Nine Diets

By Michele Ruby

Counting Calories

Sandi liked math. When her grandmother suggested that high school might be easier if she’d lose a little weight, Sandi began counting calories. She worked out that she could have an ice cream soda if she skipped breakfast and lunch. She knew her mom wouldn’t let her skip dinner. She didn’t put the ice cream soda on the food log her grandmother had helpfully supplied.

Gram said, “Discipline, dear. First impressions matter.”

Mom said, “Oh, cupcake, you look like a cherub in a Renaissance painting. How many people can say that?”

The Braces Diet

Her mouth hurt so much that she couldn’t chew. Finally, the ache abated, and Sandi ate salads for lunch like all the other ninth grade girls. Until Johnny Slade asked her about the math homework and she answered him with a smile full of metal and lettuce impaled on the hardware that held the wire. After that, she didn’t want to eat in public. She saved her math homework to do at lunch, spreading it out on the lunchtable: the book, the paper, the pencil, like three courses.

Gram said, “Sometimes it hurts to be beautiful.”

Mom said, “Oh, honey, have some ice cream. It’ll go down easy and the cold might help the ache.”

The Metrecal Diet

All the tenth grade girls brought cans of Metrecal, frozen, for lunch. It was supposed to taste like a chocolate milk shake. Freezing it was supposed to diminish the vitamin aftertaste. The chocolate was supposed to disguise the mineral undertaste. In the ads, everyone drinking it was thin. Whatever was in Metrecal gave her gas. Later, at home, she ate cookies.

Gram said, “You certainly take after your mother’s family, bless your heart. All my people are tall and slender.”

Mom said, “Oh, sweetie, there’s more than one way to be pretty.”

The Peanut Butter Cup Diet

1967, her junior year, was the year of Twiggy, who was 5′6″ and weighed a mere 112 pounds — eight stone according to the English. That stone must have been a pebble. If Leslie Hornby was Twiggy, then Sandi was the overgrown honeysuckle bush that floresced out of control along the back fence. 1967 was also the year of the mini-skirt. Good news only if you had mini-legs, so, like many of her friends, all she had for lunch was two Reese’s peanut butter cups. They bought them on the high school black market from an impossibly thin majorette raising money for flaming batons. As the majorette explained it, a Reese’s cup was a complete meal: dairy, vegetable, protein, sweet and salty. Sandi’s mini-skirt was a size fourteen.

Gram said, “Sandra, that skirt is too short. Why don’t you go upstairs and change?”

Mom said, “Oh pumpkin, you’re not fat. You’re zaftig. In Yiddish it’s a good thing — a little meat on your bones. Your grandmother doesn’t know how to enjoy life.”

Weight Watchers

The meetings, the charts, the weigh-ins, the repugnant concoctions of tuna and skim milk powder, mushrooms salted and roasted like peanuts, everything pretending to be something it wasn’t. Weight Watchers was a cult, and Sandi was an atheist at this church of restraint. The only thing unrestrained was the meeting leader’s enthusiasm. Sandi met Derick Satterly at those meetings. The St. Albans football coach had insisted that he go. At St. Albans, the boys called him Fatterly. At Weight Watchers, Derick and Sandi sat together and encouraged each other. They called each other Derick! and Sandi! in derision of the cheerleader cadences used by the woman who led the meetings and weighed them in. In the four weeks it took Sandi to lose three pounds, Derick lost twenty. The coach was happy. Derick no longer looked like a teddy bear but now like some fiercer creature. He asked a skinny cheerleader to his prom.

Gram said, “I’ll buy you any prom dress you want if you lose fifteen pounds.”

Mom said, “Sandi, honey, sit down, have some pudding. The doctor called with my test results. It’s not good.”

Losing 185 Pounds

By college, flowing crocheted vests and big-bottomed jeans were kinder to big-bottomed girls than miniskirts. Sandi’s sleek and shiny hair matched that of the girls in the ads, and she was happy majoring in accounting, where the boy to girl ratio was favorable. Her business calc class was divided into study pairs. She was paired with Bruce Landry; tall and thin with a head of wild red hair, he looked like a lollipop. He opened their study sessions with “Hey, baby, what’s your sine?” and “Hey baby, nice asymptote.” They got the top grades on the first exam. Eventually their bodies became tangent. Sandi went on the pill, which did what her friends had warned her it might: simple arithmetic — the addition of pounds. One night, after too much beer and a couple of joints, Bruce told her, “You’d be just gorgeous if you dropped a few pounds.” She dropped Bruce.

Gram said, “I just want you to be the best you can be.”

