Where Have I Gone?

I’ve talked before about the Thin Bubble. It’s that air of civility that surrounds thin people and colors how they see the world, and how the world sees them. If you’ve been thin all your life, you’ve probably never noticed it. People accord you basic civility every day, and you believe that’s just how the world is. But if you’re fat, you know that it’s not how it works for everyone.

When I was in my late 20s, I lost a great deal of weight. I got down to what would be considered a “normal” weight for my height, and for the first time, I experienced life inside the Thin Bubble. I’m not talking about people finding me sexually attractive – that’s an entirely different thing. This is much more basic and mundane. Service workers now greeted me when I came into a shop. Strangers smiled at me and greeted me. But at that point in my life, I was married and running a daycare, so it’s not like I was out in public much.

Then I had another baby, and put on weight. And put on more weight. And before I knew it, I was back to where I had started, plus some (anyone who’s fat knows exactly how this goes). I went back to being invisible – to having service workers look right through me, to being able to walk into a crowd of people and have no one meet my eye.

Now, twenty years later, I’ve lost weight again, and things have changed dramatically. I’ve never been any great beauty – I’ve known that all my life. And now that I’m solidly average in every way, I’m a very different kind of invisible. When I was large, people looked at me and their minds said “unacceptable” and filtered me from their perception. For purposes of, say, navigating around me in a crowded room, I registered as something like a piece of furniture. The physical fact of me was undeniable.

Nowadays, I walk to work most days, and once I’m at work, I break for lunch or to go to the post office, which involved walking through downtown. And every day, people bump into me and act as though I sprang up right in front of them. I’ve had people look right at me, bump into me, and then look surprised. At least twice, I’ve nearly been hit by cars whose drivers looked at me in the crosswalk and started forward anyway. I am now so average that I am functionally invisible.

I never for a moment thought that I’d be leered at in the street or propositioned by strangers, but I never realized I’d disappear entirely. Now part of me is wondering if I need to change my demeanor. Become one of those people who greets everyone they pass in the street. Someone who waves at passing cars. Someone who calls out to people from halfway down the block. But honestly, that kind of behavior – having to engage with literally every person I encounter – would be a nightmare. I couldn’t do it. Which means that either I never leave the house, or I learn to live with being invisible.

All my life, all I wanted to be was invisible. It’s not what I thought it would be.

Post-Surgery Update: Part 2

I’ve put this off for a while, partly because my feelings about the aftermath of the surgery are complicated, and partly because some of the fallout is still going on.

Once the drains were out (which normally takes two weeks, but for me took a month), I thought things would finally begin to heal. I was wrong.

The first indication of trouble was that the intersection of the two huge incisions on my stomach began to open up. First it was a tiny hole, then a series of tiny holes, then one big hole, leaking yellowish/greenish fluid (there is no better color to say “this isn’t a good thing”). The surgeon thought it was pseudomonas, a fairly common post-surgical infection normally cured with the antibiotic Cipro. I took the Cipro for ten days…nothing. Another ten days…nothing. Another ten days…nothing.

By this time, I had moved. Going to my surgeon’s office twice a week for him to look at me for five minutes and swear I was getting better wasn’t an option anymore. I went to my regular doctor, who cultured the wound (which had now become three wounds at different points along the incision). It turned out to be actinomycosis, an infection so rare that neither my regular doctor nor my surgeon had ever seen a case of it. I was referred to an infectious disease specialist, who confirmed the diagnosis. The treatment is a LONG course of penicillin.

It’s the end of July now, so it’s been nearly six months since my surgery. I’ve been on penicillin for two and a half months, and I’ll be on it for at least another four months. Probably longer. The infectious disease specialist said that actinomyces is a really slow-growing bacteria, but that means it’s also slow to cure. And it’s hard to tell how things are going – the disgusting discharge has slowed, but I now have about twelve open wounds across my lower stomach, with new ones opening up occasionally.

Was it so bad?

