How I Learned to Unsnap (My apologies to Kirk Read)

As I was trying to think about what to write this week, I was scrolling Facebook trying to get inspired and to wake up enough to write a coherent sentence. Well, I know what I’m writing about, but it didn’t come from my newsfeed, and I just poured my first cup of coffee and my eyes aren’t completely open yet, so let’s see what happens.

            What had come to mind to write about was weight loss, in particular my weight loss journey, as the common phraseology would have it. I had glanced over to the books on the corner of my desk and saw the notebook where I record my daily calories, the amount of exercise I do each day and how many calories I burn while doing it, as well as my blood pressure, which is something else I have to deal with. It got me thinking about what I’ve been through, what my mother’s been through, and what some of my friends are going through.

            For me, the journey goes all the way back to when I was about seven. I remember there was a particular pair of jeans I really liked to wear, though I was only allowed to wear them to school, that had a light blue shiny stripe that ran down the outer seams of each leg. I just thought they were cool. One day when I went to put them on, I exhaled, and the snap fastener popped open. I had developed a small belly and could no longer fit into my pants. I remember finding this funny and I resnapped my pants and repeated the process several more times and giggled each time. That was the last time in my recollection that my weight was a laughing matter to me.

            I tried not to pay attention to it, just went on about my life, playing outside, reading my books, sitting in trees and thinking (a favorite activity when I was nine). I had always been a loner since I started going to school, as most of my fellow classmates seemed mean and would often giggle unkindly about me behind their hands. I knew they were giggling about me, though I didn’t know why, because their eyes were looking at me while their hands covered their whispered insults. So, I kept to myself and learned not to trust. I didn’t miss having friends my own age, as I made friends with older kids in the neighborhood, friends of my brother’s who didn’t seem to always mind me hanging around. Sometimes they did, then I would either leave or start teasing them in a joking way, making some of them laugh, and would often be allowed to stay. It helped develop my sense of humor being able to keep up with the older boys.

            My weight continued to climb and the older I got the bolder my classmates got in approaching me about my weight and saying things outright. Nicknames were given to me, the most enduring one I can’t remember if my brother or my father started it, but they both used it. That one hurt the most. I couldn’t escape it, not even at home.

            As a result of all this, I never had friends my own age until college, as I never did learn to trust that they weren’t really just making fun of me. I tried friendship with a few and exchanged phone calls with a couple of girls in high school, trying to build friendships, but we never hung out at school or elsewhere. It was a mutual thing. I never approached them to do so, like all the unpopular kids in teen movies do, who are so desperate to be part of the group. So, in high school I ate lunch alone and stayed home on the weekends.

            In college I met people who didn’t care what I looked like, as long as I had something fun and or interesting to say. I finally had friends I could trust weren’t talking about me behind their hands. A few years later, I met my first girlfriend through one of those friends. She was tall and butch and hot, and she wanted me. She was even turned on by me. That took a while to sink in, but it finally did. After her there were a few other women who also wanted me, who also looked better than I thought I deserved.

            Fast forward to March 2014. My mother had just died and my then spouse and I were tasked with packing up her apartment while my brother dealt with the funeral arrangements and other business matters. I opened her top dresser drawer and discovered a treasure trove of OTC dietary supplements, of the type packaged to look like and sold near the vitamins. At least half a dozen bottles of them. It made me angry. Later, going through her papers I found some poems she had written years ago, about the time I was giggling about popping the snaps on my jeans, she was writing about how much she hated being fat. When my mother was a teenager, she had been skinny. Beautiful face and nice figure. Then, she got married at the age of nineteen and was pregnant within days. She continued to get pregnant every two years for the first six years of her marriage, though only two of us lived, losses my mother felt throughout her life. Somewhere along the way she developed a thyroid condition and hypertension. These things are just as much genetic as they are weight related.

            I was angry when I saw my mother’s drawer full of dietary supplements because it meant that she struggled way more than I ever thought she did. She never once mentioned it out loud, but it was there if I looked. I started to remember when I was a kid her always drinking diet soda and eating diet chocolate bars, hardly eating anything at dinner. She would make sure my brother and father and I each had meat on our plates, for instance, then only eat the canned vegetable and maybe some potatoes, which usually meant my father would have two servings on his plate instead of the one that my brother and I received. I used to resent my father for this, thinking he was selfish and that he made her do this. Now, I just don’t know. Maybe it was her choice all along. Maybe she thought that cutting back on meat would be good for her weight loss.

