Sunday, November 29, 2015

Be Miss Piggy

I'm home for Thanksgiving, and this morning, as I dug through the mug cabinet in my childhood home, I ran across one I'd rather forget.

Sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s, my mother acquired a set of white and blue "French provincial" mugs illustrated with barnyard animals and their French names. There were four in the set, one for each of us- a dog, a rooster, a cat...and a pig. Dad snatched up the pig and told me, "This is obviously yours." Of course, I ran away, crying. I have never used it, even in a fit of sangfroid. The mugs have been used a great deal through the years by my folks, but I won't touch the damn thing. I still hate loading it in or out of the dishwasher.

A few weeks later, my mother came home from a trip to the Big City with two more mugs, one for my sister and one for me. These were Muppets mugs, one of Ralf the Dog for my sister and Miss Piggy for me. Believing at first that it was another cruel fat joke, I burst into tears, until Mom took me aside to explain. "You watch Miss Piggy on television every week. Does it bother her that she's a pig? No, it doesn't. Does it bother her that some people make fun of her weight? No, it doesn't, or at least she gets angry and won't take it. Miss Piggy may be a pig, but she isn't like other pigs. She's very smart and she doesn't put up with stupid people. Be like Miss Piggy."

That mug is still at Dad's, too, and equally unused, but for a different reason: it was one of my most prized childhood possessions.

It's sad to say, but there were not many women of size who could serve as role models for a fat child. Miss Piggy was a great one, though...she didn't apologize for who she was, she knew what she wanted and she pursued it. Her greatest obstacle in life wasn't her weight, or that she had to overcome stereotypes about pigs, it was her awful temper.

When it was announced a couple of months ago that Kermit and Miss Piggy had "decided to take a break", which turned out to be "Kermit is seeing a younger pig who resembles Miss Piggy", I was so violently disappointed. Miss Piggy, however, has kept her head high and moved forward in spite of Kermit's betrayal. As my sister pointed out while we discussed this ugly turn of events, "Jim Henson would never have allowed that to happen!"

I'm interested to see how Miss Piggy's life without Kermit develops. If the writers have any sense, they'll find her a dignified-looking, accomplished, secure older Muppet who loves her, to borrow from Bridget Jones, "just as she is". As much as everyone in my age group truly longs for the fairytale ending where Kermit and Miss Piggy get back together and live happily ever after, if we're realistic and art mirrors life, they won't.

And yes, I know that they're just puppets, but too often I've done exactly what Miss Piggy did by following Kermit around all those years and accepting whatever little shreds of affection or companionship he was willing to give. She cut little corners and blunted herself to be more of what she thought he wanted, and less of her true, stronger self. It was classic Fat Girl Thinking; when he saw something younger and more malleable, Kermit took off...and Miss Piggy had nothing left with which to bargain. Whoever writes for them now gave her just enough anger to go with her wounded dignity, as she took the Sandra Bullock tack and refused to discuss it.

Don't be the child who cried over the Le Cochon mug when life hands you disappointments; be Miss Piggy. Don't fall into Miss Piggy's trap and be less of yourself because you think others might find it more palatable or pleasing- be true to yourself so you won't have to scramble to keep your head up when you're let down- or if you can't, be like Miss Piggy and don't let it have time to gel, much less become permanent. Give yourself about five minutes to melt down, fix your face before anybody sees, and go on. She may have doubts, but she doesn't have fear. Be Miss Piggy.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Heart of Stone

The expression "heart of stone" is most commonly used to indicate someone who is emotionally cold, or devoid of warmth and feeling.

I think sometimes that I have one, not by the above definition, but because I've created it to shield myself from getting hurt. Most of the time, I just feel numb.

My uncle chewed on my ass the other day about my negativity (among other things, and for the sake of goodwill, I just really don't want to discuss it), and pulled the equivalent of telling me to a) smile and b) cheer up, positivity breeds happiness! I'm in therapy for depression, and telling someone to smile is a form of bullying. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, folks. I would love to be all icky-happy, but really, um, no, not right this second, on command. I'm not a circus animal.

