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Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Selfby Lori Gottlieb
Today was my first appointment with Dr. Gold, and of course Mom was more nervous about my appointment than me. She went through my closet before school and started picking out different outfits that looked cute, like we were deciding what I should wear to a boy-girl party. She even made me change sweaters three times, and I ended up wearing an itchy mohair one. "I can't believe you're dressing me up for the shrink!" I said, but Mom told me I wasn't dressed up. Then the second I met Julie on the corner to walk to school, she asked what I was all dressed up for. I said I wasn't all dressed up, but Julie said I normally don't wear mohair sweaters and lip gloss unless I like someone. She kept bugging me the whole way because she thought I wouldn't tell her who I liked.
I finally got rid of Julie at school, but then I was walking over to my usual trash can to throw out my lunch when Jason Meyer cornered me in the hallway. Jason always tries to hang out with the popular boys, but believe me, they hate his guts because he makes stupid jokes all the time. Anyway, since I haven't been talking to Leslie or anyone since they made a big deal about the Presidential Physical Fitness Award, I didn't even know about the school carnival this Friday. So when Jason asked me to go with him, I was pretty surprised. I mean, I wasn't planning on going in the first place, but even if I was, I'd never go with Jason, even if I'm not popular anymore.
The problem is, I wanted to be nice about it because everyone else is so mean to Jason, but I also didn't want Leslie or Lana to see me in the hall with him. So I told Jason it had nothing to do with him personally, it's just that I didn't want to go to the carnival. It was a big lie, of course, because if Chris asked me, I'd probably go with him, but I figured Jason would fall for it because he's so dense. But he's so dense that he wouldn't leave me alone about going with him, even though I only made up the lie in the first place so I wouldn't hurt his feelings. Then the bell rang and I had to run all the way to homeroom so Mr. Miller wouldn't give me a tardy. The worst part was, I never got a chance to dump my lunch. That meant I had to smell food in my desk until recess, which made me kind of hungry.
When it was finally time for my appointment after school, the mohair sweater Mom made me wear was itching like mad. Mom decided to drive me there because she said she didn't want Dr. Gold to think I was an orphan. She sure seemed to be worrying a lot about what Dr. Gold might think of her, even though I was the one who was supposed to be crazy. Dr. Gold didn't have any Redbook magazines in his waiting room, though, so Mom decided to prepare me for my appointment while we waited. "Try to remember what he says when he explains why you're doing this to us," she said. "Don't forget to tell him that we can't take much more of this, and that we just don't know what to do with you anymore."
Finally Dr. Gold came out and shook Mom's hand, and told me to go inside. Mom smiled and started to say how concerned she was about me, but right when Dr. Gold was about to close the door, she started crying. I told Dr. Gold that maybe Mom should take the appointment instead of me, but Dr. Gold just said it was my session and he didn't want to take up my time. Then he talked to Mom until she calmed down and left. I wish he'd show me how to do that sometime. I figured Dr. Katz was right about Dr. Gold being so great, but when Dr. Gold came in and sat down on his big leather chair, I knew he couldn't help me. You should see him. He's almost as fat as Dr. Katz.
"Why don't you tell me a little bit about what's been going on recently," Dr. Gold said in a really quiet voice. I figured Dr. Katz forgot to tell me that you're supposed to whisper at the shrink, so I whispered to Dr. Gold that I knew Dr. Katz already told him about me, and it was stupid for me to repeat everything. But Dr. Gold whispered that he wanted to hear in my own words what's been going on, and I have to admit, I kind of liked him for asking. No one cares what I think anymore. Then I whispered to Dr. Gold that the only thing going on is that everyone's making a big deal because I'm on a diet, and that I don't understand why I have to see a psychiatrist when everyone who's popular at school is on a diet, too.
That made Dr. Gold nod at me for a long time. I didn't know why he bothered asking me a question if he wasn't planning on talking anymore. He was really boring me, so I looked down at my thighs and tried to multiply eight sets of leg-lifts per leg, times 40 calories, times seven days, and divide that by 3500 calories, which equals a pound, all in my head. I was right in the middle of multiplying when Dr. Gold asked if I thought the girls at school who diet are overweight. It was such a stupid question that I forgot to whisper when I answered. "Of course they aren't overweight, didn't I already say they were popular?" I mean, duh. But Dr. Gold just nodded again, then he wanted to know if I thought I was overweight. I pointed at my uncrossed thighs so he could see for himself, and he nodded like crazy. Finally, someone understands.
