Fleshing Out the Five: Into the Woods, Part 5

At the start of SOLSC month, I wrote about getting lost in the woods when I was at a writing retreat upstate this past fall. And that has led me to remember time after time after time that I’ve been lost in the woods! This will be, at last, the final story. It’s a little different from the others. It might also be a little more alarming for readers. Just remember that I’m right here, writing this blog post. This story happened a long time ago, and I’m totally fine. Nothing terrible befell me back then, I just made some foolish choices … and — as has often happened in my life of foolish choices — I had the gift of divine intervention and people turning out to be as worthy of my trust as I believed them to be.


In the mid 80s — 1986, I think — I went to Prague. It was my second trip there. The first trip had been magical but super short, and I’d been hoping to find my way back. (Comical aside: As I prepped for my trip, one of the men I worked for asked if people in Czechoslovakia would notice me, would recognize me as not being one of them. At first, I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t a particularly jokey person, so I thought I’d clarify and asked, “You mean, other than the fact that they will all be white, and I’m … not?” If ever there was an indicator that we needed better geography and world history in our schools …)

I got to Prague. I hooked up with my old friends. I made new friends. I wandered the beautiful streets of that beautiful city. I sat in coffee shops, ate excellent ice cream, went to wine bars.

In one wine bar, a favorite spot of the new back of friends I’d made, I met two guys whose names I no longer remember … and maybe I only knew one of their names in the first place? The guy whose name I knew got chummy really fast and spent the rest of the evening hovering too close. At the end of the night, he invited me to meet them the next day for sightseeing. That seemed harmless enough, so I agreed.

I met them at the astronomical clock, and we started walking around the Old Town. And then the guy — let’s call him Miloš, though that was definitely not his name — suggested a trip to … I don’t know, some beautiful attraction. When I agreed, we walked to the train station, not the metro, but the trains that went out of the city. That should have been the point where I demurred, the moment for me to end our encounter. Instead, I got on the train.

The whole way out, Miloš talked about his hard life as a writer and philosopher and how awful it was that his ex-girlfriend had smashed the windshield of his car and he had no idea how he’d get it fixed. The other guy — we’ll call him Honza — never said anything. He was a big, shaggy presence beside Miloš or me wherever we went.

We got off the train at Černošice. Right. Who knows where that is? Certainly not me. I mean, I can find it on a map now — it’s about five kilometers outside of Prague — but that doesn’t really help 34-years-ago me. We got off the train and started walking.

We walked and walked and walked and then walked some more. Was it pretty? Maybe. Did there seem to be any reason at all for us to have left Prague to be there? Yeah, not so much. We were well out of whatever counted for “town” in Černošice, walking through a sparsely-residential area, occasional houses carved into the forest that surrounded us. We went to a house and were let in by a guy who seemed surprised but pleased to see us. Inside, there were three more men. There was a lot of conversation in Czech, a couple of phone calls, and then Miloš said we should leave our things in the house because we were going for a walk in the forest.

I had no “things,” since I’d left my house that morning for some casual sightseeing. Miloš said I could leave my purse because I wouldn’t need it, but that seemed silly.

Now here, of course, is yet another moment when I should have extricated myself from the situation. Somehow. I was who knew where, with a growing number of men I didn’t know. I wasn’t being invited to leave my identification behind before wandering off into the forest with the unknown men. I think about this now, and I marvel at how unbelievably stupid I was as a young woman. At the time, however, I wasn’t apprehensive. I was annoyed. I had a limited number of days in Prague, and I was annoyed to be wasting one of them — no beautiful attraction, no time spent with my friends, and no end in sight for this unplanned side trip.

We set off into the forest. There was a clear path we were following, so we weren’t lost, strictly speaking. I include this story in the “into the woods” series because I was lost. I had no idea where I was or how to return to anything familiar. I didn’t speak more than a dozen words in Czech and no one other than Miloš seemed to speak English. The men with me weren’t at all lost, but I most certainly was.