I have spent a lifetime being told what I am not allowed to be or feel, and it sucks that others think they have a right to dictate terms about it. It would be really convenient if we could just turn off our feelings altogether so that we never get hurt. A lot of the time, the pain is the only thing I can feel.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Season of White Dresses and Demon Bunnies

One of the things that still haunts me from way back in the day is washing out of sorority rush. My mother's sorority chapter was in trouble, and as it turned out, their advisors from national had cautioned them against taking any girls who were not stereotypically attractive, because they were already under interdict as the house that took fat, ugly, or socially-awkward girls. What I thought would be a shoo-in, coupled with malicious rumors started by a girl from back home who was in another house, buried me, and deeply. (EDIT: in researching their legacy policy, I discovered that it's worse than that- they had to obtain the permission of their national office to drop me because it was a distressed chapter and under those circumstances, a legacy cannot be dropped from rush and must be on the bid list.)

A childhoods friend's daughter belongs to a smaller sorority that began as a teaching sorority back in the World War I era, and migrated to a regular social sorority during the Thirties and Forties. Their chapter here in Kentucky just pledged a young woman who has Down Syndrome. I think that's pretty fantastic. In a time when one of the sororities at Bama made a kind of harebrained video to promote themselves to rushees (this semester, Fall 2015), Katy's sorority at Murray State pledged a girl because they liked her. That's often not enough. So kudos to the ladies of Alpha Sigma Alpha at Murray State for having the guts to choose girls they like rather than choose girls for what they look like or what their parents do for a living, or something else equally shallow.

Every so often, I revisit the humiliation of sorority rush. I'm not sorry I did it, because I earned my stripes, but the thing that caused my mother to jump in the car and drive immediately to Lexington (at my father's rare behest- he had his moments about this stuff) was when I howled, "That means I'm not good enough for my mother. I'm not good enough for my own best friend!" My best friend, you see, is a sorority sister of Mom's. My mother drove a hundred miles to tell me in person that it wasn't true.

Some sororities require that upon the death of actives who have no one else in the family who are members, the pin should be returned to their national offices. My sister pledged a different house, and was followed into it by my mother's great-niece. Mom's other great-niece pledged a third, different sorority. There is no one else. I've taken the pin out and looked at it and known in my heart of hearts that if they required it, they'd have to fight me for it.

My godmother joined a couple of professional sororities as an adult, because she didn't pledge as an undergraduate. There are times that I've felt an undercurrent from her that she, too, washed out of rush, but I've never had the courage to ask. While I've thought perhaps her joining these organizations was weird, I understand it. Mom's sorority offers alumnae initiation; in a way it sounds kind of silly, but I was reading the nomination form earlier and realized how much I'm still traumatized by that long-ago rejection.

I don't begrudge anyone Greek life in college, but I wonder how many girls are still left behind in the dorms on bid day, waiting for a card or call that will never come, white dress hanging in the closet after the others have all returned with balloons and jerseys, with mascot posters hung proudly on their doors. Do they still wander down the hallway and try to slip, as invisibly as possible, through the mascotless door before their failure is further published? Will they move on, or will it still clutch at them some distant day when they don't expect it?

Monday, August 3, 2015

Owning Our Agency

I'm someone who fears people. I fear their judgment. I fear being belittled, because it was so much a daily part of my life for a long time. I fear making a fool of myself. Most of all, I fear that allowing myself to feel, beyond what others perceive as requiring their permission, will lead to a crippling spiral of humiliation.

To understand it more fully, I probably ought to explain that I lived with a full spectrum of cruelties, from small jabs to public excoriation. Not that others don't, and not to downplay others' experiences, but when you're fat, there are "special rules" that apply. I was a child model for a photography studio for a brief window of time before I began putting on weight and simultaneously losing everyone's approval. I was a smart, precocious child, often socially inept (especially with children my age), and when I became physically unattractive due to my weight gain, I went from being perceived as cute to being perceived as an annoying, ugly pain in the ass.

As I got older, it got worse. Fat, brainy, socially awkward, and cursed by the Marks of the Beast that no adolescent wants- acne, glasses, and braces- I acted out, but I turned inward. I suspected that all positive attention that I was paid would be twisted into a cruel joke later on...and often, I was right, if I was naive enough to fall for it. I absorbed the Burden of Fat: because my body carried it, it was meant to muffle any emotions I might have and sublimate the pain and humiliation heaped on me, a favorite sport of both adults and children, with the extra rule that the object of their ridicule is not allowed to fight back, because then they "just can't take a joke".

The one thing I don't want to be is noticed, or be open to being emotionally flayed. I still spend so much time hiding that the idea that I've trod where I'm not wanted is nauseating...but, as I had it thrown up to me, I forced my way back into Hopkins' life, and it's not like I hadn't made myself a little ill thinking that before my face was shoved into that metaphorical pile of shit. It was during an argument and it was a gambit by the speaker to drag me down and beat me into submission. All it's done is force me through a tour de force of some of the worst feelings of misery and alienation I've ever experienced in my life. I'm so depressed that I can barely walk five feet today.