There are so many things about this surgery that didn’t turn out the way I was hoping. The first is that I had specifically asked my surgeon to remove my belly button. There’s a complicated reason for this that I won’t go into here, but I made myself very, very clear. He ignored me. What I have now is a wrinkle of skin a good 4″ higher than my belly button should be, in the middle of a bunch of other scarring. It looks like what it is – a mistake. The second is that the loose skin I thought he would remove from the backs of my thighs is still there. My buttocks look like deflated balloons. And the disgusting, leaking, yellowy-green cherry on this botched meat cake is the line of open wounds along my lower abdomen.

I know far more about wound care than I ever thought I would. There’s now a shelf above my dresser that’s full of nothing but combine pads (they’re thick, 5″x9″ surgical pads), surgical sponges (normal people would call them gauze), and prescription antibiotic spray. The amount of medical waste I generate is embarrassing, because the wound dressings have to be changed at least twice a day, and medical stuff is all individually-wrapped for sterility.

All this drama has meant that it’s taking me a lot longer to process the emotions than I think it should have. I’m finally coming around to feeling okay about how I look in clothes. It’s still a surprise to me that I now fit in easy-to-find, off the rack clothes, and post-surgery, they fit the way I expect them to. It’s now been nearly three years since I had my bariatric surgery, and I haven’t experienced the weight rebound a lot of people experience. I weigh myself daily, and it’s been within a few pounds for the last year and a half. My bariatric surgeon, my regular doctor, and my other surgeon all say this bodes very well for my long-term success. So, that’s a victory.

I wonder how long it’ll be before the good feelings outweigh the bad regarding this whole exercise. We’ll see.

Two-Month Update Part 1: Immediate Post-Surgery

I had skin surgery on the 1st of February. I had a huge amount of trepidation in the lead up to the event, and not without reason.

This wasn’t done at a hospital. It was done at a “surgery center,” which is where you do your surgeries if you’re a surgeon who doesn’t want to do all the other stuff one has to do to have hospital privileges – things like spending hours doing rounds and filling in paperwork.The consequence of having surgery in not-a-hospital is that there is no such thing as an overnight stay for observation. I was sent home a few hours after major surgery.

The good thing is that hospitals are not restful places. Between the noisiness of the surroundings, the smells, and the constant intrusion of staff taking your vitals, bringing meals, and cleaning, sleep is not really happening. The bad thing is that if I had a reaction or needed anything I didn’t have in the house, I couldn’t just ring the nurse and have it addressed.

I didn’t even really see my incisions for a week. I was sent home in a cross between a corset and one of those elastic and velcro knee wraps – a thing that wrapped my entire torso tightly in a thick layer of stretchy fabric. It was hot, itchy, and uncomfortable. I suspect it contained latex (to which I’m allergic, although no one asked me about it before the surgery) because I have what look like burn marks in places where it directly touched my skin. I wasn’t allowed to remove the wrap, change my dressings, or shower for a week. A lot of sponge baths happened, but they never felt quite adequate.

My surgery was complicated in scope: not just the normal “tummy tuck,” where they make an incision from hip to hip, pull the skin down, cut off the excess, and sew you back up leaving you with a smile-shaped scar across your lower abdomen. My surgery meant one incision from the bottom of my sternum to my pubis that intersected with another incision from one hipbone to the other. But, as they say in the infomercials, that’s not all! He also did a thigh lift, which involves making one incision nearly all the way around the circumference of the top of the thigh and another incision on the inside of my thigh from the groin to about three inches above the knee. That’s six incisions, each at least 12″ long, all around my body.

I had two surgical drains to take away the excess fluids (they’re called Jackson-Pratt drains, and I don’t want to link to them because they’re gross) that had to be emptied twice a day and the amount of fluid recorded. It’s disgusting, the effluvium smells weird, and I couldn’t just drain them, I had to pour the liquid into a graduated cylinder to measure it. Having the tubes inserted right at the outside of my hips meant that there was no way I could recline that wasn’t resting on staples or the insertion point of the tubes. This is what opioid painkillers were created for.

The abdominal incisions were closed with dissolving sutures and glue, the leg incisions by dissolving sutures and STAPLES. Yes, I had over 100 staples holding my skin together around the tops and insides of my thighs. It took two weeks to have the staples removed, by which time the pain of having those staples removed paled in comparison to the aggravation of having them in. Once I was able to shower, the glue of the abdominal incisions came away in bits over time.