At one point in our walk, we came out of the trees into a pretty field of tall grass and wildflowers. We were on the crest of a hill and below us was a beautiful ribbon of river winding through a valley. That was lovely … though no one stopped to make note of it, and it was pretty far from where we were, so it was surely not our destination. We crossed the top of the hill and went back into the trees and didn’t see the river again.

After more walking, we were suddenly at a little beer garden. There were maybe ten people — including women! — waiting for us there. We got a big table and had drinks and sausage, cheese, and bread.

It was nice enough, but I couldn’t speak to anyone, the sun was going down, and I had no idea how to get back to anywhere. I asked Miloš how long before we headed for the train, and he looked shocked. He said he thought I’d understood that we’d be staying the night. He said there were no more trains to Prague at that hour, and the house where we’d stopped was where we’d sleep.

This story took place a lot of years ago, long before I began developing my rich and healthy relationship with my anger. I was still, at that time, afraid of expressing anger. But not in that moment. I was instantly furious, and — unlike most of the times I got angry back then — it was immediately obvious to Miloš, Honza, and everyone else sitting near me that I was furious. Miloš was apologetic but kept saying it wasn’t serious, that I’d get back in the morning and not to worry about it. This didn’t do anything to blunt my rage.

it was decided that, since I wasn’t enjoying myself, we should go. We started the walk back through the now-entirely-dark forest. Two of the women came with us, which was good, as both of them had flashlights. Miloš kept trying to apologize and assure me that there was no real problem and I shouldn’t be upset. Finally, one of the women made him shut up and walked with her arm through mine the rest of the way.

We made it back to the house, and it was decided that the two women and I would share the bedroom and the men … I don’t know, they slept somewhere else.

In the morning, Miloš, Honza, and I walked to the station and got the train to Prague … and Miloš spent the whole ride asking me to give him $500 so he could fix his windshield. Ugh.

Back in the city, I walked away from them at the station and went home, furious, grubby, hungry, exhausted.

Two nights later, I saw Miloš in the wine bar. He came right up — his face a dramatic display of distress — and told me that the most awful thing had happened, that some crazy person had smashed his windshield, and he had no idea how he’d get it fixed. Could I give him $400? It wouldn’t be a problem for me, such a small amount, and he’d get it back to me someday.

I kid you not.

 

In the years since that crazy experience, I’ve wondered what Miloš had actually planned for that day. Was he hoping to rob me — assuming I’d have crazy amounts of money in my wallet because I’m American? Was he hoping to seduce me so I’d feel inclined to give him lots of my American money? Or was he just an idiot? I also wonder about the women who slept with me that night. What made them come back to the house with us? What had they heard or seen that made them decide to stay with me until morning? Neither of them could speak to me, but they stayed with me, and I felt comfortable with them, having them around me.

See? I came through it all unscathed. And that’s the last of my into-the-woods stories. I’m glad I’m here to tell it, and hopeful that I won’t have any (many?) future ones to add to the list!


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Fleshing Out the Five: Into the Woods, Part 4

At the start of SOLSC month, I wrote about getting lost in the woods when I was at a writing retreat upstate this past fall. And that has led me to remember time after time after time that I’ve been lost in the woods! In my last tale, I told a story about summer camp. And, this story is about summer camp, too!


The summer after high school, I had snagged for myself what I thought would be the perfect job: counselor at the beloved camp I’d attended as a child. It didn’t turn out to be the worst job I’ve ever had, but seeing behind the curtain took some of the shine off for me.

Before camp started, counselors and staff had lots of work to do: setting up tents and bunks, organizing the craft, ceramic, and wood shops, anchoring floating donuts in the lake, cleaning the barn and getting all of the animals in kid-ready condition …

And while all of those chores were team activities, there were also specific team-building activities. Counselors went off on day trips to get to know each other and the area. I went on a hiking day trip, a climb up Mount Van Hoevenberg.

