This is just one of the stories I tell that represents the progression of my life as a fat-child-to-fat-adult. That I am able to tell these stories is a direct result of therapy, in which I have engaged a great deal over the years. When I first started, in my early 20s -- not counting the time I was forced to attend as a child and told the doctor to fuck off because he looked like Ronald McDonald, and that was the end of that -- I was unable to tell these stories to my therapists. This story seemed too humiliating to share, even in therapy, where humiliating stories are the bread and butter.
Eventually, and I believe it was at least a decade later, I told the following story for the first time. And wept. I wept and I wept. It was an archetypal therapy moment, right out of the playbook. Over time, I began to tell this story outside of therapy. For quite a while I could only share it with certain people, and under the right circumstances -- when I sensed the appreciated gravity. It's still a life-shaping story.
So anyway, when I was young, we visited my relatives every year for Thanksgiving. My family was as dysfunctional as any, and the yearly event was not all sunshine and lollipops. In fact, unlike at my doctor's office, lollipops were strictly forbidden. As the designated problem in my nuclear family, and for whatever complicated reasons, my extended family, my weight during a holiday focused on food was a convenient distraction from whatever other issues the family was avoiding. It was never a comfortable time for me, to say the least. One year, and I was far too young to know what precipitated this drama, it was decided that I was not to have pie. Dieters do not eat pie. That's simple enough, and special occasions were not an exception. Whether or not I was the only dieter in the bunch, I don't know, but I was the only dieter under the age of ten who could be singled out and ordered to be an example for all the others, who were old enough to determine if Thanksgiving was a legitimate cheat day, for them.
There were 25 or 30 people in the house. The table was in the dining room on the ground floor, right off the stairs. From the stairs you could see the dining room, though if a person was seated at the far end of the table, they probably couldn't see the stairs. That covered maybe a half dozen of the guests; the rest had a good view. I don't recall who exactly came up with this plan, it was probably my grandmother because this is her kind of plan, but upon the serving of the pumpkin, pecan, and mincemeat, I was asked to leave the table. Indeed, I was ordered to leave the table. I was told to sit on the stairs and watch the pie-eating ritual: I'll have pumpkin, or I'll have a sliver of each.
For reasons I will never understand, I was made to sit about halfway up the stairs. Or maybe I chose that spot. Out of pie reach, but still able to watch the consummation of the event. And 25 or 30 people were able to watch me watch the consummation, which I can't imagine added much to their eating enjoyment, particularly because as I sat my fat 8- or 9-year-old behind on the stairs watching, I quietly cried, the entire time. I was 8 or 9 years old; I wasn't crying for lack of pie, I was crying for lack of understanding. The tears of alienation. Alienation became a long-standing issue in my life. Perhaps needless to say.
As I sat on the stairs, and the pie eaters ate their pie, there was no acknowledgment of me. I can't fathom how awkward it must have been, at least for those who had any capacity for empathy. But no one, neither adult nor child, broke the mandate, which apparently included acting as if I did not exist -- crying on the stairs, watching the pie eaters eat pie -- a group including most of the people in the world who were supposed to love me. I guess they were supposed to protect me as well, but I find that notion dubious. At one point, either staged or not, I will never know, my uncle climbed the stairs. He stopped, patted me on the back, and said, "You are very brave." Brave? Not really. Powerless? For sure. And so very, very alone.
Edited excerpt from the book "Fat Kids: Truth and Consequences" by Rebecca Jane Weinstein. See more at FatKidsTheBook.com.