Even as I type this, I can see the evidence of my weight and age sagging around my thick, short neck in the reflection of the monitor. It’s someone I don’t know very well because sometime in the 90’s I quit really looking at myself in the mirror if I could help it.

I was first taken to a diet doctor when I was 10, then again at 12 and when they couldn’t find a band uniform to fit me, I was given boiled eggs and dry tuna fish. I know everyone around me was just trying to fix my misery but as a child, I never felt completely worthy of anyone’s love. If everyone is telling you that you need to be fixed...I was too tall, too fat, too much boobage, too much hair…then you never feel whole or right. You feel broken.

I’ve looked pretty much the same since 1969. Despite the diets, the exercise equipment that fills my basement and the prescriptions that riddle a certain drawer in my bathroom, my waist has never been anything but a tree trunk and my squatty neck still sprouts a head full of denial.

Delusion is nothing more than living the dream. Right?

I always had in my mind that my fat was the real reason I wasn’t taken seriously by… anybody. When you are a fat kid, it feels like people see the fat first. Nobody looks beyond your fat. It’s as if the fat is a wall between you and anyone that might actually want to get to know the real you. The real me was a skinny girl down deep inside named Amber that lived, happily, in my delusion.

Amber wore the newest jeans and she had hair scrunchies in every color. She had big blue eyes and blonde hair that hung straight down her back. My real eyes were the color of “shit-brindle” my grandma said, which I guess was supposed to be funny. I still don't know what shit-brindle is, though it must be nearly black in color. My hair was unruly, half straight, half curly with two cow licks, one above each eye, making the bangs of the 70’s impossible. Amber had perfect bangs.

In elementary school I had an elaborate daydream that I was wearing something like football pads and that some nutty professor was paying me to do a social experiment about being fat. I would wake up each morning and dutifully put on all my padding because I was earning money for my family by being a lab rat for a study on bullying. It was my job. One day, when the experiment was over, I would finally get to go to school without all my padding, and my friends would say, “…you look amaaaaaazing! You wanna eat lunch with us?” And I would get a boyfriend two minutes later.

In the fourth grade a new concept was catching on to all us 10 year-olds. My classmates were probably getting it from all their older siblings, but since I was the oldest in my family I really never had clue about the current social policies and procedures. I had to learn it from my friends that had older siblings. So even as young as 10 years old, the class of 1983 had picked up on “going with” another person. The rules went like this: You would send a note to the person you liked (never talk to them person to person!) and sometimes you would send a note through a third party and the notes said “Will you go with me?” with two squares below YES  NO  The note was usually folded in a some tricky origami 101 and the name of the recipient was written on the outside. If you sent the note back marked “yes” that meant that you would eventually get to hold his hand behind the school…that was about as far as it went in my crowd…that I know of…hehehe.  BLOG: "THE SPAZ" 

I had only one crush in fourth grade and I’ll save his family from the embarrassment of mentioning his name but he never sent me “the note.” I was disappointed, but when I did get my first note I was shocked that another boy secretly liked me. How could it be? There must be something wrong with him! My friends were all “going with” someone. It was what I wanted more than anything and I didn’t really care who it was. Let the hand holding commence!

I guess I expected that he would want to be around me. He avoided me. I expected that he would talk to me in class. He didn’t say a word. In fact, the more I tried to be near him or talk to him, the more he would push me away. I was confused. Then one day my best friend asked me why I was badgering this kid and I showed her the note. She laughed right out loud. She said it was just a joke. Someone had written the note and it wasn’t this kid. I was mortified. I’m sure I faked sick so that I could stay home the next day (I was a convincing actor from a very early age.) I remember very distinctly saying to myself, “it’s because I’m fat. It’s because I’m fat.”

There was a bright spot in my junior high years that I very distinctly remember. Robbie Zimmerman asked me to dance at an eighth grade dance. It was the one and only time I ever got asked by a boy to dance in junior high. He was considerably shorter than me then. But he ran around with the cool kids. He was a mischief maker and comedian, the kind that are sent the principal’s office more than they should but Robbie went willingly, looking back at the class with a wink. I'll always love him for that may he rest in peace.

If tears give birth to personal evolution I believe it was a relationship I fought for in high school that spawned the capable, cool and aloof apparition Amber. She buried me in the shelter of my shame.

My first real boyfriend took me to the movies but wouldn’t be seen holding my hand. He would kiss me, but only if we were by ourselves. I would see him look around first before he went in for the kiss, as if kissing me would rid him of his reputation. I knew what it was…but I was desperate to have a relationship like regular girls did. We had just graduated from high school and he was headed out to work in another state for the summer. I had loved him for four years and we were finally dating. I was so sad that he was leaving but I knew he had to go. He had been a runner in high school. He told me that if I would start running I would lose weight. He told me that for every five pounds I lost he would write me a letter. No email back then. I would hear from him, on the condition that I would lose weight. I tried not to show how disappointed I was when I found out he was like every other boy I had ever known. Now granted, he was in high school and we were just kids. I was so desperate for his attention, that I bought weight loss shakes with my college money and nearly killed myself trying to lose weight so that he would write to me.