Just a little backstory on Van Hoevenberg. It’s 2,940 feet tall — not one of the high peaks of the Adirondacks (the 46 highest mountains in the range, all over 4,000 feet). It’s considered an easy hike, good for kids. It’s named for Henry Van Hoevenberg who build trails in the high peaks decades before the creation of the Appalachian Trail (no competition here, just a time marker for historical context). It’s home to the Olympic bobsled runs from both the 1932 and 1980 Olympics.

It’s also the first mountain I ever climbed. As I said in my last into the woods post, most campers’ first climb is the tiny, not-a-mountain-really that The Boy and I snuck away to climb. My first trek, as a seven-year-old, was Van Hoevenberg. So it felt only right to go on the counselor hike and start my life as an adult at camp on the same mountain.

I have no memory of my childhood climb other than walking down the bobsled run on the descent from the summit. I didn’t really know anything about the Olympics then, and certainly not a single thing about bobsledding, but I thought the runs were cool.

Our counselor crew set out, led by a man who’d been a counselor when I’d been a camper, a really funny man who made everything seem possible and fun, a good leader for a day hike that would have some rough patches.

There was a lot of singing and laughter. There were discoveries of wild raspberries and bear tracks and a field of Indian Paintbrushes. There was even a stop in a clearing for some impromptu square-dancing and the high drama of crossing a rushing stream by waling across a tree that had fallen and created a bridge to the other side.

For a person who has no relationship with her center of gravity, walking over that fallen tree was a trauma. I was certain I’d end up in the water, which would have been embarrassing and also painful because it was full of small boulders and about 8 feet below. But I had divine intervention on my side and I made it across just fine. I didn’t look forward to doing that on the return trip when I’d be tired, but I needn’t have worried: there was no way we’d find our way back to that path!

In retrospect, it seems pretty clear that crossing that tree was the start of our problem. There are no hiking trails that include such an unstable and impermanent feature. And yet, no one expressed any concern about learning the for-real path. Maybe we thought John’s good mood would steer us true. You know, or something. Turns out, this is really not a thing. Quel surprise.

We’d been hiking close to two hours when we acknowledged that we weren’t on a trail and no one knew where we were. Someone made up a song about bushwhacking and — as The Boy and I did on our hike — we decided to keep trying to find the summit rather than immediately trying to find our way back to the base. Maybe it’s something in that not-at-all-thin mountain air that inspires this ridiculous decision.

We made a weird, stair-step path — hiking sideways, hiking up, hiking sideways, hiking up. We had another impromptu square-dance in another clearing. We ate our cheese and crackers and PB&J lunch.

I don’t know how long we stayed out there, scrabbling around the side of that mountain. We probably would have stayed longer. John kept us in good spirits and seemed perpetually convince that we’d magically find the trail if we just pushed ourselves a little further, convinced that we could come down the train if we just made it to the summit.

We never reached the summit. Instead, we reached the top of a bobsled run. Seeing that formal structure, we knew we could get back to camp, and the decision to head down the shuttle was unanimous and made without words. We all just stepped into the track and started walking down.

Walking the bobsled run was as fun to me as a 17-year old as it had been to me as a 7-year-old. At the bottom, we poured out into the stadium. In one of my photo albums, I’ve got snapshots of counselors walking onto the field with their arms raised in a victory V. 🙂 We left the stadium and finished our hike the same way my sister’s Girl Scout troop did: on the road. We walked up that quiet road back to the entrance to camp, still singing, still laughing, and with a little bit of impromptu square-dancing. Lost and then found.


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Still Processing …

Plans are taking shape for offering our programming online. I spent pretty much this whole day in meetings with our program directors, answering questions, encouraging brainstorming, trying to reassure them that they won’t be left in the lurch.

I’m exhausted.

I’m also, for the first time, worried. It’s not that I didn’t take this virus seriously before today. I most certainly took it seriously. It’s not that I didn’t acknowledge that I am in the group of people at risk for having a bad time with this virus if I get sick. I acknowledged that. So what’s different?

Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve actually had to make plans for working from home, had to wrestle with the concrete facts of the degree to which I’ll self-isolate, had to cross the line from “here’s what *people* should do,” to “here’s what *I* have to do.”

I’m also sad. Preemptively sad. I’m sad thinking about not getting to see my really excellent team every day until the fog lifts on this terrible time. I’m sad thinking about all of the people that will be negatively impacted by this virus. I’m sad thinking about all the ways we as a country could have responded more quickly and helpfully so that fewer people would be in jeopardy. I’m sad thinking about the fact that my trip to visit my family last month will be the last time I’ll visit for the foreseeable future.

I wasn’t thinking about any of these things yesterday. I wasn’t worried yesterday. I wasn’t thinking about the fact that, if I  were to wind up in the worst-case version of this illness, I would likely not be a candidate for the limited supply of life-saving acute care equipment because of my age and size and pre-existing health conditions.

Wow, talk about things that aren’t helping my mood. I mean, damn.

Yes, and.

And it’s also true that I ate a delicious Jona Gold apple today. It’s also true that I saw my team rally and come up with great ideas today. It’s also true that I had great text exchanges with my best-beloved niece and nephew. It’s also true that I started my day with a text from my best-beloved sister. It’s also true that my hair looked great today. It’s also true that the day turned from grey, foggy, and rainy to clear-blue sunny when I wasn’t looking. It’s also true that I made a connection with one of my neighbors. It’s also true that I won every game of online Scrabble I played. And it’s also true that I saw my first star of the night before the sun had fully set.

So, yeah. All of that. All of that. I’m worried. I’m prepping to start doing 60% of my work from home. And I’m determined to be fine, to keep myself as safe and healthy as I can … and to remember that practicing gratitude always makes me feel better.


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Fleshing Out the Five: Baby, You Can Drive My Car

Some more oversharing! I’m still working my way through the five random facts about me that I shared in my Counting to Five post. The second item on the list was the fact that I don’t have a driver’s license.

I am most assuredly not the only adult in the America without a license, and yet people are always shocked when they discover that I don’t drive.

I learned to drive in high school, the way most people do. My parents taught me, and I took driver’s ed. My parents were both good drivers — unflappable, good parallel parkers, at home with speed — and learning from them meant I took on some of those qualities, too. I was pretty comfortable driving … too comfortable, as it turned out. When I took my road test, I was a little too casual about a stop sign. As soon as I slid past it with the barest of pauses, the examiner told me I’d failed. “You’re a good driver,” she said, but you need to follow the rules.”

Not getting my license didn’t mean I didn’t drive, however. I knew how, and I knew I was good at it, so I drove when I had to. I took a friend’s keys and drove us home when he got ridiculously drunk at a party he’d invited me to. Drove a carload of us home in the wee small hours of a foggy spring night from somewhere in southern New Jersey after we’d played groupies and driven down to DC to follow a band we were all crushing on. I drove when I needed to. And certainly that wasn’t smart, but it also turned out okay. I’m not such a risk taker today, however. For all kinds of reasons.

I was annoyed to have failed my road test, but it didn’t make much of a difference in my high school life. There wasn’t any chance I was going to get a car. My parents couldn’t have afforded to give me one, and my babysitter pay wasn’t enough to get that job done, either. I could have retested, and I probably planned to do just that. Somehow that never, happened, however. There have been times I’ve regretted not being a legal driver — when my desire to have a motorcycle or learn to drive an 18-wheeler rears its head — but mostly I’m okay, and I’ve been fine relying on mass transit and the kindness of friends with cars and strangers willing to stop for a hitch hiker.¹

I’ve had a permit two times in my adult life, but I’ve never gotten serious about working up to take the test. I got the first permit in my late 20s so I could share the driving the summer some friends and I rented a house in the Hamptons. That was fun, as the car I got to drive was a Chevy Malibu convertible from the 70s! I got the second permit in my late 30s to have as an ID so I could stop carrying my passport around. I’m in my late 50s now (whoa! … that’s the first time I’ve said that!), and I haven’t had a permit in 20 years!

