Why I’m Fat…and Trump

sad-505857_1920I don’t want to share this, I shouldn’t have to share this part of my life, but I cannot stay silent any longer. I, like most women, am disgusted by not only Trump himself, but more so by the attempts of his supporters to dismiss his lewd, sexual comments as “locker room talk.” What’s happening with the Trump campaign and the rhetoric surrounding this election is striking a familiar chord somewhere inside of me, and it’s time I tell you all how Donald Trump made me fat.

As a teenager, I developed quickly and early and the boys noticed-as did the girls. In gym class, I tried everything I could think of to get out of running, jumping, or any other activity that would cause the boys to hoot and holler at my bouncing breasts. Boys dated me because of my body, and other girls called me a slut for the same reason. I learned early on that my body was something I should be ashamed of. That idea-body and shame-rooted itself inside of me and bore fruit for years and years in the form of bad decisions and self-loathing.

Sometimes, I welcomed the attention. If a cute boy said hello in the hallway, I smiled. If a boy told me I was pretty, I accepted that compliment. But the language never stayed benign. The rhetoric always escalated. There were nicknames, obscene gestures, forced sexual encounters. What should have been a kiss always ended with a hand under my shirt. Boys would grab my breasts under the bleachers at the football games, press themselves against me in dark corners at parties, or break up with me after I refused to allow their hands to wander. At 12, 13, and 14 years old, I never knew how to handle the Donald Trumps of this world and their overtly aggressive and sexual advances. I didn’t know how to respond, how to handle what I perceived as ridicule, or how to hide my body from them.

Then, I discovered a way. I began turning to food for comfort and protection.I know now that I didn’t want boys to stop paying attention to me altogether, I just wanted them to pay the right kind of attention. I wanted boys to notice my sense of humor, to appreciate my intelligence, and if they thought I was pretty-I’d take that too. What I didn’t want was the boys leering at my breasts, thinking I was easy because I was shaped a certain way, and for girls to hate me because of it.

In my late teens/early twenties, I gained a massive amount of weight, hence changing the shape of my body. And while being fat brought with it a new kind of shame, in many ways it felt safer. I felt safe. I found a boy who loved me in the right way, who saw my humor, my mind, my inner beauty, and who-for a while anyway-loved me for those things. I didn’t attract attention from men on the street anymore. Girls didn’t hate me. I was still ashamed of my body, but I no longer felt unsafe because of it. I had finally found a way to protect myself from the Trumps of this world, from the boys and men who had reduced me to a sexual commodity.

Today, I am 39. I have two daughters and a wonderfully supportive husband. I am a better weight, not great, but better, and have learned to love the body I have. Still, the Trumps of the world are out there. It doesn’t happen often, but once in a while a man will make a comment or an advance that focuses once again on my body-specifically my breasts, and I am immediately 12 years old again and can still taste that shame on my tongue. The instinct to hide myself from sexual aggression is a reflex born out of a lifetime of feeling ashamed of my body. It is the tree still living inside of me-no longer bearing fruit-but refusing to wither.

That’s why Trump’s campaign of sexism and hatred is so very dangerous. Many of us still have that tree inside of us. We know what it feels like to be objectified, to be ridiculed, or worse yet, to be sexually assaulted. Trump’s comments went beyond any “locker room” talk I’ve ever heard, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t heard them somewhere before. I’ve heard talk like this under the breath of the boy pressed against me in that dark corner at a party, before I could wiggle out of his grasp and before I could muster the word “no.”

If you ask me what I want for my 9-year-old daughters the list is long. I want them to be strong, to have a solid education, to make their mark on the world with kindness, not power. But if I could only have one thing-just one wish for my children-it would be that they find their voice and they learn how to use it for change. Simply put, I want better for my girls. I hope they never have to feel how their mommy felt, or her mommy, or her mommy before her.

*

Amye Archer is the author of Fat Girl, Skinny. Follow her at @amyearcher

The Drunk Boys

Here’s how a poem happens.

