Insides and Outsides

I’d always been round. A chubby child. Pleasantly plump. Pink cheeks on fair skin. Dark, dark, wavy hair. A cherubic babe from a Renaissance painting born to a later era.

I felt like a near-miss.

Mine is the least reliable memory about this; I can only say I felt awkward, bigger, slower, clumsier. I don’t remember anyone trying to dissuade me from this when I looked for reassurance. And when my grandmother made my clothes she played with the paper patterns, adjusted darts and seams so garments would fit me better.

But I didn’t fit.

When I hit middle school and slightly older, boys who could drive barked from passing car windows and their howls crystallized my perception that I wasn’t pretty. Didn’t weigh what I should. Was not good enough. Not desirable.

In reality, my weight probably bounced around and though I was never skinny, nobody’s string bean, I was average and sometimes ten pounds more. Now when I peruse photos of myself from years ago they don’t match my memories. I see a pretty young woman. In the time before mega-models like Paulina, and Naomi, Gisele and Kate, there was sunny Cheryl Tiegs. Christie Brinkley. American girls. Blonde, golden, blue-eyed, and lanky.

Nothing like me.

But when Tom chose me a lot of old pain washed away. He loved most everything about me, of that I was certain. In time I became okay with me, too. When he suggested, I knew it was just that. I respected his aesthetic and his judgment. He cared for me, admired me, encouraged me, loved me and married me. I relaxed into being me.

After his sudden death, for the first time in my life, I could not eat. Did not think of food at all, a long-time preoccupation. I could not look at food or even smell it. Most of all, I couldn’t chew it or swallow it.

Food was for some far away place where people stirred among the living and needed sustenance. My soul bereft, my mind wrapped in fog, I hovered in a state where a sandwich couldn’t help.

But I was thirsty. Endlessly so and water, water needed little help to swallow. It cleansed and cooled. With a slight pour it trickled down my throat and no matter how many pints and quarts I drank, I wanted more.

Within days I’d lost ten pounds and could feel my clothing becoming looser. Bound by grief it was a nice feeling. The lack of attachment and confinement by the material that surrounded suited me.

When little more than a month had passed so had 20 pounds. Dressing was a problem. Now clothes weren’t only unrestrictive, they were hard to keep on. Hip bones hiding since college made a blatant appearance, coupled with cheekbones I’d never seen. I pinned and clipped, rolled and belted to make adjustments.

Then, 30 or 35 pounds of me was missing. Still I could barely eat.

Co-workers made everything as comfortable for me as possible and shielded me from taxing situations. But when I’d returned to work meetings were required with individuals in other organizations. Not everyone knew what had happened nor did I want them to. By now my clothes had left the realm of oversized and rolled right into odd. It was time to shop. Mom and I together determined to make me presentable again.

It had happened quickly and the sizes I needed were so much smaller than I’d ever worn that I was disoriented. I chose things still far too big, finding out when buried once again by another skirt or pair of pants only slightly smaller than what I had at home.

I was overwhelmed by racks, and people, and choices, and colors, and mostly by being in public. I didn’t know what size I was. I didn’t know who I was. Painful as my inside was, it was at least familiar, unlike the stranger I attempted to dress.

It was a brief and tiring shopping trip. We left with a few items and I had a vaguely improved outlook. Everyone assured me I looked fine. My mother nodded her approval and the sales team said the clothes in the bag were cute and appropriate, stylish and well fitted.

I wasn’t sure. The mirror I had loved and who had loved me was gone. In his absence I trusted few.

I surrendered the familiar and oversized garments from my closet and began to wear the new. As I continued to dwindle more purchases were necessary and the single thing I enjoyed was the ability to walk into the store and grab any article quickly with a high probability it would fit and look good. In the midst of so much pain this was a (no pun intended) small delight.

And then it happened. The world I’d been shrinking away from, one of colleagues, neighbors and those I thought friends who’d distanced themselves from me, the collective mute universe filled with those who peered around corners and peeked only when they thought I wouldn’t see, all those who had nothing to say to me but plenty to each other, came out of their homes, offices, yards, and cubicles to tell me how wonderful I looked.

How svelte and stylish. Fashionable and fit. I must be feeling ever so much better they prattled on, because — I looked so good.

Never had my outward appearance so disguised my inner world, my childhood inverted. First a happy child made miserable by external deficiencies as defined by other children, and now in this agonizing period after Tom’s suicide, the scale fairy waved a wand and I drew kudos for my looks.

I wondered why they didn’t see my entrails or the trail of blood behind me.

I seethed when confronted by those emboldened by appearance who simultaneously remained timid – no, cowardly – in addressing what mattered most to me. As they felt twinges of unease and awkwardness they took an easy path. I viewed it as a choice between their discomfort and mine, and as if similar in magnitude they chose to soothe their own. “You look great,” and they hid from the opportunity to say something I could feel.