The drains were the last thing to go. Most people have them removed after two weeks, but I’m a special, special snowflake and got to keep mine for an entire month. I saw the surgeon twice a week, each time showing him the records I was keeping and hoping that today was the day I’d get the drains removed. I suspect that he removed them after a month, not because the drainage had stopped, but because leaving them in much longer would somehow lead to a bad outcome.

Once the drains were out, I was sent out into the world in an uncomfortable, and yet strangely sexy, compression garment. I thought the hard part was over.

The Next Step

The Lead Up

In thirteen hours, I take the next step in this whole bariatric process. Back in September, I went to a follow-up with my bariatric surgeon and asked when I should think about getting all the extra skin removed, and he said now would be the right time. He said he recommended it as the final step in the journey.

That was the first shock. For some reason, I had gotten it into my mind that skin surgery, the step that would take off a bag of fatty skin from my lower abdomen that’s been there since before I was 20, was something I had to earn. What did “earn” mean, though? I’ve already lost over 100 pounds. My weight has been steady for months without the rebound I’ve heard of from others. What else did I think I needed to do?

Nearly 20 years ago, I tried getting a tummy tuck. I went to a surgeon who first told me I needed to lose another 20 pounds. He said that weight loss for people “my age” was nearly impossible, though.

I was 36.

I lost the weight and paid him far more than I could afford for the surgery, and instead of doing an abdominoplasty, he did liposuction on my inner thighs and under my breasts. It wasn’t what I asked for, it wasn’t what I paid for, and at the time, I didn’t know what to do. I never talked about it, I tried not to think about it, and to this day, I have a hard time thinking about it. Every part of that experience was deeply damaging, starting with this man’s dismissive assertion that I’d never be able to lose weight, and that what I wanted was not just a waste of time, but an outcome I didn’t deserve.

I went into the entire bariatric surgery thing knowing that I’d be facing this scenario at some point. What I have on my side is many more years of life experience, and a good grip on the knowledge that what happened to me the last time should never have happened to anyone. If the statute of limitations on medical malpractice hadn’t long since run out, I would have sued this man for everything he was worth (which would have been a whole lot financially and very little morally).

But this leaves me in such a weird place. In twelve and a half hours, I’m having the surgery I wanted decades ago.

The Next Few Hours

But that’s not the only thing freaking me out. The other thing is the surgery itself.

The doctor came highly recommended, and I’m sure I’m in good hands, but this will be the fourth abdominal surgery I’ve had. I had my tubes tied after my younger daughter was born, I had an emergency gallbladder removal, and then bariatric surgery. After every one of them, I was in a lot of pain. When you can’t use your abs, anything that involves changing position is hard. Standing to sitting, sitting to lying, lying to sitting, sitting to standing, agony to agony. In a perfect world, I’d be able to stand on a step with my back against a soft surface, and the entire thing would gently lean back until I was lying down. Not going to happen.

The anticipation of pain is a punishment all by itself and is the basis of many forms of torture. It’s why I believe most doctors avoid the use of words like “pain” and “hurt.” Most doctors will come at you with a bone saw and tell you that as they take your leg, you’ll feel “discomfort.” But this doctor has told me more than once that this procedure is “very painful.” It wasn’t just the one time he said it during the initial consultation. There was also the several times he said it during the second consultation. And the eight million times it was mentioned in the sheaf of paperwork I had to sign in the pre-op appointment. These people want to make sure I know this is going to hurt. A lot.

Into the Future

This is the final step toward becoming something I’ve never been. As of tomorrow, I will be yet another size and shape. There are certain clothes I haven’t worn because they just don’t look right, and this surgery will remedy that. It will make finding bathings suits and skirts that fit easier. It’ll mean that I won’t be dressing around the one part of my body that’s still out of proportion.

This is it. The last step. The last thing I have to do. Apart from the familiar maintenance of eating right and getting enough exercise, this is the last step toward a goal that I’ve realized is always going to hover on the horizon.

Fictional Normal

I just got back from a two-week cruise. I could tell you about the surreality of no longer being camera shy (as though not having my picture taken would hide the fact that I was fat), or the subtle shifts in how I viewed my fellow passengers, but what I want to focus on is the food.

