How’d you get to be so

“How’d you get to be so pretty?” my grandfather says, teasing me.

“I don’t know! ” I would respond, giggling at the non question. At five years old, I hadn’t developed the part of my brain that gauges sincerity and playfulness. I still haven’t. If you came up to me right now and said “How’d you get to be so pretty?” I’d probably roll my eyes at you and fart.

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(photo by: JON DEAN)

My roommate and I frequently visit Sonic late at night on the weekends. He orders a small milkshake and onion rings. I order two large milkshakes because I can’t decide on one. I love the brazen sweetness of the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Master Blast® but I also need a Fresh Banana Classic Shake w/ extra whipped cream to bring me back to reality. Both of these milkshakes combined, total over 3,000 calories. We laugh about the upcoming election. I don’t mention that I’ve already been to Sonic today. I’ve practically forgotten it myself.

We come to a stop light and I look over to the adjacent car. The person in the drivers seat is looking back at me. She probably assumes that I’m bringing someone else a milkshake and not double fisting twice my caloric intake.

Moreland Avenue is a major road that cuts thru East Atlanta. It hosts the largest selection of fast food in that area. Once a month I’ll drive down and go to every single drive thru restaurant in one swing. Cook Out, Krystal, Wendy’s, McDonalds, and Sonic. I’m finishing off chicken nuggets from the first place as I cruise up to the next. I crumple up the fast food sack and throw it over my head where it lands in the backseat of my car.

In an alternate universe, there are adorable happy children sitting in the backseat of that car. I’m driving my family to the mountains for our annual vacation. I’ve packed a picnic basket full of wholesome snacks. My husband is laying back in the passenger seat with his arms crossed. He peaks out of his left eye and catches me looking at him. He smiles, resting his hand on my thigh. My face glows and I return my gaze to the rear view mirror back to our kids, only the back seat is empty. I glance back to the passenger seat but no one is there. I’m alone in my car and the lady at Long John Silver is yelling through the intercom. “Uh, 6 shrimp please,” I respond. By the third call box food doesn’t even taste good anymore, but I can’t stop. Stop for what?

I imagine my grandfather teasing me now, “how’d you get to be so disgusting?”

By the time I get to Sonic, it’s the end of my marathon and I want to kill myself. I wish this was a hyperbolic statement. I’m so full. I’m sick. I’ve taken a sweater and balled it up tightly, wedging it between my lower back and the car seat. The weight of all the fast food is causing my spine to lose its alignment. This is a nightmare I can’t wake up from.

If you can’t be who you want, then eat what you want. My life reduced to a phrase written on a Target sweatshirt. There’s a girl out there with love in her heart, flowers in her hair, and underwear so tight that it’s cutting off her circulation.

A few days later, I’m sitting in the drive thru line at Chik-fil-a and my bra is cutting into my side. It’s digging into my skin. I’ve gained so much weight that my bra leaves red rings around my stomach. Sexy. I can’t wait for a guy to try and rip my bra off in a fit of passion and realize that the only reason I went home with him is because of the lack of oxygen reaching my brain. I’m pretty sure bras are supposed to gently hug your waist and the straps pull your boobs up in the commonly accepted position of straight forward for all the world to see.

Not me. My bra is too busy gathering loose skin into rolls, smelling like stale cigarettes, and collecting loose crumbs of food. My bra straps have given up entirely. They’re like infected tonsils who serve no purpose, except to remind me that I once needed them. They fall off my shoulders 100x a day as if jumping from a building fire. My boobs are propped up by my sheer enormity. That’s what I call my stomach any time I have to sit down or bend over or look at it in the mirror.

I weigh 240 pounds. That’s as much as two female contestants on ABC’s The Bachelor combined.

In reality, I stopped thinking about my bra as soon as I started. I’m used it. It only bothers me sometimes when someone good looking stares straight through me like I’m a ghost. Right now, all I can think about is this Chik-fil-a hand spun milkshake sign I’ve been sitting in front of for 30 minutes. Hand spun. Marketing at it’s finest. I have no idea what hand spun means but it sounds awesome. Like the dictionary definition of the word. As in awe-inspiring. Christ-like. I don’t even care that it’s 8 o’clock in the morning. There’s no better time to accept 1,000 calories into your heart. Straight into my heart and all the veins leading to my heart and my ass and stomach and just a tad to my second chin for good measure. I just had two milkshakes last night but these calories have died for my sins and it’s hand spun.

