Who’s That Lady?

We wrapped up our final concert business and for the first time I felt like I could breathe. If nothing else, I felt like I had accomplished something rather than feeling like a failure after the night club fiasco I talked about in Stuck at Motel 6. Now What?

After the concert I decided I needed to see my friends and family so I decided to plan the long drive back to California to visit for a week. The intention was to return to Washington to discuss further opportunities to continue building the concert venue. You can learn more about the concert in, Rock Stars Shop at Target Too! 

We had absolutely no money for several months and what we earned from the concert gave us just enough to take care of our basic needs and make the trip home to visit. The added bonus was the letter I received from the Washington State Labor Board the day before we left letting me know I had been awarded the back wages due to me and there was a check sitting at their office for the full amount due. I picked that up on our way out of town. Talk about relief! I was so glad I decided to follow through on the steps required to receive my money even though it broke my heart to take legal action again someone I loved. It’s unfortunate she put me in that position. I am grateful I got paid at the end of it all.

The drive back to California was long and we decided to break up our stay between the bay area and the central valley to make sure we saw as many people as possible. In the nearly 5 years we dated I only met his co-workers and that was because I attended the NAMM show with him 3 years in a row when he went on business. He never introduced me to a personal friend or family member outside of that and told me lies about his family and their whereabouts. He never hung out with anyone outside of my family or my friends but that was usually under protest. I knew of one friend he kept in touch with by phone but they didn’t speak often and I never met her. Since he had no one to see we divided up time to spend time with my relatives and friends which he was not fond of. He just wasn’t a fan of people in general. He came off as a likeable and fun guy in front of people then was hateful behind closed doors when talking about them. I hated that and always felt torn. It was hard to relax and enjoy myself at social gatherings because I was highly aware of his impatience and misery.

The first part of the trip was planned with my close friends then we headed toward Stockton, CA where my immediately family lives with the exception of my dad who is about 1 hour away in the foothills. My mom and sister were hosting a big family barbecue so we could all get together while I was in town. We had family visiting from all over and we were looking forward to being together.

I left California in November of 2006 and I weighed about 320 pounds and wore a size 26/28 . When I returned in June of 2007 I weighed 192 pounds and wore a size 16. I had dropped 6 full sizes and lost 128 pounds by then. I think the last time I wore a size 16 I was in the 8th grade….18 years prior. I was getting comfortable with the transition and saw myself in the mirror every day so I did not realize how fast it happened or how shocking it would be for the people I loved. The people I met in Washington along the way didn’t know the 380 pound me so it wasn’t a big deal in my daily life. Those people met the much smaller version of me. My friends and family knew the 380 pound me and their reaction to my weight loss was a mixed bag.

My friends since childhood walked right past me at the pizza parlor. A friends mother who I’d known since I was 12 asked if we had met before because I was talking to her as if I’d known her for 20 years. That’s because I actually had known her for 20 years. My friends grandparents asked who I was in a secretive way. People were absolutely shocked. I felt like I had to introduce myself to everyone all over again and the subtle whisperings of wonder in the room weren’t so subtle. With every new person I saw, the shock was repeated and so was my explanation that it was ME. This went on for well over a year, by the way. I learned to have fun with it.

Funny thing, when you lose 230 pounds you have the opportunity to see the world from two different perspectives. You get to see people from 2 perspectives. I promise you, people treat me very differently at a size 8 than they did at a size 34/36. My family and friends always loved me for me but acquaintances and strangers proved to treat me differently. It’s been 12 years since I’ve been a morbidly obese person but I am still very much in touch with who I was in my heart and that’s because my heart hasn’t changed. I am still me. I just have a lot less weight to carry around.

I still very much remember those who were cruel to me. I am awarw of people who didn’t acknowledge my existence when I was big. I don’t hold a grudge but I also do not allow those people in my life today. I actually had a guy who was a relative by marriage tell me that he saw me at a family party after I returned in 2007 and was checking me out and asked someone, “who’s the cute redhead?” He had no idea it was me and admitted that when I was a big girl he never gave me the time of day or took me seriously enough to have a conversation with but that I was “super hot now.” How sad. He couldn’t even bring himself to have a conversation with me at a family party because I was fat? We are talking a distant relative… not someone I would date. I actually appreciated his honesty. I think he thought he was doing the honorable thing by telling me that. He was. He gave me the honor of deciding that he is not worth my love or energy. The thing is, he didn’t have to share his little confession with me because I already knew. I could always identify people who treated me like a plague to avoid and he was on that list. I guess I should have been flattered years later that he thought I was “hot” after my weight loss? No. My motto in life from that day forward has been, “If you didn’t love me fat, you don’t get the opportunity to love me thin.” Life is too short for that kind of shallow. I just feel sorry for people like that.