I’ve started thinking about getting a license. There are places I’d like to go (and places I’d like to live after I retire) where having/driving a car would be not only helpful but necessary. Some of the writing residencies I fantasize about applying to are pretty remote, and I’d have to get myself to and from.

So maybe, 40 years after driver’s ed, it’s time to take this driving thing a little more seriously!

__________
¹ Stay calm, my hitching days are long behind me, and I’m right here telling you this story, so you know I survived. It’s all good!


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Counting to Five

This week has been a hard start to the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge. I’ve been super tired and super busy and ideas have either not come at all or have come too big to finish in time for posting a slice.

That’s where I am tonight. I started an essay yesterday but couldn’t get through to an end. Today I was too busy to have time to work on it. With luck, I’ll muddle my way through tomorrow and get it posted.

I still need a slice for tonight, however. Happily, I’ve been reading other slicers, a past time that often results in me feeling inspired by something one of them has written. Over at Teacher Reader Writer, Donnetta shared a list for her slice, a good reminder that lists make excellent slices! And so, following her lead, here is my list of five random facts about me.

  1. I was in the Coney Island Mermaid Parade four times.
  2. I don’t have a driver’s license.
  3. I was once the host of a party at which a friend’s +1 thought his clever party trick would be to insert himself into groups and diagram the sentences of everyone trying to have a conversation. <sigh>
  4. The episode I recounted for my Monday slice isn’t the only time I’ve been lost in the woods.
  5. I am one of those people who has an anecdote for everything (… and one of those people who often forgets that I don’t actually need to share an anecdote for everything).

And there you have it. I have a “random and fabulous” tag … I don’t know if all of these things are fabulous, but they are definitely random!


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Fat Talk: I Eat, Therefore I Am

Years ago, when The Morphine Man* was breaking up with me for the final time (such an unpretty story), he cycled back around to his most significant issue with me, one he’d hauled out in each of our crash-and-burn moments when he wanted to end a conversation and send me packing in one fell swoop: my body. In his last goodbye letter, he told me about a woman he’d met who had confronted him about his smoking, asking him: “But don’t you want to live?” He said he’d never thought of smoking in such stark terms, and her question drove him to quit because yes, he definitely wanted to live.

And so, his question to me as he signed himself out of my life was the same: didn’t I want to live? Seeing me after so many years had broken his heart, apparently, because not only was I still fat, I was fatter. He’d once told me that he couldn’t be attracted to a fat woman—despite the evidence to the contrary in the form of his unflaggingly ardent pursuit of me. But more than how much he couldn’t possibly be attracted to me because of my body, reconnecting with me had made him understand the true, shattering problem: that I have a death wish.

A death wish. Really.

When he wrote that letter, I had pissed him off well and truly, and he needed me to go away. And the version of me that he’d dated in our first go-rounds would have collapsed in shame and pain at the merest mention of her body, would have slunk away to weep and moan in private, would have stopped speaking. That’s what he wanted and had come to expect from me, so the turn to blaming my fat wasn’t a surprise. If we were going down in flames, there was no question but that my oversized self would be heaved up on the pyre.

Sometimes, I live to disappoint. And in this case, I surprised him by not crumbling and slinking away. In the years between our first failed relationship and final, equally-doomed one, I had changed. I had changed enough that – when I chose to – I was able to talk openly and reasonably-comfortably about my body, about being fat. I had changed so much that I no longer accepted as an “of course” the idea that my body was to blame for any and every ill that befell me.

I clearly hadn’t changed enough to know better than to get involved with that man again, but I knew enough to know that I—and by “I” I mean all of me, all of my body, every bit of my big, fat self—was perfectly fine, entirely loveable, entirely life-embracing. A death wish? Not this girl.