There are two types of dining on a cruise. The first is the all-you-can-eat kind (which some passengers seem to take as a personal challenge) and there is the sit-down kind. Our evening meals were all the sit-down kind with the same two servers, so we got to know them quite well. The dinner menus were normally two or three appetizer selections, a few soup and salad options, several entrees, and a few desserts. I normally ordered either an appetizer or salad, and an entree, and then dessert. Every time, I would eat a few bites of the dish and be ready for the next one. It took a week to convince our servers that this was just how I eat. I was never going to finish anything, and I didn’t appreciate being harangued to keep eating. Yes, the food was excellent. No, I wasn’t going to have any more.

At the all-you-can-eat places (the breakfast/lunch buffets and the fast-food type places near the pool), I realized that I no longer felt self-conscious about going up and getting an ice cream cone or plate of fries. I was going to eat what I was going to eat, and didn’t particularly care what anyone thought about it. I was surprised, though, at the number of people who piled their plates full at every meal, and then sat there looking miserable as they ate. If food is your comfort, shouldn’t you at least enjoy it?

Here’s where things got weird. Over the course of two weeks, I gained weight just like a lot of people do. And by “gained weight,” I mean that I was .1 pounds over my normal range. In the past, I would likely have gained at least 5 pounds while on vacation, and I would have done what everyone does: I would have stopped eating and started working out 12 hours a day. And in the past, I would have either lost none of the weight, or actually gained another pound or two. That was the reality I dealt with, and the whole time, I was angry that I wasn’t “normal.” “Normal” people didn’t gain five pounds on vacation. “Normal” people lose the five pounds once they get back. (I know this isn’t necessarily true – but in my mind, this was how it worked for everyone who wasn’t me.)

When I got back, my eating habits went back to what they always are when I’m at home, as did my exercise routine. And just like that, my weight was back to what I usually expect. I’m now what I used to think of as “normal.” But am I?

I’m starting to realize that the reality I experienced before was much closer to normal than the one I experience now. That not everyone can step back into their normal lives and lose their vacation weight in a week. But I also realize that I had been sold a lie by a commercial culture whose main aim is to get me to hate myself enough to buy endless products to improve myself. The “normal” I had aimed for was a fantasy that I would never have achieved on my own. In so many ways – from the variety of clothing options available to me to the way I do my grocery shopping – the definition of “normal” has changed radically for me. “Normal” is a fiction used to make me feel like I’m not part of the group, and that I should want to be.

I don’t want to be part of the group, especially any group whose main focus is how I look. I don’t think anyone should be subjected to that. The way to break out of that mentality is to first recognize that if your definition of “normal” comes from outside yourself – from the media or your social group or even your family – it’s fictional. Normal comes from inside yourself. Normal is where you feel healthy and comfortable in your own skin. It should never be anything else.

Moving the Needle

You’ve heard me say it before – the rules regarding diet and exercise are different if you’re fat. How many times did I exercise until I injured myself and diet until I felt faint, only to watch the scale fail to move, or worse, go up? Even my husband, who truly believed the “just make calories in less than calories out” lie, couldn’t believe it when I showed him that at the end of a week, the scale had crept up another two pounds.

Cut to now. For the last few weeks, my weight has settled into a range between 142.5 and 144.5. I weigh myself every day, and on those days I’m toward the top end, I limit my carb intake and when I’m at the lower end, I don’t worry about it. I always keep in mind the advice I received before surgery: Stop eating when you lose interest, not when you’re full.

Then came a day when I realized that I had eaten my normal yogurt breakfast, then a dozen graham crackers between breakfast and my lunch salad, then jellybeans until I had a whacking sugar headache. What the hell was I doing?

I needed to figure out a better way to deal with that cycle, otherwise I’d be right back where I started.

First, I stepped back. What’s going on with me? We’ve had some stressful uncertainty lately, and I realized that the stress was making me eat too much of all the wrong foods.

Second, I talked to someone about my anxiety. I admitted that I was terrified of having to move again, knowing that we would likely move to a place that was smaller and less well-situated. I was losing patience and hope about the rebuild – everything is taking months longer than it should. And also, I need to buy a formal for some upcoming events, and I’m terrified that, given my history, I’ll buy a dress and by the time I need it, it won’t fit.