You’re watching a reality show where people meet one another at the altar and get married. Your house is quiet. Your twins are asleep in matching but separate beds, your husband is asleep on the couch, and the dog you didn’t want but love anyway has wedged her weight against your hip, drool slipping from the corners of her loose sigh. One woman is having difficulty kissing her new husband. His body angles toward her like a coworker asking what she did last Friday. There’s a hint of sexuality, but she’s not entirely sure it’s for her. You begin thinking about the wine. Give him some wine, you think, he’ll open up.

Here’s how a poem happens.

You’re watching trashy reality shows on a Friday night while your family sleeps around you. The dog you didn’t want but love anyway, the dog who knew exactly the right amount of pressure to place against your body in the hours after your grandmother died, shifts and twitches as you whisper-yell at the TV. Get him drunk, it will fix everything.

Here’s how a poem happens.

You’re watching a reality show where no one is getting laid, and your response is to add alcohol. Then you realize: you’ve always trusted the booze more than the boys. The booze will make them honest, unzip their hearts and pull you in. You have been told some of the most flattering things by drunk boys with diamonds in their mouths: you are beautiful, you are sexy, you could be my girlfriend, you are beautiful, you are sexy, you are worth my time. The dog you didn’t want but love anyway stares at you with the world behind her chocolate eyes.

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Here’s how a poem happens.

You remember the booze and the man who wore it on his breath. You remember the rage, the pain, the invention of love. You remember the tip of the knife against the flesh of your neck, the fear in your veins. Your body forgets sometimes, but the memory of him lives at the tip of your pen. You wonder when “drunk” has ever made anything right in your life.

Here’s how a poem happens.

In your safe, comfortable home with a man whose heart has no clasp, a dog whose breath is measured against your own, and twin girls who hum sleep like two notes of the same stringed instrument. Far away from the booze and the boys and the bars.

Here’s how a poem happens.

You think to yourself, I should write a poem about this.

 

Amye Archer is the author of Fat Girl, Skinny, a memoir about waiting, weight-ing, skinny jeans, fat girls, bad choices, and happy endings. You can buy it here.

To Some of the Boys I’ve Loved Before

I’m working on a new book. It’s coming along, but sometimes writing a whole book can be so solitary. You live in this world, you and the voice-the narrator-and you live there alone. For a long time. Sometimes, I just need to break that solitude and write something, and get it up here on the blog and out into the world. So, in that vein-here’s a little poem I worked on this morning. It’s rough, but I’m spent. I hope you enjoy it.

To Some of the Boys I’ve Loved Before

I dream in previous lives-the one where you’re young and carve our initials into a tree planted in the middle of a parking lot at the nearby high school.  You propose to me there-I accept, act surprised, even though I orchestrated the entire moment-right down to paying for the ring.

You mother is a soft woman. Her birthing you and your siblings was her greatest achievement. Her raising of you is the light burning in her belly for the past forty years. Later, when I think of the word mother, I will think of her-always. Her kindness was just what a chubby, insecure teenage girl needed. I keep the good parts of her with me, mother my girls with her heart.

acoustic-guitar-tips

On a hot, fall night you teach me to play Radiohead’s Creep, my favorite song.  You press my plump fingers down into a bar chord and slide our fused hands up and down the thick neck of my cheap guitar.  We make music together.  I mistake your tenderness for love. Sing the touch of your skin into every Radiohead song.

There are chapters of books living in the back of my throat. They hold the stories of our break ups, our failures, your hands on my body. They hold the story of my babies, of how I willed them into existence with sheer want. How they could have been yours, or his, but found the exact right man.

I braid my daughter’s black-brown hair. Three strands thick and sturdy fold effortlessly into two, then fall together into one. She loses patience with me when I have to pull it all apart and start again.

I dream in past versions of myself-call my husband your name in my head sometimes, fix his coffee like yours, wonder if you remember the way we sometimes fit together like the ocean and the sand-one resting atop another.

I write in meaningless parts-our life together carousel-ing into my daughter’s childhood, us as teenagers against a black sky in the backyard of the home my husband built for me. Car parts and extra brothers resting elbows on a table I no longer own.

I don’t know how to separate you completely out.

But, I’m learning.

One poem at a time.

~

Amye Archer is the author of Fat Girl, Skinny, a memoir about waiting, weight-ing, skinny jeans, fat girls, bad choices, and happy endings. You can buy it here.