After that, Dr. Gold got out some paper and a pencil and asked me to draw pictures of my friends and me. I told him I'm bad at art, but he just held out the pencil and smiled. I was starting to think that maybe something was wrong with Dr. Gold — you know, nodding and smiling all the time for no reason. He kind of scared me, so I figured I should draw what he wanted. I took the pencil and drew Leslie, Lana, Tracy, and me. Except I'm the one with the thunder thighs in the picture, not Tracy. Then I gave the drawing back to Dr. Gold.
Dr. Gold looked at the drawing and nodded some more, then he gave me more paper and asked me to draw my "ideal" of what I want to look like. He was still whispering the whole time. I almost complained, but when I saw Dr. Gold smiling at me again, I decided to do what he asked. He was really giving me the creeps.
So I picked up the pencil and drew a girl I want to look like. She was tall and skinny, but she had my face and hair. When Dr. Gold took the drawing back, he didn't nod. "This is a stick figure," he said, like I didn't understand the assignment the first time. "Try to draw a realistic picture of how you'd like to look. Don't worry if you aren't very good at art." He must have thought I was terrible at art. I tried explaining how that was exactly the way I want to look, but Dr. Gold said I wouldn't be alive if I looked like that drawing. "Well if you don't like it, then stop asking me to draw pictures of what I want to look like," I said, then I told him to forget the whole thing. What an idiot.
But Dr. Gold didn't seem like he was forgetting the whole thing, because he kept looking at my drawings and nodding to himself. Finally he asked about my family. "Tell me about what's been going on during dinnertime in your house," he said. I was wondering how much time was left before I could go home and exercise, but I didn't want Dr. Gold to tell Dr. Katz that I'm crazy, so I decided to answer him. "Well, you know, we eat around 6:30. Maria and Mom make dinner, and Dad tells jokes, and David and I laugh and talk about how fun school was," I said. Except I was really talking about the family on The Brady Bunch. The truth is, I didn't feel like telling Dr. Gold anything personal anymore.
After that, Dr. Gold wanted to know what I like to do for fun. I have to admit, I was pretty surprised since that's not one of the usual questions adults keep asking me lately. So I told him that I like to play chess and read books and do math problems, but the minute I said it, I wanted to take it back. I figured Dr. Gold would definitely tell Dr. Katz I'm crazy because I didn't say that I like to go shopping and follow boys around all day.
But Dr. Gold didn't call me crazy. Instead he took a chessboard out of his desk and started setting up the pieces. He even said I could be white if I wanted, since white goes first, and we played chess until it was time to go. I was three moves away from winning when his light went on, which Dr. Gold said meant that someone else came in the entrance door and was waiting for the next appointment. Probably some other lady on a diet.
On the way out, I asked Dr. Gold if he thought I was crazy. I really wanted to know. He said that no one thinks I'm crazy, but I told him that my parents think I'm crazy, and so do my teachers and friends and Dr. Katz. Then he didn't say anything, so I asked him why I have to go to a shrink if I'm not crazy. That's when Dr. Gold said that people see psychiatrists just to have someone to talk to. I'll bet Dr. Katz told him how I have no friends left at school. I knew Dr. Gold wanted me to go because he had another person waiting, but I had one last question first.
"Why are psychiatrists called shrinks?" I asked. Dr. Gold laughed for the first time and said that the word comes from an old wives' tale about healers who had the power to shrink the heads of their patients. Then he practically pushed me out the exit door. So I walked to the elevator, then I figured I'd take the stairs for the exercise. I usually count the number of stairs to figure out how many calories I'm burning, but today I was still thinking about what Dr. Gold said. I mean, if a shrink can shrink you, maybe seeing Dr. Gold once a week won't be that bad.
When I got home from Dr. Gold's, Mom and Dad wanted to know how the appointment went. "What did Dr. Gold say?" Mom wondered. She probably wanted to know if he figured out why I'm ruining her life. I told her that we just played chess for a while, which didn't thrill Dad too much. "I paid that man eighty dollars so you could play chess?" he asked. "I guess," I said, but then I thought his vein might start popping out, and I didn't feel like getting in a fight right before we had to leave for Parents' Night at school. So before anyone could scream at me, I ran up to my room. Besides, I couldn't wait to change out of that itchy mohair sweater.