So, congratulations, if you think that's the foundation of a good relationship, it's not. It only makes me want to go over in a corner and stay there until I die from the sheer horror of being me.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

I Have Nightmares, Not Dreams

In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, a lot of my gay friends have gotten engaged and/or married. I have a full social calendar coming up. I'm also a groomsperson in my friend Stefan's wedding next summer (well, that is if they didn't just stand up with a J.P. in Tennessee on their way to South Carolina for vacation this week).

I love my friends. I want to be part of their special days. In my heart of hearts, though, I don't really like weddings. They make me feel awkward. They remind me that there is no 'big day' on my horizon. They make me cringe inwardly.

I was reading a novel set just after World War I recently and ran across a term I hadn't encountered before. I was pretty sure that I understood what it meant; it was "Josephite marriage". In my history courses, we called it "companionate marriage", or marriage for companionship or consolidation of property, rather than one for love or sexual attraction. These marriages were typically non-physical.

I don't even have that. Besides, I wanted the party more than the legal contract...

In a way, it doesn't really matter that much; my mother is gone, and the mother-bride dynamic of a wedding is important. I was the little girl who drew ball gowns and wedding dresses, who subscribed to Modern Bride as a teenager not because I wanted to get married, but because I thought the dresses and cakes and decorations were so pretty.

I'm glad that I pushed myself to go to the prom in high school. I wasn't in a sorority, and besides, sorority formals are more like big cocktail parties rather than a truly formal dance. If I hadn't done the prom thing, I'd probably feel even more left out.

I guess when it's all said and done, I'm the queen of people in Hell who want ice water. I just wish Stefan's fiancee would pick out a color so I'd have some idea of what dress to buy.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Blindsided and Lost

A friend of mine (who happened to also be my immediate supervisor) was diagnosed with cancer in late February. Suffice it to say, the funeral was Saturday, and I can't convey the shock and despair we're feeling.

She was friendship and sunshine and all that was good and right in the world. She made a difference. If that sounds trite, well, tough cookies, it's true.

Probably the oddest piece of trivia that I've learned in the last several days is that someone I dubbed Nemesis in a much earlier blog was her sorority sister at our undergraduate school. One of the people who hurt me the most in my life, and for no reason other than she was mean as a snake, was a pledge the year that my friend was a junior. Mercifully, I rushed as a sophomore, after my friend graduated, so she never knew about it- although having known her, she would never have let it color her perception of me. They were opposites; my friend was good, and Nemesis, evil, under the roof of the same sorority house. The Good Sister had the most influence on me, while the Bad Sister is a distant unpleasant memory.

Two days before the funeral, and two days after my friend died, I arrived at the library to open up in the morning. Standing outside was a young woman wearing a sorority sweatshirt. I asked, as I let her into the building, where her chapter was since the one at my university lost its charter long ago. The next day, I discovered that it was my friend's sorority- the closest chapter is currently in a state north of us. What were the odds?

Message received.

My heart aches and I want nothing more than to go home and hide in my bed, but the truth of the matter is that we have to go on. She'd want us to go on. We have a daunting task at hand and failure is not an option. 

Let me close by saying that if you have not recently had cancer screening appropriate to your age and family history, please do so as soon as you can manage. Don't leave it too late. I am violently sick of cancer and the agony it your part so that if you get it, detection is early and you have some chance of surviving.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Who Will I Be

The approval for my revision from the LapBand to Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy came through...and I should be happy. I should.

The driving factor behind all of this was the blunt statement, and surgical notes backing it up, by my oncologist a couple of years ago, that she would have done a complete hysterectomy on me if she could have safely reached my uterus and the other ovary...but was prevented from doing so because my fat was in the way. During my follow-up, she said, "Get back to work with that LapBand, because when I see you next, not "if", but "when", that fat needs to be out of the way so I can get to everything!" That this same oncologist, who is considered quite brilliant in her treatment of gynecological cancers, lost my younger cousin who was very slim to aggressive cancer, scared the absolute hell out of me. Not if, when.

So when my LapBand malfunctioned during my mother's final illness, and the bariatric practice saw no point in working with it, the push was on to revise. I don't really like the idea of having three-fourths of the margin of my stomach cut off and removed, but that's the lay of the land. I don't want to be unable to even fight if I do get cancer, because the mounds of fat on my body would preclude it.

