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The New Me


It was impossible to get Twinkees, McDonald’s hot apple pies, donuts or ice cream in Madison, WI between 1972 and 1983 because I ate them all. Like a Hoover vacuum I’d make my way through piles of food because when you’re full, you don’t have to notice how empty things really feel.

I have no idea how much I weighed. At the slightest mention of stepping onto a scale I’d binge diet. I went to prom in a size 54 suit, with 52-inch waist pants. A block of Velveeta cheese in gray pinstripes, but that was just the way it was. Life waddled on.

My wakeup call came in a foyer, standing against the wall opposite the only full-length mirror in my parent’s house. 3-feet away from that mirror and I couldn’t see my entire body. I was too wide. Or, maybe, the mirror was too narrow. I think the issue may have been mine. It was time to lose weight.

That night I went to Burger King for a going away party. I ordered everything, ate it all and went to bed. The next morning, I visited the campus health center. Taking a deep, labored breath, I asked for diet information, which I immediately began obsessing about or to my 1980s way of thinking, improving upon. The first week I lost 9 lbs.

Next up – exercise.

I chose midnight to work out because I was embarrassed at the thought of people seeing me try to run or wear shorts. I lived half a mile from a busy road. I’d run as far as I could, then walk to the road and back home. Each night I’d get a little further. Eventually I ran the entire mile. Then I turned around and started on the second, then the third and so on and so on because my life was a shampoo commercial.

As I shrank, I became the boy in vintage clothing because I had no money. Georgia, the kind costumer of our college theater department gave me permission to borrow clothes from her inventory. High-waisted zoot suit pants, shirts with wide collars, skinny ties. Pointy shoes. Angora cardigans. I'm still touched by Georgia's kindness, and wish I still had some of those clothes.

Over a year later I finally reached my goal of weight.

Time for a Pretty Woman make-over! For Christmas that year I got clothing no one else had ever worn. I used money I’d earned working as a conference center housekeeper to get my first great haircut with chunky blonde highlights.

My roommate Liz was directing a production of Boys in the Band. Every gay guy within a hundred miles auditioned. They were the crème de la fem. Dairyland A gays. After winter break, she hosted a read through at our place. I showered just before the cast arrived, so I’d look dewy and fresh. I styled my hair with mousse my sister taught me to use. I put on my tight in the good way pants and a beautiful pink wool Jantzen monogramed sweater from JC Penney. GWT, which my friend Bruce said stood for Gay White Trash.

When I walked out, the boys in the band definitely noticed. Everything stopped. Potato chips hung in midair. Pop cans waited in frozen purgatory. Jaws were slack, but to be fair most of them probably had that talent before my debut.

Those boys, most of whom had known me for years, saw the new me. And they seemed to like it.

I saw the same me in different packaging, which left me feeling wistful.

Why hadn’t they noticed me before? I’d been there the whole time. Only in that moment did I realize that I had been invisible to them. A year of starving myself changed that. Now what and who I had wanted, wanted me but I didn’t want it or them anymore.

I never got involved with anyone I knew before that day.

Instead, I met a sweet guy at the cast party. He had my complete attention because I no longer drank or ate at parties, choosing instead the Lean Cuisine and can of soup I ate 2-days in a row before fasting every third.

And so on.

And so on.

He asked me out to Perkin’s for coffee. We never got there. We started making out in his Mom’s car before the dome light finished dimming.

I remember looking at that beautiful boy thinking, “I hope he’s not being kind.” He wasn’t. He just saw me, for who I was that night. A kid in the process of acknowledging who and what he really was. Someone I had kept hidden because being him hurt.

It wasn’t about weight. It wasn’t about clothing. It wasn’t about the boys in the band. It was about learning to trust who I was on my way to becoming and finding him worthy. To see myself as enough instead of too much or too little.

This me, the one here today, accepts himself better. If I can see myself in a mirror, I’m good. There is no such thing as the new me. It’s just me. It’s just you. It’s just us, doing the best we can as we head toward our own unique and inevitable horizon.


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