It should go without saying that I love to travel. An open freeway beckons to me like a lonely lover. I have literally traveled – by car – from one coast to the other, and loved each and every minute of it. This is my idea of paradise:
And I plan to do it again and again and again, until the wanderlust is exhausted at last.
I don’t anticipate this happening anytime too soon, especially since my Muse loves to travel every bit as much as I do. You put me on the open road with some good music on the playlist, and my creativity just unlocks. It’s unchained. Unstoppable. Other people see mountains and cactus and oceans and forests from their windows. I see stories. I see the history of the Native American going west, and the backdrop for the civil war going east. I see monsters and aliens and heroes and survivors as I pass through place to place, summoning the spirits of those long gone, as legend, history and imagination blend into one.
I’ve even been known to meander through cemeteries, the older the better. I love reading names and dates and wondering exactly what their lives were like. I long to know what comprised the dash between their birth date and the day they died.
If there’s a story there, I want to know what it is. The more forgotten, the better.
I guess you could say I’m a seeker.
My mother must have been too because we never stayed in one place for very long. By the time I was eighteen I had moved over twenty times, across two states and a smattering of towns. I learned at a young age that if you get stuck where you are unhappy, you simply move.
Dan was the same way, so I became even more of a nomad once I met him.
During my many travels, I’ve gone through tiny little slips of towns that barely have anyone living there, yet live there they do. They seem satisfied with that tiny little parcel of land, and breathe life into what might otherwise be a ghost town without them. I often wonder if maybe the people who settled that town were heading somewhere else, and just decided that particular speck of land was good enough, and no one that followed ever thought to question. Kind of like the scene in Pleasantville, where wild child Jennifer, as played Reese Witherspoon, asked her class what was beyond the borders of Pleasantville, and everyone seemed so puzzled by the question.
Why would anyone go beyond Pleasantville? It’s just so darned… pleasant.
Clearly these small town folk across our nation feel the same way. A small number of people stay there in those little one-streetlight towns, where the only jobs seem to be at the fast food restaurants or gas stations where people passing through need to stop to refuel before they head on out again.
Seemingly, they never feel stuck enough to move, as if they are perfectly comfortable there. I can’t fathom such things, personally. Not when there’s so much to see and do and experience.
Why stay in one place?
And yet… here I am, for the fourth decade straight, living right square in the middle of the same place I’ve always lived: Fat Town.
I first rolled into Fat Town way back in the 70s and figured, hey. It’s comfortable here. I know who I am here. Nobody bothers me much. The expectations are low for all the residents here. People outside our borders look us up and down, decide what we can give, and what they want to take, and more often than not pass us by.
It is that “passing us by” thing that is a big, big appeal for Fat Town, especially for someone like me.
Though it seems illogical to everyone else who damns fat as the quick pathway to an early demise, Fat Town is safe.
That hidden speck of town is off the beaten path by design. Fat works many times like a fortress, to keep people at arm’s length when it might prove too dangerous to let them any closer. So we burrow a little deeper away from folks, setting up our environment to keep us as comfy (and padded) as possible. We have all our favorite luxuries and all our chosen enablers, who help us keep what is often a hard life more comfortable.
You might be asking how Fat Town could be comfortable, given the residents are often reviled and hated, heaped with public shame and abuse as though they deserve it, simply because they weigh more than folks think they should.
Doesn’t this make us a target for negative attention?
Not as much as Thin Town might think, especially if you’re a woman. Everyone outside of Fat Town is perfectly content ignoring those of us who live in it, which is quite comforting for some of us who learned a long time ago if you’re targeted for how appealing you look, really bad things can happen.
Lately I’ve been thinking how my life would change if the barrier I put in between me and everyone else was gone. I’ve tried to use some visualizing techniques, since I’ve never been able to imagine myself “thin”. My brain simply won’t go there, and I think I’ve pinpointed the problem: stark terror. When I think about hugging someone I care about, someone who could hurt me because of how much I care, without that extra padding between us to absorb the blow, I feel like I could hyperventilate. Likewise, I start to feel uncomfortably vulnerable when I think about being in a crowd of strangers without my Fat Suit on to keep me oddly invisible to those who might cause me harm.
