There are a few things that my poor husband is forced to do on the down low like ordering Papa John's pizza, watching the republican and democratic conventions and debates, listening to crappy classic rock, and watching Bill Maher. I try hard, but I just can't keep myself from ranting for hours whether or not I'm standing on a soapbox, and Bill Maher, with his smug McDouche face is one of those people who just sets me off. Recently, Maher expressed his clearly well-researched and thought out position that fat people need more intolerance because, clearly, hate is the way to effect positive social change. It's brave stuff, that, bullying people for failing to live up to social norms.
James Cordon, who is also on my list of one of the sexiest humans (yes, there's a list, don't judge), had a brilliant response, but I wanted to weigh in (hee hee) as well.
It's well and good to tell people that hate and intolerance are wrong, but knowing that has yet to put an end to them. I think it is instructive, therefore, to consider exactly what bothers people about the size of someone else's body. And before you start lying to yourself or others that it has anything at all to do with concern for fat people's physical and emotional well being, well, let's just say that "concern" is typically not expressed through violence of word or deed.
I can't say that Death and I hold hands, stare into one another's eyes, and whisper sweet nothings. Nor can I say that I am so obsessed with his existence that I steal his diary and read it just to find mentions of my name. Instead, we are simply acquaintances -- being sometimes on friendlier terms than others. I have grown used to Death hanging out on the fringes of my friend circle along with his annoyingly pushy cousin Sickness (no boundaries, that one!). Still, in spite of the many times that he and I have had occasion to hang out in hospitals, restaurants, basements, and swimming pools, the truth is, the guy is no barrel of laughs. Over the last couple of years, though, the bastard has simply gone too far. It was one thing when Sickness, Death and I hung out on the regular. I mean, I have grown used to the idea of my own demise. And, while I am not rushing off to hand myself over to him, I'm not afraid of him either. At least, not for myself. Nevertheless, over the last few years, particularly this one, Death has taken way too many people that I love, and Grief just won't let go of my big toe.
We all know that love makes you vulnerable. From the second that your child takes its first breath or from the moment that "like" blooms into schnieke scheisse and you're in love, you know that something in you will always be held hostage. Those are the big feels for the big relationships. But what I've struggled with this year and the year before that and the year before that is how easy it is to lose people before you've lost them, and how impossible it is to recover any of that time once they're gone.
My step-sister died this summer and, despite having our lives yoked together for more than 40 years, we were not close. There was no real reason for the distance between us outside of an irrelevant origin story and inertia. I loved her and love her still after her passing, but my love for her was a pale, sickly sproutling that needed more tending to grow into what it was meant to be. We spoke infrequently. I am bad at talking to people and rarely notice time passing. It makes people feel forgotten since, most of the time, I neglect to tell them how much they live in my heart and head. Every once in a while I would reach out to her. Check up. Check in. But her life was more figurative to me that something real.
She had cancer, my sister. For years. I kept tabs on her through other family members, but I never called her directly. Not once did I ever cuddle her children, my niece and nephew, nor did I ever tell them that I was proud of the adults they were becoming. This is not self-flagellation. Certainly, I could say the same for the amount of effort she put into being a part of my life. But, this post is not about tit for tat. This post is about the emptiness that comes from understanding that you missed out on something good.
I was at my birth sister's house when my step-sister died. I had driven almost 1800 miles to see my nephews and to pick up my son. I had 4 other sisters (3 now) with prefixes like "step" and "foster" and "other," and while the act of applying a largely meaningless prefix should not have meant stipulating a condition, it did. I did my normal visit, keeping things simple, not reaching out to my heart shadows, and just as it was time for me to drive back home, she died. It seemed sudden, even though I knew she had been well acquainted with Sickness and Death. No matter how much I could tell myself that, logically, the loss of her, of having her on the periphery of my life, was not that great, it was a lie. It was a lie because, you see, I always believed that we would have time. Somewhere in my heart of hearts, I believed that we would go out to dinner together, share stories about our kids, talk about church, compare notes on remaining hope-filled in the face of despair. We would put aside outdated misconceptions and greet each other in the here and now. But I missed it. That opportunity. I missed her. I miss her still.
