[a weight loss story]
*kathrynoh at nemesis dot com dot au*
When I moved to Big Smoke, I had three options – I could stay at a hostel, find someone to board with or catch the bus over an hour each way. We checked out places to board but they were all so dodgy that I needed up moving into the hostel.
My space was half of a partitioned section of a six bed dorm. At the end of each bed was a small desk and table. The Venetian-blinded window between the two beds looked out onto a concrete courtyard with a spindly tree in the middle.
I'd lie in bed of a morning, resisting that horrid moment when I'd have to walk, toilet bag in hand, across the chilled linoleum floor to the icy showers reeking of disinfectant, with my toilet bag in my hand. By the time I got to the showers, they were empty. Everyone else was already sitting down to breakfast. If I didn't skip breakfast, I'd get to the dining room after everyone had left.
I never knew the rules. I think I had a reputation as rebel but it was never intentional. A rebel knows the rules and intentionally flaunts them. Me, I was just gormless. I'd go shopping after school, forgetting to get permission or I'd use the phone during study time. Stupid little things that I never cared about enough to remember.
I had plenty of pocket money, a bribe for staying in the place. Most days I'd go into town shopping, buying stuff became a hobby. Then I'd go back to my room and read or listen to David Bowie. Very rarely, I'd go into the TV room. When I did, the football player type dudes would be wrestingly and horseplaying. The other girls would ask me questions in that way popular girls do – those questions they ask, hoping you will say something freaky and weird so they can laugh about it their other popular girl friends. I found scowling was the best option.
One of the girls in the rooms upstairs was a bigger girl. One night, a bunch of kids hid in her wardrobe and waited for her to come back from the shower. When she stripped off to change for bed, they jumped out laughing at her. I lived in terror of something like that happening to me.
At school, I'd drown my sorrows in hot chips and chocolate milkshakes. By the end of the year, I was drowning my sorrows after school in bottles of port hidden carefully in the back of my wardrobe.
Then I'd decide I needed to lose weight. I'd skip breakfast and not take any money with me to school so I couldn't buy food. Then I'd get home and rush out to buy bags of lollies and chocolates. I'd sit in my room and eat and felt like I was going insane with loneliness.
Jay and I were still best friends. We'd hang out in the art rooms together and go shopping after school and take in all the cultural delights of Big Smoke. Despite that, a rift was developing in our friendship. We'd compete with each other to see who could make the most friends and got a kind of weird delight in having "other things to do", of being not available to each other.
Our friendship felt stifling and restrictive. I'd always felt like I was in her shadow and suddenly I started fighting that. I was ready to create my own life and my own identity.
I think all close childhood friendships go through that. Maybe the friendship ends, maybe it’s reforged as an adult relationship, but at some point, you have to reassess those roles that were assigned as a child.
I survived my first year and even passed everything except art. For some reason, I had a very dry spell creatively. Maybe all that communal living wasn't good for me.
It was a weird year, an exciting, on-the-verge-of-something feeling but I felt like I was marking time.
When I turned 17, that all changed.
I headed off to the beach with my cousins and my Nan for the summer. Even though I was 17 and my cousins a little younger, we had to be at home before it got dark. We weren't even allowed to go to friend's places to hang out. We had to be good and chaste and pure. And everyone laughed at us. You can imagine trying to tell your friends you have to be home before 9 o'clock when you are 17 years old.
So instead we'd wait until Nan was asleep, sneaking out, getting drunk and going to parties. We'd get up early the next day, pack our bags full of supplies – food and magazines and cigarettes - and head to the beach so we could sleep for the day. First though, we'd coat ourselves with Baby Oil so we could get tanned. Because nothing tans like roasting yourself in the sun.
There were a couple of guys who hung around at the beach. My cousin knew of them. They were bad. They were druggies. Soon we'd make sure we were hanging around where they were. They'd take us to parties and buy us booze and drive like lunatics – fast and out of control. You know, the kind of guys teenage girls love.