Mom would have said, “Being thin isn’t the same as being happy.”

The Protein Diet

Cottage cheese for lunch. Dining hall chicken for dinner. Her breath smelled awful and climbing the flight of three steps to enter the math building exhausted her.

Gram said, “I’m so proud of this new you. I’m just sorry your mother didn’t live to see it.”

The Starvation Diet

Hot water and lemon for breakfast. Six almonds for lunch. A small salad — no dressing — and one bite only of each thing the dining hall served for dinner. Once a week she made an entire pan of brownies and ate it alone in her room. Then she made herself throw it up. Eventually her legs looked like Twiggy’s. Then they looked like twigs. She weighed herself morning and night. She liked the mathiness of it — the numbers as hard proof of the success of her vigilance. But she was cold all the time. Her hair grew lank and dull and thin, and as if to compensate, a fine layer of down coated her skin. Her friends tried to force her to eat, so she stopped seeing them. She went to class, she went to the dining hall, she went to her room. When she went home for Thanksgiving, her grandmother wouldn’t let her go back to school.

The shrink said, “Blah, blah, blah, high rate of morbidity, blah, blah hospitalization blah blah intravenous feeding blah blah blah unless you can meet these weight gain goals.

The One that Worked

She bumped into Derick Satterly on her way home from a particularly difficult session with the shrink. He had torn every tendon in his knee, and had to quit playing football. He looked like a teddy bear again. He took her out, watched her cut her food into minuscule pieces, said nothing. But he brought her a peach at the peak of juiciness, a small wedge of perfect brie, a freshly made pretzel, Belgian chocolate. “Feed me,” he said. And then, “Close your eyes. Let me feed you.” He broke off bits and fed them to her, for as long as it took.

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About Michele Ruby

Michele Ruby lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her husband, her children and her incredibly talented and brilliant grandchildren. When she’s not writing or reading, she plays tennis, canasta, mah jong, and – lest she become a cultural stereotype – she tap dances. Her fiction has appeared in Arts & Letters (winner of 2015 fiction prize), The Adirondack Review (Fulton Prize finalist)Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Shenandoah, The Louisville Review, Lilith, Los Angeles Review, Nimrod, Rosebud, InkwellHayden’s Ferry Review, Phoebe, Denver Quarterly, New Delta ReviewThe MacGuffinAlimentum, and many other journals.  A collection of stories was a finalist for the 2012 Flannery O’Connor Award, and two others were finalists for the St. Lawrence Book Award. She has an MFA from Spalding University, has taught fiction writing at Bellarmine University, and is now a fiction editor for Best New Writing.  She’s currently wrestling with a novel.

12 Comments

  1. Jacqueline
    Posted January 2018 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    Family!
    Generations!
    -excellent

  2. Susan callen
    Posted January 2018 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    Michele ( Mickey) is clever in person and hervibrancy is evident in her writing. Enjoyed reading 9 diets.

  3. JoAnne Berlin
    Posted January 2018 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    I loved this piece! Reminded me of that time when I was growing up. Excellent writing!

  4. Arlene
    Posted January 2018 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    A story that rings painfully true for so many women… May we all find our Derick Satterly on the path to a happy ending.

  5. Rae Cobbs
    Posted January 2018 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Fabulous, Michelle! Subtle and rich.

  6. Bonnie Omer Johnson
    Posted January 2018 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    What a big and complex story with well-defined characters and narrative arc that is multi-layered and satisfying to the reader. No wonder “Nine Diets” was chosen the winner. Ms. Ruby’s wit and turn of phrase has all the qualities of good novel in this multi-generational tale of struggle, love, loss, and coming of age. That love triumphs is a bonus that too often seems contrived. However, not at the expert hand of Michele Ruby.

  7. Sue Ament
    Posted January 2018 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Michele writes from the heart. There’s an important message here for young women and their mothers. I look forward to sharing this story with my own daughter.

  8. Kathleen Thompson
    Posted January 2018 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    Michele, you are a MESS! (That means you are somethin!) That means I love this writing.

  9. Ellen
    Posted January 2018 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    Good story. I can relate! But how can you, skinny to the bone forever and ever, have the insight to relate to a forever dieter? Not fair. You’re like my husband, healthy and no diets needed!

  10. Helaine Green
    Posted January 2018 at 1:55 am | Permalink

    This is brilliantly and sensitively written! Twiggy did none of us any favors. Thank you for your amazing creativity and insight.

  11. Bashaleya
    Posted January 2018 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Nice! And REAL!

  12. Posted January 2018 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

    Great story!

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