The Fat Wife

by Valerie Wilkinson

I wake before dawn, inner thighs still sticky from our late night lovemaking, eyes swollen from crying, heart aching from the fight that started innocently enough. I flip the hall switch and follow the triangle of light to a pair of sweat pants and sneakers lying in a heap on the floor. The dog does not bother to get up.

In the basement, I pull the dust covered Nordic Track out of the corner. Does it still work? After I wipe it clean and place a water bottle on the ironing board nearby, I fiddle with the settings. Better start with the least resistance.

On this machine, I lost pregnancy weight, twice. Now I had those twenty, plus twenty more, middle age settling in while I missed the transformation of myself from lover to companion, from independent woman to carpool mother, from a younger to an older version of myself that I do not recognize. I have become a "fat wife," something I professed in more innocent times would never happen to me.

Sweat drips from my brow after three minutes of gliding, and my breath comes in gasps. I can't continue. How did I get this out of shape? I walked the dog everyday. Why wasn't that enough to counteract chips, ice cream, and dinners of pork chops with mashed potatoes and gravy?

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Four and a half minutes, legs shaking, I drop my arms and clutch the bar for support. "Keep going," I urge.

Seven and a half minutes and I'm near dead. One more second of this torture and I will be. I lay on the floor, back pressed into the beige Berber carpet. I lift one leg, then the other, point my toes to the ceiling and connect to the muscles inside. I tense my belly and pull my head and shoulders forward, creating three prominent rolls of belly fat. God, I have a lot of work to do to get back to the old me. Seven crunches, four leg lifts, and ten push-ups from my knees, I'm done.

In the shower, my eyes closed, hot water wraps its soothing arms around me. I do not really look at my body while I wash. I never do. But this morning, instead of quickly wrapping up in the oversized bath towel, I stand in front of the full-length mirror.

A steamy image, vague and undefined, meets my gaze. A rounded shape. There is no beauty in my large breasts, in the fullness of my belly and the padding on my thighs. Obviously, I have failed because I am nothing more than a fat, middle-aged woman just now realizing that fact.

I run my fingers along the faded white stretch marks that radiate up from my womb. I should be thankful for what this body has given me. And I am. But still . . . I lift my breasts to where they once stayed naturally. I am grateful for the milk they provided my babies, for the pleasure they provide my husband as he cups them in his hands at night.

"You've got to do something," he'd said in the heat of our argument.

I had lost sight of staying in shape. Instead, I'd been sitting at a desk focused on my career, sitting in my car as I drove across town, sitting on bleachers as I waited for the boys to finish baseball, football, or basketball.

I gaze into my mirrored eyes. Could it be? Have I forgotten about the woman I once imagined becoming? Have I instead become someone who settles for little more than just surviving my own schedule, the housework, the errands, the shopping and all the other little drudgeries of life?

The steam lifts, the mirror begins to clear. My skin's texture is smooth. My naturally athletic body is still strong and agile, and nearly perfectly proportioned. Under the layer of fat, the outline of the woman I was just a couple of years ago still shows. It's not far away. With a little effort, the old me can emerge whenever I'm ready to rescue her.

The previous evening's fight really had started innocently. "I don't have anything to wear tomorrow!" I bemoaned for the millionth time as I stood in front of a closet full of clothes that no longer fit.

"God damn it. Why don't you do something about it?" he said, though I'm still not sure what made him snap like that. I hadn't expected an answer from him, maybe just sympathy for how hard it had become to fit comfortably within myself.

As I cried, he admitted how tired he was of my inaction, how frustrated he was watching me gain weight while doing nothing to stop the steady march. He told me that, although he hated to admit it, he was not attracted to me, his now fat wife.

When we went to sleep, our bodies were a mile and three inches apart. Late in the night, needing to connect, he pressed himself against my backside, telling me he loves me still. Gratefully, I turned and opened to him, the sorrow swallowed up in our embrace, but the issue lingered, unresolved. Afterward, I lay awake determined that, in the morning, I would begin anew.

I wrap my faded pink robe around my waist and tie the belt. I go to the kitchen and put the teakettle on to boil. The dog's tags clank as he pads down the hall toward me.

BIO: Under the pen name CAROLINE WOLFE, the author writes about love, marriage, motherhood, and self-discovery. She earned a MA in Writing and works as a college writing teacher and academic advisor. Her essays also appear at She is working on a novel of interlocking short stories that take place over one weekend at a country inn. Contact Caroline at:

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