By the time the summer was over, I felt like a different person – wild and daring and bad. I'd reinvented myself. So much was about to happen that would shape the rest of my life.
I rang Jay to see how her summer had been. Okay, to be honest, I wanted to rub it in. As I thought, her summer had been really quiet. Even quieter than I thought - she'd spent the summer in hospital with cancer.
She was still in hospital when school started. Things got weird, very weird. I felt like I couldn’t around her. It was like there was this person I had to become, this strong, vibrant person and, to become that person, I had to shed our friendship. It shouldn't have been such a big deal but, when your friend is dying of cancer, suddenly it is. You can't abandon someone who's dying. That makes you a bad person. A really bad person.
To make it worse, I’d go to visit her in hospital and she’d be cold and unwelcoming. She'd act like she didn't want me there. Probably she didn't. I never asked her outright why she acted like that, she wouldn’t have told me anyway.
I’d sit in her hospital room, not the most comfortable environment in the best of circumstances, and I’d try to make conversation that fell flat. Her hospital room was filled with swarms of relatives. I'd never met any of them before. Jay's mother had died before I met her and her father raised her alone. None of these people had given a damn about her before. But suddenly she cared more about them than me. She was actually pleased to see them, not angry or bitter. I didn’t understand that. I didn’t understand then the barriers that are caused by pain. I didn’t understand much.
One day I went to visit her, and she ignored me. I stopped visiting after that. I called her a few times after that but was rebuffed each time so eventually I stopped doing even that. It was hard. Maybe it showed – that I was doing this because I felt I should, not because I wanted to. Maybe she resented that I was healthy and had new friends and a whole new life.
Meanwhile, I'd been boarding in town with a couple of girls from school. The woman we boarded with was a cranky old bag. She gave us sausages every night for dinner and complained when we watched A Country Practice. When one of my friends suggested that we find a place to share together, I jumped at the chance.
We found a house to share and scrounged up furniture and stuff for the kitchen. Soon it became a party house with people dropping in all hours of the day, staying the night, staying the week. We ate toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. We drank cask wine and smoked dope and listened to Neil Young. We learnt to flirt with guys at the pub to get free drinks. I'd gone from being a loner to been in the midst of all the action.
But it wasn't all parties and adventures. One night, a friend of a friend dropped over. We'd only met him once or twice before and thought he was strange. He made us feel uncomfortable, but we never thought to act on that instinct. He began playing around, getting kind of aggressive. My housemate offered to make coffee and went to the kitchen. With her gone, he got even more aggressive. He tried to rape me. I fought him off and ran to get my housemate but she'd gone.
Outside the kitchen, he pushed me up against the wall, demanding sex. I begged him to leave, fighting back as best I could. He ripped my shirt off and tried to force me to go down on him. I was terrified; my head throbbing with pain from where he'd punched me. He had hold of the back of my neck, pushing me down and the only thought in my mind was that if he put his dick near me, I'd bite it off.
I kept talking, promising him anything so long as he left. I calmed him down and somehow convinced him to leave, got him out the front door and put the security chain across. I leaned against the wall, taking a deep breathe, just as his foot came through the front door. I ran. I ran though the house, into the bathroom, trying to lock the door. Then I realised I was trapped. If he smashed in the front door, he could smash in the bathroom door too. The only window was far too tiny for me to climb out. I cowered in the corner, waiting to see what happened. He grabbed me and bashed me some more.
He calmed down again. I don't know what was going on – I think he was on drugs, serious weird-arsed drugs. As he left, he looked at the splintered pieces of the front door and asked me what had happened, as though he had no recollection.
He was gone and I was alone in the house. I didn't know whether to leave or stay. I no longer felt safe in the house. He could have returned at any minute. So I walked out, with nowhere to go and no one to turn to, clutching the ripped shreds of my shirt around me. I wandered the streets, going crazy until I found my housemate and a guy we were friends with. She'd panicked and gone to get help, thinking it would only take a few minutes but things had gone wrong and it took her much longer to find her friend.