It just seems easier, and safer, to keep everyone, good or bad, at the border of Fat Town.
That terror is important to understand. I moved here initially because I was terrified of men, and men generally don’t favor girls who live in Fat Town. I probably didn’t do it consciously to start, but it has been a more or less conscious choice for about three decades now.
I was a pretty child, or so they tell me.
Even when I was a baby, men would line up outside the church nursery just to hold me. It was one of my mother’s favorite stories.
I was the star of my life up until I was four, when I was snatched from my front yard by a stranger who would forever alter how I looked at men. By no real surprise, I guess, this made damned sure I’d alter how men would look at me thereafter.
Suffice it to say, I found Food Town before I eventually moved to Fat Town. I was a four-year-old harboring a dark and dirty secret I felt I couldn’t share. I needed comfort for that. The only person who knew about that need and subsequently could meet it was me, at the time a four-year-old child. I decided to self-comfort with the only thing a child knows how to do. An extra cookie. Another piece of candy. A bowl of ice cream – anything to make the boo boo sting just a little less. Even today, if I’m feeling bad I reach for more. More of what? More of anything. Whatever you have that makes me feel good, load me up. Make it count. I wanna feel it. It’s instinctual. Primal. It all goes back to that four-year-old who had to self-comfort and had no clue how to do it. I had to use the limited tools I had at the time. And just like the baby doll I had way back then, I would feed this aching four-year-old when she cried.
Since she cried in private, because no one could know why she cried, likewise she ate in private, because no one could know why she ate – and she sure as shit wasn’t going to tell anyone.
I’ve written about this in a few of my books, taking a heroine who has been stained by sexual shame and how she self-comforts with binge eating as a result. Though I’ve written some very explicit intimate scenes, these were the ones that make me feel most exposed. At one point, I literally threw my laptop across the bed after I finished writing one. You know that dream of being naked in a crowd? That. Times, like, a gazillion.
The safest part of living in Fat Town is that most people will chalk it up to my laziness alone. I simply have no willpower. They don’t know the real reason, which for a lot of us would be the worst thing ever.
By the time I was ten, I was a secure resident in Fat Town. And of course there were kids who said what they were going to say, but I usually let it go in one ear and out the other. It probably helped to be bigger than the bullies, another silver lining of Fat Town. How do you frighten off a bear? Pretend to be bigger than the bear.
I simply chose not to pretend.
Being picked last for games didn’t matter much to me because I didn’t care to play those games anyway. That kind of physical activity didn’t allow for creativity, at least the kind I liked to indulge. I would play alongside my favorite TV shows quicker than I’d play kickball. I might have danced, the ultimate form of physical creative expression, but there were a lot of hang-ups there. In a strict religious upbringing, anything that even hints at sexual expression is forbidden, even more so if you’ve been chewed up like a piece of gum and you can’t let the world know how tainted and corrupted you are and risked being loved or thought of any less.
Since being pretty was no longer my objective, I aspired to be the smartest person in class. I easily reigned over the playground with a ton of friends who would love the imaginative games we’d play.
Then, like now, I was fun, I was just way more outgoing. I liked to have a good time. I attracted friends who loved to laugh, to play, to *live.* And why wouldn’t I believe I was awesome? I had all these great qualities and I knew with all certainty the only man I let close to me after 1974 would never, ever hurt me. My daddy gave me that confidence. He treated me like one in a billion, and that’s what I felt like.
Then he hurt me in the most awful way possible. He left.
