Excerpt from Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp by Stephanie Klein.
I used to get pissed when he wanted to go to the gym. Even more pissed if he suggested we go together. He might as well have grabbed a Sharpie marker and circled my flaws because “ let’s go together” was interpreted as “you could stand to lose some flab there, Missy.” I made it about me, began to cry at the suggestion, and then, he’ d stay, setting his Walkman down on the table with his testicles. I’m embarrassed I was that manipulative. I hate how much I hated myself and took it out on others. I hate how miserable I was with myself.—2005, age twenty-nine.
There was a point in college, about a year and a half after my summer as a counselor, where I actually revisited my childhood weight, nearly eclipsing it at 162 pounds. I’ve recently seen the college photos, or I’d never have remembered returning to fat. It’s not that I was in denial, too pained to recall the freshman forty I’d smeared on. In fact, it was quite the opposite: I didn’t remember being fat because I was in love. And I’m now convinced that when Shakespeare wrote, “Love is blind,” he was having a fat day.
What care I of such trite things as body weight and exteriors when in bed with a man who loves me completely, just as I am? There are more important things about which to ruminate. Namely, what’s for dinner?
The way I see it, love is an amusement park, and food its souvenir.
I can trace every romance of my life back to a meal. My memories are enhanced by the tender morsels had at tables across from lovers, on blankets with friends who’d eventually become more, in banquets, barbecues, and breakfasts. And the seasons of these romances followed an intricate blueprint through fat and thin.
In the spring, afternoons were spent in New York museums and movie theaters, roving through parks where tulips peeked up through narrow beds of snow. I’d feel his fingertips for the first time. He’d hail a taxicab but convince me not to get in. Our afternoon would often extend into evening, an impromptu dinner at a local bistro. “So do I!” and “Wow, me too!” said in smiles between bites of young Bibb lettuce, wax beans, and golden beets. Linen napkins and polite talk and touch. Seared salmon with morels, blanched fiddleheads, petite peas, and a basic beurre blanc. White Burgundy. That first kiss as good as the last bite.
In the sweet summer of a relationship, brunch toasts were made “to us,” the clinking of mimosas over peekytoe crab cakes Benedict, gravlax, and ceramic cups of coddled eggs. Strong coffee. A ruffle of skirt, coral accessories, freckles, and sunblock. He’d reach across the table to tuck a stray twist of my hair behind my ear. Fragrant strawberries presented with a shallow bowl of fine sanding sugar. The rest of our day planned yet lazy. Salty prosciutto with melon eaten from his hands in a rowboat. Our feet over the sides, making ripples in the water. He’d say, “I love you” without meaning to.
We’d meet at my apartment, before dinner with friends, noshing on hard wheels of salami, white grapes, aged grating cheese. He’d use the word “girlfriend” when introducing me, his hand on the small of my back.
I’d be surprised and excited and would order razor and cherrystone clams on a bed of wet linguine with a touch of cubed tomato and a scatter of parsley. I’d ask the waitress for more bread. I’d offer him a taste, secretly hoping he’d decline. And I’d watch as he twirled his fork in my food, bringing his mouth to my plate. Not that much! I wanted to shout. Instead I smiled when he said, “Good,” his mouth full of what should have been mine.
Come Labor Day, we’d have our first big blowout fight. I wouldn’t remember the details of it, only the midnight peace offerings made barefoot in my kitchen. We foraged the cabinets, finally composing tomato sandwiches with wobbly mayonnaise and crisp white toast. “Wait,” I’d say, adding kosher salt. “Okay, now.” We’d make up by the light of the open refrigerator. And I’d swear to myself that I’d never forget that moment.
We’d come home drunk some nights. I’d change into sweats, wash my face, turn on the television, and he’d lie in bed, still dressed, one foot on the floor. “I’m not going to be able to sleep here,” he’d say, and for a moment, I’d worry it was his way of distancing himself. “The room won’t stop spinning.” I’d get dressed and walk with him to the diner for grease.
“This will make you feel better,” I’d say, but really I’d feel better because I’d still be with him. We’d sit in the diner and order chocolate malteds, cheese fries, and hamburgers. And I’d love it—that refrigerated rotating pie life, lived behind glass doors beside plastic-wrapped cantaloupes filled with red Jell-O. Everything felt safe and preserved.
