When I was young and still thought that grownups knew everything, I was obsessed with my mom’s friend Marcia. She was dark chocolate, with long arms, a proud neck, a trim figure. I imagined being her, when I grew up — independent, single. Able to eat whatever I wanted and talk back to the men, as it pleased me. She was 29 and I couldn’t wait to be 29 so I could be the master of my own fate.
But, here I am, 29. Still figuring ish out in a way that’s both frightening and refreshing. I am learning to be a wife, hoping to be a mother, but still gripped by a fear that I’m completely faking it all.
Like the time when I tried to sit at the adult’s table at the Nigerian Independence Party. My friend and I had argued and I didn’t want to sit by her, so brought my plate to the empty seat beside my mother, but eventually a real adult needed to sit down and I was banished back to the kids’ table.
Sometimes I feel like that now. Like I’m floating on cloud 9, with my perfect high heels and my well lit office, with my name on the door…And then something happens and all of the old insecurity comes back. I am, once again, 8 years old. Grasping for a maturity that sometimes seems like a ruse, looking around at everyone else and wondering how they all caught on so much faster than I did.
I didn’t start lying about my weight until I turned 27. I remember the first time I broke 100 pounds. I was 15. So lean and with such a ferocious appetite that my mom accused me of having tape worm. I couldn’t tell if she was actually excited or whether she was faking it, for my enjoyment, but we celebrated, when the numbers on the scale first hit triple digits.
I got to have ice cream for dinner.
A decade later, I had gained only 15 pounds more. I was fit and toned. I would nod emphatically, a full slice of cake teetering on the tips of my fingers, as friends talked of the secret fats in healthy foods or waxed poetic about their newest fad diets. Crumbs literally, disgustingly falling from my mouth. I never worried about the scale, because there was nothing to worry about. My weight was like my social security number — unchanged, permanent, a solid part of me…until it wasn’t.
Fast forward to tonight when, as I was filling out my audition paper work for Black Ensemble Theater Chicago’s Etta James show, I told a straight up, bold faced lie.
Laughable. I haven’t been able to fit into my 118lb jeans for at least couple of years. I always talked about writing a short story about a skinny-fat girl who, ironically, couldn’t fit anything but her workout pants…which she rarely used for that purpose, obviously. But then I realized that no one wants to read a sob story about a skinny minny worried about gaining 30 pounds.
My hubby posted a picture of me eating ice cream a few months ago and my friend called me all the way from Nigeria to ask if I was pregnant. What else could explain the softness around my belly, the fullness around my cheeks. When I told her it hurt my feelings, she kind of shrugged. No matter how miserable you feel, you get no sympathy when you’re still considered “one of the thin ones”…not from your friends, not from your mom, and, most definitely, not from your scale.
“As a child, the subway scared her
The long and empty descent into dark
The engulfing sound
The sometimes muffled, sometimes screaming
Strange and unflinching faces.
She would clutch tightly to her mother’s hand
Sit close enough to feel her mother’s breath
To make sure the dark didn’t swallow her.
When the motion stopped,
She would rise
And emerge from the void
A little less afraid.
Unlike most other girls, she never dreamt of my wedding. She wasn’t the sort to cut out pictures of slender, lithe beauties peering longingly out at her from the glossy pages of fashion magazines. She couldn’t understand the obsession with all of that lace and tulle and pink. For her, love was a porch swing, a glass of ice water, a good book, and her lover by her side.
I am a writer, who does not write. A singer, who does not sing. I have a heart, swelling up with ambitions and dreams and things I could have been, but I am none of them…at least not yet. For years, I’ve nurtured this small spark of a belief that I was created for something special…something grand and limitless, but years later, I still feel utterly unaccomplished. I shouldn’t say that. Actually, I’ve done a lot…married a man almost too remarkable to be true, summoned the courage to leave the company that raised me, and moved, unprompted to a city that I always dreamt of living in, but never thought I could.
I can do it. I can accomplish things that I never thought possible…I hope.