An Excerpt from Fat Girl, Skinny: A Memoir

Prologue

The women of Weight Watchers are tough. A gang. The Bloods, the Crips, and the Latin Kings all rolled into one. Sure, we look harmless enough. Ten or fifteen portly women standing like preschoolers in a straight line outside the door, waiting for the loud mouthed receptionist to swing it open and begin to weigh us. But make no mistake about it. If you cross us, if you come to a meeting already thin and complaining about five extra pounds that you have gained over the winter and need to lose before bikini season, we will cut you. We will grab you with our fat little paws, roll you up into a tiny little ball, and kick your skinny ass out of here. Because this is our turf. The basement of the Northeast Pennsylvania Chapter of the Electrical Workers Union, with its mundane pine paneling and shiny medicinal floors, belongs to us every Thursday night from seven until eight fifteen. So, if you have less than ten pounds to lose, stay home. Get a stomach flu, stick your finger down your throat, or swallow a laxative, we don’t care. Just don’t come here.

“Ugh, I feel gross,” says Sherri (with an i).

“You’ll be fine,” says a voice from somewhere in the front of the line.

“ I had a brownie last night and I swear to God it went right to my ass.”

“No, it takes a while to catch up with you. You’ll probably see it next week,” says a different voice.

“I hate this,” sighs Sherri.

FinalCoverWebI am late, as always, so I am all the way at the tail end of the line and can barely hear the riveting retellings of this week’s sins, but I know they are happening. The line snakes around the long thin corridor and is full of women sizing one another up. We smile and greet one another like we are fighters on the same side, sisters in arms, but deep down we are praying for one another’s demise. I am nowhere near as big as she is. Wow, I hope I don’t look like that. Who does she think she is, wearing that kind of top?

There is a certain code of conduct required. You won’t find it in your introductory binder or your new “Getting Started” booklet. You have to become one of us to learn it. For instance, you have to get here early. That’s one of the unspoken rules. If you’re late, you are stuck in a long, very slow moving procession of nerves and anxiety. What you want is a quickie. Hop on the scale, get the good or bad news, leave the money on the counter and move on. The desire to be here first and to avoid the long wait results in a hallway full of overweight women staring at a closed door, clutching their weekly food journals in one hand and thirteen dollars in the other.

It is the middle of December, yet all of us have come dressed as close to naked as we can get without being arrested for indecent exposure. I’m wearing tiny little knit shorts, a tank top, and socks with sandals. You cannot stand barefoot on the scale, another rule. You cannot hear your weight, the specific number, out loud. That is yet another rule. If you do not follow these expectations, you stick out like the new kid in school. We can smell it on you.

When it’s my turn, I hand my book and money over to Joan, an elderly woman with shaky hands and a broad smile. My book is my bible. The list of everything that went into my body this week, with the exception of the Snickers Bar (6 pts) and three Tootsie Rolls (2 pts each) I jammed in my mouth only moments earlier in the car. Joan stamps a red PAID over this week’s date and motions for me to climb onto the scale.

“Wow, down three more pounds, Amye! Nice work! What’s that bring you to now?” she asks loudly, hoping my success will serve as inspiration.

“Um, twenty seven,” I answer, barely able to conceal a smile.

“Twenty seven! Wow! Do you hear that everyone? Amye has lost twenty-seven pounds!” Joan announces to the small room where we have all filtered in and taken off our sandals.

FinalCoverWebThe geniuses at Weight Watchers have developed a super-secret system in which everything has a certain points value based on the calories, fiber, and fat that an item contains. These points then consume your life. I have become obsessed with counting points, calories, and grams of fiber. My dinners come in points now. I have become fluent in points. I can look around and see the points in everything. A hamburger made from lean meat and no cheese, five points. The side of broccoli with one pat of butter, two points. A hot dog, no bun, six points. A banana, two points. Baked chicken, two ounces, three points. A delicious, mouth watering Double Whopper with Cheese, twenty-five points. When I am at the supermarket, I see rows and rows of shiny points. I speak in points. I dream of points. I have become a point. If you cut me open I will bleed points.

My best friend, Georgia, who has only a handful of pounds to lose, has agreed to accompany me on this journey. Together, we have developed a language that only we understand.

Me: I am starving, what can I eat for two points?

Her: Can you use Flex?

Me: Maybe, if I go under tomorrow. How about a granola bar? Her: Too pointy. Can you do a veggie?

Me: Sigh. I guess.

It’s a language that draws confused stares from skinny strangers and smiles of recognition from pudgy women in the grocery store.  The shaky receptionist affixes a golden star to my weigh-in booklet, folds everything nice and tight, and sends me on my way.

