What’s Your Secret?

 I am thin. I don’t necessarily think of myself as thin but it seems that I must be. Because of my size I am frequently confronted by other women with a barrage of questions, especially when they find out that I am 40 years old. That’s when the heads cock to one side, their eyes widen for a split second, and then morph into a scrutinizing squint underneath their furrowed brow. Then I know the questions are coming.

 Last week this occurred with a waitress who carded me after I ordered a beer.

“You’re REALLY 40? But you’re so young looking and you’re so skinny!”

I usually either shrug or say something like, “Yeah, I get that a lot,” while lowering my head to try to discourage any further discussion about my body.

She didn’t stop. She threw one hand on a jutted-out hip and said,

“That’s incraaaahdible!” her brows furrowed.

Uh oh.

“What is your secret!?!” she asked. It sounded all the more demanding in her strong Russian accent.

“I dunno,” I said.

Usually I smirk and say something like: “Smoking and drinking heavily,” but I wanted her to get my beer.

The waitress then proceeded to show her appreciation for my supposed “incredibleness” by giving my friend and I shitty service for the remainder of the evening.

Two nights ago, I was out having drinks with my good friend Kathy. Kathy got a call from a friend of hers whom I did not know who said she would be stopping by to see her – and me by default – because she is moving soon and her time is tight. I was fine with that. I like people…uh, usually.

Kathy forewarned me, “You may not like her. She has ‘issues’. She is a little hard to get along with.”
I wasn’t concerned, how bad could she be?

 Her friend walks in, speeds past the hostess and jolts directly over to us. She stops before our table, puts her hands on her hips, nods to Kathy and inspects me immediately. She anxiously announces how sweaty she is, how stressed out she is and how very very hungry she is and that she would be RIGHT BACK after washing up in the bathroom.

Her starched, white, knee-length skirt barely moves as she rushes off.

When she returns she scans the room as if scoping out the lay of land incase enemy attackers are hiding behind a nearby plant. She sits and picks up a menu, all the time talking about her day and the stress and the problems and and and…

 Her plate of lox, cheese and capers come. The lox are laid out flat, in a perfect circle inside the bevel of the plate. She grabs her knife and fork and, still talking, slices the fish – hard enough to make the plate squeak – precisely down the middle as if demonstrating a geometry equation for us. She further dissects it into eight perfectly equal slices, puts down her knife and assaults the fish with the back of her fork. Her whole arm and shoulder clenched as she smashes it into submission. She stuffs it in her mouth and repeats the attack.

 When Starched Skirt finishes giving Kathy valuable advice on how she should be living her life, she turns to me.

She bombards with me with such charming questions as,

“What do you write?”

“Have you published anything?”

“How do you support yourself?”

I would have preferred it if she just came out and asked, “What’s your excuse for being on Earth and taking up valuable oxygen that people with normal jobs could be breathing!?!?” because that was her tone. What a dear.

She then asked, “Now, why do you get tattoos? How do you decide what to get????”
Unimpressed with this question because I get it at times from those such as her – the non-tatted “why would you do that to yourself, your body is a temple” types.

I answer casually, “Your body is a canvas, mark it up.”
“But, no,” she insisted, “how do you decide?”

All right, no problem, Starchy Skirt.

“I choose images that are important to me…except for this one here,” I pointed to the Caspar and three smiley-faced bats tattoo on my forearm, “was just because the idea made me laugh…I also really like that it’s a cartoon for kids about a dead boy.”

I could see her upper lip twitch and her brow muscles stifling an eye roll.

I kept talking. She interrupted,

“Now I understand the nose piercing but why this one?” she asked taking a break from carving lines into the porcelain disc to waggle her forefinger around her eyebrow.

Ah, the eyebrow piercing. Who the hell is this chick?

Doooo you? Do you rrrreally understand the nose ring???”

I didn’t bother to answer. Kathy interjected.

 Somewhere inside our trio of yapping mouths the subject of age came up and Starchy Skirt was horrified to learn that I am 40. She looked down to cram every last caper and speck of soft cheese into her tired fork, clearing the surface in even left-to-right swipes, swallowed it and placed both utensils on her plate. Both elbows landed on the table with a thud. She brought her hands to her face to hold it in place after angling it like an easel, directed squarely at me.

 “How do you stay so thin? By eating a small side salad for dinner every night?” she bowed her head slightly to indicate the mixed green salad I had just received. I really just ordered it because I don’t like the food at this place, but I didn’t tell her that.

Then it came.