The Morphine Man isn’t alone in thinking fat people are eating themselves to death. Of course not. That’s basically the popular conception of fatness. Fat equals death. Punto.

Except … not.

Here’s a thing we should establish up front: food isn’t the same as cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol. Not in any way the same. The woman who turned The Morphine Man’s head was puzzled by his insistence on inhaling poison. On purpose. Over and over again. The choice to smoke is that, a choice. While there is choice involved in eating, eating itself isn’t a choice. I have to eat. I have no choice but to eat if I want to keep living. I get to choose what I eat, of course. And, if my idea of dinner is a vat of Cool Whip, three pints of ice cream and a shopping cart’s-worth of pork rinds, then maybe I need to consider adding some fruits and vegetables to my grocery list, some legumes, a handful of cashews.

Another ex, the one I call “Z,” wondered how I could be fat when I ate the way I did. “I cannot understand how this comes true, how you have developed this size,” he said after we’d been together for a while (Z’s first language isn’t English, so we grant him his funky constructions). It was very simple, I explained to him. “I didn’t always eat the way I do now.”

And that was true. And isn’t it always true for everyone? What we want changes. And so the things I choose to eat change over time all the time. I used to eat meat and lots of it. Then I became a vegetarian. Now I’m an occasional carnivore who’ll probably go back to being a vegetarian. I used to enjoy crappy candy. Now I choose higher-end treats made with better ingredients and fewer chemicals. I used to eat only a narrow range of vegetables, now I eat just about any vegetable that comes my way. The only thing that hasn’t changed in my eating habits is my love and probably-excessive consumption of fruit. I like to think this is evidence of my having been a butterfly in a previous incarnation.

Unlike smoking, drinking, or taking drugs, eating is a thing humans must do … unless they actually do have a death wish. Are there fat people who harbor death wishes? I’m sure there must be. Just as there must be slender and skinny people who hold those same wishes. Where do we lay the blame in the case of a thin person, I wonder. Not on their hideously-outsized bodies, so where?

So, what The Morphine Man called “a zen-clear question”—Don’t you want to live?—works for smoking, works for meth addiction, works for alcoholism. It doesn’t at all work for eating. People who want to live, eat.

Of course, that’s not really what The Morphine Man was asking me, I know. My fat meant something was wrong with me, meant I was unhealthy. The fact that I was fatter than I’d been when he and I had last been together meant things were out of control, meant I was eating myself to death. That, too, is a pretty common perception of fat. If everything were fine with me, why on earth would I be fat? If I were the picture of health, I would—obviously—be as svelte and fit as an Olympic athlete. Like everyone else in the world. Like The Morphine Man himself, right? Except The Morphine Man, though thinner than I am, had never been “svelte” in all the time I’d known him.

If The Morphine Man hadn’t been throwing my body at me in an effort to drive me away, I would have talked to him about some of the things that are true about why I am fat and what being fat has meant and means for me. I don’t know that he could ever have processed the idea that, rather than eating myself to death, I had eaten myself to a sense of relative safety. He wouldn’t have understood that, but he might have had a better understanding of me, of the things I’ve dealt with.

As for his insistence that he couldn’t be attracted to a fat woman, that was surely true … for all that it was also quite obviously completely false. While I never had any doubt that he was physically attracted to me, I was certain I was the first fat woman he’d ever dated, maybe the first fat woman he’d ever wanted sexually. It had to be both puzzling and troubling for him to find that he could be attracted to me, could want to have sex with me. Men aren’t supposed to want to be with me. With the exception of my hourglass shape, I most emphatically don’t fit conventional beauty standards for female bodies. For him to pursue me while at the same time knowing that he could never be attracted to a fat woman must have created some painful cognitive dissonance for him.

