Monday, September 11, 2017

On Becoming Invisible

I finally talked with my sister at some length about the Departure of Hopkins from my life, current revised edition.

My ex used my friendship (and his blatant refusal to understand, because it was so inconvenient for him) with Hopkins as one of the many justifications for his cheating on, and subsequently, leaving me.

The biggest irony, or the most brutal joke in all of it, is that at the end of the day, Hopkins assigned me a value of less-than. It's something that large women get used to early in the game; we're less-than human, less-than acceptable, less-than valid, less-than girlfriends, less-than actual friends...because our size is more-than average. Because society judges on appearance, it matters not what other qualities we may have, they cannot redeem us from the egregious sin of size.

I had always considered myself his friend, but he'd decided at some point that I was basically a slightly animated piece of background scenery. As he informed my aunt, under his breath one fateful day this summer, "She's just someone I hang out with occasionally."

Oh, I get it. I'm not worthy of being his friend. That might qualify me somehow as fully human. Instead, I'm not even good enough to rate friendship. I should have known. When his other (or possibly only, if I'm feeling especially revisionist) close friend from high school died a year and a half ago, he didn't go to the viewing or the funeral. He didn't go sign the book. If that's what he'd do to someone he considers a friend, what the hell could I reasonably expect?

I'm almost fifty years old, and this feeling of abandonment grates. It tears at my soul, but in the end, what can I do? Accept it, reject it; it makes no difference. It hurts. Losing people whom you believed to be friends when they chose others, or in this case, being alone, over your company just sucks. I guess that's why I have so many pets...although I wonder sometimes if it's unfair to inflict myself on them, too.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Wading Back Into the Past

Our thirtieth (!) reunion is on the horizon, and there's been a spate of photographs going up on the social media group that the class president put together to organize it. Two things: they're mostly of one clique, and I'm not in very many of them, regardless of whose photos they are.

I'm not in the prom pictures. I wasn't a superlative. The only photo of the senior float construction crew is one in which I don't appear, although I worked for hours on the damn thing every single day the week of homecoming, just as I had in the three preceding years.  (I won the English award and shared the History award. I won two separate academic scholarships. I had also had a scholarship to attend college the summer before my senior year...but because of my school schedule, I had to give up my spots in Girls' State and Junior Miss. I didn't rate much in the way of yearbook coverage- I was in the previous class' yearbook photos more than I was in my own senior year.)

The thing is, I hated being photographed. I still do. For someone who began her early life as a photographer's studio model (I was the ad for two different portrait studios, including a statewide print campaign for one of them), I can tell you when I began hating it: it was when I started picking up weight. When I became an overweight child, having previously been underweight and slightly ethereal-looking, I was no longer considered pretty.

Pictures now involved "suck in your gut", or "stand in the back so your fat doesn't show"; then there's the famous series of vacation pictures as I was just hitting puberty where my father looked at me with disgust and announced, "If you keep getting fatter, we're going to have to go to Omar the Tentmaker for your clothes!" Yeah, my enthusiasm for being recorded on film died a brutal death.

A couple of years later, my dance school staged "Sleeping Beauty", and I took the part of Carabosse, the evil fairy (mostly because it gave me more solos than anyone else). When my class went to have its group portrait made at the dress rehearsal, the mother of one of the other girls said, "Oh, don't let her in the picture with the pretty girls! She's the fat, ugly witch!" The teacher turned to her and snapped, "Then we won't have a class picture for this group. It's all of them or none of them!" There was a brief standoff. I was in the group picture, and I ended up consoling her daughter, who was crying with shame after that little scene.

I have a few regrets about not allowing my picture to be taken, mostly that I didn't have more with my mother before she passed away. Seeing all these photos from high school in which I'm just simply not there also bring back that cold, hollow feeling that I had back then. In a way, I'm to blame...I came back from my summer school experience at WKU with a big old IDGAF attitude, and in point of fact, told a couple of people to their faces that they were no longer part of my reality, full stop. I'd lost Chris/Hopkins and my friends in the Class of 1986 to graduation. I was lonely, and I was bitter.