Copyright © 2000 by Lori Gottlieb
Parents' Night was totally phony. The teachers told all the parents that their kids are incredibly smart and hardworking and courteous, even the parents of the really dumb and lazy and nasty kids. Mr. Miller didn't even complain about how I won't say the Pledge of Allegiance anymore because there really isn't liberty and justice for all. Instead he told Mom and Dad that I'm an absolute delight. "A bit too compulsive maybe, but an absolute delight. An absolute delight." He said it twice like that, in case Mom and Dad didn't hear it the first time.
Then all these parents came up to us and started talking about how proud Mom and Dad must be of me. They were talking about how I won the middle school science contest and the Presidential Physical Fitness Award, how I got the lead role in the French play, and how my picture was posted in a clipping from the school newspaper because I came up with the "most unique" model for a town. I was hoping Mom wouldn't get mad at me for being unique again, but she didn't see that part because she was looking at my picture. "Why can't you look like your friends?" she asked, I guess because there was a picture of Leslie and Lana from the talent show next to mine. "They have such adorable little figures." I'd have to lose ten pounds to look like Leslie and Lana.
I couldn't stand being with all the adults, so I walked away and then I saw Leslie and everyone by the water fountain. But when I got close I could hear them talking about what everyone was wearing, and I hate talking about that. Besides, Leslie's still mad about the Presidential Physical Fitness Award, and she's turned everyone against me. So instead I went into the bathroom where I figured I'd sit on a toilet seat and draw chess strategies on the bottom of my sneakers, but Lana and Tracy were already there flipping their hair in front of the mirror. They were using all this hair spray, and when I tried explaining how it's bad for the air, Tracy turned and said, "No, you're bad for the air, Lori." Then she looked at Lana and they laughed like mad.
I obviously wasn't about to stay there, but I didn't have anywhere to go either. So I walked around the halls until I ended up by that trash can I always throw my lunches in before homeroom. The janitor already emptied the trash so all the parents would think our school is really clean, and I sort of wondered if the janitor ever noticed my lunch sitting in there. I kind of hoped he did, and that he gave it to someone who wanted it, but I doubted it. Then I couldn't stop thinking about the janitor and how I've never seen what he looks like because he comes after school. I mean, no one even knows he's alive. I'll bet he's as lonely as I am. It made me so sad thinking about how lonely we are that I almost started crying. But then I figured Mom and Dad might be wondering where I went, so I walked back to where all the parents were. Except they weren't looking around for me like I thought they'd be. They were too busy talking to Leslie's parents about fancy restaurants and stuff. They didn't even notice I was gone.
That's when I saw Fred Smuckler walk in with his mom. Fred is this incredibly nerdy kid with buckteeth, so I was pretty surprised he came to Parents' Night. I mean, he never even talks to anyone when he's at school, so I couldn't figure out why he'd want to come back to talk to nobody at night. He probably got dragged here by his parents, like I did. His mom was yelling at him because he lost his glasses in one of the classrooms and they were expensive. I never saw Fred without his gigantic glasses before, but he still looked incredibly nerdy. It wasn't at all like when Miss IQ took off her glasses and you found out she was pretty all of a sudden.
Anyway, Fred and his mom walked over to the wall where everyone's assignments were pinned up. I wanted to look at the assignments, too, but not when Fred was there. I didn't want Leslie starting a rumor about me talking to him, so I went to a different wall by my parents. But then the most embarrassing thing happened. Fred and his mom came up and started standing with us. You could tell Leslie got a big kick out of that. The reason they did this is that Fred's mom wanted to tell my parents how impressed she was with my typing assignment. She kept talking about how great it is that I already learned how to set the margins on business letters, because it's important for girls to know, just in case.
"In case of what?" I asked, but Fred's mom laughed and said I didn't have anything to worry about. "With a slender figure like yours, you won't have any trouble finding a husband," she said. "You'll probably get married before you even think about being a secretary." Like I'm planning on being a secretary my whole life if I don't get married. Then Mom noticed that where I wrote my name, "Lori," on the bottom corner of the assignment, some idiot changed it to "Hori." Real hilarious. I swear, everyone in my grade thinks they're Johnny Carson.
