Chemistry Lesson

In 1995, my chemistry teacher, Mr. Clemmons, recited the Periodic Table of Elements like Whitman, fought wildfires in the summer, and had a white picket fence smile. The sounds his mouth made were full of laughter, kindness, and of course… science! Mr. Clemmons should have been on posters, in his underwear with a firehose in one hand and a beaker of red liquid in the other. 

I’ve always been hot for teacher.

Beyond Mr. Clemmon’s physicality, his confidence was truly his sexiest power— he could flame the fire high or extinguish it all together with not only his braun, but his brains, too. 

One day, a woman came in to drop something off. 

Blond, cute, well dressed, effervescent, and…totally fat. Me-sized fat. 

She came in when we were heating colored liquids and furiously recording numbers on worksheets as if it mattered. Nobody seemed to notice her until he put his arm around her shoulder and stopped the class from experimenting. “Class, this is my wife, Susan.” 

I thought she was a substitute school secretary or maybe a returning student from college, just dropping in to say hi to her crush. 

I was perplexed beyond belief. 

How could he be with her?

Then I started filling in backstory, or rather, fabricating a fiction that matched my current 15 year-old worldview:  

“She let herself go.” 

“She hasn't lost the baby weight yet.” 

“She has a glandular problem. Probably her Thyroid.”

Never could it be that the sexy and smart muscle man could love a woman of her size.

I still knew nothing about the atomic weight of love, desire, and sex, but I had perceived my destiny… I would forever be alone with my crooked yellowing teeth, gigantor calves, frizzy hair, and blubbery stomach. My body, then and now, has rarely been the aesthetic choice of most of the men and women that I am attracted to— and this has been a painful reality. 

***

Dear Susan, 

How tired you must’ve been of being seen and dismissed— which is not being seen at all. And isn’t that the plight of all large women— we are so present, the elephant in the room, and yet invisible at the same time. How is it that I remember you, 25 years later, now, as a grown woman with two children of her own, a beast of a woman who also coupled with a “hot” professor. When I enter the room with him at the helm of his classroom, I, too, am met with the perplexing stares of students.

In the 90s it was accepted that a fat and ugly man could have a hot and sexy wife (#DonaldTrump) but never the other way around….

How many students— and women— have dismissed me, plainly, in front of him? Many have flirted and avoided my eyes as I glare holes in their pretty little heads. One woman asked him out in front of me. I have also been called his “fag hag,” which is perplexing given that he is not a “fag,” nor am I a “hag.” One woman tried to destroy us for more than a year because she simply couldn’t buy that he actually was in love with me and my fat rolls… and not her.

But that is dominant culture dismissing women like us. 

Thank you for staying with me. Thank you for showing up, so beautiful and proud. When you kissed him goodbye, quick and on the lips, you made me think about romantic and sexual chemistry even though I couldn’t understand or embrace it at the time. I’m sorry for my past judgement. 

I see you now and because of that I can more clearly see myself. 

Love,

Katie

My Nicholas and I, kayaking in Idaho, 2014.

My Nicholas and I, kayaking in Idaho, 2014.