This past weekend, Theresa and I visited my family and I noticed something that I’ve only cued into consciously in the last few years: I get fat when I visit my family.
I don’t mean I put on a lot of weight due to my mom’s yummy cooking and the splurges I allow myself in my hometown (though my mom’s cooking is yummy and I do often allow myself a splurge or two).
I mean that an old story inflates around me like one of those blow-up sumo suits (have you seen people bouncing off each other at local baseball games in those things?) as soon as I return to my hometown. When I look at myself in mirrors in Greensboro, I see an unwieldy body and a rounder face in which I have a hard time discerning any attractiveness. When I look at myself in mirrors in Greensboro, I see a reflection that isn’t good enough, that’s less than.
Our families are the keepers of our oldest stories, our deepest baggage, and our hardest-to-excavate mythology. Most of us feel our families as the Keepers of the Truth even if our intellectual selves don’t agree. In that way, our emotional and intellectual selves are in cahoots, with our emotional selves too hounded by these old stories to work up the nerve to question them, and our intellectual selves saying that there’s no point. “I’ve pieced together all that we’ve experienced and known,” it seems to say, “and it’s an unimpeachable Fact that this is the truth of us and our family.”
When I was a kid still holding onto the last vestiges of baby fat, I believed I was fat. And when I stretched into a lean teenager, I believed I was fat. And when I rounded back out into an objectively overweight young adult, I believed I was fat. And it wasn’t until I lost 50 pounds in my mid-20s that I started entertaining the idea that maybe I wasn’t so fat anymore. But that fat kid belief still lives in the gremlin voices formed in my earliest days, and they are the loudest when I return to those stomping grounds and those people who have known me all along.
And so I look into mirrors in Greensboro and I notice the trick my eyes and gremlins are playing on me. And I return home and am amused to find I have again dropped to my current weight, that I can again find something pleasing about what I see in that reflection. And the noticing helps offset the discomfort of those gremlin-induced mind games, but only some.