Under the Influence(s)

The following story is a slightly-edited excerpt from “The Plunge,” which appeared in the APH Anthology, My Words Are Gonna Linger.

-By Sarah White

I have been fat for as long as I have been looking up to other people.

It began in Carmel with Janet across the street. I followed her lead from my first steps on. I must have been about nine and she thirteen when she began insisting I eat supper with her. Her mother and father both worked long hours down in the city. They got home late and prepared adult meals that they sat down to after cocktails at a time more like our bedtime.

So as 5:00 approached, Janet’s housekeeper would heat her up something from the store—usually chicken with noodles from a wide-mouthed jar—just before she went home. Janet hated to eat alone and pleaded with me to join her. I would hurry to finish so I could get home in time for supper at my own house.

Not surprisingly, I began to gain weight.  My mother suspected candy jags and cut my allowance. I kept gaining weight and I kept my secret about why. Ten pounds turned to twenty and more. I don’t know why I was powerless to tell Janet I wanted to stop eating with her, but I was.

By the time I was twelve, I carried over 150 pounds on my five-foot body. Those next years were punctuated with the embarrassing moments of fat people: The shopping in women’s departments where the clothes didn’t look like what young girls wore, the attempts to purchase bathing suits, the pants that split at the thigh or seat at random public intervals.

Then, age 15, catharsis. I broke my leg and somehow that gave me permission to break other things. I broke off my relationship with Janet. No more bowls of noodles before supper.

Not long after that, I began the Great Hot Dog Diet. My buddy Sue had read about it in a teen magazine. Our mothers agreed to let us try. We opted out of family meals for all of a summer and most of the school year beyond. We ate only hot dogs hot dogs hot dogs, no buns, no condiments. Carnation instant breakfast drink and hot dogs. The pounds wore away, in twos and threes and fives. I began to buy my clothes where the other girls did. But inside I knew I was still fat.

That fall I signed up for fencing lessons at the YMCA in Nora, looking for a way to strengthen my mending leg. Sue and Leslie signed up too—we had been doing everything together since 6th grade. In the fencing class we met Marty and Larry, two guys from down in Indianapolis, and they invited us out to the Dairy Queen after class.

We talked flirtatiously. Marty raised pinched fingers to his lips in the universal sign of dragging on a joint. “Do you?” he asked. Sue and Leslie giggled nervously, shook their heads. “No,” I said, “but I want to.”

I’d found a new person to look up to. It didn’t take long for me to be running around Indianapolis with Marty in his Volkswagen van, blissfully smoking his marijuana.

Marty introduced me to his friends Colette and Donna, and then we met Victor and Rick at a Bible study group. When they secretly confessed they’d rather be smoking a joint than reading the Bible, our six-way friendship bond was formed.

Just as I’d broken off with Janet, I left Sue and Leslie and the hot dog diet behind, and began roaming with my new friends.

I graduated a semester early from high school and went to work for an insurance company as a typist. I continued to diet and exercise, avoiding the morning donuts in the cafeteria and pacing the fence during my half-hour lunch breaks.

“I’m down to 119 pounds!” I announced excitedly during one break-time, when the ladies all gathered in the restroom to suck down cigarettes and talk.

“Then why do you still look fat?” responded one of those smoker typists in her gravelly voice, one of those blunt Hoosier farm women who would not think to dissemble or flatter a young-un like me.

“I don’t know!” I wailed, but I knew what she said was true.

I had no breasts to speak of yet—I could still pass the “Ann Landers pencil test”–but my hips were as wide as the county. I had stretch marks instead of the multiple tummies of the year before, but my figure was still totally unlike the Twiggy-thin girls on TV.

No matter. I was seventeen, done with high school and happy in the company of exciting new friends.

I may not have been anyone’s feminine ideal, but one thing I had gained along with the weight I’d lost. I had finally found my Hippie family.

Thanks to FaceBook, a friend from high school contacted me recently–
he had found this image of me among old negatives from his high school photography.
I am in my last semester at Carmel High and have started a fencing club to avoid phys ed. That’s a foil I’m pointed at the camera.

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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