I know it sounds dumb, but all of a sudden I thought I might cry again. I was sick of being at Parents' Night, and I was sick of everyone at school. I guess Fred knew how I felt, though, because then he did the nicest thing. I couldn't believe it. He went over to his desk, took out a pencil, and came over to the wall to change my name back to "Lori." He didn't say one word when he did it either. I said thanks, and Fred kind of smiled back so you could see his buckteeth. That's when I heard Leslie laughing across the room. I knew she'd go and tell everyone that Fred was in love with me, or even worse, that I was in love with him, but I almost didn't care anymore. I even wondered if Leslie was the one who wrote "Hori," or if she put Lana up to it. Believe me, Lana would do anything Leslie wanted. She'd probably go off her diet if Leslie said to.
We went home pretty soon after that, thank God. But when I was walking upstairs, Dad noticed my typing assignment hanging out of my pocket. I tried to put it back in, but then the other assignment I took off the wall fell out by accident. It was Leslie's history assignment, which was supposed to be on the woman's suffrage movement, but she did it on Susan B. Anthony's clothes, naturally. Because I was mad at her for writing "Hori," I crossed out "Leslie" and wrote "Puslie" on the bottom of her assignment, but later I felt bad about it, so I took it down. Dad wasn't too happy about that. He said that first thing tomorrow morning, he's calling Dr. Gold because he isn't paying someone to play chess with me when I have a big problem with stealing other people's property. I wonder if he's also planning on telling Dr. Gold about Mr. Miller calling me "an absolute delight," but I doubt it. I don't think Dad heard that part, even though Mr. Miller said it twice.
Copyright © 2000 by Lori Gottlieb
Don't Talk with Your Mouth Full
Dad called Dr. Gold to tell him what happened at Parents' Night, and Dr. Gold said we should go in for a family session. I guess Dad couldn't find all the answers he needed about me in The Golden Cage. He read the whole book in one night, then he gave it to Mom, but she was more interested in reading one of her sappy romance books. So I asked Mom if I could borrow The Golden Cage, and she said okay since it might take her a while to get to it. She was happy we bought it, though. "At least someone understands what I'm going through," she said. She was pretty excited about that.
I was excited to read The Golden Cage because it's written by a doctor named Hilde Bruch. I was hoping that since Hilde's a woman, she'd say how normal it is for women to diet. It turned out to be an incredibly stupid book, though, mostly because it said the whole reason I'm not eating is because I don't want to grow up. Which is totally wrong. I can't wait to grow up so it'll be normal to diet.
The only part I liked was when Hilde told stories about teenagers named Kate, Hazel, and Karla who felt as lonely as I do. There was even this one girl named Celia who had a mother just like mine. Hilde said that Celia's mother "behaved in an exceedingly childish way." I liked reading about these girls because they were interested in painting and music and books and math, unlike Leslie and Lana. Plus they did smart things like wear weights under their sweatpants for their weight checks, and some even threw up after they ate so none of the calories would be digested. Believe me, I never would have thought of that.
Dad's office is one block away from Dr. Gold's office, so Mom, David, and I met Dad in the waiting room for the appointment. We were early, so Dad pulled out his Wall Street Journal, Mom filed her fingernails, and David leaned against the wall so Mom and Dad could take the chairs. I swear, David's such a kiss-up.
I got pretty bored waiting, so I started going over the lines in my head for this French play I'm in at school. I play a rabbit called Janot Lapin, who's the leader of a group of farm animals. It's not the most interesting play in the universe, but we only know three verb tenses so far so we didn't have a lot of choices. There's this one scene where I'm really hungry because the landowners aren't feeding us, and I keep saying, "J'ai faim." In case you don't know, that means "I'm hungry," but it really means "I have hunger." That's what real French people say. I think it's neat how French people have hunger, but they aren't hungry like Americans are. I mean, it's a lot easier to try not to have something than to try not to be it.
