Lindsay Watkins stood in line behind the usual covey of women who attended the noon Weighty Matters group. The woman in front of her removed a jacket, a scarf, her shoes, and a wristwatch as she approached the dreaded scale. Lindsay thought about mimicking her, removing her own mules, shrug, and her jewelry. Her dress. Her undergarments—all of it in one giant fabric pile, with Lindsay buck-naked before the scale—but why? She had to face the inevitable.
“Five pounds!” the woman behind the counter exclaimed. “You’ll get a sticker.”
The woman collected her clothing, spun around, and smiled like she’d won the lottery. “I lost five pounds! Did you hear?”
“I heard.” Lindsay wanted to share her joy like any support group buddy should, but she had her own weighing to face. Even coming today had been hard. She’d avoided it all together last week, but then remembered her $42 monthly fee and thought she at least damn well better show up. Maybe this session would be the one to get her back on the horse.
Who was she kidding? She was the horse.
“Next?” the counter woman said.
Lindsay stomped right up and stepped on the scale.
“Don’t you want to at least take your sweater off?”
She slipped it off and let it fall to the floor. “Does that help?” she asked, trying to peer over the linoleum counter to read the scale.
“A little,” the woman’s grin might have been a wince.
“Well?” Lindsay demanded.
“You’re up a little.”
“How much is a little?”
“Six pounds, four ounces.”
The woman’s mouth popped open like a figurine nutcracker. Lindsay forgot the “polite discourse” rule for the meeting. “I’m sorry.” She swept up the jacket. “It’s been a hard week.” Hard month. Hard year.
“I understand. We’re just glad you’re back. You’ll like Kelly’s message.”
Kelly, the effervescent group leader, moderated the meeting. She claimed to have once weighed over two hundred, but now “Loves the new me” in a size six. Ten years a life-star member. So diligent with her fruit eating and love for celery. Lindsay envied her. Hated her.
And needed her.
She took a chair in the third row, far from the others, who compared progress on the “Success cards” they brought every week. Her own card displayed the roller coaster of her life. Starting weight: one-ninety. Lowest: one-sixty-seven. (Eight months ago, before Ian left the second time.) She’d hovered around one seventy-six for a few months, coming to meetings, counting her calories, and stomping around the house in her Fitbit, but motivation waned. She stopped meetings because of the embarrassment of weighing in.
Until today. Until she clocked out of her job at the advertising firm for lunch and drove her fat self to this meeting. Time to get back on the wagon.
Chairs filled. Chatter built. Happy sharing of good news: “I have a smoothie in the morning. Kale salad at lunch. Haven’t used any of my weekly points!”
“You don’t use any? Wow.”
“I love edamame for a snack.”
“Kill. Me. Now.” These last words whispered beside her. Lindsay turned to find a young woman with short cropped black hair and blue tattoos snaking from the sleeve of her top.
“Sorry,” the woman said. “I just can’t get this enthused about beans. You?”
“If I see another kale salad, I may throw it at someone.”
“I hear ya, sister.” She held up a hand for a fist bump. “Haven’t seen you here before.”
“I took a sabbatical. A calorie-filled, Oreo-laden sabbatical.”
The woman nodded knowingly. “My last binge included eight thousand calories worth of salted caramel ice cream.”
Lindsay’s stomach rumbled at the idea of ice cream and she had a fleeting thought of sneaking out of the meeting.
Kelly bounded into the room, dressed in a belted, knee-length shift with a chiffon scarf frothing at her neck. She beamed at everyone as she made her way to the front. On the easel behind her, a pad read “Overcoming Cravings for a Better You.”
Lindsay needed to overcome hers, but none of Kelly’s brilliant ideas: “Take up knitting,” “eat a few almonds,” “take a walk instead” sounded at all like viable solutions to the Oreos in her pantry.
“Try crack,” the woman beside her whispered. “Bank robbery is a great hobby.”
The laugh that blurted out of Lindsay surprised her and much of the room. “Sorry,” she muttered.
“It’s okay, Lindsay. We’re just glad to have you back.” Kelly’s wide eyes softened, but Lindsay couldn’t be sure if it was sympathy or pity. Others proclaimed their delight that she had returned to the fold.
“They like you,” the woman said. “It’s like belonging to a happy fat sorority.”
“What about you?”
“I haven’t pledged yet.”
From the corner of her eye, Lindsay surveyed the woman. Not as overweight as Lindsay. Maybe had fifteen pounds to lose. She wore black leggings and a fluttery t-shirt. The tattoo on her right wrist was a purple iris.
After Kelly’s rallying lecture, members shared their ways to prevent distracted eating. (“Eating without thinking,” Kelly clarified.) One woman completed a model airplane. Another had found purpose in sudoku.
Lindsay felt so far away from them, from their successes and their solutions, but she had to do something before her body was no longer savable.
Next came “celebrate successes” and she had had enough. She collected her purse and jacket, prepared to stand, when the woman whispered, “Hey. There’s a Starbucks across the street. Interested in a skinny latte with Splenda?”
“Sure.” This was not a Lindsay-like move. She was cautious, careful to develop friendships, calling few people true friends. But at that moment, she needed the risk of this strange tattooed woman, even if it meant being late returning from lunch.
When they reached the coffee shop, they ordered and claimed a table on the patio. Lindsay sipped and wished she asked for a third Splenda.
“I’m Carol. Carol McCauley.” The woman held out a hand and Lindsay shook it.
“Lindsay Watkins. Failed dieter.”
“I thought there was no such thing,” Carol said. “Today is the first day of the rest of your BS life, right?”
“Right.” Lindsay stared into her coffee, pondering the pinwheel cinnamon buns she’d seen at the counter.
“Well, Lindsay Watkins. What’s your story? Married? Kids? Sweet little home in the burbs?”
The interrogation felt intrusive. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea.
“I’ll go first.” Carol sipped. Her blue fingernails glimmered in the sunshine. “I’m in school, finishing a social work degree. I’m at WM because my therapist feels like the group will be good support and encourage me to binge less.”
Therapist? Great. She’d found the one woman more screwed up than she was to have coffee with.
“I’m doing okay,” she went on. “I climbed out of my old crazy thinking and the starvation. But school is a lot of pressure and I regressed. Today is my fourth visit to Weighty Matters.”
Lindsay found herself connecting with Carol, with the pressure she felt, the torturous relationship with food. Overeating wasn’t like alcoholism. One couldn’t simply abstain from food.
“I’m separated,” Lindsay said, because it was her turn. “My husband, Ian—we’ve been together since high school. Before that even.” For most of her life, Ian had been a touchstone. Dating and marriage seemed the perfect answer, these two buddies with so much in common. Until she tried, and failed, to get pregnant. The biggest injustice of her life—what should be so easy held just out of her grip. They went to a fertility clinic they couldn’t afford and did everything asked of them, to no avail. Her frustration mounted. His sense of failure that nothing worked. Tension slowly destroyed them.
“Is that why you’re at Weighty Matters? To save your marriage?”
“I came to Weighty Matters so I could get control of one damn thing in my life.”
Carol lifted her cup in a mock toast. “To control, whatever the hell that is.”
Lindsay laughed, too, feeling oddly lighter.
“So. You coming back next week?” Carol asked.
She sipped. And thought. And wondered if maybe this time, she’d succeed. “I will if you will.”
Carol smiled. “It’s a date, Lindsay Watkins.”
Carla Damron is a novelist, social worker and advocate. Her short story, "Weighty Matters," was a Finalist (Jury Selection) of the PLA 2018 Short Story Contest and was selected by Richland County Public Library to be published in this Short Story Dispenser.