“Do you want to see what you’d look like if you were skinny?” Alex’s eyes were wide and her lips had pealed back into a smile over her white teeth. It was almost like she wanted this as badly as I did.
I looked at her. I could only blink. Alex and I were twenty years old, and there was a hundred-and-twenty-pound difference between us. She was so thin that her pelvic bones stuck out slightly, and yet, she would still suck in her stomach constantly. Her body image issues did nothing but make mine worse. Every time she would look in the mirror and say, “I’m fat,” I couldn’t help but wonder how enormous I looked beside her. But all of that was about to change. I was having Lap Bad Surgery on May 25, 2012, two weeks away. My liquid diet would start the following day.
Alex hopped off the bed faster than I could sit up in it and was at the full-sized mirror before me. I lifted my shirt and took off my pants so that my fat stomach sagged over my pelvis. It hung there like a flap of meat. Alex slapped it so that the ripples swam from just above my belly button to the sagging area below it. She laughed, and I pretended to laugh. That was Alex’s favorite thing to do, to play with my “jiggle.” I never told her how much it made me feel like a circus freak.
“Alright, watch this.” Alex stood behind me and grabbed at the flab just above my hips.
Then she pulled.
My body was three sizes smaller. I could see the strange bones of my pelvis. The flab under my belly button was still there, but no longer hanging. I pulled back the skin on my neck, erasing my double chin.
And there she was, this person I knew was living under all of the weight, and I thought, for a moment, that she was actually pretty — that my true potential was looking back at me in the mirror. I saw the dresses that would fit, the parties I could go to, the boys I would be dating, this entire life that was just a surgery away from me now. My mouth fell open.
“Oh my god. You’d be beautiful.” Alex poked her head out from behind me. “You’re gonna be beautiful. . . after the surgery.”
Alex let go, all of the fat and the jiggle swung forward like spilling a jello packet upside down after mushing it up with a fork. I pulled my pants back up and fixed my shirt. I was eager to shove all of me back under clothes so that I didn’t have to look at it anymore.
Nine Months Later…
I ignored the shouts of “Derpie, where are you going?” and walked out of the bar. The door to Mannion’s Pub and Restaurant closed behind me, cutting the music away from the cold early March air. I crammed my hands into my tiny jacket pockets and scuffed my brand new combat boots, that were still tight on my calves, against the cement.
It was a wonder that I could have calf-highs. Those boots were like my gold medals. How many times had I found perfect shoes only to try them on and learn that the tongue of the boot was too thin, or the sides didn’t come around enough. To think that a human being came in my size and, dear god, wanted to have nice boots? Shame on me for being so fat.
The moon was full that night, and I remember it because I looked up and it was like an orange cat’s eye, wide and staring at me. My eyes watered from the cold, or maybe because I was so pissed off, and I remember lightly touching my sleeve under where my eyeliner had been smudged already.
I forgot, again. I wasn’t used to being thin. Thanks to the surgery I’d dropped fifty-five pounds, and quite a bit of hair, within the first three months. Before the surgery I had a different target on my back. One I pealed off, along with the weight, and traded for the new target that I didn’t even know was there until this night. I went from people letting the door slam in my face to people watching my ass as they held it for me. From “ma’am” to “babe.” I used to forget all of the time, forget that I wasn’t me anymore. Until I hit the fitting room of the nearest Hot Topic and pulled a medium sized dress over my head. Until I saw this woman in the mirror. Not a genderless blob, but a woman with curves that had fallen into the right places. Yes, that was the new me. I earned her.
I was scuffling past an alley, and in my peripheral vision, I saw a group of men. They were speaking Spanish to each other, and the moment they saw me, they hushed. One of them called out: “Hey, Mami!”
I felt my heart fall into my lungs, and it seemed to get lodged there. My stomach turned, and I pictured the band inside of me holding the organ in place. I shuffled faster, my boots crying out as they hit the pavement. I could hear laughter behind me.
This is it. This is the day that it happens to me. I’m the one in four. I’m the stupid one in four and it’s my fault because I’m wearing tight clothing and wondering Somerville at night, I thought to myself while my eyes darted left and right, looking for any person other than these boys to be on the street. Any witness.
Shoes slammed the pavement. Someone was running to catch up with me. I hunched my shoulders, preparing for the impact of all five of them. I should have been carrying pepper spray. This is my fault.
A hand fell on my shoulder and I turned with my fist wound back like an arrow in a bow. My glare landed on Pete, my freckled friend from the Mannion’s group, his hazel eyes were soft and he had just said, “I’m not going to let you walk in Somerville alone at night.”
I hugged Peter and I cried.
It was something that one in four women actually go through, and I hadn’t suffered from it. I didn’t even know if “it” was going to happen. Maybe they were just yelling at me, trying to get my attention. Maybe I was jumping to conclusions. But the fear was real. It was the same fear and embarrassment I had felt when I was bullied. How did I go from “Godzilla” to “Mami”? Is that what I’d had the surgery for?
When my doctor told me I would be wearing a bikini in a year, my eyes must have widened like old television screens turning on and broadcasting every hope I’d ever had of being beautiful. I remember choking on the tube in my throat when I woke up from the anesthesia. It was a rebirth. I wasn’t me anymore after that day. I was this thing called “the new me” which had no place for pieces of “the old me.”
May 25, 2012, was when my entire life changed. I’d had the surgery for all of the wrong reasons, and the year since that surgery proved it. I thought I would be beautiful, and though people treated me differently, I didn’t feel different. I remember only seeing the weight I still had left to lose — the stranger in photos from years before, like a nightmare threatening to take me back if I ate a piece of cake, a single Dorito.
I thought I would find love. I never did.
I didn’t do it for health, like I claimed I had. I did it for that woman staring back at me in the mirror when Alex pulled back all of the. . .me. I did it for every time I had heard the words: “You have a pretty face, you just need to lose the weight.” The Weight. My arch nemesis. The greatest evil I’ve ever known, now almost defeated, as my friend Peter held me and I cried because the surgery did exactly what I wanted it to: Men finally wanted me.