There are a lot of people who dismiss these surgeries as "the easy way out" or "just because you want to look more acceptable". Really, do you think I want to be mutilated for appearances' sake? Nope. I lost a huge amount of weight on one of those supervised liquid fasting diets in college, and the pressure of fending off the men (some of them who were previously "just friends" before) who moved in on me when I was at my low weight was just too much. It's like a switch flipped from "invisible" to "objectification"- and I had never had that kind of attention before. In high school, my goody-two-shoes/hardcore nerdette/perennial fat girl pigeonhole insulated me from both the scathing ugliness I experienced in college as well as blocking me from more ordinary dating experiences. Being desirable to men was outside my experience, and during that brief period when I was just another datable girl at the university, I was terrified.

It would be nice to not ache from the simple act of being. It would be nice to be able to walk without getting winded or being in pain. It would be nice to be able to clothes-shop in the same stores as my sister and my friends...but what I really want is to not fear dying because being too fat prevents me from receiving treatment.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Car-buying and Other Traumas

On the way back from my weekend visit to the paterfamilias, my dashboard decided to light up like the proverbial Christmas tree. I white-knuckled it the sixty miles back to my house and immediately made an appointment via the dealership's web app for the earliest available time, which turned out to be on Wednesday. I didn't drive a lot during the intervening couple of days.

It hadn't been exactly a wonderful weekend. My best friend underwent emergency surgery in North Carolina on Saturday morning. (As it turned out, she felt well enough post-op to go to work on Monday.) My most ancient cat decided it was his right to pee in my bed every day last week, so I've washed the bedding every day as well, and then, yay, three thousand dollars' worth of repairs already into the Dogmobile since New Year's Day, it turned out that the two separate exhaust systems on the Subaru decided to die simultaneously.

I don't know what caused it, but the $3500 repair quote was just over my limit. Come to find out, too, when it was appraised for the trade, the differential was also going out...another several thousand dollars' worth of repairs. I'd already latched onto a salesman and was investigating what Subaru currently has on offer...and that just clinched it.

My new car is being delivered on Saturday or Monday.

The weird thing is that I got choked up about it, right at the end of the contract stuff. I forked over some money from my mother's estate as the down payment, and it suddenly hit me that Mom will never see this car. She's helping pay for it, in absentia, but she liked the Dogmobile. She'd ridden in it. It's the last car I'll ever have in which she was a passenger at some point. It's things like these that sneak up on you when you're not expecting it. This is a "First" that I never anticipated.

Anyway, now I have to clean out the Dogmobile and do other stuff like call my insurance company, et cetera. It's not how I wanted to buy my next car, but it is what it is. At least I'm not taking delivery on Friday the 13th.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Not-so-Golden Compass

I shared a locker with Hopkins his senior year, and because I was a bit shorter, I'd deferred to him using the top shelf for his books and supplies. I generally kept my books in the bottom of the locker, or in my book bag, hanging from the coat hook. It usually didn't matter, but on one memorable day, it did. I was digging around in the bottom of the locker for something and I heard a swish as Hopkins flattened me against the open locker door.

Of course, the teacher on hall duty saw it and thought that Hopkins had availed himself of an opportunity to...I don't know...manifest some interest in me? I was famously prudish about public displays of affection, much less full-frontal physical contact- and the fact that I shoved him backwards with a shriek of, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING???" should have been a dead giveaway that it was not a "move", as the kids would have said.

He pointed at a drawing compass, standing bolt-upright in the floor where it had lodged in the carpet. A centimeter or so to the left, had he not pushed me out of the way, and the thing would have stabbed me in the foot.

I can recall defending myself to my mother when a teacher told her about it in church, and feeling very stupid indeed. I didn't want my mother to think I was loose or throwing myself at the boy, but at the same time, it was denigrating to know that nobody believed even a hardcore nerd like Hopkins could have a romantic interest in me.

That's what it's like to be awkward. You learn not to expect much because hope is for other people, and that it was just reflex, no emotion involved...because nobody would care about you enough to put you out of harm's way, right? It's the same sick shame I feel when someone pays me a compliment, as if there's a punchline hidden in there that I don't know about, or some unwritten rule that I've broken that ultimately leads to humiliation.

Just once in my life, I'd like to believe that I could feel what I want to feel without fear of being rebuffed, humiliated, or rejected...that there might be some reciprocity somewhere. I'm fighting with my insurer over the revisional weight loss surgery because there's this overarching sentiment that as a fat woman, my life is invalid, or some kind of running joke. It's an uncomfortable place to be.