I'm going to the reunion. It's three hours long, but I am optimistic that I have enough anxiety meds to get through it. I may just hide in the back of the picture again.























Monday, July 17, 2017

Is That All There Is?

For the last several years, I'd toss off a hasty e-mail or so to Hopkins while I was at camp; I pulled myself up short of doing so this year. Part of my route back to my sister's house in the city passes a now-empty call center facility at which he once worked, many years ago. Twice a day, I reminded myself that I'm only someone with whom he occasionally hangs out. I sent no e-mails this year. 

It's forced me to realize that although I thought that we were friends in high school, I was more of a thing he couldn't readily shed. I didn't matter, I was just there. I was part of the furniture; not worth really knowing, not worth remembering. 

We all lose our innocence about certain things as time passes. You never know what will kill it, or when it will die. When it happens, though, there's this hollow feeling that is physically painful. 

Since the conversation with my aunt, clarifying my insignificance to Hopkins, I have sent the lone e-mail explaining that I had done so. 

He won't miss me. He never has. I knew it would go down this way, but I was determined to try one more time. 

It will never make a difference.

I woke up this morning with all four cats in the bed. Tomorrow there will be cats, and the dogs are coming home this afternoon.

That's as good as it gets. I just need to accept it.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Existing versus Living, Summer Vacation Edition

It just occurred to me that I haven't been on a vacation in eighteen years, not a real one where there wasn't some other event in conjunction with it. Sometimes it's because I stay with my best friend and her husband- which is more of a visit. Sometimes it's because I'm actually traveling for my job...in fact, the most traveling I ever did in a single year was seventeen years ago, when I was interviewing for new jobs around the Southeast and Midwest. There was a visit/vacation many years ago when a friend and I decided to go to Biltmore during our spring break (we were faculty, and believe me, we need spring break as much as students do) and that culminated in our visiting, you guessed it, my best friend and her husband, a little further out in North Carolina.

People who take annual vacations seem to have so much fun, but usually they're folks who have partners and/or families. One of my library buddies has started going on trips by herself; this year's iteration was a road trip of the Laura Ingalls Wilder historical sites. Maybe I should take a similar trip, but I figure I can be just as lonely in one place, where I don't have to pay to board my dogs or sleep in strange hotel rooms. 

We're kind of back to the concept that I don't like being a burden to others, and I always feel that I'm underfoot. I also have this weird thing about 'I should be doing something productive' when I travel; there's supposed to be some sort of 'mission goal' involved. I guess that staves off some of the emptiness.

What it boils down to in the end is that I don't live, I exist. In many ways, that stems from a lifetime of being dismissed as burdensome or boring or unattractive or...(insert depressing adjective here). I wouldn't know joy if it jumped up and bit me on the butt, because I've been estranged from it so completely my entire life. 

Seeing all the photos and cheerful social media posts this time of year just drives the point home. I don't begrudge anyone their happiness or their vacations, mind you. I just wish I deserved a little slice of that, or had a clue to finding it.

Monday, June 26, 2017

I'm Not the One

My aunt was recently resident at the Chez for a couple of weeks during her annual progress through Kentucky, during which my father had asked that I bring the dogs over for a visit. I loaded everyone up and off we went, the day before Father's Day. Since it was a Saturday, I invited Hopkins to come meet the dogs, as he's been hearing about them forever and a day, but hadn't met them in person.

You would've thought that the devil himself was on his heels, because he was at the house roughly ten minutes after I messaged him that we'd arrived. My aunt, trying to make small talk, brought up several subjects, including how we knew each other, how long we'd known each other, and where he went to college (I emitted a cat-like hiss and excused myself from the room).

At some point, when Hopkins got really uncomfortable with the line of questioning, he muttered in a confused undertone, "I'm just somebody who hangs out with her occasionally."

Stick a fork in me. I'm done. Apparently, I don't even qualify as a friend.

Granted, Hopkins is a monumental example of social awkwardness made flesh. Yes, that is absolutely the technical fact...but in the name of all that is holy, my IQ is higher than his. I am not so stupid that I haven't figured it out, or have not known this since I was sixteen. years. old. His need to immediately (and with ungodly haste and emphasis) correct that misconception, as I've written about before, is a pain point for me. It's humiliating; there's no other way to convey it.

I cannot articulate how soul-crushing it is.

A couple of days later, I was back at Dad's on the way through with a rescued Airedale from Mom's hometown in northwestern Kentucky. My aunt doesn't miss much, really; she didn't get to be corporate HR director for a huge banking concern by accident. She'd picked up on my distress and his discomfort, and so she asked me about it.

"Is he a boyfriend, or just a friend?"

I sighed and told her the story. I explained why I have a lasting animosity towards Johns Hopkins University. The nutshell version to which I've distilled it down, because this happens more often than I care to admit, came tumbling out. Dad was standing there, and I watched his facial expressions as my emotions got the better of me. His lips set in a line, and he delivered some fatherly advice, having suddenly realized after thirty-plus years of ignoring this situation that it has had a profound and devastating effect.

"And so," I concluded, "although I have been in love with this idiot since I was sixteen, it is entirely unrequited and I'm a fool." I dissolved into a small puddle of burning shame, then loaded up the rescue dog to head back over to my place. After chewing on it for a week, I sent Hopkins a brief e-mail saying that I'd talked with my aunt, and heaven forfend that anyone should make such an egregious mistake (as to assume that we might possibly be, GOD FORBID, a couple, or that he should SETTLE for someone like me- implied, not explicit, you understand).

Someday, Hopkins will push the last dogged hanger-on away, and he will be utterly alone. I'm glad that he seems to be okay with that. I used to think I'd be that person, but I'm not so sure anymore. The pain is not worth the price of having a warm body who doesn't give a damn about me to drag around when I want to go do things.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

#TheySaid the Most Asinine Body-Shaming Things

I very rarely tweet. Twitter is not my favorite social media, but every once in a while I'll join a Twitter feed if the hashtag matters to me. #TheySaid is about body-shaming and the lifelong impact it has on people.

My all-time favorite, by my father, was "If you gain any more weight, we'll have to go to Omar the Tentmaker for your clothes." I was twelve years old, just hitting puberty, and hit the superfecta of being fat, acne-prone, nearsighted, and wearing braces. I fought back, and for my pains, was stuck with a psychologist whose brilliant deduction was that if I lost weight, through an "organized program" such as Weight Watchers or a children's fat camp, everything would be okay. She's a very respected child psychologist...whom I fired when I was thirteen, of my own volition, because my weight was not the root of my issues; it was my father's alcoholism, which she preferred to ignore in deference to his medical degree.

My mother told me that no boys would ever date me because I was fat. She refused to buy me clothing because "all the bigger clothes are so poorly made, and they cost more- I can buy your (slender) sister more clothes with less money"-there were underprivileged kids in my school who had larger wardrobes than mine. Mom (who, don't get me wrong, I loved dearly and still struggle with this because of it) put me in a high-power girdle at the age of twelve, not long after the Omar the Tentmaker crack by Dad. She viewed it as a waste of money to give me too many clothes, and as an adult, I am a clotheshorse and clothing hoarder...and there's a direct correlation. When she finally edged up into a plus size herself, I did the legwork to dress her in the expensive clothes to which she was accustomed. In that era, doing so required an almost arcane knowledge of where to shop- and although I didn't have much money for it myself, I became an expert sale-troller at the more upmarket places that sold plus clothing. She was embarrassed, ashamed of "letting herself go", and after a particularly exasperating day of dealing with this, she said, "Well, of course you know how to do this! You've always BEEN fat!"

(Yes, Mom; yes, I have. Lucky you, you only got fat when you were older. At least you had a shot at a normal life, unlike me.)

Weight Watchers, led by our local TV preacher, was a nightmare. One week, while on my period, I showed a gain at weigh-in, and he laid into me like I had just sacrificed an infant to Satan in the town square. I was twelve. I was the only teenager there. It was humiliating. I'd hit my limit with him, so I screamed, "I HAVE MY PERIOD! I'M RETAINING WATER! ARE YOU STUPID???"  I have a strong dislike of Weight Watchers to this day, and not coincidentally, this particular preacher, as a result.