            A few years ago, after I was finally able to secure health insurance for myself after not having it for several years, when I went to the doctor, the first thing I said was that I wanted to be checked for diabetes, something else that runs in my family. My numbers were off the charts…in the good way. I was not at risk of diabetes. What I did have, however, was high blood pressure. It was dangerously high, with the top number being over two hundred. I was immediately prescribed pills and my doctor began to monitor me every couple months, with me keeping track at home. After several months of pills and changing and monitoring my diet, it finally regulated. I still have to take medication for it, and I might always have to, though that’s a small price to pay.

            As for losing weight, I started seriously on that journey once several years ago, before my marriage ended. I was exercising, watching my calorie intake, drinking more water, doing all the things. Then, my ex had surgery and my life changed and became more about him and his daily needs. I got out of my routine and couldn’t get back on it when he recovered, and my days were my own again. After our divorce and I moved back to Illinois and my doctor and I started to take care of me, I started back in earnest doing all the things. It was working. My weight was dropping, my bp was dropping, my spirits were soaring, and I was looking towards the future. Then, I decided I wanted to come back to Oklahoma, the place I had moved away from when my marriage ended, because I missed all the friends I had left behind. When finances forced those plans to fall through and I had to stay where I was, I sank into a mild depression and stopped doing all the things and didn’t care what I ate anymore. The weight came back like nobody’s business.

            Realizing I needed to make changes, I sought therapy for a little while, but it wasn’t a good fit and it became cost prohibitive. Instead, I leaned on my friends for support, and they didn’t fail me. I soon realized that if I wanted to make the move it was up to me to make it happen. I knew I didn’t want to sink into depression again. So, I started saving money and doing research on apartments. It took several months of planning and saving, but I was finally able to make it happen. Now that I’ve made the move, I am focusing on my weight loss again. I’m monitoring my calories and exercising every day. One of the things I looked for when I was apartment hunting was a complex with an onsite gym. As luck would have it, the gym at my apartment is no more than fifty feet from my front door.

            Some days are better than others and every day I have to check myself. Just yesterday I had lunch with a friend and didn’t make the best choices I could have. It wasn’t that bad; I just know it could have been better. That being said, I’m not the type to get angry at myself for things like that. I was having a good time with a lovely friend, whose company I greatly enjoy. We had a great day, and the food wasn’t even the best part.

            I know I have friends who are on their own weight loss journeys, and I’m sure they are all at different places and feel different ways about it. I’m sure some of them take the comments from family and friends and strangers and internalize them. To them, and anyone else in that situation, I just want to say this: tell those people to fuck off! You’re doing the best you can. Even on days when you think/know you could do better, you could have made better choices, so what? They’re not walking your journey, only you are doing that. And you’re not perfect, but you’re trying. and that’s all you can do. Just keep trying. And if they still want to whisper behind their hands about you or say it out loud, just exhale and pop open the snap of your pants and start giggling. At the very least, it will give them something else to focus on.

My Invisible Pet Dog Ate My Homework (i.e., why I phoned it in)

I’ve spent the past week making my new place more like a home. I now have a mattress to sleep on and am no long on the floor. Half of my books are unpacked, the other half still in boxes or stacked up by author awaiting more shelves. There are paintings and degrees on my walls, and I now have a vacuum to clean up after my two cats, who, though cute, are not the best housekeepers. I’ve also been working and working out, had some down time and went to see a movie, and been binge watching a lot of CSI. I had forgotten just how much Grissom ended the first scenes of every episode right before the theme song kicked in with a bad pun or dad joke. All he lacked was a pair of mirrored sunglasses and he could have been David Caruso. All of this is leading up to the fact that I haven’t had any inspiration for the blog this week. I was hoping my reading for the week could have done it (Astrophysics for People in a Hurry), but not even NDT could inspire me. So, instead, I’m giving you the first chapter of one of the many projects I’m currently working on. This project currently lacks a title. As with all my books before they have a title, I refer to this one by the name of the main character. Hence, this is Chapter One of Sir Les. Enjoy.

