Before I go, I have something to say

Try This On For Size

There is a vintage suitcase in my bedroom, packed so full I can hardly get the latch closed. It lends a bit of mystery to the room. Was that my grandmother’s valise, the one she used when she eloped? Is it full of old letters, love notes from various men, including The One? Or is it packed so I can run away from home at a moment’s notice?

First of all, my grandmother and grandfather did not elope. They did move from farms near Maquoketa to the big city of Davenport, so maybe she used it then. It’s not full of love letters, either. I have a better filing system for letters than throwing them into a suitcase, and, sad to say, the men who have loved me have not written much more than scribbled notes. (A favorite starts out, “To Pam, a beautiful woman and the one I adore” and continues with a short list of things we needed at the grocery store.)

So, no letters. And not exactly packed for running away. I’ve written before about my fear of packing, of making decisions about what outfits I’ll wish I’d packed in anticipation of weather much different than at home. I have a good imagination, but it does not seem to transfer to imagining myself on a tropical beach as six inches of snow fall around the house in which I am trying to pack.

No, this suitcase contains jeans. Lots of jeans. All from J. Jill, all in their Tried and True cut, the one kind of jeans that really fit me well, and which has, of course, been discontinued. When I learned they were dropping this style from their stores and catalog, I ordered online as many as I could find, even resorting to Google, which turned up a few more. I didn’t care if they were sold on the black market, I needed them. My daughter also gave me several pair she no longer wears.

I don’t know how many are in there. All I know is that the ones in my dresser are those that fit right now. They reside with my sweatpants and stretch knit pants from L.L. Bean, which don’t look as dowdy as they sound. Those I can wear any time, but jeans, that’s a different matter. You don’t even need a mirror. If they won’t go past your thighs, they need to be packed away. If, on the other hand, you can grasp a handful of denim just below your backside, you’re going to look like you’re wearing your big brother’s jeans.

A lot of women have a “fat” wardrobe and a “skinny” one. A friend of mine lost an enormous amount of weight, but was so uncertain it would last, she could not bring herself to buy a lot of new clothes. She was afraid she’d turn out to be yo-yo dieter, one whose weight goes up and down, or rather, down and up. Unfortunately, her plus-size clothes left her looking half-starved, or perhaps suffering from some dire illness that caused alarming weight loss. (Another friend once made the dreadful mistake of telling someone who had slimmed down considerably, “You look great!” It turned out the woman had ovarian cancer, and would die of it not long after.)

My weight has been fairly stable, except those two times I was pregnant. My mom loved to say, “I’ve only weighed over 100 pounds twice, and both of them were girls!” Very funny, Mom. I had no idea what my body would look like after the first baby was born, and, luckily, brought my stretchiest sweatpants along for the ride home. More recently, I’ve found that being a hospital inpatient causes me to pack on the pounds. When I was hospitalized for 18 days in a head pain unit in an attempt to get my migraines under control, I moved so little and ate so much, I gained 14 pounds and had to forget about jeans. I mean, the dietary aide came by each morning to read us the menu for the next day, including a bed time snack. I never eat a bed time snack at home, but I figured, What the hell. Bring on the graham crackers!

When I was hospitalized for surgery last summer, I managed to gain 7 pounds overnight. It was just water weight, I learned later, from all that fluid they pump into you. It would have been nice if someone had warned me. I mean, they took an organ out – wouldn’t you expect to weigh at least half a pound less? But no.

So when I got home and felt like wearing something other than my robe, it was a relief to have that suitcase o’ jeans. I think it’s sad that I felt embarrassed pulling on a size considerably higher than normal. Who did I think was watching? Or, for that matter, caring? I swear, the words YOU ARE NOT YOUR SIZE should be tattooed to every mirror.

When I was a teenager, my mom said something unfortunate. We were baking a cake, and I was happily licking the spoon, the bowl, and the beaters. Mom – the only person I have ever known who could bake not only cakes but also chocolate chip cookies without tasting one bit of the batter – said to me with a sigh, “I guess you’re going to be like my mother. Always a little overweight.”

I was appalled. What a thing to pass down to your child! It’s no wonder I became anorexic soon after. These days, if anyone dared to say something like that, I would tell them I’ve got a suitcase full of jeans upstairs – and I’m not afraid to wear them.

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