 “So?? What’s your secret?” she asked.

 What do they expect me to say? Do they actually think I have a secret? The “secret” that so many stupid women’s magazines say that they are revealing at least 350 times per year?

Starchy’s tone was more stern and heated than most. I think it would have been fun to say something like,

“Oh, I don’t do anything, I eat whatever I want and I never gain weight! I would really like to gain weight and I try and I try and I try – last night I ate a box of donuts and a gallon of ice cream, but I lost a pound!” I could then give her a desperate pouty look, all flustered and defeated.

I could lie again and say, “Oh, I simply stick to a healthy, well-balanced, sensible diet! I alternate yoga and pilates daily and every Sunday I run 20 miles. I don’t exercise to stay slim however, I do it because it feels good. To me, the quest for thinness is just so so shallow, ya know? I’m not the vain sort.”

Again, no.

 The truth would go something like this:

“This is how I do it. Listen carefully, it’s really not that hard.

You have to make it a daily habit to scrutinize your body in the mirror looking for every flaw and then internally shame yourself until the fat, or what could be fat – any bulge is bad – and the number on the scale defines who you are. It is in fact the only measure of your self worth. You then must obsess and obsess about your fatness at all times, in every aspect of everyday life. Do you walk like a fat person? Yes. Change it. Do you sit like a fat person? Probably. Are your legs open, possibly indicating that your thighs are so big that you can’t cross your legs? Force them to cross, and even better, entwine them by tucking one of your feet in back of the ankle of the other leg. This proves you have skinny legs. If you can’t do this, double the self-shaming efforts immediately.

 If, after weighing yourself in the morning – you will do this every morning, you have to, you just do – you have lost a little, don’t get too confident because it is not good enough. The upside however is that for that day you won’t despair in the knowledge that you are a complete failure like you probably did the day before and will again tomorrow.

Are you following?

Every minute of everyday, following your first morsel of food, you are to obsess about what you have eaten and you must review in your head what you will be eating for the remainder of the day and worry about whether or not it will possibly be too much. When in doubt, don’t eat it. If you do and you gain weight, it won’t be worth it tomorrow morning when you look down at the scale. I personally recommend caffeine in the morning and an apple and skim milk for lunch. Don’t eat too much of the apple though, it is a carb. In the evening, watch it, this is when the biggest temptations come. I recommend sticking to a dinner of something like a thin slice of white meat turkey with a cup of sugar free, fat-free hot cocoa. For a treat, you can even throw in a couple marshmallows as they are fat free. If you start to feel light-headed or weak, simply go to bed.

 Gradually, you will succeed. You will lose weight and you will be able to go buy some smaller clothes. Don’t get too many because, if you stick to this plan, you will probably need to shop again shortly thereafter for even smaller clothes.

Eventually your entire sense of what is real and what is not real will start to erode. The seed you planted when you began this regimen will have grown into something unrecognizable from what it once was. Something twisted and sinister that, like a force from outside of yourself, will begin to disintegrate any connection you had to yourself. Eventually, any authentic sense of self will disappear and you will be a shell. People will get used to seeing you with vacant, glassy eyes fringed with dark circles below. You, however, delight in these dark circles – they mean you are succeeding and they are beautiful.

 Your family will talk about you in a hushed whisper and sometimes you may hear your mother sob. They may go so far to confront you and insist that you need help. You don’t need help. Do not give in to please them for you are on a mission. If, per chance, they force you into a psych ward, don’t worry, you will soon figure out techniques to stay on your path; you have to, it’s all you have now. You won’t be there long and when you are out, resume your diet with a renewed fervor, a fiercer dedication. They don’t understand, no one does nor will they ever, but no one else matters.

 If you succeed, you will reach your ultimate goal of no body fat and no bulges either; not one bulge other than bone, because your body has devoured nearly all of your muscle. The bones are so beautiful. You can see the tiniest muscles now too. Your facial muscles and the smallest muscles that hug the most delicate bones, the bones you didn’t know you had. Now, instead of spending hours in front of the mirror in panic and despair, you can breathe a little easier. It is okay to be pleased with yourself temporarily, but also see this as a motivation to hold true to your new way of life. There is no going back, this is who you are now.

 Medical types may cry ‘organ failure!’ and then you may be asked to take intravenous sustenance. From here on out it is up to you. I don’t presume to tell you what you can and cannot handle. If you are a quitter and you accept the tubes, there is no real shame in it. This life is not for everyone.

 “This is my secret. Any questions?”