Friday, December 19, 2014

The Whole of the Halves

There is a Jane Austen quote that has been ringing through my head as I've been wading through the uncertainty of the descent of my first year of Law School.  She says, “I have no notion of loving people by halves. It is not my nature.”

To me, the first response reason that this quote appeals to me is because I thought it was the way I felt about people. But the thing about the constant rambling changes of your 20’s, is that you realize that the person you spent all your adolescence becoming is gone with the enclave of adulthood. As a teenager, I was the one always in the middle of the room. I knew everyone. I really loved people and wanted to be with them all the time. I was like that through college too.

With my departure from the Peace Corps and back into my childhood home, Law School was my next great journey. I had been toying with the idea for years and had been talked out of it so many times. There are no jobs, it’s too hard, you wouldn’t like it, etc. etc.  But one thing the Peace Corps gave me was a first hand look at the ways that gross miscarriages of justice were carried out. And they weren’t okay with me.

I spent a lot of my life listening and internalizing the way other people critiqued me. I found a lot of my identity in being well-liked. I think that’s what made me almost apologetic about my weight for a long time. Like I was making people uncomfortable because I didn’t look the way I was supposed to. I was always half asking if the choices I was making were okay with everyone. But law school was the one that was all mine. I saw in Africa how much the law can matter if you let it. I saw how far education and hard work could take an issue from people who don’t give up.

Coming back into an old familiar setting as a completely different person didn’t seem to work too well. My old childhood friends didn’t recognize me anymore. I was tired of hearing everyone give their opinions on what I was doing and if I was doing them properly. It came to the point where I was just done with people who were getting in my way. This resulted in many nights alone, in bed with a book, or wistfully apartment hunting in cities with good schools. For someone who had always been in the center of everything, I logically waited for a breaking point. I waited for the time when I would recant my relentless ambition, and try to have a sort of balanced life.

But I don’t love things by halves. I never have. My dad always implied that this was my fatal flaw. I realized this after I finished watching the movie The Paper Chase. On the surface, its supposed to be about the tumultuous first year of law school and the dynamics between professor and student, but it’s really about a first year law student who falls in love with the professor’s daughter, a girl who tells him to just relax and not to take school so seriously, to explore more, be spontaneous. The movie ends with the iconic scene where he takes his unopened exam grades and throws them in the ocean.

I sat there watching the credits and just thought, “ What. The. Fuck.” This movie enraged me. I had no idea what was at all appealing about a woman who undermined his schooling the whole movie and dragged him into her alternate reality world where a hyper-focus on school was detrimental, but one on their relationship was just fine.

I have been derailed by a guy more times that anyone should. And they were always at really crucial junctions in my life. Internships, student teaching, Peace Corps. I had this huge thing to focus on, and yet a relationship took center stage instead. They ruined everything. I don’t love anything by halves. This includes people and apparently, my future. I’ve spent the last year virtually alone. I'm terrified to have any tie somewhere that might unseat me.

I think that maybe there are people that are only meant to do one thing really, really well. And I think those people sometimes have feelings of inadequacy, because they have uncorrectable tunnel vision. I feel like I have the potential to be a really excellent lawyer or somebody’s really cool wife. At the ripe young age of 24 though, I don’t know how someone can be both. And I choose, most ardently, to go to school.

Maybe this is something you grow out of. Maybe you don’t. But as it stands right now, I make no apologies for wanting my JD instead of a husband. For wanting to put a brief to bed instead of a baby. 

I don’t choose to do anything by halves.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Confessions of a Former Fat Kid

I never thought I’d be able to call myself one. I never thought I’d be in the stores with the normal people, with the beautiful people. I never thought I’d be looked at and not judged by my size.

I’m now a former fat kid.

I’ve crossed the threshold into the ‘average’ weight for a woman, the average pant size that I can now buy in any store. Years of spanx, shame and sidelong glances in elevators, wondering if it could hold us all, were over.

6 months in Africa and 80 pounds later, my life is one I don’t recognize anymore. Things that I held onto when I left simply aren’t there anymore, all the way from the pride that I felt because I managed to hold my head up to my love handles, gone.

