January 23, 2008
“I’ll make something for you to eat, honey. I’m not too hungry myself.” She grins. “This whole business has helped my figure, at least.”
— David Michael Kaplan, b. 1946, American fiction writer
in “Feral Cats,” from Skating in the Dark
The dialogue above is from a later part in the book I referred to on Saturday. In this story, set about fifteen years later, Frank goes to his family’s summer home at the behest of his father, to check on his mother. She has gone there alone because she wants to get away for a while and think. She is about sixty-five years old, and “this whole business” that she refers to is a bout with cancer. She has finished the course of treatment considered appropriate. She tires easily and is often irritable. While it is not stated explicitly, the reader knows the implications. This reader was not surprised to learn in the next story that she died about six months later.
Some years ago I was in the narthex of my church just before the service began. A woman who had not been in church for a long time was there, and I overheard another member greeting her. The long-absent member, in her mid-fifties, had been, for as long as I’d known her (about five years) moderately overweight. I guess “matronly” would be the best word to use to describe her, if you had to use an adjective to convey her appearance. The woman who was doing the greeting was gushing over how good the long-absent member looked. “Wow! You’ve lost a lot of weight. You look terrific!” What the gushing greeter didn’t know (I hope, although how could she not know) was that the long-absent member had about a year before been diagnosed with cancer. On that morning, she had about three months left.
When I read the passage from Skating in the Dark, I couldn’t decide, exactly, how to regard it. As a characterization it is spot on. There are certainly thousands upon thousands of people who see weight loss as a good thing in and of itself. The mother is a minor figure in the stories and I don’t know enough about her to tell if this is self-deprecating, ironic humor or if she really is happy that her figure appears to be “improving,” that is, conforming to some external societal standard, no matter the cause of the improvement.
The idea that people will assume a weight loss they observe is, without question, something to be celebrated, and remarked upon, just makes me sad, given my current state of mind. I continue in my love-hate relationship with Weight Watchers, which wants to see less of me next week and encourages me to stop dieting and start living while enjoying a snack of half a banana and a teaspoon of peanut butter.
Half a banana.
What, exactly, do you do with the other half?
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