I Am The Big Girl

Emily Nolan by Matt Roy

I am the big girl, for years, plays over like a broken record. And one day, this big girl will write to save her life.

But not today. Today’s the day that will change my life, even though I don’t know it yet.

Fidgeting in the waiting room sofa chair, alone, I anxiously click at the top of a pen I’ve borrowed from the front desk; inscribed on it, “Mercy Hospital.” Air escapes my nose with a heavy weight from within my gut that wants to escape with it; to myself, a quiet, conclusive, worried laugh. This pen is not going to be a memento I bring home. A terrible conversation starter, lingering around in my pen jar, floating around the bottom of my purse next to a loose stick of gum, waiting for someone to borrow it.

“Oh, Mercy Hospital, what were you doing there?” Tense shoulders rise uncomfortably around my ears. I picture the doozy of a conversation ender, but the truth, nonetheless. My blue eyes wince with bottled-up shame and give shape to young crow’s feet. “Plastic surgery?

I’d rather listen to silverware in a garbage disposal than have that conversation.

A part of me wants to keep this awful pen, too. Mostly as a token of surviving the trauma I’m about to endure. Something meaningful to hold onto. This ridiculous pen, a witness to the moment my heart, my life, shatters into a million little pieces like a glass vial dropped onto hard tile floor.

I want to hide my body; I want it to cave inward, my belly button becoming a black hole, drawing my body into its unknown abyss, disappearing depths, ensuing a rare, unexplainable phenomenon: The departed woman. If only. Instead, my belly is soft and visible; no magic black hole offering up a disappearing act from my woes. No haven I can escape to when the pressure of pretty makes me launch into borderline suicidal tears. No dark corner I can disappear into that accepts all of me, without rejecting flabby thighs, a doughy stomach.

Any promise to help me disappear from the body I so desperately want to escape. My belly skin folds like a consuming curling wave that keeps pounding me back under without offering me enough air to surrender. No black hole, I could die a million deaths. I have to live with this body forever. Not good enough. Never enough for myself.

If only I could look like the other girls, anyone but myself. Thinner limbs, a skinny stomach, stick straight legs. I lose myself thinking about what skinny ankles would do for my self-esteem.

I’m a knock-kneed chunk of meat. A plus-sized boy figure.

I picture myself breaking down in the quiet hospital waiting room, falling onto the carpet floor, weeping in desperation, holding onto myself as a mother would an injured baby bird fallen from it’s nest. My emotions are much too dramatic for me to roll play. Hesitating, I instead bravely squint my eyes, keeping the welling tears from rolling over the brim of my lower eyelid: This is the only way I know how to do it. My only hope. I have to fix my body.

I fill out my information on a clipboard carefully, I wonder if anyone reads these things unless something goes wrong.  A part of me wants to fill out my first name: So. Last name: Alone. Maybe someone would notice and offer me a way out.

Senior citizens are wheeled in and out of the front door. The smell of hand sanitizer follows the young mother that walks towards the front desk. There are no kids here. No one coughing or burning up with the fever. My mouth is dry; my heart races with still feet.

With fascinating technologies, we still have not made a magic pill. Something to make me thin enough, socially, acceptably, skinny enough. A pill that could do what the recalled diet pills I religiously swallowed in high school promised–skinny in just days. I shake my head, not violently; I roll my eyes and take a deep breath in, puffing up my chest cavity; I hold the air in. Gently, I shut my eyelids and let nervous air escape slowly through my nose. Out of frustration, I squeeze my abs tightly, forcing the last bit of air out of my lungs; with it, I let out a faint, raspy throat noise; no one notices. The air escapes my nose and pierces the world with a budding frustration that reminds me of when I broke my toe and punched the wall in retaliation. Somehow, more pain makes sense in already painful situations.

I fill out my information and return the clipboard, conceding with my true name in the unfortunate case that something might happen to me. My eyebrows arch like traveling caterpillars. I bob my head left to right, weighing the risk.

I put my items–a cell phone, a pen and wallet–into a white plastic hospital bag of things I can’t take with me. I get up to turn in my bag and ask the man sitting at the front desk when I can expect to get it back. “After surgery,” he says in a deep voice that echoes through the tile entryway. My guess is everyone hears.

I want to shush the hell out of him. Why would he say that so loudly, in front of everyone here? Embarrassed, I pinch my lips together to smile back at him and politely, because I’m a nice person, force an articulate whisper back in his direction, “thanks.” Slowly, I walk back to the same sofa chair, this time the seat a bit warmer. Neighbors more aware of why I’m here. I wish I could just disappear.

