WRITING SHORT: 41/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

There aren’t many fat people in Princeton – upscale home to Whole Foods, Whole Earth, innumerable gyms and physical trainers. You don’t see many in New York, either. People tend to walk more there. (And maybe food is more expensive.) Elsewhere in the United States, it’s often different. I was in Philadelphia last week to have some genetic testing done at the U. Penn hospital and arrived early. The waiting room had a glass wall overlooking a large atrium inside the front entrance. One expects, in a hospital, to see wheelchairs, walkers, canes. I didn’t expect to see so many still on their own two feet but visibly crippled in their slow, awkward movements by sometimes massive accumulations of fat.

Summer clothes emphasized the epidemic proportions of this affliction. It was hard to spot a man not part of the medical staff and also not preceded by a round heavy burden of solid fat beneath his clinging tee shirt. For the women — most of whom looked as if they wished they were anywhere else, but as that wasn’t possible, were at least invisible — I had particular sympathy. I remember what it was like during the couple of summers in the miserable nadir of my life when I carried nearly fifty extra pounds around with me and had to show up at work each day in business suit, blouse, and pantyhose.

I tried to make the fifty pounds less unsightly under high-priced size l6Ws from Saks. However, Saks didn’t keep my heavy upper thighs from sweating and rubbing together as I walked from the subway to the air-conditioned office. There I was able to somewhat hold my legs apart under the aproned desk. But going home, sweat and friction invariably tore holes in the pantyhose; the frayed nylon edges then rubbed the skin beneath them raw. Every step massaged salty sweat into open flesh. Once home, I would tear off my damp clothes and lie naked on the bed hating myself – with bloody inner thighs spread wide, so they might heal a little before tomorrow.

In time I managed to pull myself together, lose the extra pounds. But that Philadelphia trip brought back the memory. So many of us in America seem doomed to sink in misery under our own weight.

THE HUNGARIAN’S QUESTION

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My first husband found the Hungarian for me.  That is, he found two therapists, the first with an American name and the second with a foreign, almost unpronounceable one.  To me, the child of immigrants from Eastern Europe, it was a no-brainer.  I chose the the Hungarian.

My first husband was unhappy that I was taking too many naps on late weekend afternoons. He wanted me to stop it. That’s why he had looked up the names of therapists. He had other concerns as well, such as the fact that he had found empty candy wrappers under the seat of our car. I think the naps trumped the candy, though.  I had only gained about five pounds and could still fit into my clothes so didn’t need to buy anything new, whereas the naps interfered with my listening to him, playing with him, and generally admiring him in any spare time I might have.

I wouldn’t have dared tell my first husband the naps were to avoid being with him so much. But I could have told him, with equal truthfulness, they were because I was really tired — from working five days a week to support us, making dinners and washing dishes afterwards, cleaning the apartment every Saturday morning, pulling a shopping cart to the A&P five blocks away every Saturday afternoon to bring back a week’s worth of groceries and other necessaries, going ice-skating or playing tennis with him (depending on the season) in Central Park on Sunday mornings, and doing the week’s laundry in the basement machines on Sunday afternoons. [There were other tasks, too, but you get the idea.]

However, my first husband wouldn’t have wanted to hear all that.  He felt he was entitled to a wife who could take care of everything without requiring naps because he was a genius who had to spend almost all his time, when he wasn’t ice-skating or playing tennis, writing unpublishable books and therefore needed at least some admiration from someone, especially on late weekend afternoons.  Also, he was certifiably handsome, which in his eyes counted for a very great deal.

The Hungarian was about forty and had an office off the lobby in an apartment house on East 86th Street, between Madison and Park.  He called me “honeybunch.”  I liked that.   I very much needed to be someone’s honeybunch.  Twice a week after work, I would wait on a chair in the lobby until the previous patient had left.  Then I would knock, he would open the door, smile as if he were glad to see me, and say, ” Come in, come in.”  After I had taken off my coat, he would add, “Ma, honeybunch.  So how are you?”  (I think “ma” meant “well” in Hungarian, but I never asked. I was just happy not to have to head home right after work, and to have a place to go that was just for me.)

But honeybunch came later. First, there was the initial visit. The Hungarian asked why I had come. He listened very carefully.  I asked if he thought he could help.  He said he could help if I did my part.

Then he said he was going to ask me a question which I should answer quickly, not thinking about it — with the very first thing that popped into my mind.

This was the question:  “Who are you with when you’re alone?”

[Before I tell you what I answered, ask yourself how you would answer. “Who are you with when you are alone?”]

I said, “What kind of question is that?  When I’m alone, I’m with nobody.”

The Hungarian said, “Really?  When you’re alone, you’re with nobody?”

“Well, what do you expect me to say?” I asked.  “When I’m all alone, of course I’m with nobody. There’s nobody there.”

“But there is somebody there,” he said.  “When you’re alone, you’re with yourself.”

It wasn’t just a word game. I was twenty-eight. And to myself I was nobody.

So that’s where we began.

I owe him a lot.