Friday, December 02, 2005

"Sirens" (a short story)

Becca Prospero heard voices.

"Can you imagine, all that fat?" Becca’s mother.

"I just can’t fathom it..." Her aunt.

Two sniping sirens.

Becca kept her eyes closed and listened.

"Now her real work begins," Becca’s aunt said.

"Tsk, tsk. I’m not sure she’s up to it."

Thanks, Mom. Thanks for your confidence...

"I just don’t get how such a young woman could let herself go..."

Another voice. Dr. Bonita. "Don’t be so harsh..."

* * * * *

The fat had crept up slowly. No doubt she over ate, but it was like her appetite had kicked in on overdrive, and she felt helpless against the myriad food cues and smells: McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Bob Evans, IHOP–the list went on. And she had answered their siren calls, sometimes three and four times a day.

Eventually, she was fired from her sales job, which required extensive travel; she could no longer fit into an airline seat.

"I’m sorry, Becca," Ms. Atropos, her boss and third sniping siren, had said. "We can’t afford to pay double for your travel."

Becca knew the real reason: although her sales outpaced everyone else’s, she didn’t fit the corporate image.

She consulted a lawyer, who said that overweight people had little legal recourse.

It didn’t matter anyway; she could no longer navigate herself and luggage through airports and security--a total nightmare, especially that last time, shortly after 9/11, when she was ordered to strip for a complete body search: strange women lifting and prodding her fat rolls. She was sure their interest was less about finding bombs and more about prurient curiosity and poking fun; the guards’ averted eyes revealed what would happen once she departed.

One year later, on a crisp, autumn day--brilliant blue sky and crimson leaves--Becca almost moved in with her mother and aunt. They carried her meager possessions into her childhood bedroom, now outfitted with a bed made of reinforced steel, guaranteed to hold 1,000 pounds.
Becca, only 37 and now using a cane, struggled up the sidewalk; the wind whipped around, red and yellow leaves swirling, a mini-twister surrounding her. She couldn’t walk more than 25 feet without stopping to catch her breath.

No one helped her.

She sweated profusely, snowflakes sizzling on her face.

When Becca finally stepped through the doorway, widened for her girth, she plopped into the nearest chair, which collapsed under her, breaking into pieces. Falling to the floor, she twisted her left arm, pain shooting through her like a bullet.

An ambulance was called; as the siren drew near, she blacked out...

...Light as a snowflake, Becca sees a light on the white hill and follows it, glistening snow marred only by the swirling leaves encircling her, autumn slipping into winter--though autumn will not disappear without a struggle.

Becca drifts in front of a snow-covered gravestone...

She can’t dwell on the ensuing tempest--only moments to decipher the etchings on the gravestone, she envisions a name she knows too well...

..."Her heart stopped," a distant voice said. "We almost lost her."

Becca was in the hospital for a month with a torn arm muscle surrounded by inflamed fat, which, her specialist explained, would most likely die off and need to be removed. While convalescing, she vowed to do something, anything, to help herself, but, most importantly, get away from her mother and aunt--

--To reclaim life on her own terms.

Her family doctor arranged for admittance to a clinic in Ohio for the morbidly obese. On arrival, she weighed 712 pounds.

"I don’t want weight-loss surgery," Becca said to Dr. Miranda Bonita, an obesity specialist.

"No need. We have safer treatments," the doctor said.

Dr. Sebastian, Becca’s psychotherapist, tried to convince her that her obesity probably had a genetic component and wasn’t her fault.

"People in third-world countries aren’t obese," Becca said.

"True," Dr. Sebastian said. "Though if they had a steady supply of food, you’d see obesity in those places, too. I honestly believe your metabolism’s out of whack; that would explain your excessive weight gain."

Becca knew better; she remembered the binges. Average day’s gorge: a pound of bacon; six eggs, fried in bacon grease; eight slices of toast; pancakes slathered with butter and syrup; home fries; three greasy Big Macs, each with super-sized fries; two pounds of ribs; a pound of fried shrimp; a gallon of Chubby Hubby ice cream; and a bucket of popcorn saturated with a stick of butter.

She took full responsibility for her weight, and eventually forgave herself.

In her first year at the clinic, Becca lost, through diet, mild exercise, and psychotherapy, more than 300 pounds. She now weighed 384 and could walk, without becoming winded, up and down the hall, sometimes without her cane. She became an ambassador, a cheerful one-person welcoming committee for new residents, who loved her. They elected her president of the Residents’ Board.

As she grew thinner, though, the flesh on her injured arm ballooned. Instead of dying off as predicted, the inflamed flesh healed and, for unknown reasons, swelled, doubling in size. The flesh from her forearm hung down, covering her fingers with a flap of skin.
Dr. Bonita recommended a risky surgery to remove about 15 pounds from that arm.

* * * * *
"We talked about this," Dr. Bonita said to Mrs. Prospero. "Becca’s problem is most likely not her fault."

She explained, for the umpteenth time, how little science understood about metabolism and its effects on body weight, that, yes, Becca may have triggered an existing genetic condition by overeating, but perhaps she over ate because of a faulty appestat.

"No one knows, so why not offer her the benefit of the doubt?"

Becca opened her eyes, her left arm wrapped in bandages.

Her mother was shaking her head.

You’ll see!

Becca Prospero’s guilt and anguish were over, even if she never lost another ounce.

Sirens howled in the background.


Copyright, Jennifer Semple Siegel (October 22, 2005)

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