I was eleven when my dad died, and I felt like I had lost the only person in the world who treasured me for who I was. This was more than love. It was more than the value I got from others. I actually felt like a prize, like I, myself, was this precious gift to be exalted above all others. Suddenly, like a splash of cold water in my face (more like a tsunami,) I realized that not everyone would love me as unconditionally, or treasure me as wholly.
In fact, I realized a little late (especially given my long residency at Fat Town) that not many people wanted to love me at all. Forget being treasured, I found myself fighting for basic human value. Being pudgy was cute when I was a kid, but the older I got, the more work I had to put into in order to earn that courtesy from other folks. I needed to change for most of them to even pay attention to me, much less value me or – God forbid – love me.
But the bad habits were already in place, second nature to me by that point.
Through the 1980s I tried many times to leave Fat Town, if only to chase after everyone else in Pubertyville where all the boys I liked seemed to live, only to get hurt by someone’s unthinking actions. I’d poke my head out only to get bonked by some karmic anvil, then race right back to where I was comfortable (safe), bolting the doors and locking them tight so I couldn’t get hurt like that ever again.
I don’t know that it was conscious at this point either. I’d get hurt, I’d eat. I’d eat more. I’d eat a lot. I’d eat as much as it took to numb the pain, and as the pain grew more intense, that amount multiplied. It only exacerbated the problem and became this endless self-defeating cycle.
What Fat Town looked like in 1982, when I was twelve…
Fat Town circa 1985, when I was fifteen.
People who live outside of Fat Town see how illogical this is and tell us, time and again, that in order for things to change we must change some things. But change hurts and that’s how we deal with pain. Food is not only a comforter, it’s instant gratification. The further you get into Fat Town, the more appealing that is. I can eat that chocolate cake and get a boost of endorphins *right now*. I’m happier, *right now.* It’ll take weeks, months, even years to see the kind of change I need to truly escape Fat Town, to make me as “happy” as the world around me tells me I’ll be. You know, later. Eventually.
They want me to give up happiness now and pull the lever on a slot machine for a possible happier happy in the near future, in a future I really can’t even envision for myself. And for what? So I can live longer? So I can attract people who show me daily they don’t give a shit about me? Those aren’t necessarily the high stakes you think that they are.
By the time I was thirteen, I just kind of figured out my life was going to hurt. If things were going well, I could count on something big and bad happening to keep me from getting too full of myself, like God making sure I paid for such a healthy sense of esteem when I was little. I was raised to believe humility was a virtue, particularly for women, so there was a problem with someone feeling a little *too* special. The pounds packed on. Acne hit at thirteen like a machine gun. My teeth started to twist, and my mother certainly didn’t have money for orthodontics. It wasn’t like I was ever going to be some raving beauty.
I couldn’t figure out why I, who had been denied so much in my young life, should give up the one thing that gave me true, unquestionable pleasure. Simply put: getting fatter didn’t matter. I had set up my place in Fat Town, where things were safely predictable, even if lonely.
I’d been behind the eight-ball for nearly ten years at that point, and nothing around me indicated it was going to get any better, at least for the long haul. Putting a diet on top of it often felt like insult to injury, considering the thin girls I knew weren’t any happier. They were every bit as scared, lonely and insecure as I was, they were just better at hiding it.
Only I carried around the physical manifestation of such things.
Despite my fluffier exterior, I still attracted people. I was still creative, smart and fun, plus I cared about people. A more devoted friend you couldn’t find. I knew if people loved me despite my permanent address in Fat Town, they deserved the best of me. And that’s what they always got. Still, to this day, that is what they get, maybe even more so.
And I got lucky with some great people. There was my bestie Jeff, who was the opposite of me in every physical way…
Yet he loved me every bit as unconditionally as my Daddy did. Maybe even more so. He treasures me, and he has showed that to me every single day of our 37-year friendship. This is remarkable to me because he has seen it all, good, bad and ugly. Of anyone in my life, he knows me best. He knows all the dark secrets, all the bad choices, all the temptations I did and didn’t take. Even still, to this day, I confess my darkest desires, my most impossible dreams, and I know he won’t judge me or love me any less.