After visiting my friends in the bay area and re-introducing myself to everyone after 20 years of friendship, we headed toward Stockton to enjoy our family celebration. My sister and her husband live in Stockton with their kids and my mom lived with them at the time. In fact, with the exception of a few years in her early childhood after my mom left my dad and one year of adulthood when she first moved in with my brother in law, my sister and mother have co- habitated my entire life until my mom passed away on December 21, 2015. My mom and I were never close but she and my sister were inseparable.

The barbecue was planned at my sisters house since it was centrally located to everyone else. My dad and step mom were driving in to see us and so did my aunt and uncle from the south valley. There was a big group of us planning to get together that day. I had not seen most of them since they came to see me in the hospital after my surgery. I wasn’t nervous to see anyone when I left Washington to visit California but after the intense shock and reaction of my friends I was anxious about seeing my family.

I arrived at my sisters house early the day we were supposed to barbecue and her reaction was shock… followed by my brother in law having the same reaction. Keep in mind that this was before we all had digital cameras or cell phones on our person at all times so no one had seen photos of me. Social media didn’t even exist except for mySpace but i rarely used it. My nephew and I were very close and he was 4 years old when I left. He did not recognize me at all and we had to show him my old picture and explain that it was me. He hugged me and was so excited but you could see the confusion all over his adorable face. He was a little puzzled by me all day.

There is one thing my family does well and that is food! I knew my mom and sister had a big menu planned and there was never a shortage of appetizers or work required to get them plated and served. I arrived early because I wanted to help. Once I hugged and greeted everyone I went to the kitchen with my sister and we started talking about the menu for later that day. It occurred to me I had been in the house for 10 minutes and had not seen my mother at all. I asked my sister where she was and she said she thought she was in the restroom. We continued to discuss the menu and pulled out the items we needed to prepare. I was standing in the kitchen and looked through the cutout wall in the kitchen that overlooks my sister’s family room. My mom had walked out of her bedroom and was standing in the middle of the living room facing the kitchen. She was standing very still and was almost without expression. I stared at her for a moment then realized, “Oh yea, she probably doesn’t recognize me either.”

I put the knife on the cutting board and walked toward my mom to say hello. We hadn’t seen each other in 8 months. I said, “Hey mom!!!” and put my arms out to hug her. She responded with a very meek, “hi” and a half smile. I tried to hug her and it was as if she didn’t care to reciprocate. She met my hug with a half hug, using only one arm. It hurt my feelings and I said, “Mom, it’s me, Kelly.” She looked right through me and said, “Yea, I know.” Her voice was unusually soft. I walked toward the kitchen and she followed me and took a seat at the kitchen table in the dining room. My mom and I were not close in the sense that she did not know my personal girl business or my deepest darkest secrets but we loved each other and had a surface relationship that worked for us, I guess. It was that way until she died. Even with the nature of our relationship, her standoffish greeting didn’t sit well with me.

My mom always cooked and this barbecue wasn’t supposed to be any different. Since she sat at the table I thought she was going to join us to prepare food so I put a cutting board in front of her, a knife and a couple loaves of fresh sourdough french bread that needed to be sliced for spinach dip. I cracked a joke in an attempt to lighten what I thought was tension and said, “Make yourself useful and cut some bread, woman!!” She looked at me with a blank stare and started ripping the loaf into pieces.

Spinach dip was my mom’s favorite! My sister and I made it the way she taught us so I was puzzled when she started ripping the bread into random pieces rather than cutting the bread into small, dipping size pieces. She was not a perfectionist about most things but food presentation was an exception. I promise you, my mother never ripped any food apart to serve to someone else. It had to be cut into perfect pieces. I was totally confused by her. I said, “Mom, what is going on? Are you OK?” She said she was OK but she just felt really tired and was going to lay down a little while.

It was 11:30am. I hadn’t seen my mother in 8 months and we literally had one day to spend together. I couldn’t understand why she was so tired that she would go to bed in the middle of my visit. It was just unlike her. It was typical for her to stay up all night preparing for parties and I thought that may have been the case but my sister said no. She said she had gone to bed earlier the night before and was acting a little weird. My sister said she thought maybe she got a flu bug or something.

Hours passed and our family was arriving one at a time… cue introductions. You guessed it, most of them didn’t recognize me. I walked right up behind my dad and wrapped my arms around him before he realized it was me. There were lots of tears, laughing, screaming and celebrating. We were all genuinely happy to be together and I admit it felt good to have them cheering on my progress. I didn’t get a lot of that in my earlier life. I had to cheer myself on to get through the tough stuff most times.

When my aunt arrived she asked about my mom. My mom only has one sibling and they are 15 months apart. My mom is the oldest. Aside from my aunt, my mom has no living relatives and had less than 5 during my childhood, all of whom have passed. My mom and aunt were close in their own way but not the kind of sisters that keep in touch on the phone or email. They saw each other once or twice a year at family gatherings and called each other for birthdays. That said, I know my aunt was anxious to see my mom and she thought it was weird that she would be sleeping during a party too. I finally woke her up and she said she was going to get up to eat but wanted to use the restroom and freshen up from her nap. I told my aunt she would be out shortly.

