“I feel great,” I lied. How could I admit the surgery wasn’t the cure-all I’d hoped for?
I stepped on the scale again, just to be sure I was seeing right. Six months post-surgery, I’d already lost nearly 80 pounds. Over the years of fad dieting, this was the fastest I’d ever dropped weight. I thought back to the moments before surgery, when I cried and begged the nurse not to take me into the operating room. Then pushed the memory aside.
Everyone had been right, after all. The surgery was solving all my problems. I’d finally be skinny, a sacred fantasy I’d harbored ever since I was a preteen kid in overnight camp.
Back then, when my parents registered me for camp, I was frightened to choose a size for my camp T-shirt. My friends were deciding between Small and Extra-Small and I was hovering over the order form with my pen jumping from Large to Extra-Large, wondering if even the bigger of the two would fit.
I always chose the large. This way no one would know how big I really was. But the large size was always too small for me, and inevitably, on the first night of camp, I’d stay up late, waiting for the room to turn dark and everyone’s breathing to even out. Casting a jealous eye at my bunkmates’ neatly folded T-shirts on their shelves — already tied with small nots so they’d be more flattering — I’d crawl out of bed and soak my shirt in the bathroom sink. I’d then pull the wet shirt over the back of a chair and let it dry — and stretch out. This way, I could get away wearing only a size Large shirt with no one knowing I really needed bigger.
Now, months post-surgery, I didn’t even need a size Large — or a size Medium. I walked into the store where I worked and proudly shopped from all the racks, pulling out anything with a size Small on the label. They fit.
“You look great,” my surgeon said proudly at my follow-up appointment a year later. I’d lost more than a hundred pounds. “How do you feel?”
Looking in the mirror, I felt amazing. Inside, I felt sick. The surgery had changed what my stomach could tolerate — my diet consisted of dulce de leche ice cream and chocolate chips, two of the only foods that didn’t make me vomit. I could wear tailored, fitted dresses, but I walked around nauseous, always in search of the closest restroom or barf bag.
“I feel great,” I lied. How could I admit the surgery wasn’t the cure-all I’d hoped for? Especially when I was surrounded by flattering comments all day.
Every time I bumped into somebody, their greeting was the same. “Oh, my goodness, Rechama! You look amazing.”
“You look so beautiful now,” another acquaintance said — and ended her back-handed compliment with a suggestion to “keep losing weight.”
I had more dates than ever before. Mothers pointed to me at weddings and asked friends what my name was. People saw me as a new person, but inside I was the same Rechama. I was still insecure about my looks, still learning to love myself. And now that I knew how it felt to be skinny, I was petrified of ever gaining weight again.
Which is why I cried when I saw blood mixing into my vomit. It was a bad sign, one of the ones the hospital warns you about. If you ever see blood, call us right away. It means the band is failing.
If the band was malfunctioning, the surgeon would take it out. If the surgeon took it out, I would have no shield against gaining weight. Combine that with my newfound unhealthy diet of chocolate and ice cream, and I knew the weight would pile on.
“I can’t go back to being big,” I cried to my mother. But after an emergency visit to the hospital after a particularly bad episode of vomiting, I knew there was no other choice. The band had to go — and with it, so would Skinny Rechama.
I had one last hurrah before the surgery. I got to wear a flattering floral dress to my cousin’s wedding, and I reveled in every compliment, knowing it would be among the last. Dresses like these wouldn’t fit anymore.
Two years after my first surgery, I went back to the hospital to get the band removed. Again, I cried when they wheeled me into the operating room, worse off than I’d been before — plus-sized, but this time with the teasing knowledge of how different life could be.
As the room faded out of view, I had one last thought: I should never have done the surgery. It didn’t give me the perfect, easy, happy ending. Being skinny didn’t mean I’d gotten married. Being skinny didn’t mean I was happy.
to be continued...
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 763)
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