Chapter One

In a kingdom and country no one of current memory remembers, lived a brave and loyal knight errant whom even fewer remember the name of. But, for the sake of telling you her story, I shall tell you her name, as one of the few people who do, in fact, know it. Her peasant mother named her Leslie, but through happenstance, bravery, and a right bit of lying, she became known as Les, loyal knight to her king, the renowned King Stephen. King Stephen was well known for his kind heart, fairness to all, and for being a bit mushy in the head. Even though everyone else in the kingdom knew the loyal Knight Les was, in fact, a woman, King Stephen never seemed to catch on. Neither her long, golden curls, nor her burgeoning breasts would dissuade him from his belief in her manliness. He was often heard to say that Sir Les was the best man he had. No one wanted to tell him the truth, least of all Les. He was a kind man, after all, a man she had often wished had been her father. His willful ignorance made it possible for her to woo many ladies of the court, at least, according to legend, who seemed more than willing to be wooed by her, and they all kept her secrets, as she kept theirs. Heard tell, anyway.

            All of that changed in the summer of her nineteenth year. The good King Stephen had suddenly taken ill and died just three days later. His son Reginald assumed the throne immediately, and the good cheer that had been a staple of the kingdom up until then became a thing of the past. King Reginald was nothing like his father. He was, for all intents and purposes, a self-entitled party boy who didn’t take life too seriously and spent most of his time in the grape with his mates. Though he was not much to look at, he was a trifle vain, as no one dared to dissuade the young prince otherwise. His features were striking in the sense that he looked as if he’d been struck with something heavy and the features of his face had remained out of alignment ever since. No one was really sure if he actually lacked intelligence, or just refused to grow up, but either way, not being much in the know seemed to suit him just fine. He knew nothing of literature or history or music and refused to correct these lapses in his knowledge. He would often joke to his fellows that all one needed to know to run a kingdom was how to win a war and all one needed to win a war was to kill as many of the other army as possible. He wasn’t much wrong on this, but the degree to which he was wrong didn’t bother him in the slightest. In his heart of hearts, he knew his father didn’t want him to have the kingdom and had long suspected that his father would give it to his sister over him, should he ever need to give it to anyone. And Reginald was fine with that possibility. He planned to live out the rest of his days  inebriated and occasionally being shot at by the husband of one or other of the many women in the village as he crawled out a back window. His bum bore many a scrape from a stray nail, and once, the tip of a dagger. But, when his father died suddenly not long after his step mother, who would have been a good queen, Reginald felt, his sister was too young to assume the thrown that should have been rightfully hers.

            Alas, this is not a story about King Reginald, though he has a part in it. This is a story about Les, and we’d best get back to it. Before Sir Les became Sir Les, she was a young peasant girl by the name of Leslie, who lived alone with her mother in a little shack on the edge of the kingdom. She didn’t remember her father, but her mother spoke of him often and he sounded as if he had been a nice man. His death had left them even worse off than they had been, if that were possible, and her mother could barely work hard enough to pay their rent, let alone have any left over for themselves. As soon as she could walk, Leslie joined her mother in the fields doing whatever she could, which amounted to little more than moving stones out of the field. When she was old enough to pay attention to such things, she saw that the men made twice as much money as the women did, and she knew what she had to do.

            Her mother came in from working in the fields one evening, dirt and sweat upon her brow, and saw her teenage daughter pulling on the britches of her late husband. She stood there, amused for a moment, watching from the doorway, as her daughter pulled them on, then the tunic. Amused, Amelia crossed her arms over her chest and asked her startled daughter, “Pants is one thing, but what about your curls?”

            Leslie turned at the sound of her mother’s voice, startled, and almost dropped the bit of rope she was going to use as a belt. Her cheeks turned scarlet as she countered with, “I don’t know what you mean, mother.” She turned her back once more, hoping foolishly that if she couldn’t see her that meant her mother really wasn’t there and hadn’t really caught her.

            “Child, I don’t know what you’re up to but it looks to me like youse a bit of adventurin’ in mind.” She moved into the little shack, trying not to stumble over the chicken that had wandered in, as they were wont to do. She came to stand next to her daughter and shook her head, lost in the memory of the man who used to wear the clothes that her daughter now donned. Sometimes she saw her late husband in her daughter’s eyes, or when she saw her in profile and noticed her chin or high forehead, all features of the man she once knew. It pained her sometimes to look at her daughter’s countenance, but there was nothing to be done about it. There was no denying her daughter was just as handsome as her husband had once been. Maybe moreso. As her face, though strong and determined, was also softened where her husband’s had been hard, and her daughter’s eyes often shone with a dancing merriment that was truly her own.

