May 17, 2006

A Play A Day #34

Fourteen Steps


Setting: Blank stage.

Play the story, the emotions and pacing should come to you.

Polly: My name is Polly. This is my story. My quest for more and more and less and less. You've heard of me. I've been on the cover of People fifteen times in the past year alone - take that, Tom Cruise - there have already been three made-for-TV movies done about me, and a wildly-popular feature film. My autobiography has been on top of the bestseller list for over six months. Oprah has had me on her show several times.

You know what though? It's dull. Oh, the lifestyle can be pretty amazing; jets, limos, private resorts, anything I want, really. I can't say I haven't splurged on it; you would too if you were a small-town North Dakota girl, meaning, if you were a North Dakota girl, who had always dreamed of escaping her torture. I've escaped it. Left it all behind. Nearly all.

I pushed the limits of good taste in my teens. Raised on a lot of meat and dairy; I spent most days eating cow and drinking cow three times or more. Then there was the sugar. My Mom was a candy person. So, I followed. Jellybeans, candy bars, marshmallows, fudge, licorice, taffy, gumdrops, whatever. We ate it. All. By the time I reached double digits, my weight was well into the triple digits. In sixth grade, puberty. My appetite increased. I was a growing girl. And, so... I grew. By the time I was out of junior high, I was nearly my full height, about 5'6", and I weighed in at 215 pounds. I felt alright about myself, as long as I could avoid most of my peers and most adults, and most of the kids younger than me. I only felt good around my mother whom I now nearly matched in size. Mom was 43. I was 13. What I didn't know then, sitting at my mother's side as we drove back from yet another ice cream run - always at least two gallons of the best brand - was that I had not yet begun to get fat.

The constant ridicule of my classmates, many adults, even many of my teachers, pushed me harder and harder toward what I called "constant consumption". After a large breakfast, I ate on the way to school, I ate during breaks between classes, my locker, which I couldn't really get to when either of my locker neighbors were at theirs, my locker had become a small pantry. I ate at lunch, then after lunch, then on the bus on the way home, then at home, then supper, then dessert, then food until bedtime, and often in bed, too.

I began hiding food at home and at school.

Eventually, even my only remaining friend called me "disgusting". I tried holding on to her, but she made herself as scarce as I made myself large.

Friendless at fifteen, I weighed 305 pounds. I could no longer find clothes that fit me. My own father was increasingly ashamed of me, and began to say as much. Louder and louder.

I ate more and more. Halfway through my senior year, I weighed 387 pounds. I could only wear muumuus. I couldn't fit in the school desks. I couldn't really make it up to the second story of the school building; not without a long pause at the landing. The teasing was so relentless that I honestly don't remember anything anyone said. I shut it all out. Only mother really understood why I was doing it. She was the only one who still held me. My father, my siblings, my relatives avoided me. Maybe that was better. The silence hurt less than the words, or, at least, it was easier to listen to.

My last day of high school. I had hit 398 pounds. Only two days to graduation. Could I make it to 400? In two days? Sure I could. I was just so glad to be done with high school.

I made it home that day, squeezing out the bus door for the last time. I opened the the kitchen door just in time to see my mother collapse to the floor, flailing at her chest. She had had heart trouble before. Her emergency medication was upstairs. In her bathroom. I immediately started off for the meds.

I pushed my way to the stairs. I knew that staircase.

Fourteen steps. Carpeted. Fairly steep. I had not been upstairs to mom and dad's room for at least two years.
Thirteen steps. My adrenaline was pumping. I was terrified. Mom was dying.
Twelve steps. Felt fine. Breathing heavily.
Eleven steps. But that was the situation right?
Ten steps. Yes, too much adrenaline to stop now.
Nine steps. My feet were slamming down impossibly loudly.
Eight steps. And impossibly slowly.
Seven steps. Come on! Move!
Six steps. Your mother is dying! Go faster!
Five steps. Why can't you just take care of yourself like the other girls?
Four steps. You're disgusting!
Three steps. Move it, lardass! What's wrong with you!
Two steps. You're a pig! More slop, piggy?
One step. Why are you so horrible? You're a monster in the body of a teenage girl.
In the bedroom. Light-headed. My heart pounding so hard... so hard... so hard... I can't catch my breath.
My breath. My mom, below me. Is her heart pounding at all? Can she catch her breath? Where are those fucking pills?!!
I find them, turn around. Fourteen steps down. A little faster, but just barely so.
Into the kitchen. Mom is not flailing any more. Her whole body is slack. No twitches. Nothing.
I open the pills, and put two or three in her mouth.
Swallow! Swallow them, momma! Swallow the pills.
I'm sticking my fat fingers into her mouth, stroking her throat, trying to lift her so the pills go down.
She's too big, but dwarfed by me - only 225 pounds.
I can't lift her.
I slap her face.
Wake up, Mom!!
Wake up!!
Eat the pills!
Mom!! Eat the pills!
Eat them!!
Eat them!!
Eat! Eat! Eat!

