And all I could say was “thank you” and smile. Something about this eccentric man gave off a paternal essence. I said thank you and this is coming from a person who hails from a strict non-drinking household aside from using cooking wine and my brother and parents’ occasional consumption of Ba Ba Rum from famed NYC bakery, Veniero’s. This is coming from someone who refuses to consume any type of refined sugar; from a person who eats fiber-filled whole and ancient grains and the lower-glycemic versions of starch known as sweet potatoes. I am a person who went from eating zero-fat, denying my body the ability to absorb whatever little nutrients I was getting from throat drops, crackers, tomatoes, ginger ale, and coffee, to stave off hunger, to a person who fell in love with healthy fats: nut and seed butters, fish, olive oil, and luscious egg yolks.
I met this man at a place where I voluntarily chose to walk the risky path yet again. I decided to reconstruct muscle while trying to put on weight. He was wondering what someone looking the way I do - stick-like - was doing in a place where healthy bulges and rotundity was commonplace.
He asked me what my ethnicity was and proceeded to talk nonsensical chatter about someone else he knows who hails from India after finding out my father was from there. This was all after he kept confusing Pakistan with India. I was insulted to say the least, but mostly just unamused by his need to categorize all Indians as tough and oppressive.
Since then, he’s always initiated a “hi, how are you?” And most recently, “have you been gaining weight?”
He told me had a daughter around my age. “She weighs 130-pounds at least,” he said.
This man is white by the way and apparently, his daughter, who I’ve seen around the gym, is either adopted or mixed, and is beyond pretty. She is 130-pounds all lean muscle from what I can tell. Her arms are cylindrical but not flabby. Clear of face, rosy pigmentation that surmises good health, and seemingly of a hybrid race like myself from one of India’s neighboring Southeast Asian countries - she reminded me of my past self.
She reminded me of the girl who could lift 20 pounds while doing crunches or who could sprint up stairs without being winded.
She was his daughter.
And with this realization, I felt as though I had, in turn, become his daughter as well.
My father had given me the same advice, minus the beer part. He told me to eat bread and rice. He scolded me when he found my mother’s bag of 35-calorie pack freeze-dried apple crisps because he thought they were mine. He grew happy when he found my mother’s pack of Oreos a couple of days later, again, mistaking them for being my own.
He was losing his patience and so too was my proxy daddy who asked with angst if I was putting on any weight at all. I am losing my patience as well. It’s the first of March and I have a little more than three months until my next birthday- until that anniversary where I was made to sip on my first 365-calorie beverage, Ensure, to have my first blood transfusion, my first time going into anaphylactic shock, and my first time since birth that I was home-bound for the entirety of my favorite season: summer.
The abdominal bloating started before I increased my increased food intake but will remain for some time until weight restoration and redistribution . I went from avoiding hugging my parents so they wouldn’t have to feel my bones, to avoiding having to feel self-conscious about the water-retaining cushion around my midsection. I miss hugging.
“Speed this up as much as possible,” my father pleaded.
“Then you can work on your body the way you like- with cardio.”
“The longer you take, the worse it is.”
This last statement caused me to believe that it was for his own benefit - the selfishness, am I right? No, I am wrong. That sentiment is of course ridiculous. My father doesn’t want his daughter to be fat nor does he want her to become healthier and stronger only so that his family unit wouldn’t be ostracized by the quote unquote community.
He wants his daughter to once again laugh while watching late-night television. He wants her to be compared to the old-world Hindi film beauties of his youth again. He wants her to indulge in the cuisine that he had grown up with, to eat the food she once did and that her ancestors did. He wants her to swap out black bean soup for dal and whole grain muffins for atta or whole wheat rotis. He wants her to ditch the pounds of fruit for ghee-laced confections.
“You’re not eating the food that you’re meant to eat, which suits you,” my father said.
I asked him what he meant.
“You eat either Indian or Spanish food because that is what you are,” he said.
He wants to see the dimple in her chin again - the same one that his mother had. He wants her hair to be feral yet tamed again as opposed to being thin and scalp-exposing. He wants her to be fertile so she can start her own family. He wants her to find love and to get married.
I want what he wants. Rather, he wants what I want. I’m selfish.
So, father, I have a confession to make:
I’m the selfish one and I am sorry for being so.
This is my time one way or the other. I just have to flip it in the direction I want to see myself in. Thriving as opposed to surviving.