I practiced my lines for a long time before Dr. Gold finally called us into his office. I sat in a leather chair kind of like Dr. Gold's, David took the other chair, and Mom and Dad were left with the giant couch. They looked pretty uncomfortable being on a psychiatrist's couch. Dad kept shifting around, and Mom kept crossing and uncrossing her legs so much I thought she might snag her panty hose, which definitely would have made her cry. Then Dr. Gold smiled and thanked everyone for coming in, and I worried for a second that he might never stop smiling, just like the last time.
But Dr. Gold surprised me. He came right out and asked Mom and Dad to talk about why things aren't going so well in our house. Then Mom and Dad looked at each other and decided to let Dad talk, probably because he answers all the "why" questions in our family. "Well, doctor, we honestly don't know why Lori's acting this way," he said, even though Dr. Gold asked about our whole house, not just me. I always get blamed for things. Then he said that everything was fine until I started my ridiculous diet in Washington, and that he never thought I could be so stubborn. Look who's talking! Dad's King Stubborn. At least I don't go around making people sit at restaurants on vacation until they eat their potato salad.
But Dr. Gold just nodded a bunch of times, and you could tell Dad wasn't too thrilled about that. He was probably waiting for Dr. Gold to give him a plan to make me eat, like those prescriptions Dr. Katz always writes out: "Drink Whole Milk," "Buy The Golden Cage," "Food is medicine." Dr. Gold kept smiling, though, so Dad came right out and asked him what my problem is. "Do you think it has something to do with the changes she's going through?" he asked. It always makes David and me laugh when Dad calls puberty "changes," so we made sure not to look at each other. Then Dad explained how David never did anything crazy when he went through his "changes," but how I've always been a sensitive kid and maybe I feel things too deeply. "Do you think that's the problem, doctor?" Dad asked.
Instead of answering, Dr. Gold asked Dad a new question: "What do you think your daughter's feeling?" But Mom butted in pretty fast. "She's thinking about math and calories all the time," Mom said. "Do you think you can help her?" Like being interested in math is some terrible mental problem. Then she started tearing up and reached for some tissues. Dr. Gold keeps big boxes of tissues in his office, probably so all the ladies on diets can keep their mascara from running.
Luckily, Dr. Gold didn't want to talk about my math problem. He was still interested in knowing if Dad knew what I was feeling, not thinking. Then Dad said he had no idea what I was feeling, other than fat, which he can't understand at all. "No one can understand it. Just look at her!" Mom yelled, pointing at me. She wouldn't stop butting in, so Dr. Gold asked Mom if she had any idea why I was feeling fat, but she didn't want to answer that question. Mom was much more interested in talking about what she was feeling.
Mom said she was feeling sad because she and Dad give me the best advantages, but even the best advantages can't help if something's wrong with me. "You do everything you can, you give them braces so they'll have straight teeth, you drive them around day in and day out to doctors for their shots, or dance lessons for their posture, or shopping so they'll look nice. You do everything — but no matter how hard you try, your child's still abnormal." Mom was crying so hard she almost couldn't talk anymore, but she kept trying anyway. "We're not prepared for this..." she said, then she got all emotional and had to stop talking. She just kept pointing my way so Dr. Gold would know that the "this" she wasn't prepared for was me, in case he couldn't figure that out.
I thought Dr. Gold would finally see how nervous Mom gets, but I guess he's not a very good psychiatrist. He even told Mom that he understood how painful this must be for her, or something stupid like that. But at least Mom calmed down. Next it was David's turn to guess what I might be feeling. It was like we were on Family Feud. David shrugged and said he had no idea, except that lately I've been more of a moron than usual, just to get attention. "So your sister is feeling like she wants some attention?" Dr. Gold asked. Then David looked at Mom and Dad before he answered because, like I told you, he can be a pretty big kiss-up. "She always has to be the center of attention," David said, but this time Mom nodded instead of Dr. Gold.
Dr. Gold forgot to nod because he got very excited about what David said. He told us that none of us knew what anyone was feeling, and it was great that we were all communicating. Then he wanted me to communicate to the rest of the family what I was feeling, since they didn't know but were all very interested. Which is baloney, but I answered anyway.
"I'm feeling like everyone else in my family is crazy, and I'm feeling like it's unfair that I'm the one who has to see a shrink," I said. Then Dr. Gold sat up in his chair and told us that I was a great communicator, and that I was the only one in my family who used "I" statements and the word "feel" instead of "think."