I keep thinking of that question: Don’t I want to live? Well, yes, I absolutely want to live. But—of course there is a “but”—I want to live on my terms. I want to live in a way that will let me live fully, comfortably, and confidently. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. Isn’t that what we should all want? It shouldn’t be surprising, and it also shouldn’t have to have anything to do with the size of my body or the food I eat.

Because I have for so many years had a disordered relationship with my body and with food, living fully and comfortably does have to do with my body, does have to do with what I eat. Living comfortably means I need to change that relationship, need to continue the self-love journey I started years ago. And that means I need to care deeply for this body I have—care for myself. And that’s something I know how to do and something I continue to learn and relearn how to do. This self-care is pretty basic: I need to feed myself what I’m hungry for when I’m hungry for it, keep myself hydrated and well-rested, move for strength and flexibility, take myself out into nature so I can feel sunshine and summer breezes on my skin and sand between my toes, surround myself with people who love and respect me, laugh loud and long, and take lovers who want me—not some idea they have of the person they should be with but me in all my me-ness.

It’s possible that, should I ever do all of those things all at the same time and consistently, the size and shape of my body will change. But it may not. If I ever do all of those things all at the same time and consistently, what is sure is that I will be healthier and happier, stronger and more deft in my movements. And that will be fabulous. I’m looking forward to that.

I eat, therefore I am. And I have every intention of keeping it that way.

_______________
* I don’t generally use folks’ real names, and I haven’t come up with a good fake name for him, so I use this nickname because it pleases me, and he is the person who introduced me to the amazing band, Morphine.


Part of a series about my body, originally inspired by Roxane Gay’s Hunger.
If you haven’t read the ground rules, please take a look before commenting.
You can find all of the Fat Talk essays under the Fat Talk tab. Thank you.


I’m following Vanessa Mártir‘s lead, she launched #52essays2017 after writing an essay a week in 2016 … and then deciding to keep going.
I’m months behind on my #GriotGrind, but I’m determined to do my best to catch up, to write 52 essays by year’s end.

Fat Talk: The Diva and the Pea

I am a high-maintenance woman. I know that about myself. I tease myself about it, but I don’t make any effort to change it. Why should I? This is actually who I am. I’m fussy and frou-frou. I like comfort and luxury. I accept this about myself. Others struggle with it, with my embrace of this truth, with how fully I lean into it.

metal chair

I recently went to see an off-Broadway show, when I got into the theater, one glance told me the narrow, armed, metal chairs wouldn’t fit my ample butt and that I’d be so horribly uncomfortable that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the show. I checked in with the usher, asked if there were any wider or armless chairs that could be swapped in for mine. She said she’d find out and let me know.

As she took off to investigate alternative seating options, I went back to stand by my seat and wait. A couple came up the aisle and, as they passed, the woman said she could see that the seats would be really tight. She sat — in the seat directly behind mine — and confirmed for her partner that the seat was, in fact, too small for her. She shrugged it off and settled in.

When the usher returned with a handyman to figure out my situation — my chair needed to be unbolted from the risers — I stood off to the side. The couple seated behind me watched what was going on. The man asked his partner, “Do you want to do that?” She, giving me a nanosecond’s eye flick of a glance, said, “NO. I’m not that big.”

The stagehand guy finished his work and walked off with the uncomfortable chair. The usher carried over a totally suitable chair, and I took my seat.

I understand that woman, mostly. She was correct, for what it’s worth. She wasn’t as big as me. But that really wasn’t the point. She’d already called out the discomfort of her seat. Presented with a pretty easy way to fix the problem, however, she rejected it out of hand, chose to be uncomfortable all evening. Of course. Because God forbid anyone should equate her less-fat size with my much fatter one. God forbid anyone should see us as being anything alike. Better she should remain squeezed and in pain for a couple of hours than have anyone realize that she was fat.

I understand that woman because I spent many years being that woman, squeezing myself into seats that were never meant for asses of size. Or, even worse, turning down invitations because I knew I wouldn’t fit into the space that would be provided.