He was even the first person I told about what happened to me when I was four, when his unconditional love saved me from making the worst, most permanent “instant” fix of my life.
Other people got in too. I made all kinds of friends from all walks of life. Though some will sell you the sad sack fat girl meme, I still got hit on. I still GET hit on, and in fact got hit on this very week when I went to a club to see a friend play. No matter my zip code, I’m still me, so I still attract folks, even living squarely in the middle of Fat Town at my new address at the cross streets of Old Street and Obesity Boulevard.
They’re just fewer, and I’m kind of okay with that because along with good folks, there were also those who got a little too close who were not so good. Back-stabbing friends, people who would use me to get to other people, or girls who would use me to make themselves look better to guys by comparison. Not the least of which were a whole number of men who were not so noble. As I got older, and started filling out into a fuller figure, this mostly meant older men. In Pubertyville, everyone was every bit as insecure as I was, and they couldn’t risk having a girl like me on their arm for the whole world to see.
Older men didn’t care about that stuff, because usually I was never on their arm in public either. They made their visits to Fat Town in private, where they could savor womanly curves wrapped in youthful innocence and I was starving enough for attention that I’d let them.
That’s the paradox of Fat Town. It can keep you safe from some, but if you’re used to hurting yourself, it makes it that much easier to accept when others hurt you as well. And I felt like I had control over it, because I didn’t get unwanted sexual attention like other poor girls did. I didn’t have to learn how to tell a guy to fuck off, that I wasn’t interested.
I simply took their interest away, and took my chances with those that remained.
I never wanted just anyone to want me, that shit was far too dangerous. But I still wanted to be the star to someone I loved, just like I used to be, without all the risk. Hence why I would always, always, always return to Fat Town, where the expectations are lower, fewer people gather, and no matter what happens I can self-medicate with my drug of choice (food) – to hell with the consequences. So what if fewer people loved me? Love hurt. So what if life was shortened? Life hurt.
Food comforted. It made the hurt hurt less.
Despite the alcohol I started drinking when I was fourteen, or the sex I started having around the same time, food became my vice of choice. Not only was it quick and easy and often cheap, it was socially acceptable across the board. The universal wisdom of the ages? Fix it with food. Have a bad day? Have some chocolate. Feeling a bit out of energy? Have a soda for a pick-me-up. It was socially ingrained into me that food was a fix-all, which was even validated by a doctor when I was eight years old. After I passed out at lunch one day in the third grade, the doctor diagnosed me with low blood sugar and recommended a candy bar and a soda if I got too lightheaded. My own mother wouldn’t let me have soda, but a doctor said it was okay?
Food became my luxury of choice. We couldn’t afford skates, but I could get a dollar candy bar at the store and feel pretty darned good while I ate it, and after the sugar rush kicked in.
The greater the pain, the greater the fear, the greater the indulgence. If one is good, two must be better. When you feel like less, simply have more. This made sense to the four-year-old who was still comforting me.
All these years later, feeding a problem is still part of our cultural message, which makes changing these habits a battle I usually fight all alone.
And like any four-year-old, I’d rather have a Snickers bar than kale.
Growing up is hard.
Even more challenging, in and out of Fat Town are the feeders. It is our nature to comfort with food. It is our nature to celebrate with food. It is our nature to seek food. The poorest person on the planet will feel like a king as long as he has something to eat. It is our basic human luxury. So, when we care for others, food is where we start, from the time they put a newborn baby in our arms. Even those who criticize you for your Fat Town zip code will be the first to invite you to lunch, take you to dinner, buy you something delicious and tell you to indulge in a decadent dessert, just this once, because you deserve it.
The people we love deserve to be spoiled, right?
Spoiled. What an appropriate word.
Even my husband, whom I love and I know loves me, will pop off with, “It’s not like we do it every day.”