So, there I was at her funeral listening to people I never met talk about a sister I had barely known. I knew about the child, but the woman she had been, goodness gracious, the woman was spectacular. She was brave, and strong, and faith filled, and hopeful. She was an amazing mother not just to her children, but to everyone who needed someone loving and kind in their lives. She inspired passionate devotion in her friends, all of whom would have sold some part of themselves if it meant taking away a part of her pain. And yet, she never complained or asked for anyone other than herself to be responsible for lightening her burden. I listened and, like a voyeur peeping an unfinished masterpiece, I selfishly grieved.
It's been months now, and I still don't know how to frame this loss that both is and is not mine to feel.
Ashes to Ashes
The space between
The tears we cry is the laughter keeps us coming back for more
David John Matthews / Glen Ballard, "The Space Between"
The first time I was conscious of it happening, I was standing in line in a grocery store with my gay friend with lousy benefits. Let's call him M. I had just been chased by a bunch of frat boys on campus who wanted to rape me (another story for another time), and leaving the house still felt like walking willingly into brambles. M had agreed to accompany me because he wanted to score some cough syrup, and this particular grocery store was easy to steal from. So there we were, the two of us, feeling like glass repaired badly, standing in a line that was way too long for a Wednesday afternoon, trying not to move the wrong way lest we break. M was sweaty, jacket packed with stolen things, and I was pushing down panic with every breath, Meanwhile, the coupon ladies and confused and crotchety old people and the pregnant WIC women all seemed to have decided that ours was the lemming line. So, after what seemed like hours, we finally made it to the register with my purchases. I don't remember anything at all about the cashier except his hands. They weren't bad hands, necessarily. Just big and white with hairy knuckles and a freckle on his thumb. Not dangerous hands. Hands that were working, sorting items into bags, taking money. Not hands that hit or choked or hurt you in private places. Just hands. Plain hands. Stranger hands. But I felt as though those hands had just beat me bloody. I wanted to run out of the store, screaming. I wanted to fall to the floor in a ball and wrap my arms around my knees like I used to when I was little and my daddy hit me. I wanted to vomit and purge myself of every emotion, every memory. But, instead, I stared at the conveyor belt, handed the man my money when I was prompted to do so, and made my way back home. Because, after all, they were just hands.
It is hard living in the middle of a minefield of memories. You never know which step, which image, which word, which sound, which smell will take you back in time. Yesterday it was a description in a book of being locked in a closet which brought with it the relentless dark, the clothes hanging like dead people, shifting with any movement with sibilant, scraping hisses, the fetid smell of playdoh and bubblegum, and the persistent, gnawing hunger of my empty belly. I was six years old and our babysitter hated me. She locked me in the closet every day after school for six months because I asked for food when I got home from school. Fat girls shouldn't do that, she told me. I needed to learn my place. I needed to repress my needs because to need something, someone, was disgusting. For me. Just me. I used to hear my sister playing in our shared bedroom just beyond the closet door, so I knew what happiness sounded like. I knew where it lived. I knew that she was allowed to eat sandwiches and tortillas and candy. I knew that other kids had sunshine kisses and knee scrape adventures and twirl arm friends. Not me, though. The hands that touched and took, the claws that grabbed and shook, the vacant eyes too full of tears to see me made me odd and colt boltish. Those hands covered my mouth and stole my words. Those hands locked doors and caged me inside. Those hands hit me into walls and then lifted me into a hug. I was never a square peg trying to fit into a round hole because I, eventually, was so misshapen that there was no name for me.
They (the anonymous ones who give practical names to things) call this thing of mine "complex post traumatic stress disorder." Which, in my case, means that frequent trauma has tacked on a perpetual "it's complicated" relationship status as my life partner. Yet in spite of all of this, in spite of the many times that I have been raped, beaten, abused, or have almost died by my own hand, fate or other, I firmly believe that I have lived an amazingly good life thus far, and I can't wait to see what the future has in store for me.
Let me explain. I am a fat chick. Not one of those I'm pleasantly plump but have body issues girls, but a full-bodied, weigh 2 of you kind of woman. Generally, when I point out my complete acceptance of my body, I get 2 responses. Either people try to console me by telling me that reality doesn't exist, or people try to dump a hot kettle of derision all over me. I don't need either response. My body is the house that I live in. It is the shell that has protected me. It is the thing that makes me myself, grants me life, fights for me even on the days that my mind has given up. It is mine. MINE. And I do not need sympathy or censure about it.
