When my sisters and I were little and we had to endure something painful, like a shot at the doctor’s office or the removal of a splinter or the cleaning of a nasty bit of road rash from a spill off of a pink Huffy, my mom would have us squeeze her finger in order to distract us from the pain. As tears streamed down our faces, our mouths wide open with wailing, she would offer up her index finger and say, “Here, squeeze my finger.” To this day I offer up this same kindness to just about anyone I am near who is in physical pain, which has gotten me more than one queer look from people who cannot figure out what the hell I am talking about, though they may be confusing my offer with the childhood fun of encouraging someone to “pull my finger.” But it’s one of those things you just learn without knowing you learned it, and without knowing that everybody else did not, in fact, learn the same thing.
It’s likely you did not learn this trick so let me tell you, it works. Although I can remember sitting in a doctor’s office or on the edge of my bed or on the bathroom counter bawling, I cannot remember anything other than how it felt to squeeze my mom’s finger. The distraction helped me to calm down just a little bit. The pain would lessen and I knew it would eventually pass. As we got older my sisters and I would offer up the same solution to each other, spouses, children, and our niece and nephew, without giving it much thought. It’s just what you do when someone needs a distraction. It takes your mind off the pain and it becomes bearable.
A few days ago as I was getting dressed I was marveling at my ever-increasing frame. I have always been overweight but in the last year I have continually gained weight and I don’t show any signs of stopping. I have been trying to remember to be kind to myself because I am struggling to figure out how to deal with losing my sister, but the downfalls of being large far outweigh the sheer bliss that comes from eating whatever I want, whenever I want. Yet that’s exactly what I do, over and over again. This is not new for me, but it’s worse now. It’s more. It’s never enough.
I have had a few moments of hysteria over my weight gain. I know well enough by now that it’s not a love of food that causes me to eat more than I need to (or want to). I use food. I abuse food. And at the moment I feel totally out of control with it. So the other day I devoted some time to think about why I seem unable to reel it in this time. After a few minutes it occurred to me that eating is how the adult in me squeezes my mom’s finger. It’s simply a distraction. A way to focus on something else. The problem is, the pain isn’t going way. The moment of feeling the pain dissipate, letting go of my mom’s hand and hopping back on the Huffy isn’t coming like it used to.
Eating helps me ignore the fact that I feel as though my heart is suspended on the tip of a spear inside of me and gaining weight gives me another bit of trouble to focus on, namely my ill-fitting jeans. Then I don’t think about how much I miss Kelly, and how much I could change if I could just have another chance with her. When I do think about those things it is literally too much for me to handle, so I don’t handle it. It’s like putting your hand to fire – you just have to pull it right back as quickly as you can and grab a deli sandwich instead.
Later that night I lay* on the bed in our spare room and bawled. My husband sat beside me with his hand on my back and I bawled and bawled and between gasps for air I heard myself talking about how much I missed her and how much I regret and how you don’t always get a do-over how this pain is literally too much for me to handle. I was surprised by some of the things I was saying and I was surprised by the unending stream of tears and sadness and regret and helplessness. Our ability to pretend the pain we carry around with us does not exist never ceases to amaze me. It’s the elephant in the room. The catatonic elephant that is taking up all the space and all the air in the room, but I’m pretending I don’t see it. I’m in the corner focusing on a box of donuts, trying to decide between sprinkled or jelly filled.
And then, as my husband is rubbing my arm and I’m crying and talking and gasping I hear Kelly’s voice in my mind. She says, “There is snot all over your face.” Then I see her in my mind, turning her head away and gagging. I laughed a little, which I’m guessing George thought was another gasp, and asked if he’d get me a paper towel. I was able to breathe a little easier then. The tears slowed and eventually stopped, and I felt like I had been able to at least see this pain, which I think is the first step in learning to live with it. And I am going to have to learn to live with it.
I’d like to report that since that night I have eaten nothing but carefully-rationed portions of nuts and whole grains, fresh fruits and green leafy vegetables, and lean fish high in amino acids, but that would be a lie. What I have done though is gotten through a few days fully aware of the pain I am carrying with me. Maybe I’ve eaten a little less too, I don’t know. For now I’m just going to make the most of the time I have here by being the best version of myself that I can be – and that includes lots of flaws and mistakes but that’s okay. There are some things in life you get one, and only one, shot at. Fortunately weight loss is not one of them.
*I would normally use the word “laid” here but Kelly was a stickler for this common grammatical error and since she died I have been cursed with the inability to misuse lay, laid, and lie.