I screamed at her.

She was dead. I was too fat to save her. I sat there. That's where my Dad and brothers found us. Me, asleep, holding her. I had been down there with her for several hours. On the kitchen floor. When I told everyone what happened... I can't even tell you the reactions I got. I didn't want her to die! She was all I had! It wasn't my fault! It wasn't, was it... but... it was, wasn't it?

She was all I had. She was gone. I spoke to no one at the funeral. People looked at me like a murderer. Like I had weighed her down with despair because of my weight. That my fat had clogged her heart, and eventually stopped it.

All I had left now was food. That summer, I put on fifty more pounds. I could hardly walk. Then my Dad brought me the ultimatum. Lose weight or lose your family. He said he would not be buying me anymore special food. I would only be allowed to eat with the family at meals, and even then, not big portions. No more sugar. No desserts.

I didn't know what to do. I followed along for a couple days, even trying to believe that my father was doing it because he loved me, not because he loathed my appearance. Eventually, I was able to persuade my 11-year old brother that Mom would have been wanting me to eat more. He fell for it. For the next couple months, he would ride his bike into town and return home with enormous bags of candy for me. I told him where to find the stash of money Mom had hid. There was well over two thousand dollars in the box. Only I knew about it. Mom had told me everything.

This lasted until I ticked off my brother one day. It was late October; it was getting very cold. I told him to go in to town. I needed more food. He refused. It was too cold. I unloaded all this anger on him. You know, out of nowhere? Shouting and screaming even after I knew he had left the house. My father, unfortunately, had entered the house. He heard it all. It was over.

The next day, the ambulance came. I was taken to Fargo, then to Minneapolis. To a special unit in a big hospital. The Advanced Fat Camp is what I called it. I weighed in at 479 pounds. The diet started immediately. No sugar. Vegetables. No meat. Fruits. Whole grains. A large regimen of appetite and metabolism medications. Exercise started after a couple days. Assisted at first. Then I had to start walking the halls. If I could get through a progressive series of distances; I could advance to a special treadmill.

Can I just say that I was sooo hungry!

I had never felt so hungry.

I began to worry about what this was costing my Dad. I resolved to lose weight for him. That's not what I told the counselors there; they told me I could only ever lose weight for myself. I agreed with them. Really, it was for Dad now. I was going to make him proud of me.

I dropped weight, faster than I thought possible. Within two weeks, I had lost ten pounds. Then another five, another five, ten here, ten there. In three months, I weighed 430 pounds. I could walk again. It wasn't easy, but I could do it. My Dad's insurance, however, was running out. He called me one day and told me that I could only stay another month. The hospital agreed. They wanted their money.

I dropped almost twenty pounds that last month. The ward felt like family now. I didn't want to leave.

Then the surgery was approved. I got my stomach stapled. After recovery, I was sent back home.

I weighed about 410 pounds. I couldn't eat much. A counselor, dietician and social worker were assigned to my case. I had to report in every day. I had to keep a food diary. I had to start on some career objectives. I had to exercise, everyday. No sugar. I was essentially under house arrest. Insurance company orders.

Damn them too. Because it worked. Because I kept losing weight. By mid-April, I weighed 397 pounds. One pound less than the day Mom died. I went to the steps again. I made it up. Out of breath, but I was there. Fourteen steps. Walking down them, I resolved to continue my program. I would lose weight. I would show everyone. I would do it for Dad. I would do it for Mom.

It started with one step. The hospital didn't count. Those were other people's steps.

Step one: Out the door. Spring day. Windy. I walked. I made it past the garage, almost to the second work shed and then back in the house.

Step two: Only water. No more dairy. No juices.

Step three: Very small portions. I began limiting my portions every day. Just a little less each time.

It was working. 380... 365... 348... 332... 320... 302 pounds. With just those three steps, I was under three hundred pounds by the next spring. I could wear my fiteen year old clothes now. My social worker was so proud of my progress! On the day I dropped below 300 for the first time, she contacted a friend at the local newspaper. Would they like to do a story on a local woman who had dropped 180 pounds in 18 months?

Did they ever! It's a fairly small paper; I was on the front page. Other newspapers picked up the story. The Minneapolis paper talked about how the Advanced Fat Ward had started me off so well. Then reporters started calling. More newspapers, but also radio and television.