Dinner was served and everyone was making their plates. My mom came out to the backyard and gave everyone the same standoffish greeting she gave me. I offered to make her a plate and she said she would get one later. We all made plates and sat down to eat throughout different areas of the backyard and in the house. I was at a table with my aunt, uncle, sister and boyfriend and looked across the yard to see my mom eating. I knew something was wrong. She was sitting alone and in a spot with no table. It almost seemed like she was avoiding sitting with us. She could barely put her fork to her mouth and when she got close, the food fell off and onto her lap because she wasn’t holding the fork properly. The right side of her mouth was droopy. I was fixated and could not stop watching her. The more I watched, the more I suffered in silent terror. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening but I knew it was bad. I finally asked my aunt to look at her. I had already talked to my sister earlier who dismissed it as the flu but this was not the flu. My mom deserted her plate and went back to her bedroom and closed the door. She did not come out after that. I checked on her twice and she assured me she was fine. After the 2nd time I gathered my sister and aunt because I wanted their input.

My sister said my mom had been acting really tired and withdrawn since mid-week and it was now Saturday. My mom was not a picture of perfect health and she neglected herself for her entire life. She smoked an average of 3 packs of cigarettes a day and took no breaks for either pregnancy. She had a history of high blood pressure which we only knew because of her pregnancies but had not been to a doctor since she gave birth to my sister 27 years prior to that day. She was 100-150 pounds overweight with constant fluctuation and had no common sense when it came to nutrition. In her mind, she could eat endless cheese and bacon as long as she didn’t eat too many bananas because they were high in sugar. I take responsibility for my own obesity but I promise you my parents did not teach me healthy habits and they did not feed me healthy food. I have spent a life time being a student of proper nutrition and I still struggle sometimes. During my life I watched the woman butterfly cuts together, nurse pneumonia and horrific dental infections from home because she absolutely refused to seek medical treatment for ANYTHING. When she died, she had 2 teeth left… total. She refused all care, always. None of us thought it would be easy to talk her into getting checked out.

After much discussion, my sister and I approached my mom very directly and told her we were worried and that she was acting very strange. We gave her examples of what we thought was strange. Finally, she said very quietly… “I think I had a little stroke last Wednesday.” Ok, what in the actual fuck of fucks?! She thinks she had a stroke last Wednesday…3 days ago! She didn’t say a word to anyone! I asked why she didn’t say something and she said she didn’t want to ruin the party or my visit so she was going to wait until after I left to see if she felt better. I asked why she thought she had a stroke and she said she tried to write a check at the store on Wednesday night to pay for the party groceries and couldn’t. She said she held the pen in her hand and knew exactly what she wanted to do but she could not get her hand to make the necessary movement to sign the check as though her brain wouldn’t work. My mom had beautiful penmanship. She said she couldn’t sign her name at all so she just scribbled something on the check to get out of the store. She loaded her groceries into the car and drove herself home. Then, she drove herself to and from work on Thursday and Friday. She said she felt tired and light headed the entire time. The women in my family do not miss work. Period. She went to work after a stroke. OMG.

When she admitted she thought she had a stroke that made it easier to convince her we needed to go to the hospital. I am so glad she didn’t fight us. She went. My aunt had already gotten on the road for home so I called to tell her what was happening. I also called my dad. He was already home but would definitely want to know. My parents separated when I was 10 but he was there for her until the day she died, my step mom right there with him to show support.

My sister and I spent the next several days in the hospital. Some vacation that turned out to be. Mr. Wonderful you ask? Oh, he pouted and resented every inconvenience of the hours I spent at the hospital until we had all the answers. He was so selfish through it all because he couldn’t take off with the car to go shop for music or go to Guitar Center to play guitars on display. He didn’t make it easy on me but I was at the hospital every day anyway while trying to accommodate him so he had a place to be while I was with my mom. God forbid he sit at the hospital with me and show his support. His actions were clear and he was simply not my priority anymore.

