My Body, My Self

Food issues and a bad self-image led our columnist to undergo weight-loss surgery. She's still a mess, but a better-looking one.

The nurses are having a really hard time finding a vein into which to place the IV tubes I will need during and after my surgery for morbid obesity. I make my usual "This is why I'm not a junkie" joke that always slays the phlebotomists. A third nurse has been called in. I heard the others powwow about her before she arrived, speaking of her as though she were some sort of blood-drawing shaman. She can't find a vein either.

I am trying to relax as best I can before having my entire digestive system ripped apart, rearranged, and sewn shut. I think briefly about people on death row, strapped onto the table for execution. You hear about the times doctors have trouble finding a vein and the guy has to lie there while all of these people try to find a good viaduct with which to kill him. I, on the other hand, am about to be reborn in February 2006. Or so they say.

I'm ambivalent about the whole process of weight-loss surgery. It's not about the risks of gastric bypass, which have been overblown. No, I'm unsure because I want to be a fat girl who stays fat and still gets the guy, who is called pretty and not just in the face, who lives the life of a fully actualized person and is sexually confident. That girl doesn't have people harping on and on about her "health" as a veiled way of saying, "Damn, you are really freakin' fat!" She can walk into any store and find some cute clothes, no matter her size. She is judged by the content of her character and not the width of her ass. She doesn't need to get thin to find herself.

I want this, but I shall not have it. Because in minutes, if all goes according to the surgeon's plan, I will have betrayed myself one year from now and will no longer be a "malignant morbidly obese" woman weighing 360 pounds; I will have become a thinner person.

Eventually the nurses have to use a vein in my hand. "Okay, Oldie," my dad says, using the nickname he has had for me since I was a toddler. "I'll be waiting for you on the other side." Then I am wheeled into surgery.

My surgeon, a sharp, reed-thin woman who thankfully has the common sense and steadiness of, well, a surgeon, is giddy. "I'm so excited!" she says. She has done more than 600 of these operations, and it's hard for me to believe that this one could really set her all aflame. Yet in the back of my mind, in the part of me that has the ego of a once-beautiful woman, I wonder if she is energized because, as one of the nurses told me, I will be a "knockout" when this whole thing is over. Already nervous about joining the ranks of regular-looking people, I don't know where to store this information. (And prematurely bitter at whatever man dares hit on the thinner me, who would never have done so a year before.) I swallow all this — irony be damned — and steel myself for the big event.

What the heck. If the surgeon is excited, maybe I should be, too. Despite my mixed feelings, I know that I am taking a really positive step in my life, one that took more than 30 years to reach.

I remember the first time I used food as a drug. I was in kindergarten. It was my parents' anniversary and I wanted to throw them a party, so I invited my friend Caroline from next door to help me with the planning.

We stood on a chair together and set to phoning all the parents in the neighborhood to tell them about the surprise party we were throwing in 15 minutes. They all said they were sorry, but of course they were busy. Never mind, we thought, we'll just do it ourselves. In retrospect, I was determined to make it happen. I thought that I could repair my parents' marriage with a party. I thought, in my kindergarten mind, that the magic of two cute kids and some soda pop would transform my house into a Norman Rockwell print.

Using the foodstuffs at hand, Caroline and I made enough cinnamon toast for 10 people, put it on a platter, and hid it in my closet. Then we waited for my parents to come home.

I knew immediately that they were fighting when they drove up, my father being an alcoholic and my mother being a depressive (things I know now, but not then). I was embarrassed but also sure that all we needed to do was show them that we had made a party and cooked for them, and everything would blow over immediately.

They walked in, muttering to each other, and we jumped out from behind the door with a "Happy anniversary!" greeting.

My mother looked sad and annoyed and yelled something out at me like "Just stop it!" with a look of disapproval.

Caroline had enough sense to high-tail it home. I was numb. I went into my room and quietly shut the door. My parents never comforted me when I was upset, so I knew I wouldn't be interrupted. I opened the closet and ate the entire plate of cinnamon toast while I wept. A strange, nice, insidious thing happened. I felt a warm calm pass over me, as though someone was soothing my brow. It was the magic of carbohydrates.

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