My younger brother just scheduled bariatric surgery.

They will reduce his stomach to the size of a banana.

He said he can’t go another decade being heavy.

He asked me to remember when our parents got divorced, when he was 10 and I was 15 and I said, “See ya later!” as he filled time and loneliness with dry cereal and Swiss cake rolls.

I tried to commiserate, even though I knew I risked insulting him, since his weight issues have always been much greater than mine — said we both snacked way too much, and paired it with convenience eating:

Hamburger Helper on the countertop was mom telling us what’s for dinner

And award systems:

1 visit to church on Sunday = 1 sausage biscuit with egg at the drive-thru

We fell into negative routines: Dad yelled at me, I yelled at my brother, and then we nursed our wounds together with salt, sweet, repeat.

But I left him behind, as I drove off in my new-used car to my job at the cineplex. Too self-absorbed, too void of empathy, I focused on my own teen freedom. It’s kind of all I could do.

On a visit home, a year after moving out, I looked through the toys stored in the basement. I found my precious Barbie dolls defaced with black Sharpie. Sprawling pubes and thick beards running up the sides of their faces, that’s what Barbie was now wearing.

I cried awkwardly, knowing it was stupid, who cares about these basement-smelling Barbies anymore anyway. My mom patted my arm in half-assed consolation.

A week later I got a handwritten apology letter from my brother. His words surprised me; it had been so long since I paid attention to his voice.

There were good times—when we were still a family unit, and we could watch the clock and know exactly when our parents would be home. We snuck into the kitchen like little raccoons, looking for snacks we could eat without them noticing:

Peel a few slices off the Velveeta log, a handful of cereal, a spoonful of JIF, or go to the downstairs basement freezer and hope that mom would forget what she bought in bulk by the time she wanted to bring it upstairs.

But food would hurt us as adults, it would get us back for our theft.

It would strain our knees and be that voice in our ears repeatedly whispering “shame.”

I hope the doctor cuts it all away and gives him a new start.

 

Postscript: Over 100 pounds down.

 

I struggle to imagine his new way of eating, of calculating grams and ounces in his head. He said, “Think of it this way, the portion of meat is a deck of cards and the vegetable, a shot glass.” Still confused, not sure why the vegetable is in fluid ounces, I just drop it and tell him how proud I am that he is doing so well.

“Not so fast,” he says, “when I look in the mirror, I look the same.” “What?” I say, “but I’m looking at this cell phone pic, this ‘before and after’ you sent me, you see this right?” And he’s like, “You can’t understand.”

I do, I think, in a slightly different way. I’ve hid behind extra pounds since my pre-teens in the hopes of becoming an invisible sex object. I went 15 years without owning a swimsuit. I almost never say no to seconds. I often have the thought about not eating ice cream at 10 pm, then realize I am looking at an empty container.

On an internet date in college, a man weighing about 350 pounds knocked on my door and I was surprised (his head shot from 10 years prior didn’t give me any clues) but I refused to reject him because of this deception, I thought to myself, this guy is going to get every chance in the world because that’s what I want for my brother. This gesture based on familial loyalty went on for months until I realized unlike my brother, this guy was a dick, and it was safe for me to stop having sex with him because my point had been made.

Another gesture unknown to my brother is my hatred of Gwyneth Paltrow since her portrayal of a 300-lb woman’s “inner beauty.” One scene has her doing a cannonball that empties a community pool of water and throws a boy up into a nearby tree. Perhaps she really believed that fat people aren’t really themselves until they lose excess weight. Maybe she thought that her 25 lb plastic fat suit would show us the way.

The thing is, my brother and I do not have that much in common. In fact, despite both loving alien and vampire movies, all we really have is food, and the struggles surrounding it. We’ve spent more time talking about our favorite ice cream and cheese rather than our hopes and dreams. When I look at that “before & after” pic he sent me, I have to stare really deeply—

“Are you my little brother?”

We are both asking questions of these reflections and wondering if lives can be so changed with a scalpel and some stitches.

 

 

 

 

Kelly Froh author photo

 

Kelly Froh was born in Sheboygan, WI in 1974. She graduated from Emily Carr University of Art & Design in 2006 with a BFA in Fine Arts. Her comics and stories have appeared in The Seattle Weekly, Poetry Northwest, Moss, Rookie, and The Women’s Review of Books. Kelly has performed her comic stories at Hugo House’s acclaimed Literary Series, Lit Crawl, Pecha Kucha, On the Boards, Spark Central, and at Bumbershoot. Kelly is also the co-founder and Executive Director of Short Run Comix & Arts Festival in Seattle.

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