In the fall there’d be football games and foot massages. Tailgating and tagliatelle. A warmed bowl of parsnip pear puree swirled with roasted garlic. “So what’s for dinner?” wouldn’t be a passing comment; it would become our evening activity, our plans, along with a TV Guide lineup. Battened in layers of his clothes, we’d play dirty Scrabble, drinking shots of Irish whiskey. Parts of the Sunday paper would be read aloud while we feasted on navy bean stew and a loaf of toasted peasant bread. Nurturing our relationship with food. Pumpkin, potatoes, potpies. So my pants no longer fit; he still wanted to get into them. “Stephanie,” he’d whisper, “I sometimes forget how beautiful you are.” After sex, he’d need to rush to his front door to pay the delivery guy. He’d grab jeans off the floor. We’d picnic in bed. Hung over. Half dressed. Have the last bite, baby. His hand wiping my chin. Kissing me, food still in my mouth. Those jeans he was wearing, I’d notice midbite, were mine. I spit out the rest into a napkin, silently declaring that my diet started now.
But in his boxers come morning, I’d scoop apple pie filling from a flimsy baking tin, eating hunched over his kitchen counter. Drinking milk from the carton.
A glass of wine after a long day, his hands on my hips, fingers near my mouth. I’d drink too much, and we’d argue over plans and friends and parents. He’d fall asleep angry. I’d eat quiet foods straight from the fridge. Custard. Whipped potatoes. Lemon curd. In the morning there’d be soft-boiled eggs, strips of fried bacon, and apologies.
As real as it all felt, that’s all we’d be: a few seasons. A morning. A wakening. A couple who were courteous, who asked each other if you’ve had enough fish and would you like more rice, but really, that’s all we were. This couple that wouldn’t be there tomorrow, for the bacon he liked a little chewy or the grapefruit juice I preferred to orange. The memories would taste like burnt coffee. And that’s when I’d stop living my life in meals. We’d be over before the official start of winter.
And by February, I’d be thin again. Thin, single, and miserable. These patterns would cycle through seasons for years. The men and menus would change slightly, but the archetype was the same. I spent my whole single life trying to be thin just to find someone who’d love me once I got fat.
As an unattached adult with no “So, what are we having for dinner tonight?” it was far easier to be slim. My cupboards could remain barren; there were no complaints about my desolate fridge. The take-out menus I kept were limited to sushi and the health food joint down the block—because even then I was still too lazy to walk there. I was despondent, but at least I was skinny. Of course once I found myself in a secure, loving relationship again, I’d gain it all back, finally at ease.
“You let yourself go, is what you did.” People who say this should get their eyes gouged out with a carrot. They’re the very same people who believe most overweight individuals are fat because they’re miserable. “You’re trying to suffocate your emotions, eating from stress and out of depression, because you cannot stand your life.” They believe when a person is trim it’s because they’re content. In my case, it was just the opposite.
The times in my life when I’ve been my thinnest, I’ve been a walking psycho wreck. Forget the fact that I was basically starving myself; skinny was usually due to some kind of loss. Death. Rejection. Divorce.
When I was married to a man whom I now refer to as The Wasband, I slipped into a cozy life. For the first year and a half of our marriage I remained quite slim at 123 pounds. But then I became more domestic, trying to please him with fresh baked goods and his food favorites. Miniature cheesecake brownie bites. We gained weight, sharing food and the guilt of overeating it, together. He baked me a carrot cake from scratch. I even checked the garbage for carrot shavings in disbelief. I was impressed and knew he loved me. I licked cream cheese frosting from his finger.
And then one day, when I was probably up twenty-five pounds since being married, he said to me, “I’m not as attracted to you as I once was.”
You’re a real shit, I would have thought if I were … I don’t know, sane! But I’m sure I asked for it. Yeah, you read that right. I bet I wouldn’t let up until he admitted it. That’s the answer I was looking for, and I wasn’t going to stop until he gave it to me. You know how you suspect something, but until the person actually admits it, it isn’t completely true? I was secretly hoping he’d never admit it, preferring instead to believe that maybe I was just sensitive; maybe I wasn’t as fat as I thought. Or even if I was, somewhere inside I wished it wouldn’t make a difference, despite knowing men are visual. Because hopefully he wouldn’t see me as fat or thin; he’d see me as me. Stephanie. His wife, the woman with whom he chose to spend the rest of his life.
I went three days without articulating a word to him, a habit I’d perfected since my camp days with Adam. Despite his pleading e-mails, attempts to convince me what he’d said was taken out of context, that he’d love me no matter what I weighed, I didn’t believe him. I was wounded and felt it so deep in my chest that I clutched at it, reminding myself to breathe. And then my hurt turned toward anger. That’s when I went on a hate diet.
Ah, the Hate Diet.
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Excerpt from Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp by Stephanie Klein