            Leslie’s tone turned slightly harsh. “I don’t know that I’d call doing a man’s labor adventurin’, but if you’ve a mind to, go right ahead.” She busied herself with securing the rope and ignored her mother’s eyes.

            “A man’s labor? Whatever are you on about?”

            Leslie looked back at her mother now once she had the rope secured. “You know just as I do that the men make twice as much as we do and it ain’t right! We work just as hard and deserve the same!” Her cheeks were coloring and her blue eyes were hard as crystal.

            Amelia chuckled again. “Yes, well, what you plan to do about it? You think a young girl in britches is going to change the way of things?” She scoffed and shook her head at the folly of youth.

            “Well, someone has to! Anyway, I’m not looking to change anything other than our household. Let someone else change the world, I just want a decent meal every now and then. And this is the only way I know to get one. How do I look?” Leslie put her arms up as if presenting herself for her mother’s inspection.

            Her mother took another look at her daughter, at how her husband’s clothes seemed to fall right off her frame and it made something click for her that she couldn’t name, other than to say that it looked right somehow for her daughter to dress this way. It suited her. But the hair was a problem. It was long, to the middle of her back, with loose curls the color of cornsilk and, if washed, would probably shine in the sun, though it hadn’t seen soap for a good long while. She tsked as she approached her daughter, then reached up with both hands to gather the hair behind Leslie’s head, then smiled. “You’re going to have to use some of that rope to cinch this.” Then, she tapped her daughter’s chest with a knowing finger and replied, “You should be glad you haven’t fully come into flower yet, or else they would never believe you.”

            “Mother!”

            “What? It’s the truth. At least this way, if you want to be taken for a boy you should have no trouble. What shall you say your name is?”

            Now Leslie hesitated, almost as if answering her mother’s question might shame her. “I was thinking Les.”

            Her mother smiled. “Like your father. I think that would be fine.”

            Les, as she now was, smiled at her mother, then allowed her mother to help her cut off a piece of the rope to secure her long curls. She had considered cutting it to hasten the male appearance she sought, but decided against it, as she didn’t expect to be playing this role forever. Someday she hoped to secure a position, somewhere, some way, that would make it possible to live better, and she would do it as herself, without pretense.

            Les set out the next day in search of work. She tried the farms nearest where she and her mother lived, but they all laughed at her.

            “Who do you think you’re foolin’ missy? Britches don’t make you a boy, or able to do a boy’s labor. Go back home to your mama and do as you’re told. And take off the pants, you ain’t foolin’ anyone.” The foreman of the farm down the way continued to laugh.

            Les looked at him defiantly. “I ain’t tryin’ to fool no one! I just want to eat proper! Nothing wrong with that!”

            The foreman laughed again. “Then go on and pick a husband, and let him do a man’s labor, while you go home and make the babies. Go on.” He waved at her with false cheer and all the nearby men joined him in laughter.

            Les kicked the dirt. “You’ll see! I can too do a man’s labor, I’ll prove it to you!” She started to walk away.

            To her retreating form, the foreman said, “Hard to do that when everyone knows youse a girl.”

            Les continued walking, her cheeks flushed and her jaw set, fists balling at her sides. She walked on, and finally on the other side of the kingdom, where no one recognized her, she finally found a foreman who took her at her word that she was a boy, and hired her, though not without looking her up and down first and finally settling on a grin that made her uncomfortable. When she went home that night she was able to tell her mother the good news, then she searched the cabin for an old tunic, and after working with it for a few minutes, she had fashioned something that she could wrap around her chest, then was able to secure it with some of her mother’s pins. Then, she put her father’s clothes back on and felt her new flat chest and smiled.

            Her mother saw her daughter’s new chest, or lack thereof, and the happiness on her face and just shook her head. A tear escaped her. “Where has my daughter gone?”

            Les turned to her mother. “I’m right here, mama. I’ll always be your daughter. I’m just going to work and make things better for us.” Les took her mother’s hands in her own. “I’m going to make things better for you, mama. You deserve to live in a house with doors and windows. A house with a real floor. One where the chickens don’t come in and do as they please.” So saying, she pushed a chicken off the table onto the floor. It screeched in protest.