 

Cigarettes, Lipstick, and Cobain

I fell in love with you on a kitchen floor after my junior prom. You wore a loose tie with your red chucks. I wore a size 12 black and white dress that hour-glassed my expanding body into something more desirable. You couldn’t keep your hands off of me. That night became the night against which my beauty would always be measured. Remember how beautiful you looked in that dress on that night? You would ask me when you remembered it. It was as if that version of me-young, beautiful, thin, and sexy-was an island I could never again reach, not by swim, by boat, by rocketship.

We went with another couple, rented a limousine, sat at a table, ate a meal, and danced, just like we were supposed to. We had been dating only three months at that point, and if you were panicked or anxious, you didn’t show it. You wore a steady smile that crushed the world. We spent the night at a friend’s house. My mother called several times to verify our location, she even called and spoke to the mother of the house before granting permission. Your mother would have let you do anything.

The theme of our prom had to do with that Elton John song from the Lion King soundtrack. It was a weird choice because Kurt Cobain had just died, and I remember thinking we should have had a Nirvana-inspired prom. But I wasn’t popular enough to suggest it. You and I slow danced, and I should have remembered this more clearly-your hand against the sateen of my dress, your rough palm catching on the fibers, your breath against my ear-but I don’t remember dancing at all. I don’t remember the limo, the clumsy game of pool at a local bowling alley, I just remember you: how you looked, how you smelled, how you electrified me with your touch. I had never been so in love with anyone before, it was as if you eclipsed any reason I may have had.

I slept on a water bed with two other girls, not a water mattress, but an actual water bed with plush leather sides for steadying yourself. You woke me in the middle of th23111_lge night with a gentle touch. Come with me, you whispered into the darkness.

We sat on the kitchen floor and talked about Cobain, the cigarette they found in the ashtray with lipstick on the filter. I assumed Courtney had been there, that she had pushed him somehow into killing himself. She had to be involved, had to wear that responsibility. If only she had been better, cleaner, sober, softer. You disagreed. The lipstick may have been his, or maybe hers from long ago. It boggled my mind that someone so talented could hate themselves so deeply. Life is hard, you said between drags of a Newport, death is easy.

It was dark in that kitchen except for a distant porch light. We sat cross-legged on the linoleum, our backs against a slip of yellow wallpaper. Then, you said it. Casual and quiet.

I love you.

I love you too.

Your blue eyes lit the air around us and your kisses tasted like menthol, but I didn’t care. You loved me, and that was all that mattered in the world. Life is hard, this was easy.

 

**Learn more about Amye Archer here.

Grief Part Deux

What Not to Do When Grieving Your Grandmother

  1. Listen to the Norah Jones channel on Pandora.
  2. Listen to voice-mails you’ve saved in which her voice becomes a blanket-warm and familiar.
  3. Drive past her house two times each day.
  4. Watch any movies, even the comedies, because you will cry whenever the interaction moves up the matriarchal chain, reminding you of the break in your own.
  5. Shop at her favorite store.
  6. Sleep

I’m working on the rest.

Just Kids

I lost my beloved grandmother last month, and as part of trying to process what happened, I’m using some writing therapy to get through it. Forgive me the sentimentality.

Just Kids

While you were dying, I was reading Patti Smith’s Just Kids. I had just started it, still knee-deep in her catholic upbringing when I first heard the word cancer. Patti’s own words started to blur together after that. Mary, crucifix, Brooklyn, I couldn’t crawl out of the haze. The nurses ticked in and out of your room like seconds, we barely noticed them. I told you about the cancer. I called your friends and told them, drove to your apartment and pulled the shades up and down twice a day, washed your clothes, checked your mail, read the tabloids to you, and waited. You do the dying, I’ll do the rest.

While you were dying, we talked about the weather, the Kennedy’s, the royal family, Bill Clinton, neighborhood gossip, and the University where we worked together-me a teacher, you a server in the cafeteria-seven years of education separating us. I forgot about the cancer occasionally, we both did.

