By Naomi Serviss / New York City
When I was a seventh or eighth grade
Ogontz Junior High student,
the school nurse gathered
small groups of girls
in her office each fall,
for one purpose.
To weigh us.
In front of our peers.
Each girl’s weight was announced.
It was humiliating and terrifying.
I weighed much more than
the small-boned, petite
who flocked together
in wealthy perfection
to judge outliers like me.
I was always a tall kid,
others my age and feeling schlubby.
It didn’t bother me
after I was deemed a “tomboy.”
No one cared if I got
schmutz on my hand-me-down clothes!
My passion was fueled by
tree climbing, railroad track-crossing,
and creek exploration.
The natural world lured me
away from my screwy, negligent, abusive family.
And cheap rental apartments.
It wasn’t a fun childhood,
My older brother fat-shamed me
when I was still wearing sunsuits
and a stupid haircut.
Epithets through the years included:
His vocabulary was limited,
but his vitriol was visceral.
My mother’s Bingo friend deemed me
I wasn’t even 10.
I wanted to kick him.
Instead, I internalized that negative moniker.
My oldest brother teased me
about my prominent front teeth
and called me Bugs,
as in Bugs Bunny.
My best friend called me Pugsley,
after the chubby boy in
The Addams Family.
You get the drift.
That’s when I started taking notes.
Payback is killer!
Good news, bad news:
My resilient nature got me through.
But the price paid was a lifelong food disorder.
Body dysmorphic syndrome
is a mental health disorder.
For instance, if you ruminate
about secretary spread
or rings around your neck,
you’re probably painfully self-conscious.
Dysmorphia affects both sexes
and even prepubescents.
I spent years in the Food Hall of Shame.
Anorexia was not for me, I chose bulimia!
You can have your cake and un-eat it, too!
My mother had weird nutrition.
Yes! Blame the mother!
unfiltered Philip Morris cigarettes
drank black coffee.
She picked off little brown tobacco flecks from her tongue.
Eating dinner out
was Lucy’s second favorite activity,
after church bingo.
We often went
to her favorite Chinese restaurant.
She taught me the dieter’s secret
to eating sweet and sour pork, lo mein and
Chopstick in hand,
she’d spear a portion
then dunk it in her water glass.
“This is how you get rid of calories.”
She swirled it around, then fished it out.
“And it still tastes great!” she exclaimed,
popping it into her mouth.
Lucy was maternal-lite to her brood of five
once we outgrew toddlerhood.
Some narcissists can’t tolerate competition,
even with their own kids,
once they stop being cute.
I essentially raised myself,
from English teachers, librarians,
and good friends’ families.
The eldest brother flew the coop, joining the Air Force
after our father kicked him out.
Bully brother lobbed water balloons
from the fire escape
and punched a fist-sized hole
in an outside wall,
which wasn’t so great in winter.
One older sister got out by going to university.
My other sister left home when I was around 10.
I witnessed my mother
cutting off my sister’s hair twice
and smashing her guitar.
My mother’s wrath was legendary.
I watched the hurried leave-taking,
sitting and sobbing on the hallway steps,
Lucy was screaming terrible things.
Sometimes her words came out with spittle.
You might correctly conclude
my world was a “tad” unstable.
Resilience and a little bit of luck goes far!
Food became a reliable ally.
Until it wasn’t.
Bulimia, anorexia and other food disorders
are horrific diseases.
Speaking as a recovered purger,
I know of what I speak.
But they are symptoms
of a profound psychological component
that needs addressing.
It’s a tough row to hoe, but the rewards
can be literally life-saving.
I’m in a good place now,
after intense therapy
and bouts with depression.
My journey is not unique.
Thankfully, I’m still on it, knock wood.
reconciling with loved ones
and severing emotional ties
My daily meditation and yoga practice
is a tonic.
I recall memories without emotion.
Like watching a movie that I directed.
I’m still waiting to be discovered!
Have I got a memoir for you!
Food is no longer my enemy.
Extra sauce! More flavor! Spice it up!
I have tasty predilections with no restrictions.
And numbers on a scale don’t mean a thing.
Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including BroadwayWorld.com