I order it, but, because I’m so close to work, I have to suck the whole thing down in three minutes before any of my coworkers see me drinking a milkshake this early. “It’s ok,” I tell myself. I’m going on a diet first thing tomorrow. I crawl into work, catatonically full. The warm sun is pouring into the window of my office while my eyelids grow heavy.

I’m tiny. I smile. I have pretty hair that smells fresh and catches the reflection of the sun. I eat small portions of unprocessed food in a tiny wooden bowl with a gold spoon. My lips are disproportionately large like the perversion of nature. My mouth, while mostly closed and smiling, opens to allow in a bite or two of dandelion greens sprinkled with lemon zest.

This is what plays in my head when I’m passed out at work after having a milkshake for breakfast.

I wake up suddenly and my heart is beating fast. I turn on my computer monitors and rub my eyes. I go to check my email, but not before messaging my co-worker:

“What’s for lunch?”

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How to Crutch Yourself To Contentment.

2 weeks ago I injured myself.

“How?” – is the first thing everyone asks.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, where does it hurt?”

“I’m not sure.”

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Watch the face of the person feigning concern over your injury twist in disgust as you openly admit to having zero self-awareness. Are you on crutches? Well buddy, now you owe every single person an explanation as to why you’re being so visually distracting in public.

Ah, ok. Well, I’m not sure. One day I was experiencing some minor pain in my right foot and next thing I know it’s swollen 3x the regular size, I can’t fit it in a shoe, and I’m hobbling awkwardly down the aisle of a Kroger on a pair of ancient crutches I borrowed from the prop room at work that smell like old band aids.

“Have you been to a doctor?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

Here we go again. Look, I appreciate the concern but, at this point, why are you asking me this? I haven’t been to a doctor because I learned from my dad, and his dad, and his dad’s dad, that we don’t trust doctors. I haven’t been to the doctor because I have no money. I haven’t been to a doctor because I don’t have any time and because I can barely walk, ok? Should I explain to you, practical stranger, that I googled ‘stupid foot’ and read that I should ice it and stop walking on it and how that was good enough for me? Can it be good enough for you that I’m struggling to walk on crutches?

I did go to see a chiropractor because my insurance covers 20 adjustments per year. Even he seemed stressed out that I hadn’t been to “a professional” yet. He called it “a professional” because he doesn’t want to say “real doctor,” which is what he’s not.

Look, I’m mostly just fuming at how you’re blatantly pointing out my intricate ruse for attention. You’re right! My tattoos just weren’t cutting it anymore and I had to kick it up a knotch (ouch). I don’t even need crutches! I’m just wrapping myself in the sweet attention and endless sympathy of your wholesome nature so I can suck the life out of your caring and utterly defenseless heart  muahahahahaha TASTY   *disappears into smoke*

So, I hated walking in crutches. I may have been failing at life but I was not failing at comedy. Take the fact that I have no idea how to use crutches and pepper in my epic weight gain and you’ve got a stunning visual that rivals classic slapstick. I’m a tall gal and the crutches were two inches too short; creating a heightened level of buffoonery that one should savor. Let it dribble out the sides of your mouth. Let it collect in the nape of your neck for a lover to find later. YUM.

Women aren’t funny? Eat your fucking heart out, Charlie Chaplin

…and if you’re not going to eat it, then give it to me. I’m starving.

The only thing cool about crutches was turning on a light switch from really far away, like the couch.

I’d never been injured before and learning how to walk on crutches was not easy. My very first week, I:

Ran into walls, dropped my crutches while holding onto a hot pot, dropped a crutch down the stairs, fell backwards while crutching, hit strangers in the shins, had a crutch slip out from under me, somehow misplaced them, set them down in such a way so that they fell on my head, and even showered with one of them. I was more intimate with those damn crutches than I’d ever been in relationships.

However, admitting this to myself wasn’t as difficult as getting off the toilet. Nothing was as difficult as getting off the toilet. Try, impossible. The first few days I didn’t even eat or drink anything (torture) because I absolutely dreaded going to the bathroom. How about you try pushing your own body out of a squatting position without the use of your foot, or core strength, and nothing to grab onto? It’s torture! One morning, I sat on the toilet for what seemed like hours. My foot was so swollen I couldn’t move it. The meaty arch had turned a deep burgundy color. It was bulbous like a juice container left in a warm car.  I reached down and touched it with my finger and watched the imprint turn flesh color and linger for several minutes. Huh, I didn’t even feel that. That can’t be good. I wonder if they’ll cut it off.