The front desk calls my name again, along with a group of five other women. A cattle auction, we all walk pale-faced towards the front desk and check in for the third time. I’m issued a white bracelet with my information on it. This is not what I expected when I decided to change my body.

Changing your body sounds so normal, I think, until you’re actually doing it. Why would media support this? The courage my girlfriends have, to actually go through with this. I scrunch my nose, tenderly tilt my head to the side and look directly into one of the fluorescent lights above me, another attempt to keep the tears from brimming over my lids. So strange, I think. So strange that we think this is normal.

My conscious observation moves from the lights and into mindlessly staring at my sandals. I wiggle my toes to break my gaze; it brings me back into the present; shallow feels so heavy.

A husband sits unafraid with his arm around his uneasy wife; worried eyes bounce around the room landing for longer moments on the floor in front of her. Next to me, an older lady stands with a cane and looks me up and down. The waiting room smells like nothing, purposefully I think, as if the hospital knows precisely how to cover the smell of fear.

The plastic wristband with my name on it clicks around my right wrist. I hide my hand in the pocket of my jean shorts, under the canopy of my loose shirt. Curious women eyeing me try to draw my hand out from my pocket with their nosey, burning eyes. The audacity of aging, I think. Wanting so desperately to know why I’m here. The man with the booming voice ushers six of us into a large, sterile, stainless steel elevator.

The elevator doors shut behind us, and the tiny silver-haired lady with a cane looks at me, confronting, and can no longer hold her tongue. In a New York accent with a matching spirit of directness, she inquires in a way that could be construed as rude, “You look fine, what are you here for?” Unlike her, the right words to respond don’t exist yet. I’m not sure. I gaze down at the grooved elevator floor, I can’t bring myself to speak. My fingers now entangle behind my back, I’m hiding something, maybe truth. Again, I’m not sure. Deep down, I hope she resolves that I don’t speak English and I’m trying to be kind.

Out of the elevator, I step into a bleach white pre-op room full of nervous patients in blue open-backed gowns. A crippling fear shoots through my body. I’m alone. And strangely, I want to change my body so that I feel more like the others. Sliding deeper, into dangerous hands of an absence of self-responsibility. Any language of self-love slips loosely through my fingers like grains of sand, so tiny, unable to be defined or held onto for more than a fleeting moment.

Nervously, I smile and wait in a new line, gazing ahead at the check-in nurse behind the computer. Bahamian, maybe Haitian. The fear of, it’s too late to turn around, plays over again like the broken Bette Midler record Mom and I would dance to on the pea green rug covering our family room floor; in the kitchen, dinner’s tender pasta always spiraling dangerously passed al dente. I want to make one last call to Mom and tell her how much I love her, a broad, blanket statement to cover all of the times I held back the truth. I regret dropping my phone in that cheap, white, plastic bag.

How I resist the fear of telling the truth about my tumultuous journey with body image, and how it has kept me from being transparent with my own Mother. I wish she knew I was here. I wish I could be honest without the fear of judgment.

The pre-op room smells even more like nothing. Like nothing over nothing trying to disguise something. And without a scent, I somehow still manage to smell fear. My hands shake enough that only I notice. My mouth begins to taste like iron, as if it too, is being cleansed of something it desperately wants to painfully reveal.

I wish things didn’t have to be this way, but somehow, it does. And it is.

The Bahamian nurse, hands me a folded teal robe and a pair of standard-issue baby blue hospital socks with non-slip dots on the bottom, of which I think will make a better memento than the pen. The nurse directs me to change in the bathroom and points to Bay 9, “that will be your assigned room.” I hesitate, as if I’m about to look directly into the sun, my eyes shoot across the room; Bay 9, looks like a standard hospital gurney with thin blue curtains around it. Desperately, I glance back at the nurse and my eyes, brimming full of neediness, scream so loudly into hers, “help me!!!” But her eyes don’t hear mine.

I change in the bathroom, which reminds me of the handicap bathroom from my elementary school. Same pink tile floors and yellowy pine door that sounds heavy and clicks when it shuts. I strip naked and for a while, look at my body in the tilted mirror above the sink. What will I look like as the skinny girl?