My belly is large, round, and soft and covered with stretch marks -- evidence of me changing through the years, swelling with child, shrinking with sickness, blooming with hunger, wasting with need. My stretch marks are beautiful -- paler than my other skin, running up and down in tiger stripes and sideways in lightening bolts. They are life's own tattoos. They aren't going anywhere and I don't want them to because I have been irreparably altered by living, and I want to continue to grow and shift and change and have evidence that I have sometimes been more or less than I am now.
So, back to that complicated minefield . . . I have been broken many times. I have been crumpled and straightened out, but the damage has been done, and the marks remain. I have been destroyed and refashioned so many times that some days I can't remember who I used to be well enough to know who I am now. I don't run away from any of this. I embrace my brokenness, remold my clay, refashion my sackcloth and seething. I create. More than that, with every mine that I step upon, every "me too" moment, I recognize that I am not alone. That I am one of many who have been marked by life, and our scars are the stars embedded in our skin.
I decided today that I think my life should be called "Trevor." Not because I know anyone named Trevor or even have any preconceptions about who or what a Trevor should be like, but more because the name just kind of rolls off the tongue. Imagine my surprise, therefore, to discover that my favorite f-bomb phrase of the day has been making young girls feel twitterpated all summer long as a line in the fan fic movie "After." Now I am having an old lady crisis. Should I continue to curse f*-ing Trevor for being the frustrating, lovable, unstable, joy-filled, capricious jerk that he/it is, or should I move on? Maybe reframe my life as a poorly conceived riot of color or a symphony of animal mating sounds? It is, indeed, a conundrum.
Meanwhile on the "I'm So New" front . . . I've been doing a lot of thinking about labels and identity lately. When I was a kid languishing in a school environment that was simultaneously too slow and too overwhelming, there were no words to frame my experiences in a way for the adults in my life (the few who decided to give a damn) to be able to help me. "Gifted," back then, meant smart kids who gave teachers chubbies because they could play by the rules. It didn't mean some mixed up kid who read 1984 at age seven with perfect comprehension, but who couldn't tie her own shoes until high school. I was delighted, therefore, that by the time I had my own kids, the language landscape had changed. Now the awesome new changes that have me thinking are in the area sexual and gender identities.
When I first came out, your options on the ballot were either gay, possibly lesbian, with a write in third party option of bisexual that no one really trusted. So when my own little queerlets told me that I was not really the bisexual woman I always thought myself to be, I was intrigued.
"Mom, you're so old," they sneered lovingly. "You know, you're like pan, right?"
"Wait. Why are we talking about kitchen implements?" I asked with crystal clear certainty that we had, for some reason, just started speaking gibberish to one another.
Cue eye-roll the duration of which was in direct proportion to their long suffering. "Mom. You know, pansexual."
I, never one to under complicate things, asked "Are we talking about the nature god Pan or is this some veiled reference to Pandora, or are we talking about pan in the sense that it encompasses all things? And how can you be all sexual anyway. I know you kids don't like to talk about . . ."
"Mom!!!!" Sir Talks A Lot cut in with an alarmed urgency based on experience while Lady Chatterly just shook her head in astonishment surely wondering how the conversation could have derailed so quickly. "Pansexual means that you're attracted to people regardless of gender. And in your case, regardless of attractiveness."
"Look, it's not my fault that Einstein, your dad and all of my exes are or were the most gorgeous people on the planet. Oh, and Maya Angelou too. And Tracy Chapman. And Spock. And Michio Kaku. And Yoda. Definitely Yoda. Wait, does a person have to be real to be attractive? Because both Gary the unicorn and Sam of Wilds are super hot."
Lady Chatterly, always good for a hug or a pity pat in a pinch, gently tapped my shoulder to let me know that she still loves me despite my obvious idiocy. "See, Mom, that's kind of what we're talking about."
Since that day, I've been thinking a lot about how my presumptive pan identity shapes my view of the world. I'm not sure how it pans out for other people (hee hee stupid pun), but I find that my quirky take on the world is related to how I prioritize what is and is not significant in a lover, a thought, a creation, a friend.
Yeah. Fuckin' Trevor. He's a right beautiful git.
Cynthia is a 50 something mom to 2 talkative, creative, whirling dervishes. They're not feral. Honest. Just homeschooled. In her free time, Cynthia enjoys being a hot mess whose neuroticism makes excellent song and story fodder.