Third, I took the time to address the sources of the anxiety. I increased my depression medication. I wrote to my county supervisor about the permit situation. I signed a lease for another year on this house, with the understanding that we may leave sooner than a year (but no sooner than 7 months). I know that I am exercising every day, with Sundays off. I acknowledged that I have the support of my family in eating a healthy, balanced diet, so there was no reason for my weight to go up.

Fourth, I took a day off. I have the privilege of not having to work, so I slept in. I took my time over my morning tea. I sat on the couch watching crappy television and doing crochet. I let the mental break sink in and remind me that nothing is on fire, nobody’s bleeding, and we’re not going to be thrown into the street tomorrow. I am fine.

After my day off, I had my normal routine: wake up, weigh myself, hit the stationary bike. When I stepped on the scale, my weight was down half a pound from the day before – down to 143.2 – still in the good range.

Back when I was nearing 250 pounds, this would be about the time that the scale would have started creeping up, not just because I would have been stress eating, but because my metabolism was trying to protect me from the danger by hanging on to every calorie. I would panic, exercise like crazy and stop eating in an effort to lose weight and when it backfired, I’d say “Fuck it, it’s futile, I may as well have some pizza.”

Now, even modest changes will move the scale in the direction I want it to go, and when that happens, I feel encouraged and continue to drink a lot of water, snack on fruit, and get on the bike every morning. I feel that I cannot say it often enough: weight loss works differently for fat people vs. thin people. As of this morning, I’m at 141 even.

A Soupçon of Delight

As we all know, I am a slave to lists.

I list everything I need to do, both personally (laundry, call my aunt) and professionally (create a new web page, send some emails). Rather than check them off as I complete them (because that’s hard to see at a glance), I highlight each completed task. But remember – this is me. I can’t just use whatever highlighter comes to hand.

First, I buy a multipack of highlighters. I prefer the liquid kind with a little window that lets you see when it’s running out. The pack has to have between five and eight colors – four or less is too few, nine or more is too many. Next, each one is assigned a number. There is no logic to this – sometimes it’s whatever order they came in the package, sometimes it’s in rainbow order, most recently I had my mother close her eyes and pick them out of my hands. The number is recorded on the cap where it is easily visible. Each Monday, I exchange the current highlighter for the next one.

Once they’ve been assigned numbers, the highlighters become one consolidated thing, like a jigsaw puzzle. And you know what happens once you lose a piece of a jigsaw puzzle, don’t you?

Maybe for you, it’s not that big a deal. You just know that Monet’s Water Lilies has a single blue and green piece missing from the upper left corner. You know it’s probably under the couch, but it’s just not worth the hassle to move the couch, look between the cushions, whatever. It doesn’t bother you. But you are not I.

For me, once a puzzle is missing a piece, it’s garbage. It’s as though a single piece out of the 1500 holds the interpretive key to the whole. It is damaged beyond saving. This is also at the heart of why I hate the puzzle piece image for autism – to me it implies brokenness, uselessness. I’m not missing anything – I have fucking superpowers compared to a lot of people.

Back to the highlighters. Once one of the set is used up, lost, or damaged, the whole set goes. You don’t need to tell me it’s wasteful. You don’t need to tell me it’s illogical. I know. But knowing is different than feeling, isn’t it?

So, six weeks ago, when the purple highlighter (#6 in the current set) went missing, I went into a bit of a panic. I cleaned my entire office. I turned my bedroom upside down. I looked in every disgusting nook and cranny of my car. I grilled my family, who all know better than to casually borrow something as precious as my highlighters. This particular set only has six, so I have been telling myself for three weeks that it’s okay if I don’t find it. I can just pretend this set only had five, and go back to the first color.

It’s funny how we lie to ourselves.

I had put “get new highlighters” on my list last week, sure that Mr. Purple was gone forever. Then I got out my weekend bag to take a trip to the Highland Games. As I was putting my list book, my other notebook, the loose sheets of paper on which I make notes, two pens just in case one runs out, two extra pen cartridges just in case the two pens both run out (even I am looking at this and rolling my eyes)…I found the purple pen. Six weeks ago, my husband and I had done a little writing/piping retreat, so of course I had taken it and forgotten it in the suitcase.

