As I move toward a better understanding of my obesity, I am coaxed step by intricate step into a dance with four partners: anxiety, agnosticism, addictive behavior and aging. This is not a weight loss memoir. It is not a size acceptance manifesto. It is a portrait of obesity that regards fat as neither fabulous nor expendable until it can be fully comprehended and briefly called magnificent for its capacity to initiate new life.
She was afraid of her own bathtub.
She bathed every night in the depths of a large, double-ended roll rim claw-foot tub, a treasure to some; to her, a threat. It did not appear to be a reproduction, so it had to have been old, at least as old as the building she lived in, as old as the musty, sagging upstairs apartment that had housed her progressively thinning hair and bones for the past 25 years.
She craved the cascading heat of a shower, but the shower kit had been carelessly installed and the enclosure ring tended to shake loose with one rash pull on the curtains. Soaking in a hot tub was her sole means of hydrotherapy, drug-free relief for her exhausted joints.
Eucalyptus-scented bubbles often added to the sense of occasion, eucalyptus with hints of menthol and sage, or bubbles made of French lavender, white tea and calendula. These soft touches varied. On bubbleless nights, it could be Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Hemp Pure-Castile Peppermint Soap or drops of essential oils.
For illumination, a translucent beige night-light sufficed, occasionally enhanced by white candles. The room was ever and always dimly lit. For entertainment, Chopin Nocturnes alternated with a favorite movie on her iPad, a movie she had to have seen more than twenty times so she could afford to miss snatches of dialogue whenever the water slopped up around the tub’s overflow plate.
Still, these amenities did not calm her fear of death.
The delights of her bath alternated with dread. The anticipation of easing down into a swirl of steam perfumed by sandalwood, ylang ylang, or rose came compromised by a sense of doom. Her image of herself disrobing like a nymph and dabbing her toes into a pool of water sweetened by organic extracts and herbal emollients did not purge her fear of death nor did it eliminate the prospect of untimely death overtaking her one night, one lonely, candlelit, sublimely scented night in her own bath.
She feared that the claw-foot tub would split open under her substantial weight. She imagined that the tub itself suffered from porous bones, which had grown more and more brittle over time and more liable to fracture, and that its floor, which had borne her 300 pounds for the past 10 years, would finally snap. She imagined the tub’s floor cracking and buckling up into great shards of steel and fiberglass and cutting her clean in two.
Or perhaps it would not be so clean. Perhaps the porcelain would shatter into a dozen jagged edges and points, deadly weapons that took shape in her mind as railroad spikes or the heads of medieval maces, pasta forks and tongs, skate blades with toe picks and the runners on sleds. She would be hacked to pieces because she had achieved a bulk that even concrete or fiberglass or porcelain—or whatever the hell it was made of— could not support.
It would be bloodier than the death of Marat in his medicinal tub, when the assassin’s five-inch kitchen knife sliced into a carotid artery. It would be bloodier than Marion’s shower at the Bates Motel, bloodier than the death of Frankie Pentangeli in The Godfather Part II, who opens his wrists, Roman-like, while surrendering to the anesthetic of his bath.
The downstairs neighbors and first responders would break open the door and find at their feet strips of pinkish bubbles rippling over an expanding pool of pink water. Inching closer, they would discover white chunks of tub strewn with puce-colored body parts, minced gut, and slabs of flesh.
They would not see, or even think to look for, the deep-seated gore of an older brother who teased her cruelly at a tender age. They would not feel as she had felt the absence of a smart career path, successful love affairs, rugged wilderness vacations or the reward of a walk-in closet crammed with chic clothes. They would fail to see the visceral grief of a husband not snagged, the white wedding that never took place with its sentimental walk down the aisle on the arm of a father now long dead, the children not born, the roads not taken, the song not sung. They would not hear the sad, blubbering soundtrack to every major holiday, the words of reproach from slimmer, more prosperous relatives. They would not experience the peculiar solitude of unrealized dreams.
Sickened, the neighbors and first responders would wade through the lone woman’s vitals and approach what remained of the bathtub. There, they would draw back a scrap of linen curtain and find propped on the rim a seeping, lonesome head with a surprised look on its face.
But why surprised? Had she not imagined this, foreseen it? Was this not the penalty for fat? Not death, that was not the penalty, not being cut to pieces while she bathed. But fear. She knew that her roomy claw-foot tub was made of cast iron and not likely to crack open like a walnut shell. And yet somehow she forgot this as she approached her bath each night.
This was the price to be paid for obesity, climbing into her tub with the distracted look of an aristocrat jouncing in a tumbrel on its way to the guillotine: needless fear. The drainage of deep shame.
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