“Take some chocolate.” My father in law said as he offered the candy dish to me.
It was impossible to exit my in-law’s house without passing by the crystal bowl on the entryway table overflowing with M & M’s, foil-wrapped chocolate crème mints, and Hershey’s kisses. My husband, Marc, was taking one last handful as we walked toward the door to leave and, as usual, I walked past with no intention of partaking in the treats.
“No, thanks. I’m fine,” I said picking at an invisible piece of lint on my favorite black sleeveless sundress, praying he would let the conversation drop.
“You need to eat!” He shouted, a demand, not a statement, “you are a skeleton!”
At five foot eight and ninety-eight pounds, I had developed an emotional armor from the comments made by random strangers on my thin frame, their opinions about my body thrown at me like darts at game board, but Neil’s comment hit the bullseye.
Pressured silence filled the foyer, like a balloon pumped with too much helium. Surely my husband would step in and tell his dad to back off. I waited for what felt like five minutes, unsure of how to respond. The tick of the grandfather clock nestled in the corner of the adjacent living room was pounding in my ears. My heart beating so rapidly, I was sure it might shoot through my chest at any moment.
“You look like walking death!” Neil shouted, filling the silence, his face flushed, and his hands shaking, causing the candy to spill from the bowl he still held in his hand.
My eyes widened, and I felt my cheeks start to burn. Sharon, Neil’s wife, held her hand to her mouth as if she was trying to stop his words by stuffing her own. My husband and Sharon looked at each other, neither making eye contact with me. I felt a bead of sweat start to trickle down my back as I sent my husband a pleading look, silently begging him to make his father stop before any more of his words shot towards me like bullets from a gun.
“Dad stop,” I heard Marc say as I turned and ran out of the house to the car. My black flip flops scraping the ground, making my exit more of a shuffle than a run, relieved that Marc was following closely behind me, as part of me wondered if he would stay to console his dad or leave in support of me. As we drove away, I turned to see my father in law standing on the front porch, his face drained of color, his eyes looking toward the ground. I, like a shaken can of soda, exploded into tears.
“Who the fuck says that to someone?” My words stuttering through violent sobs, “how could you let your father treat me like that?”
“It caught me off guard,” Marc stammered. “I didn’t know what to say.”
“Do you think it is true?” I choked, “do I look that bad?”
My husband stared silently at the road in front of us, his hands gripping the steering wheel as if it were a life preserver, and he was a drowning man.
It didn’t matter; I knew the answer.
My father in law was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s at the time. His internal filter impaired by the disease, making his comments more genuine, like a child who speaks their truth without the awareness of social acceptability. Neil expressed what he, and others, saw when they looked at me.
Neil passed away a year after the candy dish incident, an aggressive form of cancer sadly taking his life before I had the awareness or the opportunity to thank him for his part in saving mine.