So now I’m literally dancing around in the kitchen, laughing and celebrating the homecoming of Mr. Purple. True, he was technically in the house the entire time, but still, it was 42 long days separated from his family, and we were all mourning him. So, please join me, Ms. Green, Mr. Yellow, Missus Blue, Mx. Orange, and Señor Pink in welcoming our friend home. Life wouldn’t have been the same without Mr. Purple.

A Year in My Head

I was looking through my memories on Facebook and found this from a year ago (two weeks after losing my house in a fire):

“…Everyone, to include my psychiatrist, has remarked on how well I’m doing. How together I have things. How resilient I’m being. Here’s what’s going on inside: When things are apocalyptic (my house is gone, the plague is making a resurgence, Trump has largely dismantled our government) the only solace I have is routine. I make lists. I check things off my list. I pick one task at a time, and do the thing. I take meetings where I focus on the task at hand, because that keeps me from dwelling on things that are out of my control – when we’ll be able to even go and look through the wreckage, what might be left, etc. If I’m not working, that’s all I have – thinking about my nonexistent house.

I am overstimulated to the point of collapse. Everyone eats too loudly. Too much light in my mother’s spare bedroom. The dining room table is too high (why does my tiny little mother have a bar-height dining table??). There isn’t anyplace I can sit comfortably and work. Those things are hard, but moaning about it won’t change them – they are my reality for the next few months. I’m hoping that by then, we’ll have worked out a lot of the kinks and I can feel productive….”

That was the day my therapist basically said to me “of course you’re on the spectrum – what did you think?” For a year now, I have been evaluating things in a very different light. At the time I wrote that, I felt like a raw nerve. When I get stressed, life looks like a fight on the old Batman tv show.

Everything is too bright, too loud, too fast. When I’m stressed, I feel everything in my skin in a way I’ve never tried to describe, but I always think of it as being “negatively charged.” Not only do I not want anything to touch my skin because it’s so hypersensitive that any touch is painful, but even sounds, bright lights, and unpleasant smells create a physical sensation that, because I cannot properly express exactly what’s wrong, makes me go directly to crying. It’s like being an infant in an uncomfortable diaper – I am inconsolable, but unable to communicate the source of my distress.

Six weeks after losing my house, my husband and I moved into a rental about 30 minutes from our old house. It’s on a quiet street in a wealthy suburb, so the houses are on large lots and everything in our neighborhood is quiet and tidy.

And yet, the feeling of discomfort persists. Every time I leave the house, it’s like I can physically feel the neighbors’ eyes on me, and in my mind, they’re judging me for going out so often. And every time, I have to say to myself “I used to have a [whatever I’m going out for], and I need it!” As though I need their approval to buy a new ladle or laundry basket or lamp. I feel defensive, even though in reality, our neighbors have been nothing but wonderful to us.

This is my constant battle: I don’t want to let anyone down. Ever. In any way. Even when they expect nothing from me. I also am constantly on the edge of a complete breakdown.

I keep that breakdown at bay with lists, spreadsheets, and as much routine as I’m capable of creating (another by-product of my brain – I am unable to create habits of any kind). But every interaction with another person puts a little wobble in the balance I’m trying to create. What did they mean by that? Does that wave mean they want me to talk to them, or can I keep walking? How good of an excuse do I need to get out of going to their party/taking their phone call/helping them with their project?

I am often told that I have everything together, that I am someone that people look up to for my ability to organize. I understand that it is always meant as a compliment, but each bit of praise for my ability to keep myself from exploding in a cloud of anger and despair is another expectation I have to meet. To lose my shit, to fail, to be unable to do something would be to let someone down, and that’s the thing I fear more than anything.

This is what it looks like in my head – an immense mountain made of individual grains of fear, anxiety, depression, and confusion being separated into manageable piles with a pair of tweezers.

Everything Is Ugly

I mentioned in my last post that finding clothing is hard. I’ve always had a distinct sense of style (nearly all of my clothes are black, white, or red; I like close-fitting more than flowy or loose; I like something dramatic like diagonal cuts, metal buttons, or bold prints), so it’s not like I’m going to the store thinking “I would like a new pair of pants. Let’s see what’s on offer.”