I went to the police and they made me ring my mum. I don't understand what happened next. I don’t think I'll ever understand. See, one of mum's friends was visiting when I called. She overheard Mum's side of the conversation and wanted to know what was happening. So, according to my mum, she had to tell her friend everything. No "none of your business", no "this is a private, family matter", no nothing. Mum told her friend, who told a friend. By the time I went home for the weekend, the whole town knew.
It was a hard time. I had to go to school with my attacker's brother, I had to go through the court case with his insane, pasty face staring at me the whole time I was testifying, I had to go through the rumours and the lies and the stories, I had to go through the feeling that lasted for years of not feeling safe in my own home. But, worst of all, I had to go through my sister's friend's asking me why would anyone want to rape someone like YOU.
But it wasn't all fear and misery. I partied hard. I missed a lot of school and was doing badly in my classes. But I didn't care. I liked hanging out at the pub or setting off with my friends for weird adventures. I liked being part of a group of friends and having our song on the jukebox at the pub and our drink we always ordered when we had cash and our stories to tell at school that had everyone gasping and envious and maybe a little afraid. Actually, I didn't realise that until later when I ran into a girl I'd gone to school with – we'd hang out in the locker room, smoking and goofing around – and she told me she'd be scared to go to her locker between classes because of us.
Toward the end of the year, things started falling apart. Bitchy in-fighting and nastiness. My housemate decided to move to Sydney to be with a guy she liked and I moved in to board with another family. A nice, quiet family. Living with that family, changed my life as much as anything. My family was loud and boisterous. If we wanted to get each other's attention, we'd yell through the house. We'd fight and swear and throw thing. Suddenly, I was living with people who talked quietly and listened to each other. People who gave each other space. People who lived simply and graciously.
It's strange really. How often in life do you get to be part of another family? A family that is different to your own? Maybe you get occasional glimpses when you to stay with friends or relatives. It's a great experience, one that opens up your eyes to other possibilities.
The family I lived with had a daughter my age but she didn't live at home. She was so brilliant; she'd completed all of her year 11 and 12 subjects in one year and had gone off to uni. I'd always had this idea that brilliant people were brilliant and you did the minimum you needed to get by. Suddenly, the idea penetrated my thick head that people didn't get these things just by natural talent. People got these things through hard work and dedication. That was an eye opener.
More than that, I was living with people who didn't care much for food. They had simple, healthy meals but their lives didn't revolve around eating. One time, I was talking to the father. He explained that the daughter who'd gone off to uni had decided she wanted to try to live without sugar, just as a test of herself. If I wanted to try it, they still had many of the foods she'd bought for it. That was the kind of people they were – that they could say something like that without implying that I needed to change and without making me feel embarrassed.
I got my shit together and studied and passed all my subjects.
I moved back home and went on the dole. Suddenly I had money to spend. I bought clothes and got bad perms. I had been planning to go to uni to study economics but my family couldn't afford to send me and I couldn't get money to go because they earned too much. Instead I bummed around at home, putting uni off for a while. I went to see bands like Australian Crawl and the Divinyls and Goanna. I laughed at girls in "Choose Life" t-shirts. I'd go to the disco at the local pub and, at the end of the night, when I was drunk and maudlin, I'd look at all the guys that ignored me or treated me like a mate but who'd pair off with the thinner girls at the end of the night, and vow that one day I'd be thin. Those vows would last until my next meal. Sometimes I'd get up early and go to the local pool for a swim but then I'd get home and go back to bed until it was time to eat. I went back to school and did art with my old teacher and he convinced me that I should study art instead of economics.
At the end of the year, I enrolled in a Fine Arts course, but changed my mind at the last minute. If I spent another year at home, I'd get full Austudy as an independent student and could live on that without any help from my parents. Mum had told that while they'd help me out if I studied economics, I'd get no help if I wanted to do fine arts.
My reign of sloth came to an abrupt end with one quick phone call. My sister and I had put our names down for work at a local factory months before and never heard a thing. We'd done it mainly to shut mum up when she lectured us about not looking for work and so we'd have something to put on our dole forms. Now they wanted me and my sister to come in and work. My mum and dad laughed, saying we wouldn't last at day, the work would kill us.