As they did, I felt hidden to the world while at the same time drawing its attention. Upside down and inside out, I couldn’t get my bearings.

One evening after dinner my son and I meandered through a shopping mall. An excursion into life, a field trip of sorts. Months had passed. We tasted social interaction in small, sample-sized spoonfuls. A voice called my name from behind.

“Pam,” I turned to see her. A peer who sat near me in the evening philosophy class I’d dropped after my husband’s death. We’d spoken once since.

“You look wonderful. What have you been doing? Some kind of diet? Which one?”

My boy and I stood hand in hand. We looked at each other. A relative stranger barged into our world with her unsolicited, superficial observation. Maybe she deserved it and maybe she didn’t. I didn’t care about being fair.

I gave his hand a squeeze. “It’s the suicide diet. It works. Lose a life. Gain a new wardrobe.”

And for that moment my inside and my outside found compatibility.

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About Pamela Hester King

Wife, mom, grandma, friend, consultant, colleague. These are my roles. Writer, learner, teacher, dreamer, seeker, playmate, artist, lover. These make my heart beat.
This entry was posted in Grief, Loss, Memoir, Suicide and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

94 Responses to Insides and Outsides

  1. doesn’t feel right to leave a ‘like’ but wanted you to know I read your post – and am definitely touched by it.. x

  2. oh my goodness what a beautiful post! thank you so much for sharing such a vulnerable part of your life with us.

  3. sheenaeastonwannabe says:

    Wow. Thank you for your candor. Let your healing begin…..

  4. Pamela,
    I keep trying to find the right words and I cannot. I type, delete, type, delete. Thank you for such a well written reminder that we miss so much of who people really are. Praying for you.

  5. Katherine says:

    This must have been a terrible difficult post to write. The struggle is so clear. it’s such a personal topic, and I respect your willingness to share.

  6. crpeterson says:

    Wow. Just wow. Don’t have the right words to say so just want to say thanks for sharing such honest and heart wrenching thoughts with us.

  7. andeeeng says:

    i’ve lost no one and hardly know what you feel but i was surprised to find myself being moved by your words. thank you.

  8. What a beautiful and truthful post. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Very touching and moving. Thank you

  10. Wow, that is a very moving and beautiful post. I especially love this: “Never had my outward appearance so disguised my inner world” Thank you for sharing your feelings.

  11. GG says:

    It reminds me of many things while reading your post. Touching and real.

  12. What a profound insight. I hope you are finding ways to heal. Be well.

  13. huesofasoul says:

    Super like post writer! it is so good and i wanted to read it again and again!

  14. charmaine151 says:

    I can’t find the right words, they all sound so cliched and trite. But I wanted to leave a reply and acknowledge the sanctity of what you have written. May I say, dare I say, Tom would be proud of you. Take care, you and your son.

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  16. This is such a honest piece of writing…. I can very well relate to your feelings at this time as I am going through the same kind of grief currently in my life. I shall pray for you to be happy and also happy with the new you..

  17. My dear Pamela,
    I haven’t seen you in person, but your beautiful yet sad words transferred me from wherer I am now, next to you. I wish I could sit next to see, hold your beautiful hand and gently kiss your cheek. You are in my prayers. May God heal you quite soon.
    Your friend Nazila.

    • Thank you, Nazila. There’s kind of a tsunami of support coming my way since the *Freshly Pressed* and I feel you all as well. Many blessings. And thanks for stopping by to read my thoughts.

  18. Thank You for articulating what I have been yearning to hear myself, having gone through a deep loss and sensing the struggle and choice of responses from people; the chasm between the need to have an authentic question/dialogue/silence and doing what one can do best at the moment – to reach out with something on the surface – I wonder where and when, if at all, are we taught these skills/safe ways .. .. ..

    • I believe people are doing the best they can, and sometimes it’s seemingly quite perfunctory. Mostly I attempt to be gracious. Other times, truth told, I’m a pistol. But then, I’m doing the best I can. Thanks for your comment and for coming by. I hope I see you again.

  19. darksphere says:

    thank you for sharing. all will be fine. take care! 🙂

  20. Thank you. Beautifully written.

  21. It's only P! says:

    Wow! That is POWerful writing.

  22. I'mMyOwnStar says:

    Just….Wow! Beautifully written post that touches the heart.

  23. Roshni says:

    Beautifully written. Touching. Very much so. Loved your post.

  24. Kaberi Chand says:

    How heart-breakingly beautiful and touching piece of your soul!!!You have spoken of that sad truth about our world and our behaviors that I find it hard to express my gratification in words!!!Thank-You for this!!And God bless you!!

