Fat and happy? Well, no, not precisely. But not fat and miserable either. Twenty-odd years ago I lost more than 100 pounds. I’d gained the weight very quickly, in the midst of a miserable mistake of a marriage. The guy and I were living together anyway, and kind of pathologically connected, though I was probably more pathological than he was. He was just passive-agressive, and at his worst, mean in the way that “mean girls” are mean, because of course, that’s passive-aggressive too. We were in the same department at MassArt, and I couldn’t get in-state tuition, so we got married two days before Christmas in an office in Cambridge. The Justice had a Christmas stocking hanging from a painting in his office. His name, “Joe,” was lettered on it in glitter. Afterwards, my new husband went to work at the used record store, I went to work at the Children’s Museum.
I’m not sure a finer recipe for emotional desolation exists. I found solace in food: pasta with butter and cream sauce, croissants, cream puffs, boxes of Cocoa-Krispies; cheeseburgers and milkshakes at The Tasty in Harvard Square. I was bored, I ate. I was anxious, I ate. I was angry, I ate. I was lonely, I ate. And as I grew larger and larger and larger, Bob remained ever as Lurch-like as he always was: very tall, very thin, very passive. At the end he wouldn’t touch me. At the end I was nearly hysterical just trying to get any response.
It was a year or so before I started to come to grips with myself. Being a punk rock art student poet girl, I went everywhere dressed in black. One day, my friend and landlord said, meaning no harm “You look like an old Italian lady today.” That night I cleaned out the cupboards and the refrigerator and I threw away everything that I thought I shouldn’t eat anymore, which took a tremendous amount of conviction because there just wasn’t that much money for food. I parked my little car and started taking the train to work and to school, and plugged in daily to my portable Aiwa cassette player, I walked. I walked to the train. I walked from the train station to work, or to the T, or to school. I walked with friends to lunch, and most of the time, chose carefully. I stopped getting wasted on Friday night. I kept a little journal and weighed myself every day. And I lost weight.
When I’d lost about 80 pounds, I met an “artist,” a grown-man, 17 years my senior, a Jewish New Yorker who designed sets and taught at an upstate New York college, a man with great pretensions and a good camera. I became his “Muse.” You know the trouble with being someone’s “Muse?” Muses aren’t human, so they don’t have feelings. You’re supposed to inspire and support, but you are never supposed to need anything in return. Invited, I flew to Europe where he was teaching a term abroad. He met me in Zürich. We fought. I walked and walked and walked. He went back to Florence, I went to Berlin. I sent him a cable from Berlin, saying I’d arrive in Florence at 0600 hours. When I got off the train in Florence, there was no one there to meet me. I had no idea where to even find him. I gave a cabbie the address and he took me to a walled villa. No one answered the bell. I found the address of the school where he was teaching. I asked for him at the desk and an old Italian woman looked at me coldly. When he finally showed up he said he thought that the train was coming at 6 p.m. instead of 6 a.m. He offered no apology, and I didn’t ask for one.
I should have gone, but I stayed. I walked all over the city. One night when he was away on a field trip with his students (I was not invited) I went to dinner with a Sardinian painter I’d met that afternoon. When he leaned across the table to kiss me I began to cry. “Don’t cry your life away,” he said, and handed me his handkerchief. “Non piagete, Bella. Non piagete.” I was so very thin then. My veins made road maps on my pale limbs. Friends said I looked like I’d stepped from a pre-Raphaelite painting. Men smiled at me on the streets, calling out as I passed by. Not just “Ciao, Bella!” which is the standard Italian pick up line. More than one time someone asked me “Perché è così triste?” My Italian was abysmal, but I knew “triste”– sad. I’d just shake my head and smile.
By the time I flew home, I weighed 110 pounds. All the way across the Atlantic I hoped the plane would fall out of the sky. When I look now at every photograph the man took of his “Muse” all I see there is one very sad girl. One afternoon I asked to borrow the camera so I would have some photographs of Florence. Even in the picture I took of myself in the mirror of our bedroom I looked broken. When he came back to the US, he was so sorry, he said. He hadn’t been able to work, he said or make any assemblages or even concentrate. He needed me, he said.
I left him. I moved 2000 miles across the country to a place I’d never even visited. I got a job in a Library and I married a railroad electrician. I was stepmother to his young daughters and soon enough, mother to our own son. Every social event in Montana is centered around eating and drinking. We ate and drank. More hours in the day were devoted to writing. I was working as a journalist, I was sitting at a desk for hours at a stretch. One by one by one the pounds came back. All hundred of them and then some. But I wasn’t miserable. I was content, mostly. I would say to people I didn’t care about my size, because when I’d been thin, I had been so desperately unhappy.
My husband has a white-hot metabolism. He used to eat half-gallons of ice-cream in one sitting. He can pack away chow mein and burgers and cheese like it’s going to be rationed tomorrow. He has never been fat. I’d eat right along with him, to be companionable, and I got fatter, and fatter, and fatter. (Weirdly, his first wife also started out a normal size and when she left him, was the size of two of her previous selves. I used to tease him “Elmer Lieu, the man who makes his wives fat.” )
It took me a ridiculously long time to realize that before, I hadn’t been unhappy because I was thin. I was unhappy because I wasn’t loved, or appreciated, or even seen as a real person. When I was married to Bob, I was fat because I was miserable, because I wasn’t cherished, or honored or even loved. Now that I’m fat again, I’m a little disgusted with myself because, like every person whose ever lost a lot of weight, I swore I would never be this size again. And here I am. I try to stifle the shrill nag of that little harridan inside me though. No one ever lost weight (or found happiness) through self-loathing.
My emotional weather report does not have to be tethered to my size. Though I run the gamut from elated to despairing, I am generally content. Becoming thin again will not make me rich, or successful or happy or even better-looking. (Well, maybe a little better looking.) It will, however, make me better able to climb stairs, ride horses, run foot races, sail little boats, go for massages and wear shorter skirts. Maybe I can stop wearing black. But I don’t expect that being thin will make my life joyous or sorrowful. No matter what your size, that comes from within.
Target number still 63. Steps walked today: 2689. (Too damn busy to walk this week, now there’s a paradox.) Consumed: crepe with blueberries, coffee, two scrambled eggs, three slices of bacon, half a cup of grits. Lunch was a skinless chicken thigh, and a large glass of V-8. Later in the afternoon, a third of a Toblerone bar. My mother arrived from SC and we had a (for me, very tiny) bourbon and a Godiva caramel. Dinner was 1/4 cup pulled pork (no sauce) a slice of ciabatta, half a cup of macaroni and cheese, and a quarter cup of blood orange sorbetto.