When my father died, the coroner did not have the scales to weigh him. My sister was told they needed to take him to another ‘facility’ with a larger scale. He topped off just over 500 pounds.
My sister and my father’s ex-wife, who still lived with him, made all the arrangements. They decided to have him cremated as finding a casket large enough for him proved troublesome. They were charged for one and a half cremations.
These are not punch lines. These are the facts that followed my father’s death. He was 53 when he died.
He wasn’t always this large. As a high-school senior, he was voted “Girls Choice”. I was born not long after and I grew up watching him add on pounds and hair, growing it out, down to his waist, as well as his beard and mustache. He seemed to enjoy the presence it gave him, the space he took up, in our lives and in the world, as he used his size to frighten his wife, his children and anyone else who encountered him.
He would not be ignored.
This behavior has its limits. When my mother kicked him out of the house, when I was 13, he immediately lost 100 pounds off his then 300-pound frame within months. When he picked me up for a visitation weekend with a freshly shaven face, I did not recognize him. Meek and forlorn, he was not the man, I remembered cornering me in my closet a few months before.
This was short lived, as he recalled when he was happiest was when he was large and he commanded fear. He found a new partner in his new wife and the two of them added the pounds like Tweedle Dee and the other one. The two of them appeared as two zeros unlike the number 10 I envisioned when I saw my mother with him.
I distanced myself from him—from his weight. I remember watching him get fatter, as my sisters and I starved. Although he always had food in his house, he did not provide for us and our cupboards were bare. I would sell my books to a used bookstore for cash for food. I equated obesity with selfishness --with the absence of love, for oneself and for me.
When I looked for a husband, I looked for one who I knew would not hit me, would never raise his voice, and would take care of me. I never wanted to worry whether there would be food in the fridge again. I think the first time I felt true love for my husband was the night he cooked me dinner. I equated food with love. I did not invite my father to our wedding.
When my younger sister married a few years later, she invited our father to hers. Now at nearly 500 lbs and in his early 50’s, his immensity was less commanding, more humble. He walked with a cane. Between is size and my husband’s presence, I knew I was safe. He couldn’t hurt me anymore.
A few years into marriage I got the call I was expecting---my father was dead. At 53 his heart had given out. The coroner gave the cause of death as obesity.
This was the life and end he wanted. He had told my sister years before, he would rather be fat and live a short life, eating good food, than live a long life eating healthy food. He got his wish.
I feel that same depravity within me. The same capacity to let my selfishness run rampant if I am careless. I show up each morning to keep myself in check, on the scale. I glare down at the number on the scale. I play within the same 10 pounds year after year---nothing like the hundreds of pounds my father played within. And yet, obsessively I watch the scale, equating obesity with self-hate, with self-love intermixed with selfishness. I remember what it felt like to be unloved, alone and hungry.