To be clear, there is still a long way to go. But the destination looks a lot closer from 170 pounds than 250 pounds.

This whole life is different, beautiful and ugly in the same breath. I’m still learning this role, but so far, here’s what I’ve learned.

#1: Looks really do matter

My loving friends always told me that looks didn’t really matter. Not when it was the ‘right person’. They’ll love you for who you are. Blah blah, gobledy gook, yeah. But when I was 250 pounds, men liked me because I was funny, not sexy. If they were checking me out, they were usually gay, and it was usually my outfit. Now if I’m wearing yoga pants, I can be fairly certain they’re looking at my butt. All of those years of trying to convince myself that looks don’t matter are washed away with one week of being back in America. The realization of this hits you like a tidal wave, and I’m grimacing, thinking of all the bar interactions I’ve had when I’m fairly certain now all they were thinking was, ”What’s up with this fat chick? She's sure chatty.”

Looks matter, no matter how much you wish they didn’t.

#2: Life is not easier

Jeans go on easier. Getting free drinks happens easier. Life however is not easier. I can’t remember the last time I counted calories before I left. Not really. I think all Americans vaguely do, but when was the last time you seriously counted them? Like, did know there are 5 calories in a cup of coffee? Or 17 in 2 cups of romaine lettuce? This is the sort of addictive calorie counting I find myself doing now. Or translating how long something will take to work off a the gym (Do you really need that cookie? 150 calories, 20 minutes on the elliptical, 300 jumping jacks, is it really worth it?) This obsession with food and calories and never wanting to be back where I was has overtaken a large part of my psyche.

I think I used to be vaguely interesting…

#3: You find yourself saying things like, “ Dude, how long did you plank today?”

Gyms. I knew about them, had even been to one on occasion. Passed through when I wanted a smoothie once in a while in college. Nodded in all the right places when my friends talked about picking things up and putting them down. But 80 pounds doesn’t stay off with prayer. I find myself staring at the walls, willing myself to do another set of triceps extensions, excitedly talking about this new core workout my trainer taught me or bitching good-naturedly about leg day. All these words I never used to know are like music now. Calming me down when everything else has sucked. I like seeing what my new body can do, how far it can be pushed. Which means I’m now one of those people who picks things up and puts them down, and then yes, tells you all about it.

#4: You fucking hate food.

Like seriously. I can’t stand it. When I talk to my Peace Corps friends who are still in Salone and they bitch about missing food, I feel like a horrible person. All they want is cheese and I stay so far away from anything with 8g of fat a slice. These are thoughts that actually occur to me now. Every time I have to eat, it’s a struggle. Not an actual struggle like it was in Africa, but an intellectual one. How many calories can you eat this meal? Is it worth it to put the whole avocado on? It’s fat, but good fat. And on and on and on. Food doesn’t even really taste good any more. Not like it used to.

And you realize there is no such thing as a ‘guilt-free’ food.

#5: You’re not sure if you’re happier

You know you should be. Everyone wants you to be. Everyone wants to talk about it. Sometimes in the middle of talking about how different my life is, I want to chime in and remind everyone that I did do Peace Corps. That I went to Africa, not a ranch in Beverly Hills. It becomes all anyone talks about, and all that you think about. It’s always at the back of your mind. You can’t live your whole life one way and then not think about it. All I knew was being fat. That was the way my life was for a long time, and I was fine with it. But then your life changes. You don’t necessarily want it to change, but it goes ahead and does anyway, so you try and roll with it. You should be happier. This is the way you should look, should feel, should want to be.

Why isn’t this the only thing you’ve ever wanted?

I’m still learning how to be this person. Don’t get me wrong, I love my new body. I love that I have an ass now. I love that I can do push-ups now. I love that when people hug me, they can pick me up and swing me. Men can dip me when we dance, and if someone offers me their sweatshirt, I can take it without fear I’ll hulk out in it. My body is beautiful, and I’m slowly learning how to use it.

But there’s more to it than that. There’s a lot I didn’t know about this part of me; this part that was hidden in size 18 jeans, buried deep where I didn’t think anyone would get to that’s now out for everyone to see.

And I’m still learning about her.