LOSING FIFTEEN POUNDS: PART SIX

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[…continued from previous five posts.]

Gathering clouds obscured all traces of sun as I traveled north to meet my friend Emily in Ogunquit – first on a train from New York to Boston, then on another train to Portland, Maine and finally on a bus. During the long trip I mused pleasurably on what the next two days might offer. Cozy confidences while Emily’s new friend Kit was otherwise occupied? Confessions of wrongdoing? Appeals for help? Less pleasurably, I was also quite hungry by the time I reached the Ogunquit bus terminal where they were waiting to pick me up. Emily looked glad, but Kit was merely polite, which made me suspect my presence was some kind of peace offering to Emily.

The weather was both cloudy and cool; beach was out of the question. Not to worry, said Kit, there were plenty of other things to do. Since they’d already had lunch, we stopped at a grocery for two apples I could eat in the car. Then we went from art gallery to sculpture workshop to arts-and-crafts gift shop to seafood restaurant. The proprietors of all these establishments seemed to know Emily and Kit quite well; they were soon engaged in warm conversations about local people and events to which I couldn’t contribute. I smiled whenever anyone looked at me, which was now and then but not often, until I realized smiling was unproductive of anything but a return smile.

There was no private time with Emily; she participated fully in all this Ogunquit-based chitchat. After dinner at the seafood restaurant, I pleaded I really wasn’t up for anything more. By then it was actually true. Kit agreed it was probably time for bed. My mother had been wrong about the house. It was an A-frame, with an open area that served as living room, dining room and kitchen. There was only one bedroom — with a double bed, I noticed as we passed by the door. “Will I be using the sofa?” I asked when we got back after dinner.

“Oh, no. You’re going to have a place of your own,” said Kit, as if this were wonderful news. “We’ve fixed up a bed and lamp in the barn. I left an extra quilt out there, too.” What was wrong with sleeping on the sofa? Their bedroom had a door. If they were very noisy doing whatever they did, couldn’t they refrain, just for this one weekend?

I let myself be led to the barn. An oval braided rug had been laid down in a corner and a few minimal furnishings arranged on the rug. Kit lit the lamp. The light showed the rest of the barn floor to be tramped-down dirt with bits of straw scattered on it. They showed me how to bolt the barn doors from inside. “Now let’s go back so you can do whatever you need to do in the john,” said Kit. “As you can see, there isn’t one here.”

After hurrying into pajamas in the cold barn and burying myself under the blanket and quilt, I tried to imagine for a few moments what might be going on in the main house. Had I been sent out here because they preferred doing whatever they did in front of the fireplace? Just what did they do, anyway? Absent factual knowledge of such matters, my thoughts soon faded into sleep. I awoke to dim cloudy light filtering in from a skylight at the top of the barn and checked my watch. Morning. Very early to be sure, but time for the bathroom. If they weren’t up yet, I would sneak in quietly.

I scuffled into my ballet slippers and opened the barn doors. There was the A-frame, just down the path. I walked around the house in the damp grass to reach the door and set my hand on the cold doorknob. It wouldn’t turn. It definitely wouldn’t turn. It was locked. They had locked me out. How could they!

Back in the barn, I rocked on the bed, really a camp cot, holding in pee but not rage. If there’d been anything to eat within range, anything at all, I’d have gobbled it up. But the barn held nothing edible. Why should it? It belonged to Kit, who pushed food around on her plate as a prelude to smoking.  An hour later, I returned to the house. The door remained locked. Now it wasn’t too early to knock, and I certainly did.  Nothing.  I put my ear to the door. Nothing. I knocked more forcefully. Nothing. What were they doing in there?  I picked up a rock from the flowerbed by the door and pounded. Still nothing.

