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From 'Fat Girl: A True Story'

I watched fathers and their little girls. I watched them on the subway, sitting next each other on the straw seats. One Saturday morning on the way with Mama to Manhattan where she went to take her voice lesson I watched a father remove from his daughter’s hands her gloves and tuck them into his overcoat pocket. The girl, perhaps a year younger than was I, leaned against her father’s side. She fell asleep. She had those thin eyelids that you can almost see through and the eyelids flickered while she slept. I watched fathers and daughters when from school we went on a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum to see Van Gogh’s paintings. The father and daughter duo whom I clearly recall held hands as they ascended the museum staircase. She had long brunette braids, each tied with a red ribbon; the ribbons bounced on the back of her coat. She slipped, the little girl did, on the stairs and banged her knee and howled and her father scooped her up in his arms and knelt there as we walked around them.

What cut me deepest was when we went to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Grammy was visiting and she wanted to go and we did. What I saw there were little girls riding on their father’s shoulders; they had their hands around their father’s necks and they threw back their heads and they wriggled and laughed. I would break a father’s shoulders. I thought. I would break his neck. All his bones would crackle underneath my big hind end.

Nobody lifted me up. I imagined what it would be like to be lifted up and twirled like Cyd Charisse got twirled. I wanted to be a ballet dancer and when I so foolishly said to Grammy and Mama that’s what I wanted, Grammy guffawed, an ugly guffaw where she opened her mouth so wide that I could see all the way down to her gullet. I could see her long uvula quiver. Mama laughed too. She said I’d break off my feet if I tried to stand on my toes, because what I was was her baby elephant.

Another thing Mama said was, "Keep your hands to yourself, do you hear me?" Were I able to recover, minute-by-minute, my childhood, I believe that we could count on fingers and toes and not use up, say, my left foot’s stubby digits, how many times my mother kissed me. She must have occasionally pecked my cheek. I know, however, that she never with any regularity put an arm around me and gave a parental hug. She did not smile down on me, lighting me the way noon sun lights pastures. I do not remember her saying to me as someone, years later, did, "You are the apple of my eye." On that occasion, this apple-of-the-eye declaration caused me to dissolve into grateful tears. I knew at that very moment, sitting at a table in an old hotel that looked out onto a park, that I had waited all my life to be the apple of someone’s eye. My mother never said that, nor anything like that, to me. She said, "You make me sick, just to look at you." She said, when she got ready to whip me and raised the brown leather belt and I cowered at her feet, "I am going to cut the blood out of you."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Judith Moore