            Her mother took her other hand back from her daughter and wiped her eyes again and gave her child a small chuckle. “What would I do with a real floor? It would just be something to keep clean. And doors and windows? What about the summer breeze? How would that get in?”

            “We can open them for the breeze. But, wouldn’t it be nice to close them in the winter?”

            Her mother considered. “I suppose it would.”

            “Then, I have to try. For both of us. You deserve those things, mama.”

            Amelia touched her daughter’s face and looked into the eyes that so reminded her of her long lost husband, then leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead. “The Lord gave me everything I needed when you were born.” Mother and daughter exchanged a smile.

Where the Wind Comes Sweeping ‘cross the Plain

Well, I’m here, I finally made it…I’m back in Oklahoma, a place I left nearly three years ago, after having lived here for nearly fifteen. I haven’t been gone long enough for the place to have changed much, other than a few businesses have come and gone, and one republican governor was replaced by another. There’s still road construction on I35, and OU football is kicking into gear and will soon replace everything else to become the dominant Saturday thing in the town I live in. There are some things I’m glad to see haven’t changed, such as the bus system, my favorite coffee shop, my favorite thrift store, and most importantly, the people I left behind here.

            Last night, I had dinner with a small group of close friends to celebrate my return, as well as my upcoming birthday. I timed my move specifically because I wanted to be here to celebrate with them. At the end of the evening my best friend told me she was glad I was back because, “you belong with us.” That sense of love and belonging was probably the best gift she could have given me.

            The last time I moved away from Oklahoma I took only what could fit in my friend’s compact car, which mainly consisted of books, clothes, and my cat. I’ve always been one to travel light, never having much attachment to things so much that I horded them (except books), so getting rid of things was not an issue for me. After my ex took what he wanted from our shared property (much of which he had brought into the marriage to begin with) I set about selling, giving away, or throwing away the rest. Going through the house and making multiple trips to the dumpster became, though tiring, also cathartic. It was visual and solid proof that I was starting over. Out with the old.

            Moving back, I left Illinois with a few more things than I had arrived with, but not much more. Now I also had a desk, a side table, wall art, and a second cat. I am currently sitting in my one-bedroom apartment awaiting furniture to come from multiple sources, friends who have items they don’t need and are willing to give them to me so that I can finally put together a place that is mine. Multiple times, I’ve heard them say, “It’s not the best or the prettiest, but it’ll still work.” None of that bothers me. My only concern is if it fulfills the need. Does it light up? Can I sit on it? Can I stretch out and sleep on it? My friends have been generous beyond measure, and I couldn’t ask for better.

            Speaking upon the items contained in his cabin near the pond and his lack of need for finer things, Thoreau said, “Indeed, the more you have of such things, the poorer you are…Pray, for what do we move ever but to get rid of our furniture, our exuviae; at last to go from this world to another newly furnished, and leave this to be burned.” Henry David Thoreau, Walden. (1854). Nearly one hundred and fifty years before Robert Lilienfeld was urging us all to Use Less Stuff, Thoreau literally wrote a first-person account of how to do just that. Though I’ve never read Lilienfeld’s book and I’ve just recently picked up Thoreau for the first time, despite having multiple degrees in English, I’ve always lived this way. I’m sure part of it harkens back to childhood and the excessive amount of moving around we did. When you move a lot you realize you don’t want to carry a lot. Also, I grew up in a family who was always below the poverty line, so I just never had a lot to begin with. I adapted. The thing that really changed as I grew up was that I could finally buy books, as books were a luxury my family couldn’t afford. But, for material things I’ve had little need of. Especially unnecessary things. I won’t spend money on something that doesn’t serve a purpose in my house. Other than a very few art pieces from local artists, I have no other decorations. I have several pictures of friends on display, as well as my parents. You will not find even one thing which could be considered a knick-knack in my home. I have a long-standing fatwa against them. Anyone who wishes to get me a gift and sees a knick-knack which makes them think of me is clearly no friend of mine.

            So, I am starting yet another new journey, and I’m looking forward to wherever this road may lead. This time around, I won’t be alone on the road.

          “I seem to have run in a great circle and met myself again on the starting line.” Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit.