Monday, April 28, 2014

Bat Sack, NANANANANANA, Bat Sack

My father was a biologist in a former life. He's never really told us a lot of stories about his adventures in graduate school, other than being the keeper for the small animal lab where he obtained his first gift to our mother: a white mouse.

The first of these stories that Dad told recently was about bat collection. He wrote his thesis on the Little Brown Bat. He was required to collect his own research specimens, so he'd round up a few other biology grad students (and my hapless godfather, an engineering major, who had a car and was Dad's roommate at the time) to head out to the caves around the Kentucky River to collect bats.

Back in the 1950s, they didn't know much about bats and rabies. Bat collection, as they did it then, consisted of Dad and company carrying burlap sacks through the caves, plucking bats off the walls, and stuffing them into the sacks...barehanded. If you know anything about bats and/or their habits, that should really gross you out and make you marvel at the fact that my dad et al. did not end up foaming at the mouth in the ER at Good Samaritan Hospital.

Yesterday I got to hear a new one that had put my poor godfather on the spot; Uncle Ralph was a long-suffering soul. His parents were gentle farm folk from down in Scottsville. Since Lexington was all the way across the state and they assumed that "Little Harry" (Daddy) was taking good care of their son, they didn't travel up to visit very often. When they did, Mrs. Johnson came bearing the bounty of the farm: hams, sausage, beef, chicken, her canning, fresh vegetables, fruit, and baked goods.

That semester, Dad had been assigned to capture mice to supplement the biology department's collection. He was supposed to catch, skin, reconstruct, mount, and catalog them...but he didn't like doing it one mouse at a time. He devised a plan to speed things up by collecting a bunch of mice and doing them as a batch. He also decided that the best place to stash the corpses was in their shared apartment refrigerator.

About this time, along came the Johnsons. Dad was at the lab, so he wasn't there to hear the screams when Uncle Ralph's mother opened the freezer to find, stiff as little boards, my father's mice.

After they got her calmed down, Mrs. Johnson told Uncle Ralph to pass it along that she was going to telephone my grandmother about the mice- I'm just glad that she didn't tell the landlady because they would've been evicted. When my sister dared to say, "EEEW, Dad, that's GROSS!" his response was, "Well, the freezing killed all the microorganisms that they might be carrying..."

Yep, that's my Dad. We get The Weird from both sides.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Take Me Baby, or Leave Me: Pt. II

Yesterday, I had another round of what-if self-doubt. I was stuck in the car with Hopkins for longer than usual thanks to road construction, and the resulting conversation left me a little bruised.

I'm moving through prequalification for weight loss surgery revision, and he informed me that his doctor had mentioned it to him. Then, in typical "I don't know when to shut up" fashion, he added, "It just seems like cheating." No sooner did he say it than he realized what he'd said and out of the corner of my eye (I was driving) I saw him flinch. I said, "I know that you think I'm going to rip your head off. I'm not. The decision to have surgery is very, very personal, and you came late to this dance. You were never fat growing up, and moreover, women are judged more harshly than men for their weight- in fact, there are many research studies in multiple disciplines that prove it. I have tried everything except drugs. You are entitled to your feelings on the subject, but this is my choice. You have no idea what I've been through or why I'm doing this and I'm too taken aback right now to explain it."

The subject changed and we were soon caught in the horrific traffic jam that is I-65 North on the weekends...for two...freaking...hours.

Then something kind of strange happened later at the improv show- I excused myself during the intermission and as I passed some men on my way to the ladies' room, I heard my friend Paul say, "That's her, right there," and when I came back out, one of them stopped me. "I just wanted you to know that you have the greatest laugh. I kept hearing it and I finally figured out where it was coming from. You just...it's a great laugh."

I hate my laugh. I cackle and I'm very self-conscious about it. I said so.

"No, NO, you have a wonderful laugh! Keep doing it!"

When we sat down, Paul told me (he knows this guy), "He was paying you a compliment. You need to accept it!"

I'm so unaccustomed to positive attention that it took me completely off-guard, but something pinged in my mind: where there's one, there are more. Maybe I'm not so bad, after all, and I need stop worrying about the kind of people who look at me and decide I'm less human because I'm not a skimpily-clad cosplayer, an anime character, or a porn star...or simply the same average size as everyone else around me. There are people who think I'm worth knowing and all I have to do is be myself.

The psychologist with whom I spoke at the bariatric clinic last week sat back and told  me, "You can handle  the surgery, but it's what comes after that's a problem. You have to stop worrying about everybody else and care about yourself for once. You have to believe that you are worth the effort." I have heard that all my life, but I don't know what it will take to accept it. If I can't accept a simple compliment, how can I deal with that?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Take Me Baby, or Leave Me

For everyone who's ever decided to radically transform themselves, I think there's always a huge, lingering "what if". The one on which I'm dwelling is an old, familiar nightmare that I experienced once before in college and to a degree when I underwent the LapBand several years ago.

Whenever someone who's been overweight most of his or her life suddenly loses weight, people don't know quite how to react. Because I didn't know how to handle it the year that I went on a medically-supervised liquid protein fast (read: starvation diet of 600cal. a day) and lost eighty pounds over the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college, I made some rookie mistakes. I didn't clue into the downside fast enough when a boy I'd had an interest in suddenly moved in on me with all the grace and speed of a Great White Shark...and dropped me with even greater haste when he realized I was the same girl in a more socially-acceptable-looking package.

So there I was, tottering around campus wearing a size 12 for the first time since seventh grade...which was still fat for an SEC school in the Eighties. Men tried to chat me up. I got stopped after class or in the various classroom buildings. I was whistled at and catcalled from the windows of the Six Pack fraternity houses. The whole time I was thinking, "What the hell is that about?", because none of that crap had ever happened to me.

It was short-lived. After the breakup with Shark Boy, I retreated, abandoned the diet, and ate everything in reach. I ballooned again.

So there's this dark, murky thought floating through the back of my mind: "How will I respond, at such time that I look more socially acceptable again, if the men who have patted me on the head suddenly regard me as attractive? It's still the same girl, in a different package." When I talked to my sister about it, I told her that she could come visit me in the women's prison near the city where she lives, because I figured I'd go berserk and hurt someone.

I've been there before, and this will be even more radical. Women are so closely judged by their looks, moreover their weight, and if I'm not fat anymore, who am I? It's been my identity since the third grade, even though by the fifth grade it was somewhat the creation of another fat girl who was trying to deflect attention away from herself. What happens when I'm not safe, friend-quality, 'fat me'?

It might be painful finding out, but at least I'll be in pain in jeans that I didn't have to buy from a specialty catalog or a plus-size store. That's a good thing, right? Maybe. I don't know.