I wish I could say I had an epiphany that brought me to Weight Watchers. That I had cared so much about my own body, my own health, and my own well being that I dragged my fat ass to the only place I knew could help me. But that was not the case. I’m here because I’m desperate. I’m here because I have nowhere else to go. I’m here because I need help.

As a teenager, I remember reading a book my mother had that was written by Richard Simmons. He described the event that made him lose weight. Apparently, some well meaning Samaritan who loved him but didn’t have the guts to criticize him, put a note on his car that said something to the effect of “I love you, please don’t die.” This changed his life and inspired him to lose weight and begin helping others lose weight. The story fascinated me, not because of the touching moment in which Simmons realized someone cared about him, but because I always thought to myself: What kind of an asshole would leave a note like that? I wish I had a Richard Simmons story, but the truth is there was no cute moment like that. I have had plenty of events over the years that should have inspired this change but never did.

I have been in a stuffy elevator and had some guy ask me when my baby was due. I have had the people at work call me an elephant and make cow noises when I walked by. I have stared at myself in a full length mirror, while being wedged by two seamstresses into a size 28 wedding dress. I have been told by a doctor that I will almost certainly contract Type II Diabetes. I have been at an amusement park and left a ride line because I was afraid that the pull down bar would not fit over my stomach. I have been labeled sterile because of my heft. I have had chairs break under my weight in the company of friends. Still, none of these events triggered that moment of inspiration.

I wish I could say it happened in one of those ways, because the truth is actually worse. I’m here because of a man.

Fat Girl, Skinny is available now at Amazon!

A Memoir About Weight-ing

After five years, I am so pleased to announce that my memoir, Fat Girl, Skinny, will finally be available to read-thanks to Big Table Publishing! This memoir has been a labor of love, and I am so thrilled to finally be able to share it with the world.

Here’s a bit about the book:FinalCoverWeb.jpg

After her husband leaves her for a skinnier, blonder, younger (better?) woman, Amye is forced to confront the food addiction that has been holding her back for most of her life and has left her weighing two hundred and sixty-five pounds.  With the help of the gang of girls of Weight Watchers, and their fearless leader —former fatty and community college dropout—Pantsuit Pam, Amye spends the next year losing weight and learning to live in a skinny (er) woman’s body.  Only being skinny is not as easy as it looks, especially when inside, she will always be a fat girl.

Fat Girl, Skinny is Amye’s story, but it’s also the story of anyone who has ever been told: “You’d be pretty…if”.

Advance Praise for Fat Girl, Skinny:

“Amye Archer has a completely original and fresh voice…I loved this book.”
Abigail Thomas, Safekeeping

“Anyone who’s ever been a few pounds overweight, had self-esteem issues, love troubles, or a bad relationship–in other words every woman I know–will see herself in Amye Archer’s story.”
                                                                        –Beverly Donofrio, Riding in Cars with Boys

“Archer’s funny prose would be enough to grab the reader; but it’s her insight into the human psyche that holds on and won’t let go. We are rooting for her from page one…”
                                             –Martha Frankel, Executive Director of Woodstock Writers Festival

Reserve your copy today at www.amyearcher.com!

Our Song

An excerpt from the new book I’m working on:

You are dying. We are driving home from a car dealership in a nearby town, when suddenly- your leg starts to thump, that’s how I know. It’s my signal, my auditory cue. The thumping starts slowly and softly at first, like a slow clap. Your body begins to rock, slightly. Streetlights click on around us and the orange of the sunset dims to pink. We are in the dark.

“You need to get me home,” you say.

“I know, I know,” I answer and press down on the gas pedal.

But my acceleration and half-hearted assurances cannot stop the madness in your veins. The streetlights are streaks now as I speed down Route Six and into Scranton.

“Please, please, get me home, I need to go home.”

“I’m trying, Babe, I’m trying,” I say.

I reach out for you and you pull. You cling to me like I am air. It becomes hard to drive, and I think about pulling over against the blackness of the woods lining the shoulder, but time is of the essence and I know I need to go on. We need to move forward.

“I’m dying, I’m dying, please help me.” Four years earlier, this phrase would have alarmed me, sent me into a panic as well, but I’m becoming familiar with your death, and I react like a woman who has left something in the oven too long.

“You’re not dying honey, you’re not. It will be okay, I’m getting you home. Close your eyes, take a breath.”

Amazingly, you attempt this.

“I can’t,” you snap, “I think I’m having a heart attack.”

