I believe that things happen for a reason or, at least, that with the right attitude something good can come out of even the worst of experiences. I never really stopped believing this, although, for many years, when the challenges were hard and I was very young, I could have argued the other side quite well.
I don't have the simple childhood memories that so many people have of friends and playing games, of parties and adventures, and of a whole wide world to discover and explore. I remember sadness and pain and a permeating truth that seemed to shape my every action and every thought.
In a child's world of wanting to belong, I lived with the unforgiving fact that I was different.
In a child's world of wanting to belong, I lived with the unforgiving fact that I was different: I was fat. And every interaction--from my brother's unrelenting teasing to my classmates' ridicule to strangers' disapproving stares--told me in word and look that being fat was a very bad thing and, what was worse, that I was to blame.
My parents, though thin in their youth, fought a losing battle with their weight as they approached their late thirties. By the time that each had reached forty, there were clear signs of oncoming heart problems. My mother's blood pressure was out of control, and both my parents showed the telltale signs of diabetes. Within a few short years, my father's blood pressure was far above normal. My mother had suffered three heart attacks, and we lived with an oxygen tank in the closet. I slept lightly, listening for any signs of her distress. In the blink of an eye, within four short years, they were both gone--my father at fifty-two, my mother at fifty-five.
My older brother, fearful of becoming overweight and suffering the same ill health as my parents, chose what he considered an acceptable alternative, but within a short time he was as addicted to diet pills as he had been to junk foods and sweets. When he added other addictions to his repertoire, his immune system failed. He never saw his fortieth birthday, losing a long and terrible battle to a rare form of leukemia that preyed on his already-compromised body.
Before I was out of my twenties, both my parents and my older brother had died.
I was young, alone, sick, fat, and desperately poor.
I was young and alone, and most of all, I was sick and fat as well. I had no money, no real friends, and no one to whom I could turn. I had just been witness to what could be likened to a terrible automobile accident, and although I wanted desperately to avoid the collision myself, nothing I did seemed to make any difference. I had dreams of being behind the wheel of an old car, and though I saw it heading for a crash, I could not make the brakes respond. I stomped my foot on the brake pedal, I tried desperately to turn the wheel, I even tried to open the door and jump out, but nothing I did had any effect. And I awoke in terror to find that my nightmare was simply a reflection of my waking reality.
Some people say that, although they had been chubby as kids, they never suffered any health-related problems until they hit middle age. Not me. At twelve years of age, I was hospitalized for stroke-level hypertension. My blood pressure was 220/120, and I was twice my normal weight. Though not yet in my teens, I had already become a "high-risk patient." My menstrual periods had stopped, and my belly, sides, back, shoulders, and arms were already scarred with deep-purple stretch marks.
Long before I ever kissed a boy, I had become familiar with terms like hypertension, stroke, and coronary artery disease--warnings, said the doctors, of things to come. I had become knowledgeable about death and illness before I knew anything about life and love. At a time when I should have been concerned with friends and dresses and parties, I was trying to cope with staying alive.
Excerpted from The Carbohydrate Addict's Healthy Heart Program by Richard & Rachael Heller/Frederic Vagnini. Copyright© 1999 by Richard & Rachael Heller/Frederic Vagnini. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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