At thirty, my weight hit a high point, two hundred thirty pounds. I felt extremely unhappy, lost, as if I didn’t have a center. Playing the “good daughter,” the “good sister,” and the “good wife” took too much, burying me more and more. Each day faked added more fat. Anxiety, high anxiety traveled upon me like an old ragged coat. Sometimes, as a child, it would hide away when I’d play, ride my bike, or spend time with my pony, but the years didn’t lessen its severity. It grew with me.
Now my friends were food, TV, and too much alcohol. My first son, Shane, then two-years old, kept me busy, the second not even a thought on the horizon. And though I had a sense of purpose caring for him, each day came and went just trying to get through it.
My confused, mixed-up world focused on Shane, my home, and husband. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that was all I had. Getting out among others scared me. I knew too well what people were capable of. Rather than chance destruction, I chose isolation. Or did it choose me? No grey area existed: intimacy meant annihilation. I could make a friend but not sustain the relationship. Unable to speak up about even minute disagreements, my feelings of being taken advantage of would escalate until anger bubbled up in the form of withdrawal and coldness. No one wanted to be friends with a porcupine.
One friend, Lisa, a daughter of one of Mom’s friends, had a son Shane’s age. At their house I’d help pick up after the kids. But when she offered at my house, my mouth said, “No, that’s okay.”
What? Why did I say that? After she left me with a mess that I told her she could leave me with, I felt enraged. It took only that to end the friendship, but not by my choice. She stopped calling. I never knew why, maybe she sensed my rage. It would have been hard not to. Because my voice had been gagged since childhood, learning not to speak up about the atrocities of brothers, I came out of childhood believing I was not worthy of protection, love, or acknowledgment. I learned to be abused and keep quiet. And because I felt guilty for it happening, further infractions or minor careless actions of others, along with my inability to speak up about them, mixed up the melting pot, increasing the heat of my emotions. I went underground, and that is where I raged, unable to forgive anyone, including myself. A victim in childhood, throughout adulthood I became a victim of rage.
That pattern, engraved into the soul-rock of my being, had long been a way of life. Mom had learned to silence me in order to maintain the image of a happy family, no matter what it took, or how far under I went. It wasn’t malicious on her part. I don’t believe she thought it over, or had a plan; she operated on instinct, as did I. To remain a family meant cooperating with the cover-up. I didn’t need to be told to stay silent; I just knew it was necessary for survival, unwittingly collaborating in the conspiracy.
Our new home, across town from Mom’s, needed a ton of work; septic, updated electric, a roof, walls, floors, and ceilings. Bare wood rafters needed covering. But we were happy to be out of her basement and into our first home, one that would shelter us comfortably for well over twenty years. I babysat and did crafts to sell at the local festival each fall, earning a little money in addition to our meager income.
Shane and I frequently visited Mom. During the summer months he could ride his toy car across the road at the school’s big blacktopped bus circle. Mom and I sat at the picnic table in her backyard, the warm air thick and heavy, a slight breeze making it just bearable. Shane played nearby, picking dandelions, a perfect picture in his powder blue terry sun suit matching the clear sky, his chubby little thighs poking out through the leg openings. Barefooted in the grass, he marveled at the white fluff, giggles erupting as he blew the seeded parachutes up and away. My cherub toddler touched me where no one else could.
But still my internal struggles manifested in physical heaviness. My weight issues began at age eight, after Dan’s attack; my scrawny eight-year old body quickly blowing up as if pumped full of air. I ate my mother’s food in the daytime and threw it up at night. Her love of cooking, and deep desire to see it all eaten, became my panacea. It seemed to be the most she could do for me after learning about Dan. I accepted her love in the form of food readily, with a voracious hunger that would haunt me for a lifetime, looking for her love—and mine. Food numbed out the painful nightly attacks and later became a tool to comfort all feelings. It solidified my ability to repress what he had done, though the memory flutters on the edge of consciousness, waiting like a bared-tooth tiger.
In tune with my unhappiness, believing weight loss to be the answer, Mom excitedly told me one day, “There’s an operation. You can lose weight.” She knew someone who had it done.
Quickly dismissing initial reservations, brushing away that little voice of reason, I felt as excited as Mom. Lose weight by only having an operation? I listened attentively; she seemed so positive, hopeful, and encouraging, like this was the answer for me. I so wanted to believe in an answer, any answer. Hope like a cool breeze lifted the oppressive heat. It sounded so very appealing, irresistible.