  25. Miriam Joy says:

    This is beautiful. It’s a really astute observation as well – how people always compliment you when you lose weight, even though a lot of the time it’s for a bad reason. For example, I complained to a friend that I’d had to drill two extra holes in my belt to hold it up and she was surprised, because I’d been a little insecure about my size beforehand (I’m average size, but I do ballet, so… it’s different), and I should have been happy. Actually, the reason I’ve lost a load of weight is because I’ve been ill. While it’s nothing like your story because I’m getting better after just over a week, I felt something resonating with that observation of how people think about our appearance. Congrats on Freshly Pressed, by the way.

  26. Great post.

    When my husband walked out of our marriage I didn’t eat a thing for a week and also lost a ton of weight. I looked great but could barely walk for grief and fear and confusion.

    I admire your willingness to write this and to put the truth out there to people who have no clue what really goes on inside our (broken) hearts.

  27. Dawn says:

    Thank you for sharing so authentically and intimately. This piece of writing has changed me. Isn’t it amazing? In some way I cannot even explain, you have affected my life with your heartfelt, eloquent truth-telling. I feel my compassion and patience expanding. Thank you. Blessings on your ever-evolving adventure.

  28. Sharoon says:

    I cannot find the right words…such painful honesty laid bare….Prayers and hugs. Thank you for sharing.

  29. Kris F says:

    Thank you for helping me remember to look with my heart. I hope your life with your son has continued renewal and hope. You’ve shared that with your words. Exceptionally beautiful.

  30. This moved me to the core. Thank you.

  31. Your simplicity had similar effect for me. Thank you for saying so. For coming by my blog.

  32. snowflakes says:

    My inside and outside is filled with tears. Very perfectly expressed.

  33. I pressed “like” but really needed to express to you how much your piece resonated with me. I have written some about my grief recently. Beautiful, honest, well-written…keep writing. And if you have a chance stop by my blog. Thank you for sharing yourself with the blogsphere.

  34. tersiaburger says:

    What a touching post. I did “like” it – not liking your sadness but your brave journey and honest post! Thank you!

    • Thank you. I’m kind of getting the drift of the “like”s and appreciate that folks are reaching through the air to say, “This touches me.” And I really appreciate that you wrote it anyway. Thanks for making time to read and comment.

  35. I have heard of a similar story from somewhere once upon a time. I think it was a news story where they were discussing how people think you must be doing great because you are thin. I am so proud of you for sharing your story with us. You are brave to do so and you are an inspiration. I am sorry for your loss and will now try to think twice before judging someone based on their pants size. Take care.

    • I think we all judge from time to time. It’s human. But I hope folks will build the muscle to step into the fray of meaningful conversation. If someone had said, “You look great. How are you feeling? What’s the inside look like?”, it would have made a world of difference. That’s what I’d want people to take away from my experience. Thanks for coming by, for your candor and reflection, and making time to comment.

  36. gouldcj says:

    Just what I needed to read today. Thank you so much for writing, my friend.

  37. What an amazing post! So well written and touching. Thank you for sharing.

  38. So many thoughts running through my mind right now that I can’t sort them out in words to express how this touched me…but know that it did.

  39. UtahMan&Wife says:

    Thank you for a beautiful post, and for sharing something so personal and painful in a beautiful and articulate way. Our best friend’s husband took his life 4 years ago. We’ve stood by her as people have said such insensitive and inappropriate things. We’re appalled at how many people insist on prodding to try to find out why or exactly how he died. You would think they would get the clear message when she graciously says “I don’t feel comfortable talking about it” but then they respond with “Oh, I’m sorry…was it cancer?”
    Our daughter suffers from an eating disorder connected to a debilitating nerve condition. It’s complicated. She is painfully self conscious and fragile. She gets constant comments from perfect strangers that run the gamut from “Wow. You’re so thin! You need to eat something!” to “Wow! You should be a model or something, you’ve got the perfect stick-figure!”
    No matter what is said, it’s always cruel and completely inappropriate. Why are people such idiots? We’ll never understand.

    • While understanding the awkwardness inherent in many potentially charged situations (such as your daughter’s disorder and illness), I’m also flummoxed by the lack of boundary-sensitivity exhibited by some questioning or commenting upon most personal issues. I too was asked (and sometimes still am) for private information about my late husband’s death. But I am clear on this, when we try to show the respect they do not by giving subtle, restrained, delicate or obscure answers, we then become part of the issue. I surely was snarky with the woman in the mall, but I was clear. It was one of the first steps in finding my voice and finally being able to say, “That is not okay with me.”

      Thanks for your thoughts and for spending precious time with me at my blog.

  40. Karen B says:

    Very moving. Thank you for having the guts to say what you really feel. I will read the rest of your blog a little bit at a time. What you write makes me sad but the truth makes me want to understand more. I too appreciate genuine people. They are far more courageous than those who hide behind veneers, ever so polite but of little substance.