Earlier I mentioned my motto, “If you didn’t love me fat, you don’t get the opportunity to love me thin,” I was beginning to understand that in some cases the opposite was true. The one person I hoped would treat me differently as a result of my weight loss wasn’t going to treat me better at all. I didn’t lose weight for him but I think I felt deep down inside like his cheating on me and lack of pitching in was somehow a reflection of me or my weight. It was stupid and self destructive to think that way but it was a very real emotion for me back then. It was even more real when the moment hit me and I realized that he was the issue was him and not me. It didn’t matter if I was fat or skinny. It didn’t matter if I was rich or poor. It didn’t even matter that I supported him and provided for his every need for years. It didn’t matter that my friends and family welcomed him and showed him love even when he was rude or withdrawn when interacting with them. The bottom line was, he disrespected me and I had allowed it for way too long. He never once acknowledged my weight loss or praised my efforts. I could put on a dress that made me feel amazing and it would turn every head in the room except his. He didn’t even notice. I spent almost 5 years with a man who made me feel invisible. He was more interested in watching G4 TV which I still refer to as, “Geek TV.” I would be fine to never have to hear that channel in the background of my life ever again. This man wasn’t interested in having a productive and loving relationship with a woman. He was looking for a free ride and a doormat to deliver snacks to him while he watched reruns on The Simpsons. I was pretty close to over it.

One would think that this revelation in 2007 would have been enough for me to end the relationship but quite frankly my mom was sick and I didn’t have the energy to give to the relationship, ending it or otherwise. At this point he was just there. I couldn’t care less either way.

After nearly 2 weeks in California, most of the time spent in the hospital, I planned my trip back to Washington but it was only for long enough to talk to the raceway owner and tell him I had a family emergency that needed my attention in California. My mom did have a stroke after all and her conditioned worsened during the 3 days it took her to tell someone. She had a left brain stroke and lost a portion of her motor skills on her right side. She couldn’t feed herself, get dressed or brush her own hair. Her speech was slurred and got increasingly worse after they admitted her to the hospital. She had a long road ahead of her filled with physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. She couldn’t walk well at all. She was 57 years old.

Since my mom was still of working age this was not a matter of her just going home to rest and recover. She had lost a job after many years of employment with the same company about a year before her stroke but she was working in a warehouse administrative position at KRAFT foods in a temp position and her income was minimal. Regardless, my sister relied on her monthly contribution to the household so this was not only a health emergency for my mom, it created a financial crisis for my sister because their finances were intermingled with shared credit cards, mortgage, etc. Now, there was an added medical expense and the variety of medications they prescribed her as a result of the the stroke. She went from no medical attention for 27 years to a plethora of over priced pills and co-pays for doctor appointments where they prescribed her more pills. They discovered high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol so they did what western medicine always does. They prescribed lots and lots of pills. They weren’t cheap pills either.

My mom could no longer drive which meant she could no longer take on the household errands she helped with before. She had several doctor appointments scheduled with no way to get there and my sister worked full time. I stayed in California to get my mom home, settled with medication and applications filled out for medical and financial assistance but I did have to go back. My dad helped out with my mom’s appointments after I left so my sister wouldn’t have to miss excess work. You know, when your parent is sick with a stroke and has lost the ability to speak and brush their hair… we still can’t miss work. Heaven forbid! Missing hourly pay or being disciplined for absence is not a stress anyone can deal with when someone they love is sick. Period.

I drove back to Washington and spent the 700 mile drive trying to decide what my plan was. My mom lived with my sister and there was no way I was going to move in there. 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 3 adults, 5 kids. Too crowded for me and I didn’t want to live that close quite frankly. I still had my boyfriend in tow. He still did not have any income to contribute. I had a little money left from my back pay and a small unemployment check to get by on but that was not enough to support him anymore.

When we got to Washington I broke the news to the owner of the raceway about my mom and that I felt like I needed to go back to California to be closer to my family since there was so much unknown. I was not planning on being a care giver but I wanted to be close enough in case of emergency and to offer support to my sister during times my mom required extra care. He was sad but he was understanding but I felt like I let him down. I had to make a choice and at that time this was the only choice I could make and sleep peacefully at night. I was sick inside because he had rented this little house for us and signed his name to it. It was a 6 month lease and there was no way I would let him suffer for my lack of ability to meet my commitment. I decided I would do whatever needed to be done to cover it but the landlord was so kind about the situation and agreed to let us break the lease without consequence. I packed up my air mattress, TV and clothes… and Mr. Not So Wonderful, and we headed back toward California. I made arrangements to stay with my aunt and uncle in Visalia. They were just 2.5 south my mom and it gave me a place to stay where I didn’t have to panic about time or getting a job immediately in case my mom needed me. I cooked and cleaned to pitch in wherever possible but I was not a fan of the unemployment line and found a job almost immediately. My uncle is a musician and he got along great with my boyfriend so it was the one place I felt comfortable enough to stay where he wouldn’t be a complete jerk.

It was poetic. I had just lost over 100 pounds. I was feeling fabulous about myself and I was now the new Center Manager at L.A. Weight Loss in Hanford, California. My whole mission in life was to be there for people who were struggling with weight loss! I could deeply empathize and I felt like this was exactly where I needed to be.

That’s when I learned that the diet industry really does prey on people. That slap in the face was the next chapter of my career… I was not going to prey on obese people and take their money but as usual, I did it my way…

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