But I quit that nonsense. It was certainly not as simple as snapping my fingers and having it be so. It started after I damaged my knee and began to realize that venues could and would accommodate me as a disabled person. So why shouldn’t I ask for the accommodations I needed as a fat person?

I know who I am and how high-maintenance I can be and often am. I ask for my needs to be met and expect it to happen. As much as I was an entirely go-along-to-get-along child, I have grown into a very let’s-talk-about-me-and-my-needs woman. I’m Meg Ryan ordering food in When Harry Met Sally — because I know what I want and I can’t really imagine why I shouldn’t have it. I’ve visited theaters before buying tickets so I could try out the seats and ask about better options. I’ve called ahead to restaurants to find out how close together tables are placed so I’ll know if I can move easily to and from my seat. I know what will make me comfortable, and if it’s possible to have that, why wouldn’t I?

The fairytale, “The Princess and the Pea,” centers on proving or disproving the royal blood of a rain-soaked woman who claims to be a princess. She is given lodging, but a pea is placed beneath the mountain of mattresses and feather beds on which she is invited to sleep. She, of course, is so delicate a creature that she is kept awake all night by the painful discomfort of that pea. It’s a Hans Christian Anderson story, part of the fairytale canon and source material for Once Upon a Mattress, a hilarious romp starring Carol Burnett.

As a child, I thought the story pretty ridiculous. It seemed only to prove that anyone could be a princess. Wouldn’t everyone feel something annoying in their bed? Obviously, no one had a spare supply of mattresses and feather beds to pile up for a random guest to sleep on, so that was just storytelling foolishness. One woman, one mattress, one pea seemed more likely … and seemed likely to prove nothing.

I didn’t have any princess aspirations, but that story made clear to me that I’d be able to prove my royalty quite easily. I had no doubt but that I would feel that pea. And that I would turn that bed inside out until I found it so that I could get my tired self to sleep. Please.

People often mock me for my picky, I-want-what-I-want behavior. I’ve had folks chide me for being demanding and selfish. Yeah, I suppose I am demanding and selfish. And? I’m not rude about it. I’m not taking anything from anyone else. So what’s the problem?

I get it, of course. I’m supposed to go along, supposed to take what I’m offered and be happy with it. Or … let’s be more exact: because I’m not white, beautiful, young, and thin I am supposed to be grateful to be allowed to show myself in public at all, allowed to take up even the least amount of space. Because if I looked like Tay Tay, people might find me petulant and spoiled, but they would be far less likely to be annoyed by me. For me to call out displeasure or desire for something different is demanding, is presumptuous. How dare I imagine that I, in my fat, middle-aged, Blackness, draw attention to myself, have the nerve to give voice to my needs? Welp. There you go. Life’s like that sometimes.

Needs I have. And I will make them known. Put a pea under my mattress and feather bed, and I’ll be sure to complain loudly enough that you’ll fix that shit just to shut me up and preserve your own right to a full night’s sleep.

I’m not a jerk about getting my needs met. There’s no cause for that. and no reason to make scenes … as long as no one tries to deny me out of pettiness, fatphobia, or misogynoir. If something I want can’t be done, it can’t. Okay. But if someone just refuses to accommodate me, that’s a whole other story.

I don’t think of myself as a princess. No, I’m more a Prima Donna … but, contrary to the snarky dictionary definition, my sense of my value isn’t in any way inflated. I am temperamental and unpredictable. I am demanding. Because I know how I deserve to be treated. And I’m comfortable making sure you know, too.


Part of a series about my body, originally inspired by Roxane Gay’s Hunger.
If you haven’t read my ground rules, please take a look before commenting.
You can find all of the Fat Talk essays under the Fat Talk tab. Thank you.


I’m following Vanessa Mártir‘s lead, she launched #52essays2017 after writing an essay a week in 2016 … and then deciding to keep going.
I’m months behind on my #GriotGrind, but I’m determined to do my best to catch up, to write 52 essays by year’s end.