If you want to know about the rest of my trip westward—how Joe insulted a blackjack dealer in Vegas, strong-armed me into feats of rugged outdoorswomanship (I made up that word) in Zion National Park, and singlehandedly made Albuquerque so depressing that I can never go back—you’ll have to read my book someday, when somebody who feels sorry enough for me publishes it. For now, suffice it to say that Joe and I wouldn’t last much longer after returning to the East coast.
There were just so many issues.
My weight was always a point of contention with us. We hadn’t been dating more than a month or two before he announced one night at dinner that he could stand to lose five pounds—and so could I.
“Really?” was how I responded, genuinely surprised. I’m five foot four and I weighed between 125 and 130. My weight is one thing I’ve never worried about, and I’ve never considered myself overweight.
“Yeah,” Joe said, holding up his shirt. “Look how my stomach isn’t flat. Yours isn’t either.”
I lifted up my shirt and looked. Yeah, it wasn’t flat. I didn’t care that much. But somehow, the issue kept coming up. First, he got me to join a gym. I already used the elliptical at my apartment complex a few times a week, but Joe insisted I go to the “real” gym with him whenever I was at his place—which, as the relationship progressed, turned into four or five days a week. He proclaimed 2005 “The Year of the Body,” instructed me on how to lift weights, and made me take up running.
I’ve never considered running a hobby. In my opinion, running is something you do only by necessity, chiefly in two situations: one, if you’re late, or two, if you’re being chased by a rapist or a lion. But I allowed myself to be infected with Joe’s enthusiasm. It wasn’t like he was making me do drugs or anything; running is a healthy habit. Then he got the idea that we should run a marathon together. A marathon. 26.2 miles. He had once run one himself with no training whatsoever in tennis shoes he’d bought a week before from the Salvation Army. To train for this marathon we were to run together, he would take me around Greentown Lake and run way ahead of me while I gasped for oxygen. Sometimes he would turn around and act the cheerleader. “You can do it!” he’d say. Then he would start clapping. “Come on! The year of the body! Whoo-hoo! Just a little bit more!”
“I hate you,” I stated between gasps.
Being encouraged by your partner is a good thing, but only when you’re truly interested in the pursuit. If he had encouraged my writing in this way, how much more loved I would have felt. Instead, he cheered as the pounds fell off my already small frame.
I began to long for the relationship I’d had with one of my exes, who would surprise me with Cadbury chocolate bars from the British goods shop down the street from where he worked. He knew what made me happy. Joe’s gifts said, “Here’s something to make you into what I want you to be.” Short skirts I’d never wear, lingerie, knee-high boots. Whenever we did indulge in sweets, he’d insist that we “share” something. I still haven’t forgiven him for making me share that one precious pint of Ben and Jerry’s Fossil Fuel with those hippies we camped with at Lake Tahoe. As we passed the spoon from person to person, I watched each precious fudge dinosaur disappear, twitching. I had to restrain myself from grabbing the polycarbonate camp spoon and bludgeoning my campmates with it.
Once when I had been staying at Joe’s for a few days, I got a craving so intense I couldn’t help myself, but the only thing I could find in that godforsaken kitchen was an old container of Cool Whip. So I tore the lid off, got a big serving spoon, and started shoveling that shit in. I didn’t realize that Joe was coming down the stairs.
“What are you doing?”
I stopped and stared up at him. “Nuh-fing,” I replied to the best of my ability with a mouth full of frozen nondairy dessert.
He made a face. “That’s disgusting.”
Deprivation is what’s disgusting. I drank his nasty carrot-apple-ginger-jalapeno juice, ate his corn-syrup-free bread, and sneaked Frappuccinos when we weren’t together.
The stress of trying to be everything he wanted began to sap my appetite. I was shaking constantly, waking early in the morning with my guts churning as I worried about how I would hold on to this man. I had dropped close to fifteen pounds. When I looked in the mirror, I could see my ribs. I hated my body. I felt spare, hollow; my eyes were huge and haunted, like those of a half-starved deer.
The anxiety might not have taken such a toll on my body if I had stayed on the medication I had been on for years. But Joe had talked me into “going natural,” and I had stopped taking it. Once I could no longer stand the symptoms of anxiety—especially not being able to eat—and I realized how dangerously underweight I was, I made an appointment to see the doctor. Joe fought me when I told him that I needed medication again. He said it would make me fat and make me less interested in sex than I already was. Antidepressants, if you didn’t know, cause decreased libido. Interestingly, so do boyfriends who are assholes.
One of the last straws happened at the gym, when he stood by me as I weighed myself. I weighed two pounds more than the previous week—probably because it was the week before my period, but still, I was relieved that I at least hadn’t lost any more weight.
“You gained two pounds?” he asked. “What happened?”
The day Joe and I broke up, the first emotion I felt wasn’t sadness, but relief. I slept the most peaceful sleep I’d slept in months. I ate everything I wanted and gained back five pounds within the first week. When you can no longer recognize yourself in the mirror, I learned, it’s time to run like hell back to who you really are.
To be continued next Memoir Monday.
Photo credit: morguefile.com