I made it onto a Minneapolis newscast. Soon, I was getting calls all day. People wanted to know how I did it. They wanted to know all about me. I was invited to speak. I accepted. I guess I was good at it. I talked about my Mom and candy and my weight gain and my shame and the torture of going to school and my Mom's death and how I couldn't save her. I told them about the fourteen steps. People cried. Well, a lot of fat women cried. I was invited to speak at other meetings and then as an inspirational speaker. I got better and better at it. Soon, even guys were crying.

I started getting known. I started getting paid. First, just a hundred here or there; then two or three hundred everytime.

I kept losing weight. After a year of this increasing schedule. I weighed 225 pounds. What Mom weighed when she died. I was 21, and I was well-known.

Speaking engagements kept rolling in, faster and faster. I started being able to ask for over a thousand dollars per speech. Soon, I was earning two thousand dollars almost every night. The first night that I was paid three thousand dollars to speak, I announced to the crowd that I had dropped under 200 pounds for the first time since I was twelve.

Step four: Become independent. I bought a rather nice house in Minneapolis. Bought a nice car. Got my driver's license. Started plastic surgery to remove the layers of skin and wrinkles that were still there from all that fat.

Step five: Start an exercise group. I began to lead walks for overweight women. They each paid me one hundred dollars per week just for thhe privilege to walk with me three times a week.

Step six: Get my life in order. I hired a personal assistant who arranged my schedule. I started an autobiography. I got more and more speaking engagements, sometimes two or three a day. I was earning over five thousand per speech by now. I hired a business manager and a public relations firm to promote me. More plastic surgery.

Step seven: Embrace celebrity. I was called on to give advice on televison shows, radio shows. I began to write a weekly column for the Minneapolis paper. My exercise groups became more formal. I only had to attend once a month now. I had assistants who taught the women what I would do. More plastic surgery.

Step eight: Renew myself. I began referring to myself as Polly. Never using my last name. The exercise continued. The portions got smaller. The fees for access to me got higher. I bought a much larger house. On my twenty-third birthday, I weighed 148 pounds.

Step nine: Exercise harder. I began running. A lot. I dropped ten more pounds in a month. I was mainly eating lettuce, vitamin pills and drinking water.

Step ten: Find a mate. The offers had been arriving for several months now. I told myself that I was skinny enough now to attract a man. I realized that I could probably attract even better mates with less weight and more money. More plastic surgery to remove all traces of old fat. I was 125 pounds. I was dating, for the first time ever.

Step eleven: Go for the big time. I hired a professional agent. I got an interview on Oprah. I told my story. Women gasped. They cried. I told them my autobiography had all the details. Oprah wept. She hugged me.

Step twelve: Finish autobiography! With some professional writing assistance, it was done in three days. Oprah hyped it. I got richer and richer. Hollywood came calling. Would I want to do a small cameo role in the story of my life? Sure. Love to.

Step thirteen: Assess possibilities for the future. The movie was shot on location in North Dakota. They even used my childhood home for a couple scenes. On my twenty-fifth birthday, I weighed 106 pounds. I was worth over $100 million dollars. I bought several more houses. One in L.A., a walk-up in Manhattan, a vacation home in Key West. Time to start the branding of everything about my life.

I didn't know how far I could take this. How much longer could this success go on? My younger brothers live with me now. They help with the business. My own line of prepared meals are selling well. My walking videos have sold several million copies. The movie earned over 300 million dollars in the U.S. alone. The book is in it's twenty-ninth printing. I have a contract for three more titles, a five million dollar advance on each of them. My plus-sized women's clothing dominates the racks at Wal-Marts and K-Marts all over the country. I even have a candy bar named after me! I'm not kidding. A low-fat candy bar called "Polly"!

My Dad? He still lives in North Dakota, but he's got my pictures up all over the house. I guess he's proud of me now.

I have an Oprah appearance scheduled for next month. The new book is coming out then.

I am the queen of a huge empire. I am in charge. This morning... I weighed 97 pounds.

(very long pause) I'm still fat.

Step fourteen: Cut the fat. Cut the fat. Cut the fat. Cut the fat.

(Polly has pulled up her sleeves and we see, for the first time, hundreds of angry red cuts from her wrist to her bicep on each arm. She begins slicing herself more and more, repeating "cut the fat" with each slice. Lights fade out on this slowly.)



Brendon Etter said...

Yes, I know, a serious play? What are you thinking, Brendon? Nothing. It just came out of me. I probably had to write one sooner or later.

Anonymous said...

Wow. That was like a cross between Wally Lamb's "She's Come Undone," the movie "Secretary," and the Olson twins. The sad thing to me is (minus the personal empire) I know a few people like that.

The subject is hard, but nice play.

Brendon Etter said...

Thanks, man! No idea why I wrote it. I wasn't thinking of anyone personally. Sometimes, I sit down to write and my brain says: "Hey! Fat Girl!" I'm sure millions of people have that same experience every day.