The first day it nearly did. Every muscle in my body ached. I couldn't imagine how I was going to spend another hour on my feet, pushing myself so hard let alone another day or another week. The only thing that stopped me walking out was having to go home and tell my parents they were right. I got home and ran a bath to soak away the aches then went straight to bed and slept for 13 hours.
After a few weeks, I got used to it. Then I got paid and I realised I loved it. I couldn’t work enough. I worked seven days a week, keeping quiet every time my supervisor asked whose turn it was for a day off. In the end, my mum saw my supervisor in the supermarket and told her I had to have some time off work because I'd been working without a break for weeks. I was so mad at her because I wanted the money. I was making money faster than I could spend it – for the first and only time in my life.
My sister got a job at the local school and left the factory. I made friends with a girl I worked with. She was the same size as me and we discovered a groovy big size clothes shop. So I had decent clothes and a partner in crime. Diets were ignored in favour of good times. I wasn't losing weight, but I wasn't gaining either and the thought of dieting was the last thing on my mind. I was overweight, but not exactly obese. Because we worked in a factory, we could maintain our weight just from being on our feet all day. I look at photos of myself back then and I looked good. I was young and healthy and full of life. I spent a lot of money on myself – my hair, my face, my clothes.
I got involved with one of the guys from work and went out with him a few times. I really liked him and I thought he liked me. Then suddenly he stopped talking to me or acknowledging my existence. I was devastated and confronted him about it. He looked at me and said, "Why don't you go to Jenny Craig for a few weeks then I'll think about going out with you?" What an arsehole.
I bought my first car, a white Ford XY. I loved that car. I had freedom and a means of escape.
When I was 19, Jay died of cancer. I was so angry and I stayed angry for a long time. This wasn’t a random anger – raging at life and fate and God – I was angry with her.
She used to tell me, in those late night confessional conversations that best friend have, that she would die before she turned 20. Her whole family was “riddled with cancer”, it killed someone every year. She believed it so strongly, and so it happened. I blamed her. To me it was as though she had talked herself into it, that she had let herself die. Who knows? The human mind is a powerful thing. If you grow up thinking, not just thinking but believing, you will die…
I didn’t go to her funeral. My mum couldn’t understand, but how do you explain something like that. And, in those confessional conversations, she’d made me promise not to go to her funeral anyway.
At the end of the year, it was time to leave. I had the idea in my head that if I didn't get out and go to uni then, I never would. Suddenly, everything began to fall into place. A friend of my sister's organised for me to stay with her mum who lived near the uni. Her mum would be glad of the company for a while and I'd have time to sort out my living arrangements.
I finished up at work and said goodbye to my home town, knowing I'd only ever go back there to visit, and headed off to Even Bigger Smoke to get my degree.
Just read your "story". You are able to tell your life story so well, it should be published! Thankyou for sharing it with us.
Thanks for such an honest post of your story - it is really fascinating reading about the child hoods other people have.
I agree with Suzy, u write fantasticly, I enjoyed reading your story. Sounds like you went through some ordeals, thanks for sharing your story
I had a very similar time of things from the sounds of it. It was therapeutic to read and, I can imagine it was for you to write it out. Look forward to following your story.
OMG you had me so totally enthralled, I am late to pick up my husband!
I am often left speechless after one of your posts. Not because I can't think but because I'm thinking too much and the words get all jumbled when I want to write them down. I want to tell you that some guys are dickheads, and arseholes (girls too) and that we all meet them in some way but I want to tell you that you are strong and fiesty and you have come out on top and those morons who were nasty and foul are just going to get what they deserved - NOTHING..
boobs: 100 cm
waist: 81 cm
hips: 109 cm
thighs: 50 cm
Weekly Goal Lifestyle Changing Challenge-A-Rama
Week 1 - Drink more water
Week 2 - Cut out sugary treats