Monday, July 20, 2009

Karma Is Far More Demanding and Far Less Forgiving Than I

As you know, I recently attended my high school reunion, to which I wore two pairs of Spanx and control top tights. As crazy as this was (I didn't wear something that was so tight that I needed all that reinforcement) I explained my choice as follows: I have issues and I was about to set foot in a room full of people who gave me these issues. Of course, this wasn't completely fair to the people with whom I attended high school because my issues were already in full swing by the time I encountered most of them.

When I was around six years old, there was a girl in my class, I will call her Sarah (this was not her name, but for the purposes of this story, it will serve. Her name is, ultimately, irrelevant). She was a year older than me (as you may recall, I went to a Montessori school where we had three age groups in each class--3-6, 6-9, 9-12). I have few recollections of her besides the fact that we sometimes wore our hair the same way and she seemed to like to tease people. However, there is one memory of her which has stuck with me all these years and for which, I felt, the universe would be punishing her at some point.

When I was seven or eight, she once came up to me and asked me how much I weighed. I wasn't sure (there was a scale at home and I had stood on it, but I really hadn't paid attention to what the number was), so I guessed and said 60 pounds. She proceeded to go on and on about how fat I was and how disgusting it was that I should weigh 60 whole pounds. I was ashamed and, when I went home, I remember weighing myself (I think I weighed something like 65 pounds, which horrified me even more) and I recall crying to my mother that I hoped that, someday soon, Sarah would weigh 70, 80, 90 pounds. My mom couldn't understand what my problem was and just told me to stop caring what other people weighed (while this was probably not the right response from my mom, looking at photos of me from this time, I can understand it. I was a tall, skinny kid and I am sure she found it impossible that anyone, large or small, would be calling me fat). This memory has stuck with me because it was not long after that I started to gain weight and then changed schools and hit puberty and, before I knew it, I had a weight problem and an eating disorder. Even though I know that many factors contributed to my hatred of my thighs and me sticking my finger down my throat, a small voice in my head wonders what might have happened if Sarah (not her real name) had kept her mean mouth shut thirty years ago.

Of course, a much larger, more mature voice in my head wonders what poor Sarah must have been hearing at home for her to spread such poison at school.

So, the other day, I was talking to my former 6-9 teacher about Facebook and she mentioned that Sarah had contacted her. She mentioned that the whole message Sarah sent was about being off her diet and then she showed me Sarah's picture, commenting that Sarah had never been a very pretty girl. I blurted out that Sarah was responsible for setting me on the road to having an eating disorder and proceeded to tell a condensed version of what had happened. The thing was that as I was telling the story, I was looking at pictures of Sarah and I couldn't help feeling a bit bad. I felt I was being indiscreet to mention it and that it was pathetic of me for this to be my most salient memory of this girl. I was sure the other women in the office were judging me negatively for talking about this. But what made me feel really guilty was that, above all else, I felt vindicated as I looked at her pictures, thinking that on the most shallow level, I had beaten her at her game.

In some ways, it is terribly satisfying to find out the universe is far crueler than one ever suspected. However, it also makes one feel contrite because, of course, one never really wanted the other person to suffer that much. Yes, when I was eight, I wanted Sarah to feel fat and bad about herself because she made me feel fat and bad about myself. But, as I said, a kid doesn't come up with this stuff on their own, they learn it from someone, and it is a safe bet that Sarah picked on me because she needed to feel superior to someone and, for whatever reason, I was a good target. For all I know, she may have done this to all the girls in our class, but I may be the only person who remembers it because I may have been the only person with whom it resonated. And, really, this is not enough, in and of itself, to cause someone to have an eating disorder. As I said, she started me on the road, but it was long road. Not to mention that for all my issues, my road took a healthy turn many years ago and I am relatively stable and healthy. Looking at her adult pictures confirms that she has a far worse relationship with her body and with food than I do (or ever did), that she is not in a happy or healthy place, and this must have started long before she ever decided to talk to me about my weight. So while it would be nice to say that she is the victim of karmic retribution, I feel the punishment is far crueler than the crime or even that she was being punished long before she committed the crime. It is hard not to feel bad about wishing her ill.

Of course, if there is ever a reunion of my 6-9 class from my Montessori school, I won't be foregoing the many layers of compressing undergarments. Seriously, just because I believe that who people are on the inside is more important than how they look on the outside doesn't mean I am capable of cutting myself any slack with regards to appearance. I feel shallow for caring about appearance and but I still feel triumphant (even now, after writing all this) that I am a prettier and skinnier adult. Intellectually, I know that no one notices these things, but emotionally, I am still girl who thinks people are judging her because of a number on a scale. No amount of karma can make that go away.

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