Did I mention this was torture?
I could feel my heart pumping. My clogged up veins were working overtime to push blood all the way from my heart down to my shitty dead foot. I read online that the swelling was all fluid build up. Fluid? What does that even mean? What fluid? From where? Elevate your foot so that the fluid doesn’t build up. How was fluid building up? Where was it going? Is this what people died of in the 1600s? Fluid. What an apt way to go. We spend our whole life escaping fluid until the unforgiving tide envelops us again, pulling us back from whence we came, from inside our own bodies.

This must be why there are so many stories of women walking out into the ocean with bricks tied to their ankles. They’re just giving in to the inevitable. I propped my foot on a towel rack and knocked a crutch over, smacking me in the face. Nope. Life is just a shitty story written by a 6 year old boy. God- I feel helpless. I felt the fluid overpowering me. It was crawling its way up the sides of my face. I burst into tears.

Did I mention I was on the toilet?

This is must be how Elvis felt right before he died.

“Maybe this is a sign” my best friend said reassuringly.

Maybe she’s right. The worst part about crutches is how slow everything becomes. Usually, I move fast. I eat fast. I drink fast. I drive fast. I make decisions fast. My inner monologue is – keep moving! I’ve always envied slow people. People who eat slow, who walk slow, and who kiss slow. People who are precise and relish things. People who can sit in one spot for a whole afternoon and enjoy a book or look out of a window. People who understand the consequences of their mistakes before its too late. People who grow.

Me? I’m always moving. Running in circles, to be exact. I’m generally chaotic and mostly unproductive. I make the same mistakes over and over. I can’t see the bigger picture because I’m always  running towards a temporary finish line, missing everything in between. Next time you see a dog chasing his own tail just mentally Photoshop my face onto it. You get me.

What sucks about crutches? They force you to make eye contact with everyone. I couldn’t ignore my periphery like normal because they’d run me down. It happened frequently. Fast people and slow people almost never see each other.

The weirdest side effect of wearing crutches was the attention.

There was “positive attention” like someone going our of their way to hold open a door for me, walking me out to my car, riding the elevator to my floor, bringing me a cup of coffee or making a trip to the grocery store in my honor.

And there was “negative attention.” Mostly from strange men. There’s something about seeing a young woman on crutches that makes a certain man’s stare linger like a predator closing in on its prey. This kind of eye contact that makes your stomach turn. I was getting so many aggressive I’d-fuck-you eyes during daylight hours at a Target that I eventually hobbled over to the baby section to hide. If you ever want to get away from oogly men just run to the nearest diaper display and call for help. Was I making this up in my head? Does it always happen and I’m just never looking?

At home, I ordered a Great American cookie and requested that they write, “sorry you’re fat and old,” in thick blocks of sugary black and white icing just to help reinforce my growing sensation of helplessness. Sometimes digging into the wound feels better. The delivery man agreed to walk the box all the way to my door step. What a nice guy. He handed it to me and smiled awkwardly. “Hope everything gets better,” he chirped. Oh boy, he definitely read my cookie. I just bought someone’s sympathy for 12.99 plus tip. Score.

Eventually, I figured it all out. I taught myself how to wrap my foot comfortably enough to compress the swelling and simultaneously support the arch. I learned how to carry groceries on my crutches and flip light switches from the couch. I had to slow down. Paying attention to every step I took was agonizing. Thinking about every trip before I started. Do I have everything I need? What’s going to happen when I get there? Is it going to be too stressful on me? What are my limitations? OMG. My limitations? I’ve never had those before. I don’t have limitations. Fuck you, crutches.

From day one, I should have adorned my crutches in wallpaper. Stuck a bunch of diamonds on them. Thrown glitter all over them and crutched myself proudly. They should have been a marker of my strength, not weakness.

Recently, I retired my crutches and moved to a cane. It’s easier to get off the toilet now. Men don’t oogle me in Target quite as much. Maybe because it’s a phallic symbol like a big ol’ dick I’ve brought to fend off the hyenas. Maybe it’s a symbol of being old and dried up. Or maybe it’s because I’ve gone back to moving so fast that I don’t even notice anymore.