Let me say that again. I spent my college money on a snake oil shake program that eventually made me vomit after I drank them. That was the added bonus to that diet I guess.  

But when my one and only boyfriend got home from his summer job he didn’t want anything to do with me. I was still fat. He ignored me completely. I guess I didn’t love him enough to get skinny for him. I didn’t know who I was at a time. I was only 17. I didn’t love myself enough to give up Amber. What I suspected all along, was true...boys didn't want Jan they wanted Amber. 

Every day I still dreamt about the padding coming off to reveal Amber, but I was more interested in adding a revenge element through high school. I dreamt I had the power to make other people fat. I would walk down the hall and with my laser-vision I would instantly implode them – ala Violet Beauregard in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Anyone that ever did a double take when they looked at me or any fat kid, I would just implode their butt or their head.  I didn't want to hurt anyone - I just wanted them to have a little empathy for what it felt like to be different. I knew that if other people could feel what it was like to be fat for just a few minutes, they would be kinder. Ironically, it was because I was fat, that I learned empathy.

In college it was all about getting the roles I wanted in the theatre. I dreamt that I was cast as anything BUT the mother, the ugly stepsister or the drunk. It was while I was in college that a beloved mentor said, “…you’ll never play Juliet and you have to be okay with that. YOU are the nurse.” It wasn’t what I wanted to hear at the time, but it was true. He was brave. He taught me what it’s like to be a true mentor. He later gave me an opportunity to direct my first play and it was magic. So the irony there is that because of those roles I learned how to act, how to teach acting and how to direct.

The thing about delusional fat is that you are constantly trying to overachieve proving that you are someone you’re not. I assumed the stereotypes were being projected on me. So I tried to dispel every stereotype about fat that I could. If fat people are thought of as lazy, I worked my fingers to the bone. If fat people are thought to be slow, I would run. If fat people sit around and eat all the time I would never let people see me eat or if I could avoid it, I would stand…eat on the run like eating was an afterthought and I really didn’t need to do it. I was too busy to sit. My car became a junkyard for fast food wrappers. It was my formal dining room. If fat people were seen as tired all the time…well I was tired all the time…from trying to dispel the stereotype…from working and accomplishing far more than a normal person should. LINK TO THE SEVEN DOLLAR NAP Still to this day I have the hardest time accepting help from anyone because I think it makes me look like I can’t help myself…because... I’m fat.

When you are a fat person trying to fit in, you also overcompensate by being funny all the time.  The term jolly was invented for funny fat people and Santa. What else do we use it for? Have you ever known a jolly skinny person? Eventually you get tired of trying to be the funny person. If you are quiet at all someone will instantly ask “Are you okay? On NO! Her funny stopped! She’s broken! Someone put another quarter in her quick! We don’t want to hang around her if she’s not going to fulfill her duties as the comic relief.” That was my fear: That I was only useful if I made people laugh, and on my "off" days...well, I tried hard not to have an off day. That was a pressure I put on myself. Eventually I felt more comfortable wallowing in depression because jolly is hard to pull off all the time. It would be much easier to be appreciated for your blue eyes and rockin' body like Amber. Amber didn't have to be funny to draw attention to herself. Funny is such hard work.

When you are single, you would think that it would be easy to take care of yourself. You only have you to worry about. But I thought of myself as a single mom all those years with 200 children at a time and because I had delusional fat syndrome I had to be the best at what I did. The very best. I had to be the teacher that people talked about. NOT because she was fat, but because she was brilliant.
Can you name any brilliant fat people? Brilliant people are skinny.

I wanted people to think I was capable, cool and courageous. If I didn’t know how to do something I would fake it til I made it. I got addicted to the praise because that was my gauge. If people were saying “wow, that was a great play Jan," or “I don’t know how you do it all!” That meant that people were looking beyond the fat. But I knew the fat was still there. Amber was actually the capable, cool and courageous one. I was fat.

I was finally engaged in 1997. I was taking Phen-Phen at the time which had helped me take off 70+ pounds and I was running, feeling confident and looking good…for him. When we were dating I was constantly buying clothes that would make me look skinny, I was never in his presence without makeup on. I had big fake nails and I went to the tanning bed because I had heard that tanning makes you look skinnier. I wore his ring around like it was a trophy. And then one day he called me and said “we need to talk” and so I donned my exercise clothes and went running on the road where he usually came to my house. I wanted him to catch me on the road, glistening in my sweat and ready for a tumble. But he never showed up...

And Jan ran home, ceremoniously burned the box of wedding invitations over a dozen Krispy-Kremes and a six-pack of Diet Coke while Amber looked on and laughed.

There's my bell...gotta go back to work.