What choice but return to the barn? This time I found a crumpled piece of Kleenex at the bottom of my purse, took off my pajama bottoms, stepped off the rug onto the dirt of the barn floor, set my feet wide apart and let go with a vengeance. Only a little dribbled down my legs, and the Kleenex took care of that. Then I put on the pajama bottoms again and slid between the sheets to brood. If the whole barn stank of stale urine when I was gone, what did I care?

At ten o’clock, I finally heard voices outside calling “Wake up, sleepyhead.” We had brunch, prepared by Kit, who now seemed in exceptionally good spirits. Of course, she ate none of it and neither did I, since it was fried eggs and bacon, followed by pancakes with syrup – a meal that could have undone a week of fast walking up Forest Hills Boulevard and down Austin Street. Like Kit, I had only cigarettes and black coffee. Emily, who’d never dieted in her life and had apparently worked up a tremendous appetite overnight, was glad to eat my share as well as her own.

The meal over, we cleaned up and read the Sunday Times and went to a summer playhouse matinee of Harvey and had another early seafood dinner. I read more of the Times in the evening while they went through the local paper. There was no talk, except about the play and what was in the news. Before I again retired to the barn, I asked them please to leave the house door unlocked so I could get to the bathroom. They professed surprise they hadn’t done it the night before. “Force of habit,” Emily explained.

And that was the whole visit. Next morning, after more black coffee and cigarettes for me and Kit (and eggs benedict for Emily), we all three exchanged hollow thanks for how great it had been and I embarked on the long trip home. Reading furiously without remembering a word of what I read, I tried not to think how much I had wanted Emily to be my friend again, how hurt I felt and also how starved. I remembered when I reached Grand Central I could buy eight or ten candy bars to eat on the subway ride home to Kew Gardens.   But it was Labor Day, and the newspaper stands were all closed.

When I returned to college a week later, the bathroom scale did indeed read 128. Despite my own subterranean (and not so subterranean) urges, I had finally managed to succeed. By anyone’s definition, I was thin.  For now.

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14 thoughts on “LOSING FIFTEEN POUNDS: PART SIX

    • Story of (most of) my life, Julie, as you must have realized if you read Part One as part of what you call the “last few posts.” Yes, of course compulsive (binge) eating — what used to be called bulimia, before that term began to include vomiting as well, which was never my thing — is hunger in the broadest sense, although in the narrower sense probably a boomerang reaction to the kind of insane dieting I describe in this piece that’s driven by the desire to be thinner than one’s body feels is biologically possible. The whole “Losing Fifteen Pounds” was part of the unfinished book manuscript I abandoned about thirteen years ago but pulled up and edited slightly last year at the request of a book agent. Since he decided the market for this kind of thing was too narrow for him to take it on, I decided to pillage parts of it for the blog, rather than let it die a silent death. I don’t mind at all if you say you “enjoyed” reading it; I wouldn’t take “enjoying it” to mean you’re happy the protagonist had to go through all that, and I’m glad you did read it! I rather hoped someone would!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Emily and I were two of eight seniors in an off-campus house our last year at school. We never discussed the Ogunquit weekend. She chose the worst room in the house, behind the kitchen, because it had the back door, through which Kit could come and go without the rest of us knowing. After graduation, they lived together for several years, during which she held odd jobs while trying to write. Then I got a letter from her recounting at length how she had met a young Norwegian economist (male) at a party, they fell in love, and after he went home to Norway, she immediately flew home to her own parents, then stationed in England, which made commuting to and from Norway easier. She learned Norwegian, they married, he went into the Norwegian foreign service as an economic consultant, they had four children, lived all over the world, she wrote two novels and many short stories which were published in the UK (none about Kit), and retired to Brighton, England after her husband’s death. So you see, you never know. I believe she’s still alive. (Emily is not her real name.) I have no idea what happened to Kit (also not a real name), except that much much later I read of her death in the college alumnae magazine.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Rita Stewart