I wince in pain from a memory of an elevator ride just months previous; I want to let a sharp, stabbing cry escape from me. When an unfamiliar man said to me so trivially that I would be beautiful, hot, if I lost twenty pounds. My knees buckled but my chin did not sink. I bit down hard, military jawline, cheeks burning. My toes dug as deep as they’ve ever been into the soles of my tennis shoes. He looked unfazed, stared ahead, watching the elevator drop from floor to floor, as I melted too, with each floor we descended. Crumbled like a helpless child in pain, an innocent ant crossing a busy street on an unlucky day.

In the mirror, I pinch my boyish figure, making it curvier and thinner. Still naked, I sit down on the toilet and rest my elbows on my knees. I prop my head in my hands and console myself; I recognize that conceding is not healthy.

In a holy moment, I feel my Mother, near. Tender hands that hold my head up, hers; Relaxed nature around my familiar nakedness. Her strength and sensibility in vulnerable moments. The collision of excruciating incidents coming to a head, this is so much more than the shape of my body.

I stand up with hesitation. The turquoise robe falls over my shoulders like a shapeless maternity gown. In front of the mirror again, I turn around and grin at my exposed bare bum, goose bumps piercing through pale moon skin. I pull the socks over my bluing toes and stretch them over my smooth calves. I fold my civilian clothes, slowly, spending more time with my thoughts. More time trying to access my Mother in moments, thoughts, movements. Where’d she go, and so quickly? I can’t find her, even as I try to trace back my footsteps, sitting on the toilet, hoping I’ll find her comfort again as I rest my head back into my hands. My grip loosens, my mind lets go, as if trying to find a specific word, unsuccessfully. I’ve lost her.

I gather the few things I have into an organized pile and walk out of the bathroom, the heavy door shuts behind me and memory washes over me, my elementary school innocence. Nostalgia brushes through me. I picture myself many moons before, a sweet girl, unaware aware of her body, her size. How did I get here?

I lay in Bay 9, on a gurney with my name hanging from the foot rail. I inspect everything around me to keep myself from feeling like a fish in an icebox.

The nurse is patient and apologetic, it takes her several tries for the IV to find a vein. Coherent, yet the world seems far out of my control, slipping fast like fine grains of sand I’m trying to not lose. Memories of Mom’s comfort I had not long before fade quickly, dropping through my relenting grip. Unable to find anything else to hold onto, events blur together like a drunken stupor. I’m disappearing.

The thin hospital curtain swings open and the surgeon makes an ambitious appearance, revealing large, perfectly veneered teeth. He pulls out a marker from the pocket of his darted black pants and quickly starts drawing X’s on my body, a science project. I empathize with the fetal pig I dissected in 9th grade biology. Everything the doctor says to me repeats off of the painted brick walls and bounces through my ears like it would an empty, scrubbed-down hallway in this hospital. No echo, no trace that it was ever here.

I have never been lonelier. So alone I could die. The hospital would collect what remains of my earth suit and discard it in a hazardous waste bag, send a pre-formatted letter of apology to my emergency contact.

Minutes pass and it feels like years, or slow motion, or light years. Swabbed head to toe with iodine, I lay helplessly on the cold metal table. Sanitary paper covering the uncomfortable stainless steel table, sticks to the back of my soft thighs; legacy shoots through my mind. Is this the total weight of my human experience?

Before I go under, I make a promise: I will dig myself out of this. Whatever it takes to create a life I’m proud of. A life that makes me dance in circles with my arms spread wide, heart open to possibility, belly exposed in open air.

Counting backwards from ten, my eyes close and I expect to see sweet memories of childhood birthday parties and graduations flash by. Instead, I see my future. I see myself, writing to save my life.

I am the big girl, no, the girl. My legacy is not this cold table which upon I lie. I am no Barbie doll, no someone else’s idea. I am me, uniquely.

My spirit promises to keep me from this day forward. In dreams, I’ll soar, to lands so far away, a reminder that I’m not trapped in this body. This skin is my spirit’s keeper, for now.

I am a voice, not hushed with words. My story will not fall upon deaf ears, like the empty echoes in the hallways of this hospital. Instead I boom, I echo, I storm. I share, I hug, I cry. I revert, I remember, I persist. I touch, I heal. When it’s truly all over, I’ll surrender with the blinking of my tired, veteran eyes and proclaim that this, all of this, is my legacy.

I am the big girl, no, a girl, and I’m writing this story to save my life.ToplessByEmilyMay 03, 2015-4648

photo Matt Roy

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this kinda rocks!
oh darling, indulge a little
this kinda rocks!
oh darling, indulge a little