Confession: I do it every day. I think about, obsess over and rejoice in food every day. I indulge in one more bite every. single. day.
Unlike an alcoholic, who is encouraged to change their behavior by divorcing themselves from everything in their life that led to the problem, a food addict has to learn to manage their disorder when they are inundated with triggers every hour of every day. Whenever we eat, we have to make conscious choices about the food we place into our mouths. Back in 2003, when I first decided to get serious, it was like I was playing Russian Roulette every time I took a bite. Every. Single. Bite. Matters. And we have to question where that line is between healthy nourishment and unhealthy emotional eating.
That’s why everyone always jokes that they’ll start their diet on Monday. You can’t escape it. It’s all around you. Every day. Name me a major holiday that doesn’t revolve in some way around food. Name me a celebration that doesn’t have food at the heart of it. There’s always something looming in the future that makes “giving it up” inconvenient. Even at our offices, our coworkers show their love for us by buying donuts or the bosses spring for a pizza party.
At my office, there’s a constant supply of M&Ms because our CEO has decided to use the fun little candy as a way to teach our new business model.
Hell, even I keep a candy dish on my desk to give my coworkers who pass my desk a little something to perk up their day.
It’s cheap and it makes people feel good. What more could you ask?
So you make it work in Fat Town, which, even if you’re doing anything to ultimately move away from it, is your address for the next several months or years while you make these changes. And truth be told, it’s not so bad to live in Fat Town. Yeah, we have problems. We get shamed on the regular. We have to go to special stores to buy clothes. Sometimes we find ourselves suffering health consequences from our extra weight, and very little empathy riding shotgun since, after all, we’ve done this to ourselves. But I know who my friends are. I know that men who interact with me want no more than I’m willing to give. I have a built-in asshole detector the minute I meet someone new where I can tell whether or not they’re a decent human just by how they look at me. I’ve got decades of experience now reading people, and I know when they see the fat, and when they see me.
Sure, we don’t get promoted as often, overlooked as “lazy” because that’s the common stereotype. Sure, we don’t a dozen likes on our Instagram selfies by men, who reserve their kindnesses and their compliments for the women they want to bone.
I, personally, consider that a plus.
Sure, there are people who won’t read my romance novels because they think I’m talking right out of my ass, because what woman from Fat Town knows about real romance anyway?
I’ve been managing those things for years, and most of the time I come to the conclusion that my fat has actually *saved* me from the folks who couldn’t be bothered to care about me in the first place. I’ve made it more challenging to love me because I need people to get through the obstacle course to prove that they’re worthy, that they won’t hurt me, that they can be trusted with the treasure that is me.
I’ve locked it away in the ultimate safe. And only those really special people, who are brave enough to risk the stain of loving someone from Fat Town, have cracked the code and proven themselves worthy.
I guess I really AM Mjölnir.
So you see the confusion. You see my dilemma. Just like that small town girl who is intimated by the lights, noise and dangers of the big city that may call to her, I’m petrified to permanently say goodbye to Fat Town. Hence why this is where I’ve always returned.
It’s a battle, for sure. But one thing about me… true no matter where my address… I am a conqueror.
It’s time for me to hug that little four-year-old and tell her everything is going to be okay. She’s going to be all right. I’m going to keep her safe in ways I never knew how to do before, because I’m a lot stronger than I used to be. I’ve been through many battles, I wear many scars, but I’m still here. I’m still breathing. And that means I am stronger than what has happened to me. I don’t need to pretend I’m bigger than the bear. I AM the bear. So we can venture outside the fortress, we can live the life we are terrified to live, because no matter what, we’re going to be okay.
It’s time to move on now. It’s time to travel somewhere new. It’s time to get “unstuck.”
I’ve never said this before, and maybe the Universe needs to hear it: I can handle it now. No matter who I meet. No matter what I face. I’m ready.
Today I can only make a step, but I’m taking it. One step away from Fat Town and towards Gingerville.