Ice Cream Cone
Girdle, a Womanís Best Friend
Own True Voice
I Am Learning
am 5 or 6 at the dinner table in the kitchen of our duplex in
Newport, Kentucky. Out the window, beyond the railroad tracks,
the sun, setting behind York Street School where my father attended
before me, makes the building look aflame. My mother has served
peas, a vegetable I do not like, so I refuse to eat them. My father
and my older sister have finished and left the table. My mother
admonishes before she retreats to the living room, "Stay
there until you eat those peas." When she climbs the stairs,
I stick my tongue out as far as I can and cross my eyes, then
slump back in my chair with my arms folded across my chest.
I am fearful of my motherís anger, I am also a strong willed child.
I do not like peas, especially not these stone-cold, gray-green
paste wads that I push around my plate for more than an hour until
I fall asleep on my folded arms at the table. "Judi!"
my mother screams as she descends the stairs, "Eat those
peas or get a spanking! Itís nearly bedtime." The sky is
dark with scattered stars that resemble spilled glitter. I have
been there almost three hours.
take the spanking," I say. In a fury my mother tromps back
up the stairs, and soon my father comes down with a Hi-Lo paddle,
the kind that comes with a rubber ball attached to a string in
its middle, a childís toy that in our house was a tool of punishment.
My father doesnít want to spank me, he says, but I think he is
afraid of my mother. He tries to talk me into eating the peas,
tries cajoling, tries reasoning, but I refuse. Finally he does
my motherís bidding and lays me over his knees and spanks me.
I donít cry. I am learning to do battle over food.
summer smellsóof roses too-heavy on their stems, and watermelon
and thunderstorms and earth plowed under and mothballs. My sister,
my mother, and I spend a morning in the attic going through boxes
of winter clothes which had been packed the previous spring. Itís
a little like a treasure hunt, pulling out a favorite skirt and
finding it can be lengthened to fit. And disappointing too when
that dress I never liked of my sisterís now fits me. It is the
prelude to a shopping excursion where the vacancies in our closets
will be filled with new colors and fabrics.
are off to Swifton Shopping Center after sorting through the box
of last yearís school clothes. My sister is in the front seat.
The favored position in that old Ď51 Plymouth is given to her
for this trip in spite of the fact that I "finny-ed"
it first. My mother is mad. At me. Again. She is mad at me so
often that trying to separate one reason from another is like
trying to unknot the silver chain that has lain too long in my
parking lot is crowded, and we circle a few rows, my motherís
anger circling too, a buzzard looking for a meal. I sit in the
corner of the back seat trying to be invisible in the hope sheíll
lose her mad. Finally she gives up on finding a close spot and
parks three quarters of the way down a row.
on," she matter-of-facts to Barbara as I wait for my sister
to get out so I can plop the seat forward and work my own way
out to follow them. "Not you," my mother says, not looking
at me. "I donít want to be seen with a fat girl. Stay here
until we get back." And my mother slams her door and locks
it, and the two of them leave.
the melee of anger, forsakenness, insecurity, and disappointment,
I tell myself over and over, Itís not you. Itís her. Sheís just
mad again. Itís not you. You didnít do anything. Itís not you.
Itís her. It becomes a chant until they return. My sisterís laughter
stops as she approaches the car and waits for the door to be unlocked.
the way home, my mother feigns conversation in Everythingís-all-right
tones, in Didnít-we-have-fun tones, in Isnít-she-sorry-she-couldnít-go-with
us tones. Barbara answers when spoken to directly but is self-conscious
with my motherís singular attention now that she is in the close
quarters of the car with me. I refuse to let either of them see
me hurt, so I adopt indifference, scrutinizing everything out
the window for the ride home which seems three times as long as
the ride to the shopping center. I slide into the crevice between
the seat and its back like a lost coin, a scrap of paper, a bit
of lint, hoping they would sense a Judi-shaped hole in their happy
home, as they open bags and flounce new skirts and blouses and
ooh and aah, I go to the bedroom I share with my sister, where
I pretend their chatter comes from the neighborís apartment. I
donít cry, though my motherís disapproval is a bitter soup I try
to stay afloat in. I am learning that others can be embarrassed
by my body.
eighth grade, I have outgrown my mother, who is 4 feet 11 inches
tall and wears a size 7 dress. My sister, always the scrawny one,
still wears my motherís hand-me-downs, but I have grown taller
and more bosomy though my first bra, a 34 B, is still a year coming.
"You look pregnant," my mother says when she hands me
my first rubber girdle. "Arenít you ashamed to look like
that? Wear this!" And so I do, despite the embarrassing popping
and snapping as I peel down the girdle at school in the girlsí
restroom or in the gym locker room. I cough and sniff and clear
my throat, flush the toilet repeatedly in the hope of concealing
the sound. I am learning to be embarrassed of my body.
year ago, at the age of 51, I entered therapy with a woman who
specializes in eating disorders because I am grossly obese and
in danger of being at least crippled by the weight I carry. I
am learning how deep the root system of my disorder is, and I
am tracing its growth over the years. In so doing, I am also learning
to take charge ofóand most importantly, to acceptómyself.
of my therapistís clients suffer from anorexia or bulimia, those
devastating illnesses that are murdering our young women. Once
as I was leaving the office, one of these young women, about 15,
wearing black jeans and a black long-sleeved shirt, was sitting
on the floor of the waiting room, leaning against the wall with
her knees drawn up near her chest. She was so thin she looked
like the capital letter N. As the therapist and I walked through
the doorway, she glanced toward us, saw me, and lowered her head.
She and I are like two penitents, the one entering the confessional
who will not look directly at other and the one leaving who sees
everyone with a clearer heart. I said hello to her, but she merely
mumbled as she slid up the wail, passed by me and greeted the
know I represent what she most fears about herself. I understand
this, though itís a role Iím not happy to play. There was a profound
sadness about our non-meeting, the two of us at opposite ends
of the long knotted rope of eating disorders and having more in
common, probably, than either of us might expect.
I hope is that I live long enough for her to be able to look me
in the eyes.
hope she does.
Judi, 52 ē