It’s either the heart or the head, always, a heart attack or a brain tumor, I prepare for both.

heartbeat[1]_3“Here, let me check.” I slide my right hand across the fabric of your shirt. My touch is magical, it calms you. The thumping slows, the pumping of your blood under my palm is the only sound in the world right now.

“One, two, three,” I count aloud as the car wisps around darkening corners.

This is our song, the thumping, the push of blood against arterial walls, the rush of your breath, the hush of my voice. This is the rhythm of us, the melody between us.

There was a time when I thought our song was Heaven, by Bryan Adams. We made out to it in the back seat of your friend’s car about a week after we started dating. You pushed your tongue hard into my mouth and cupped my face with your large hands. It was early spring, and the windows fogged easily. A boy had never kissed me like that before, with such desperation. But the song disintegrated quickly, and we forgot the heat of that night. Now, our song is medicinal, born out of fear and need, much like the story of us.

“Seventy-four,” I land on a final number as the headlights swipe across the front of our apartment building. We are home and your heart rate is normal.

Later that night, we curl into bed together, a rarity in our lives. But your panic has been especially bad in the weeks and months following the terror attacks, and you’ve needed me, even at night. For a long time after the towers fell, we watched together as the news channels played an endless loop of horror: planes into towers, towers disintegrating into dust, people running from dust, a plume of smoke and dust rising from the belly of Manhattan. That’s what I remember the most: the dust. But these images bother you. The worst part is the falling, you tell me one night while we are wrapped together in bed. My hand still covering the space where I believe your heart to be. Those people jumping, that is the worst. Your heart quickens and the room darkens around us. Now, we watch old game shows to calm your panic. Your heart is slow and steady like the dripping of a faucet, and I lay pressed against you like a dam.

“I’m so sorry,” you whisper one night and pull my arms around you.

“For what?”

“For being so fucked up.”

“You’re not fucked up,” I whisper, “you’re perfect.”

Did I really say that? If I didn’t, I’m sorry, I should have. The jumping bothered everyone. I should have said that too.

Grow

Each morning, as I ascend the stairs to your room, I know what I’m going to find-the static filled brown hair, the carelessly tossed limbs, the twists and turns of the covers-but today, today of all days, I forgot.

And for a split second, I expected cribs and baby breath, raised hands and awestruck eyes, warm cheeks and bald heads, shiny lips and the word “Mama.”

I had stop my stride and catch my breath.

Baseball

I don’t know when it happened, and at the time I was completely unaware of the first break in my parent’s marriage.  But looking back on it now, some thirty years later, I can see a very distinct line in my childhood.  On one side there is light, on the other there is a shadow.

We lived in a top floor apartment until I was six.  I spent a lot of time alone with my mother.  I had Billy Joel’s Glass Houses on cassette.  My father was a drummer in a band, so I was always surrounded by music.  The Beatles, the Doors, Led Zeppelin, I had young parents and was lucky enough to be engulfed in these bands from a young age.  But there was something about “You May Be Right,” Billy Joel’s anthem of indignation and unhealthy love that resonated with me at five or six years old.  So, I play the song over and over.  It’s not long before I discover I can tip the radio speakers to the floor and let my neighbors hear it.

My father gives Jennie and me a shower while my mother is out for the night at some aerobics class, (it’s the 80’s).  Jennie has a bathing cap and I don’t.  As the younger sister, I begin to cry and throw a fit.  The bathroom is blue, even the toilet is an aquamarine color.  My father finds an old New York Yankee’s batting helmet and puts Band-Aids over the holes.  There, he says, now you have a bathing cap too.  Later, as he dries us into the fluff of a warm towel he regales us with funny stories about doors and wheels falling off of his car on his drive to work.  We laugh so hard we almost shatter.
brett3My father’s belly is a mountain.  I sprawl out on the peak, feel his breath lift my little body up and down.  On a tiny black and white television, The Yankees are playing the Kansas City Royals.  The room is covered in shadows. George Brett is ejected from the game because he has used too much pine tar on his bat.  My father is whooping and yelling for my mother.  I bounce high into the air and fall.  Some nights the Yankees lose. Other nights, the Yankees win.  Reggie Jackson is my favorite player.  The world around us is pinstriped and perfect.

We come home from a camping trip to find our television has been hit by lightning.  My father places the small black and white on top of our mahogany console.  Jennie and I sprawl out on our shag rug and spend two hours watching Little House on the Prairie.  I fall asleep against the propped elbows of my sister.

This is the light.

Lips

03/11/2015

I could write an epic about your lips.