That's when Dr. Gold gave us a big speech about communication and taught us how to practice it at home. "Thank you, doctor," Dad said when he shook Dr. Gold's hand after the session. I could tell Dad thought that all we needed to do was communicate for a week and I'd stop dieting. Then Mom gave Dr. Gold a big hug and said she felt really free all of a sudden because she won't have to hold anything inside anymore. Which makes no sense, because Mom always blurts out whatever she wants. David just said thank you and walked out. The last thing Dr. Gold told us before he closed the door was, "Remember to use 'I feel' statements."
When we got home, Dad went into his study to work and Mom went into the bedroom to call all her gossipy friends. David went straight to his bedroom and closed the door, but I could hear his stereo blasting Peter Frampton all the way downstairs. So much for communication. I went up to my room so I could figure out if those girls in The Golden Cage would weigh less than me if they were eight inches shorter, but no one weighed less than 55 pounds. Then I did a ratio for every single height, in case I grow taller or something. I kept multiplying out new ratios until I got called down to dinner.
The minute I walked into the kitchen, Mom said how much she liked Dr. Gold. You could tell she was madly in love with him, and she was pretty excited about communicating, too. "You know, Lori, I've been meaning to tell you something for a long time," she said. "It's about your hair. It really needs work. Your layers are all grown out, and you'd look just adorable with some wispy layers, especially around your face." Then she turned to Dad and said, "I love communicating!" I hate Dr. Gold.
I told Mom that Dr. Gold wanted us to say how we feel about ourselves, not about everyone else. That's why he spent all that time teaching us how to use "I feel" statements. "Okay, fine," Mom said. "I feel that your hair needs work. I'm just telling you how I feel." Like I said, Mom always misses the point.
Dinner was brisket in a disgusting sauce, one of those frozen pea and carrot combinations, and fried potatoes dripping in oily gook. In the kitchen I dished out half a piece of brisket and scraped all the sauce off, then I blotted it with a paper towel, just in case I missed some. I learned that from my diet book called Fun Fitness Tricks. Then I put seven peas and eight carrot squares on my plate, but I didn't like the number eight because it sounds like "ate," so I took one off. I didn't go near those fried potatoes, obviously.
When I got to the table, Maria put little plates of salad in front of everyone's seat. Mom told me mine didn't have any dressing like it usually does because if I want to eat like a prisoner of war, she isn't worrying about it anymore. "I love communicating!" Mom kept saying. Then Dad said that he feels it's better to let the doctors take care of me because they're professionals and I need professional help.
No one would stop communicating, so I concentrated on my salad. I purposely ate only one crouton, and it took me four bites. Then I ate the dry lettuce, but I left one piece on the plate so I didn't feel like a pig for eating it all. Then I started playing this game where I had to leave one of everything on the plate — like one forkful of brisket, or one pea, or one of those carrot squares. I kept changing the rules, though, so I had to start leaving two of everything on my plate, then three of everything, then four. I couldn't stop changing the rules, so finally I decided to eat just one more bite of everything. I was saving the brisket for last.
The TV wasn't on during dinner like it usually is because Mom and Dad were so excited about communicating. They said every single sentence starting with "I feel," even things like, "I feel the brisket tastes delicious." It was just like Mrs. Rivers with her Power Paragraph Transition Words, except the only transition on this list was "I feel." Finally I said that everyone should just talk like normal people, because we all sounded like a bunch of morons.
"Use 'I feel,' " David said. He just wanted to get me in trouble, so I kicked him under the table and he kicked me back, which practically broke my leg. "Feel this!" I yelled and whacked him with my other foot. Then Dad said, "I feel that you two should stop fighting right this minute or you'll both get no TV for a week." That's when I gave David my meanest glare ever.
"Instead of making a sour face, Lori, express what you're feeling," Mom said. Dr. Gold obviously brainwashed my entire family. "You're all taking this communicating stuff way too far," I told them. "I don't feel we are," Dad said. "I don't feel that either," Mom said. Then I ate the bite of brisket I was saving for last and said, "Well, I do feel that," but Mom told me she felt it was rude to talk with my mouth full.
Copyright © 2000 by Lori Gottlieb
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