While you were dying, I wrote you a thousand and one-half poems in three days. They all started like this one. Suddenly, I wanted to remember everything-the shift of my weight against your hip as I sat at your bedside, the cold of your hand, the sound of your labored breath, the creak of the bed rail, the beep of the IV, I hung onto all of it, wallpapered my brain with my last images of you and lived in that room for weeks.

The sun fell faster than it had in days, like it was dropping from the sky with no purpose. The weathermen talked about the cold snap. Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe had just become Robert Patti Bluestar, and you were gone. I couldn’t bear to read anymore. I imagine they still live at 160 Hall Street. I imagine Robert still stringing the beaded curtain and Patti still fanning through art books. Between the tattered black covers of their story is where you will die forever.

While you were dying, I wrote you a thousand and one-half poems in three days. They all ended like this one.

gram

20 Reasons to Consider an MFA

10thLogo_400x400This year marks the 10th anniversary of Wilkes University’s Creative Writing MA/MFA Program. I cannot believe it’s been six years since I have walked through those hallowed doors.  Wilkes has done many things for me, but perhaps the most significant is this: Wilkes made it okay for me to consider myself a writer.  No longer was writing a hobby, or something I wished I could do with my life, writing was real and present in my everyday life.  I’m always asked the same question: why an MFA? why Wilkes? My answer is never simple, and it won’t be simple today.

20 Reasons to Consider an MFA:

  1. Because at eleven years old, you told a lie in your writing that was believed deeply by the adults in your life.
  2. Because you invented Richard and Leona when you were twelve.
  3. Because you saw a story about a little girl, and that story started a fire deep inside of you that only a poem could snuff out.
  4. Because divorce and heartbreak and loss and grief and betrayal spill onto the page in exactly the same ink as love and happiness.
  5. Because Richard and Leona were high school sweethearts, you invented a difficult road ahead for them.
  6. Because men have loved you in the wrong ways, and words never have.
  7. Because everyone else in your family paints.
  8. Because in middle school you wrote love poems and sold them for $1 apiece.
  9. Because Richard could never accept his lot in life and gambled away the mortgage payment-which enraged Leona.
  10. Because when bad things happened to you, the answer was never in a bottle, but always in a journal.
  11. Because when you were thirteen, you believed with every fiber of your being that you could communicate with John Lennon, and the only boy in the world who believed you was another poet.
  12. Because Leona ran off with the pool boy, and you had not yet learned of cliché.
  13. Because you couldn’t afford therapy.
  14. Because you have few gifts to offer, words will have to suffice.
  15. Because New York City is beautiful at dusk, and only a poem can tell us so.
  16. Because you loved Richard and Leona, your first characters, even though they couldn’t love each other.
  17. Because life is hard, and words are easier.
  18. Because you have a story that lives inside of you, and if you don’t pay attention, it will claw its way out.
  19. Because Richard and Leona deserve a chance.
  20. Because everyone needs love, and you have learned how to give it…with words.

If you have a belly full of ideas and a heart bursting with stories, you will find no better canvas on which to experiment than the Wilkes University Creative Writing Program.

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.

Love Letters

I’ve been working on a project for about a month now.  I’ve decided to write a book to my daughters.  Not for publication, but for them.  Each day I have written about 250 words, and I thought I would share the first with all of you.  So, here it is: the first page of this new project.

Love Letters

Everyone on Twitter knows how much I love you, except you. Everyone on Faceboook knows the apprehension with which I raise both of you. Everyone on Tumbler knows I have eight-year-old twin girls, that you came to me after a fertility drought, after a bad marriage, after a long, hard battle of thick to thin, and there you were like bulbs in the earth waiting to be plucked.

I write letters to you in this white humming space of a computer screen, and give them to other people. I write love letters to you in the crowded room of my mind, and never see them again.

In my sentences you are still my babies. I remember the smell of you at one week old, ripe with a rotten belly button cord, sweet with synthetic milk on your tongue. I still feel the shape of you against the inside of me, the press of your unborn limbs against my skin.

When you are old enough to know what these words mean, those memories will be dull. They will melt into others and fade against the drama of teenage strife.

This is your eighth year and I’m writing you a book. Every day, 365 total entries, not for publication but for posterity. So you can remember my words, my voice, my addiction to you.

Dear Girls,

This is yours.