The way they puckered into a kiss before you could even speak, like you knew that love came first-before speech.

The way they glistened in the sun that summer I taught you how to swim and you went under for longer then I care to admit. Your tears slicking the surface of the quiver.

The way they snarled, contorted the whole right side of your mouth into disapproval when I pressed my hands against your small back and propelled you into Kindergarten, where you discovered that no, your teacher wouldn’t let you break out into spontaneous dance, or draw little purple houses on the backs of your hands.

The way they say “Mommy,” like you were always meant to say it to me.

The way the bottom tucks itself up under your front tooth when you’re damming up a river of sobs with the cotton of your interior.

The way they still pucker into a kiss for anyone who will have your kindness.

The way they soften, when the rest of the world is hard.

Belly Shots

This selection originally appeared in PANK as part of their This Modern Writer series.  It is also the original version of the piece I performed for Scranton Storyslam, which you can see here. 

The women at Weight Watchers are tough.  We are a gang.  We are the Bloods, the Crips, and the Latin Kings all rolled into one.  Sure, we look harmless enough.  Ten or fifteen portly women standing like preschoolers in a straight line outside the door, waiting for the loud mouthed receptionist to swing it open and begin to weigh us.  But make no mistake about it, if you cross us, if you come to a meeting already thin and complaining about five extra pounds that you have gained over the winter and need to lose before bikini season, we will cut you.  We will grab you with our fat little paws, roll you up into a tiny little ball, and kick your skinny ass out of here.  Because this is our turf.  This basement of the Electrical Workers Union, with its mundane pine paneling and shiny medicinal floors, belongs to us every Thursday night from seven until eight fifteen.  So, if you have less than ten pounds to lose, stay the fuck home.  Get a stomach flu, stick your finger down your throat,  or swallow a laxative, we don’t care.  Just don’t come here.

“Ugh, I feel gross,” says Sherri (with an i).

“You’ll be fine,” says a voice from somewhere in the front of the line.

“No, I had a brownie last night and I swear to God it went right to my ass.”

“No, it takes a while to catch up with you.  You’ll probably see it next week,” says a different voice.

“I hate this,” sighs Sherri.

I am late, as always, so I am in the back and can barely hear the riveting comparisons of this week’s sins.  The line snakes around the long thin corridor and is full of women sizing one another up.  We smile and greet one another like we are soldiers on the same side, but internally we are praying for one another’s demise.  I am nowhere near as big as she is.  Wow, I hope I don’t look like that.   We stand staring at one another, bound together reluctantly by overindulgence.

It is warm out and all of us have come dressed as close to naked as we can get without being arrested for indecent exposure.  I’m wearing tiny little knit shorts, a tank top, and socks with sandals.  You cannot stand barefoot on the scale, that is a rule.  You cannot hear your weight, the specific number, out loud.  That is the other rule.  In my hands I hold my bible.  The list of everything that went into my body this week, with the exception of the Snickers Bar and three Tootsie Rolls I jammed in my mouth only moments earlier in the car.

Continue reading

Seeds

“There are 206 bones in the adult human body.  Most of us can only name a few: the mandible or jaw bone, the cranium or skull, the ribs, the humerus or the “funny” bone, the leg bones: the femur and the fibula, and maybe, if you’ve really paid attention in anatomy class, the bones of the hand: the phalanges, the carpals, and the metacarpals.  These are the bones we can see, we can feel, we can break.  These were the bones I knew about… before.  Now, as Georgia curls into a fetal position to sleep and her blue hospital gown peels away from her back, I can see every hump, every curve, every peak and valley in her spine.  I can see every bone pressing against her skin like it’s a sheet.  It’s an image that will forever haunt me.  My best friend is a living, breathing, archaeological discovery.  Six months ago she was alive, full of color and shape.  Now, her body is white and gaunt.  She is a dandelion gone to seed.

This is from a scene in my book-in-progress, Fat Girl, Skinny, in which the main character visits her best friend in the hospital and for the first time, realizes the gravity of the friend’s eating disorder.  This was hard for me to write.  Not because as a fat girl, I have been so tempted to take up an eating disorder that writing about one might just seal the deal.   No.  Writing about Anorexia was difficult for me because I honestly could not understand what it was like to think in terms of starvation.

I once had a friend who used to quip, “I wish I could develop an eating disorder, it would be the answer to all of my problems.”  I used to look at her like she was insane.  The answer???  How could anything so horrible and self-deprecating be an answer?