    Reading your last blogs dealing with the struggles you endured with weight and food made me appreciate your courage in revealing those struggles. Fortunately, I have never had that kind of issue, but have several friends who still do. Your story made me appreciate the daily
    anxieties they have EVERY time they eat. It is really ghastly! When I worked as a clinician at a mental health agency, I had many clients that were in “recovery” from drug addiction. Their stories were very similar to yours. Addictions come in all forms and the fight to overcome them is formidable.
    You are one brave lady!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Without rejecting any compliment I can get, it’s hard for me, dear Rita, to acknowledge courage or bravery in writing about events occurring nearly a lifetime ago. Eventually one learns to live with one’s idiosyncrasies, and if your several friends are anywhere near our age I’m sorry they still haven’t resolved to some extent their underlying needs, which drive the need to compensate with binge eating. I suppose that resolution is what you call “recovery,” but I really do think the inability to stop stuffing oneself with (usually) a combination of sugar and fat once one has taken the first bite is qualitatively different from “addiction” to alcohol or drugs. When I practiced at a Big Law firm and one of our clients was Philip Morris, I soon learned the distinction between “habit-forming” (which binge eating is, I believe) and “addictive.” Addictive substances require a greater and greater intake over time to reach the desired result, whereas habit-forming substances have some built-in level of satiety (which varies from person to person, but not for the same person). I could never smoke more than thirty cigarettes a day without feeling sick. Similarly, if circumstances permitted an unchecked binge, it would cease when I felt sleepy and wanted to sleep, which took about the same number of sugar-and-fat calories each time. That distinction doesn’t make regulating one’s life necessarily much easier, but it does help in understanding what is driving the urge.

      Nonetheless, I take it you appreciated reading the piece, for whatever reason, and I’m glad for that.

      Like

  2. What an awful way to have reached your goal, Nina, I wonder if it was worth it to you at the time ? That weekend was heartbreaking to read about, I can only imagine what it must have felt like to you. I’m also wondering if you were able to maintain that weight, or for how long ? It also made me realize that I’ve never really felt hunger. I would have had the metabolism of Emily, eating whatever in an attempt to keep weight on. (Sorry). I had a very different perspective during the college years, not sure that it was any healthier, just different.
    With all that said, this was a really good read, and so beautifully written. I’m so glad you shared your story here. It did read like a book. Thanks. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Actually, Van, Emily did not have your metabolism. All through college she was a “big” girl — plump, if you like — without apparently being concerned about it. (Later in life, she became much thinner, judging from the photos on her book jackets.) In college, she ate with abandon at meals, but didn’t seem to have my tendency to binge in secret, probably because she didn’t also “diet.”

      Your question about whether or not I was able to maintain the weight is actually answered in two places in the piece. (All six parts together.) Part I begins by explaining that weight loss was a struggle for much of my adult life. Part VI ends with the words, “For now.” What do you suppose that means? I guess most people’s blog posts spell things out more fully than mine do, which is probably the difference between a fictional, or quasi-fictional, approach to a subject (suggest, don’t tell) and a reportorial or editorial approach (lay it all out in so many words, often more words than necessary).

      That said, thank you so much for the heart. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • There was no scale anywhere on campus accessible to me, except in the nursery school which was part of the Early Childhood Education program, half a campus away from my off-campus dorm, so I never weighed myself except when I went home, which was almost never that last year. I judged by the waistbands on my “good” clothes (as distinguished from looser skirts left over from high school). They were tight by Thanksgiving and too tight to wear by Christmas. My mother had to buy me a new spring dress for commencement. When I got home for good at the beginning of June 1952 I was right back where I had begun in June 1951, plus or minus a pound or two. As I said at the start, I was a yo-yo for far too long.

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      • That makes a lot of sense. A few years ago, I made a NY resolution to get rid of the bathroom scale. I could tell by my clothing which direction I was headed, confirmed by my annual physical. I would ruin my day battling over 5-10 pounds. Ridiculous. I’m better now. ☺ Thanks, Nina.

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