A boy from my church once said to me, "I don't know how you can get off the ground in those ballet lessons you take, because you're so fat." He's 6'2"; I'm 5'6"; I executed a perfect grande jete au tournant from a flat stance and broke his nose. When he told his parents how it happened, they made him call the house and apologize (this was the olden days- now, my parents would be sued and criminal assault charges would be filed against me). Nobody who witnessed it ever challenged me about that shit again.

Another particularly fun thing, the summer before my senior year, was being broken up with because I didn't 'put out'- fat girls, according to him, should be desperate enough to call any boy a boyfriend that they'd do ANYTHING to keep him. He'd already found two fatter girls in his Upward Bound program who were both sleeping with him, for that reason; we'd been dating for a solid year, so I took it a bit badly. I slapped him so hard that I dislocated my shoulder.

(So yes, I had anger-management issues, but they were usually fairly justified. I didn't go around beating the crap out of people who didn't deserve it.)

The boy I dated after that one broke up with me at my prom because he wanted to take a thinner girl from his school to their prom. I didn't know that until I was dating one of his friends in college, whose parting shot during our breakup was (after I'd lost 90 pounds on Optifast in three months) "You're a nice girl, but you still need to lose a lot of weight." He was obese himself, which I pointed out, and to which he responded, "Guys can be fat. Girls can't. I didn't make the rules, that's just how it is."

(Ten years later, it dawned on him that he'd been really shitty to me, and I give him props for tracking me down through the alumni directory to apologize. We're still friends.) 

Which brings me to Hopkins. When I was on the run-up to my gastric sleeve, he primly looked at me one night and said, "I think it's 'cheating' to lose weight that way." I surveyed him coolly and said, "Oh, that's right, you haven't always been fat, so you don't get it." That was the last time he ever mentioned it, and by the way, he's around five hundred pounds and a Type II diabetic. But, as Bill, the dude in the preceding paragraphs pointed out, "Guys can be fat." That's different, you know.

At my sister's wedding reception, my father, who was howlingly drunk, turned and gestured to me, "Well, I'll never have to do this again!" His friend, a surgeon and father of four, protested on my behalf. Dad rebutted with, "JUST LOOK AT HER! Nobody's going to marry HER!" Dad's best friend, who was my doctor at the time, also witnessed this, and signed off immediately on my paperwork to have the LapBand. It was probably one of the most mortifying experiences of my adult life.

I was 34...in twenty-two years, nothing had changed since the "Omar the Tentmaker Incident". Nothing.

#TheySaid whatever the hell they wanted to, and it was "the truth" or "for my own good" or "because we love you, honey". I say, "**** that noise." I'm in therapy and that's one of the things that I'll never unravel if I live to be a thousand. Taste your words twice before they leave your lips, because once said, they can never be unsaid...and they're zero-calorie, so you won't gain weight from it.

Friday, June 2, 2017

It Could Have Been a Meet-Cute, Alas

Many years ago, I was on a trip to Charleston, South Carolina, with three friends. We were there for Fourth of July weekend. There's a pier on the battery that has porch swings and ceiling fans...it's one of my favorite places there, and we decided to run down there from our hotel around 11 o'clock one night.

As we were about to cross the street to the park, a young man came out on the balcony of the hotel at the corner, and started singing "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina". About halfway through, he lost the lyrics, so what's a theatre kid supposed to do? Help a brotha out.

I turned toward the hotel and delivered the next line, much to the embarrassment of my friends. So yes, I was standing in the streets of Charleston, singing show tunes with a drunk guy who was five floors above me in a very expensive hotel suite.

Just as we finished the song, his friends retrieved him from the balcony. We waved to each other, and I continued to the park with my friends.

It was just one of those moments. For me it was a tiny little scrap of magic, but it never bore fruit, of course. I always wondered who he was. I'm pretty sure he was somewhat younger than me; I was thirty, and I had the impression that he was in his twenties.

You can't orchestrate those moments. They either happen organically, or they don't. Here I am, still hoping for some spark. Magic is in such short supply these days, isn't it?