The truth is that for most of my life I thought I was too healthy to develop an eating disorder.  My parents loved me, my family was “normal”, I had no parasite eating my insides.   But, through the process of writing this book, most of which is autobiographical, I made a  startling discovery.  I do have an eating disorder.  Unlike traditional disorders, however, mine is marked by lack of control rather than a compulsion to control.  Eating has destroyed me more than once in my lifetime.  Eating has become a thief in the night taking with it my self-worth, my self-esteem, and any integrity I thought I had.  Yet, it keeps happening.  I suffer from overeating just as an anorexic suffers from under-eating.  And as with Anorexia or Bulimia, there is an underlying psychosis that goes along with sabotaging your own life.

I’m not here to compare the severity of eating disorders.  I’m here to say that whether you allow yourself to whither away, or you abuse yourself, stuff yourself, and blow up your own life, we all suffer together.  Once I found that level ground in my brain, I was able to write about my character’s anorexia with deeper authenticity.  I guess I just can’t stop writing memoir.

The Universe Between Us

Alone, I am a star burning against the night sky.   I am lost in a blanket of darkness, a heaving illuminated mass threatening to collapse in on itself.  But together, Timmy and I are a galaxy, a vast wonderful world of possibilities.  We are bright and organized, burning into one another with fire and fever.  We are celestial.  We are so fucking fantastic together that I know deep down inside, it is only a matter of time until we fizzle out, or at least until I fuck it all up.

Things have been going swimmingly thus far.  Timmy has all but moved in, staying six out of seven nights at my apartment.  In the mornings, he crawls out of bed and makes coffee for the two of us.  In the evenings, he sits and listens as I play my guitar.  We talk constantly.  We make love almost every day, in every nook and cranny of the apartment.  We orbit one another in perfect harmony.  But I am terrified.  I have yet to tell Timmy about my addiction to food, about my daily uphill climb.  I know I shouldn’t be embarrassed, but I am.  I’m ashamed that I am not strong enough to be thin on my own, that I need assistance.

Then, there’s an element of insecurity.  I know that if I just let myself, I could fall madly in love with this man.  But I wonder if he could ever really fall in love with me.  This thought is an aftershock from my divorce.  This is what happens when someone leaves you for real.  This is what breaks inside of you when someone walks out on you and earthquakes your foundation.  When the person who is supposed to love you the most in the world, flips a switch and chooses another.  And you are not enough, not good enough, anymore.  That betrayal reverses something in your brain.  It makes you doubt your market value.  Because whether I ever want to admit it or not, there is a small sliver of truth to the idea that Jack left me because I let my body balloon into obesity.

And now, I cannot act like a normal, untainted, self-assured woman.  Because I will never be that.  You can carve every ounce of fat from my body, and I will still never be able to walk around naked in front of you, trust whole heartedly that you are where you say you are, or sleep at night basking in the calmness of our union.  No matter how beautiful I look on the outside, I will always feel like I am selling you a used car that I know has been in an accident and will never again drive the same.

I wasn’t supposed to be insecure anymore.  Like swallowing a pill, losing weight was supposed to instantly fix all of these neurotic, self-conscious thoughts swelling inside my brain.  But I’m beginning to realize that being fat for so long has created a gushing wound that may never truly heal.

“Take off your shirt,” Timmy whispers and I freeze.

“No,” I answer.  No, no, no, a thousand no’s.

“Why babe?” he wonders.

Why?  How do I explain away the ripples of extra skin hanging below my belly button like rings on a tree, only instead of telling of my past, they tell of the future, the potential for thick ankles and triple chins?  How do I explain to someone who has never stepped foot in the land of heavy that the weight of belonging to such a place comes at the cost of sanity?  Timmy has never been fat, in fact he has spent his entire life underweight.  And that, right there, that fact is the vast expansive universe between us.  My insistence on lights off during sex, my one too many “checking in” phone calls, or questions about late night bar visits, all combine to comprise the wormhole through which Timmy will have to plunge if he ever hopes to really understand me.  A wormhole so vast in size and density that it would take someone solely dedicated to the cause to get through and survive.  I don’t know yet if Timmy has the resolve to hang in there.  I hope he does, but I don’t need him to.  And that, right there, is the big difference in my life from a year ago.  I don’t need him to.

While I still cling to my shirt, a size medium that I stole from my sister, Jennie, during a visit to Brooklyn, a clingy white cotton tank that maintains enough elasticity to shave an inch off my belly, Timmy quietly extends an arm and clicks off the lamp.  And in the safety of the darkness we are once again stars in our galaxy, burning and bumping our way into one another’s hearts, unsure of what will come next.