I was reading this NYT piece —and while I identified deeply with the emotions therein and was glad that by the end the author had found some measure of grace and understanding with her husband—I haven’t found the end of my story, such as it is:
“You really have gotten thin,” he says when he encounters me, suddenly, as I step naked out of the bathroom, on my way to the back bedroom where I’ve been sleeping this past month and more. It’s a year, plus, after the beginning of the end of us all. But assigning a start date is like trying to pin a wriggling worm on a hook. You can do it, but watching the squirming is painful—like counting my ribs in the mirror was when I started losing the weight and couldn’t reconcile what I saw with who I’d become comfortable thinking I was.
I’ve found a new person I want to start to try to become. In the meantime, I wonder who it is that he finally sees, now, after all of this time.
When my boss at work tells me to eat, she says it like a Jewish grandmother, half-scolding, but then, she’s been there to see me when I haven’t felt well, when colds and flus have lasted for months, hot days when I have felt faint—seen, too, how I’ve gone from depressed and size sixteen to depressed and barely size ten, “your backbone, look at you, eat something,” she clucks when my shirt untucks as I’m heaving boxes of bags onto the handtruck in back.
“You’ve lost a lot of weight. Is that a good thing?” a friend asks after not having seen me in a while. It makes my eyes water that she just gets it, like that. I can tell her it’s a side effect of some medication, that it’s taken a while to get used to, that I’ve felt a little conflicted. “You have to learn to be a new you—or an old you, except that you’re older and different;” she understands. I’m blessed she’s so wise.
The physical transformation is only part of it, just the obvious symptom, but of course it’s symbolic, how I’ve come to deal with it all. The way I’ve shrunken and shifted. The way my wedding rings don’t fit anymore and have gone unreplaced for reasons that are an essay to themself. The way I’ve come, over time, to accept that I need to stop hiding in clothes that don’t fit me, give them up to those to whom they might be better suited, go out and get things that work—even though it all takes effort, requires me to look straight on at myself in the mirror and say, this is who I am now. Change is neutral, but it is still change, and there’s comfort in stasis. When I acknowledge that well-padded body is gone, I have to acknowledge other things, too. Things that aren’t limited to re-discovering that I used to like real lingerie and silky pyjamas, or that I look good in bright colors and a touch of lipgloss and mascara.
He still doesn’t touch the new, slimmer body aside from the occasional hand pat or brief kiss. He wasn’t touching the old, fatter, one either– not in the ways a husband touches a wife as I define it. I have brought up the issue. A lot. He still doesn’t look at it—me—as someone for whom passion’s a virtue, though he passionately protested my cutting off all of my hair. I did it regardless, and found I cared less that he found that he liked it, after, than I did that others said in advance that I should do what I wanted because hair always grew back.
Yes. I am aware.
I know that there are times in our lives when all of us turn inward for all sorts of reasons, some depressive, some reflective, some yet inarticulate that may be answered some day. The gods know I’ve done it myself and not just when I’m crazy. But when we notice the turn, those of us left alone on the outside can do—say—beg– plead over and over for our other half to do (or so we hope that they are, that they still are, that we are still) is turn outward and toward us again. We hope for that warm gaze, that lingering hand, to return– much less everything that comes after, and not just on the physical plane. The physics of it is one aspect of sharing a life—the “how was your day” that means it, that wants to hear all of it, not just the good parts, the “are you feeling okay” that may be worried about whether there’s anything they can do to actually help, but asks nevertheless, the volunteering of bad news that may cause you worry, but still doesn’t treat you as if you’re too fragile to even have a conversation about things, the doing of things that aren’t what we would prefer, but “a compromise would surely help the situation” but again, it’s often the most obvious things that drive everything forward and the failure to notice in a subjective, personal way?
I know that he knew I’d gotten thin in a general way. He’s defended me when comments by his sister about my weight loss and antidepressants were uttered in a thoughtless manner. But those are different from the frank or rude remarks I get when I’m at work or the “you look hot in that skirts” I get when I go dancing (if a gay man says it, it’s got to be true)—and his “you look nice” isn’t followed up with any heat, much less lingering glances or hands. Remarks regarding customers’ passes at skinn(ier) girls who wear glasses don’t generate interest—if it’s petty of me, if he’s aware, I don’t care.
It’s about intimacy and attention and laughter and the whole package—all of it, crows’ feet and frown lines and stretch marks where my fat used to be on thinner thighs now included. So I carefully choose my outfits for work and dress for myself and for others; just not my husband. I thank customers for compliments and flirt back with coworkers and enjoy the proximity and body heat of standing next to and laughing with my good friends. Sometimes I get a hug or a “you look hot in that skirt,” or “hey, pretty,” and I try not (and probably fail) to look like a cliché and hug those attentions to my palpable ribs or my jutting hips for the rest of the day. I don’t always succeed, because there are days when friends seem to go out of their way to tell me silly jokes to what must be an unhappy expression on my un-hair-shielded face, and one of my coworkers makes me rings that fit my fingers out of coin wrappers from the cash registers “because we’re hot babes.” If I sniffle every time she does it, well, that’s okay. I made a decision when I started cleaning my closets and cut off my hair that it was time to stop avoiding dealing with the things that made me squirmy. If I squirmed a little, I would still live.
But then I ask myself, because I’ve tried to be patient but I’m so very tired of trying to be clear, of explaining and asking and begging and not getting any further than an emptying closet. Is it mean to make others squirm, if what I say is true? And if it’s mean, is it still okay?
“You really have gotten thin,” he said, when I came out of the bathroom. I nodded. And then I turned and went into my bedroom.