    • Thank you for your note, Karen. I tend to think risk-aversion drives the polite repartee, as if the sick and grieving don’t know their condition… I’m hoping for a little more courage and a lot more substance. It seems like the least we can provide those around us. Thanks for making time to read, reflect and comment. Most appreciated.

  41. alifecurated says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I have thought about this issue because I have a close friend who is losing weight because of chemo. She may have wanted to lose weight before, but this is not the time for celebrating pounds gone; she just wants to be cancer-free. I hope that each day gets a little better for you and your son.

  42. groovylove says:

    Pamela, your words are so raw, and so honest; I couldn’t help but be drawn in by them. My heart feels tremendous compassion for what you and your son are going through. And although I don’t believe your friends or coworkers intentionally hurt you with their words, or their apparent abandonment during the loneliest part of your life, I believe your openness regarding it all has shed a new light on grief for many of us. You are a beautiful soul; thank you so much for sharing your story with us all.

    And congrats on being Freshly Pressed, nobody deserves it more!

    • Thank you for your note, and the congrats! I agree. I don’t think it’s intentionally hurtful. I do think it’s intentionally evasive because of the inherent discomfort. I’m hoping that by focusing attention on the topic some will gather courage to say a more honest thing which is often some version of, “I have no idea what to say.” That gets to the heart of things pretty quickly. Thanks again for dropping by, and taking time to reflect and comment. Much appreciated.

  43. Thank you for sharing this, I was really touched by it. I have found it very insightful and very honest and somehow I feel I relate to your vivid, open and raw story. Many congratulations on being freshyly pressed, it is truly well deserved!

  44. Karen says:

    For four months my house was broken into repeatedly. My 9 yr old daughter wet her bed in fear, my 11 yr old son couldn’t sleep with worry. My drawers & personal things were quietly ransacked with only handfuls of money, small items & jewelry missing each time including my engagement ring. The police suspected my academic & athletic son. I suspected my 19 yr old neighbor. My husband cautioned me, didn’t want me to make waves or create a problem in the neighborhood we lived in for nearly 19 yrs. He made me feel like I didn’t know what I was talking about & that I was over-reacting. Really? Long sad story short: By the time he, the neighbor boy was caught coming out of our home I had lost nearly 40 lbs. I realize this can not compare to the sadness or confusion that I can only imagine comes with the suicide death of a loved one, of that I am quite certain but I was sad and confused; tortured by the not-knowing-who-was-doing-this for so long and by my husbands’ denial and the way he discounted my statements & feelings. I moved 9 months ago and live in a different house now with my daughter. My son lives primarily with his Dad in that house, w/ the neighbor boy who was “on drugs” still living next door. The life I knew, the family I was raising is completely fractured — forever. But I look good, great in fact. “You’re like a new person! How do you keep the weight off? How did you do it? — If only I had the nerve to say… it’s the invasion of privacy/leave your husband and son diet — all you have to do is be robbed repeatedly, tortured mentally & leave your husband and son who is so angry with you that he will not live with you full time and even though it breaks your heart daily not to have him, safe, with you, don’t despair, trust the lawyers and the therapist who all say it’s the right thing to do.

    Our stories are quite different but I suspect we’ve had a few similar feelings. I haven’t quite found compatibility between my insides and my outsides. It’s a struggle. Good days and not so good days. You are a courageous woman and I wish you more and longer moments of compatibility and possibly even some inner peace. Your story helped me. Thank you for sharing.

    • Our situations may be more similar than they seem at first blush; the world around us became a strange place where our perceptions came into question and life as we knew it was turned upside down never to be the same. Sometimes the details don’t matter. Thank you for sharing your story. I wish you well, and I wish you peace and healing.

  45. Lori Mainiero says:

    I *like* this because it made me think, made me cry and taught me something all at once. I never know what to say and, afraid of saying the wrong thing, I often stay silent. Your post gives me a different insight, one that will govern my thoughts and words in the future. I thank you for that from the bottom of my heart.

    • Thank you so much for your comment. Your experience is why I wrote. I think a root cause for people holding back is that they’d rather do nearly anything than say something that might in the slightest make another’s pain worse. Yet it is saying nothing (or “you look wonderful”) that does exactly that. When some said to me their version of what you did here, it was perfection. This is so big and so sad, I don’t know what to say. My heart breaks for you. Done. Beautiful. And for the person whose whole world has changed, your truth will be more than appreciated, your risk will be fresh air for them to breathe.

      Thank you again for coming by my blog, especially for your reflection and comment.

  46. e says:

    I was just flicking through blogs and didn’t mean to stop and read this post, but it drew me in and I ended up reading the whole thing twice. Beautiful writing, and so sad. I have no way of properly
    understanding what you’ve been through, but this really is inspiring.

  47. tersiaburger says:

    I gained 25 pounds in 5 months since Vic died.

  48. Pamela King says:

    Take care of your heart, Tersia; let the rest take care of itself…

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