Back when I was a size 20/22, there were only a few stores I could shop at – Lane Bryant, Torrid, Universal Standard, Ashley Stewart. When you’re a larger person, finding clothes that fit can be tricky, since fat tends to spread itself unevenly around a body, so each configuration is unique. When I went clothes shopping, it was always a treasure hunt: where in this conglomeration of clothes was something that fit? Once that was narrowed down, it was a matter of choosing the thing I liked most or, more often, the thing I hated least.

Only now that I am an easier-to-fit size do I realize how ugly most clothing is.

Part of that judgment is a hatred of “fast fashion,” mostly sold in stores that cater to younger people who have both a limited budget and a desire to keep up with trends. The fabrics are usually thin and cheap, the construction is shoddy, and the colors are often offensive. Bile green? Really?

At the other end of the spectrum are the higher-end mall clothing stores also targeted at younger people, but in a much higher income bracket. In these stores, the clothes all look alike, change very little from season to season (the waistband gets marginally higher or lower, the leg length or circumference changes a bit, the plaid patterns vary) but the clothes are outrageously priced and the stores surround themselves with a nimbus of fragrance that makes them impossible to approach. The people who shop at those stores tend to conform with the norms of their social set so much that they look like flocks of birds feeding, running, flying in unison.

If one is older, there are other stores at the mall, and most of them carry clothes that remind me of stuff my mother would wear. My mother who’s 80 years old. And has great-grandchildren. Not that my mother has terrible taste, but her clothes tend to run toward the strictly practical. I’m all for a clog or a hiking boot in their place, but they’re not my go-to.

This proliferation of clothes I would never wear is something I didn’t expect back when my options were more limited. It’s like being vegan at a crappy restaurant where your only choice is the french fries and not realizing that all the food sucks.

One of my (many) ex-husbands told me once that I’d be happier if I lowered my standards, but I think he formulated that idea incorrectly. If my standards were already lower, I would probably be happier with the choices I have. The problem is that since I have high standards, lowering them wouldn’t make me happier. It would mean that I’d have more options, plus a lifetime of self loathing from knowing I can do better.

I don’t want that. All I want is the perfect pair of pants. I know it’s out there.

A Country Where I’ve Never Been

I had a meeting with my bariatric surgeon. It’s only my second since the pandemic began, although I was supposed to check in twice a year. I reported my weight to him (142.6 as of that morning) and told him I had been stable, plus or minus about a pound and a half, for the last couple of months.

I’ve been struggling with the idea of having the excess skin from my abdomen, buttocks, and thighs removed. Right now, it looks like a deflated balloon – sort of limp and slack. It’s never going to go back, in no small part because I have never, even for one single day of my entire life, had a flat stomach. No matter how thin I’ve been, I’ve always had a flap of fat hanging off my stomach like an apron. I come by it honestly – my grandmother had the same thing, which she always called her “panza.”

I asked my bariatric surgeon how long I should wait before getting skin surgery, and he said now would be the perfect time. I don’t know why, but hearing from my surgeon not just that I should get the surgery now, but that he considered it the last step of the entire process, made me feel a lot better about it.

Now comes the really mind-bending part. At the age of 56, I will be getting a body that I’ve been wishing for since puberty. I’ll be able to wear any bathing suit I want. I’ll weigh less than I did in high school. I will wear an adult clothing size I’ve never worn.

Before the bariatric surgery, I wasn’t sure how my life would change. It has changed, but not a lot. And I’m wondering if it will change any more once I have skin surgery. Here are the biggest surprises from “I’m now 100 pounds lighter.”

  • When I find something really cute at a store, chances are better than even they won’t have it in my size. When I was heavier I never found clothes in my size because high-end stores didn’t carry them. Now it’s because they’ve sold out.
  • It doesn’t matter how great I look in clothes – my gray hair means that no one’s staring when I walk down the street.
  • Nothing ever fits quite right. It doesn’t matter what size you are, there is no way to buy clothes off the rack and have them fit perfectly. The places they’re too tight or too loose may change, but the lack of fit stays the same.
  • I will never have whatever body type is currently fashionable. And that’s okay, because neither does anyone else I know.