A petite Central Oregon Community College co-ed walked up to the two-tone Ford van, approached the open passenger window, looked at the driver, and asked, “Are you Marly?”
“Close enough,” replied the middle-aged, heavy-set woman behind the wheel, as she opened a small spiral notepad and jotted down the name below the previous 55 names already written there.
Karla Lee is one of a dozen women from Redmond and Madras who help high-school and college girls get their lives back on track after drugs, teen pregnancy, or abuse. Compassion and forgiveness have become mainstays in her life after her own life took an unexpected turn.
The 56 names in the front of the notepad are the “normal, but mistaken” names she’s been called. Open the back of the notepad and you will find a longer list.
“These are the bad names I’ve been called,” Lee said.
There are 313 of them: everything from “bitch” to “hippo,” or creative attempts like the “Pillsbury dough-boy in drag,” along with various disgusting combinations of female anatomy with weight defining words.
When asked why she keeps lists of mistaken and insulting names she’s been called, she replies, “It reminds me of the way I was before I got fat.”
Lee believes skinny people, especially the young adult crowd, are the most judgmental and intolerant group in society. She further contends that if you do not fit their idea of appearance you will never be accepted by the majority of them.
She speaks from experience on both sides of the issue, and adds that judging by appearance is no different than judging the color of skin, nationality, or religion.
In nearly every room of the rustic ranch style home, shared by Lee and her family, there are visual reminders of her pre-obese life. Multiple eight-by-ten glossies intermingle with Ducks Unlimited and Thomas Kincaid collectibles on the walls, along with holding positions of prominence beside Remington sculptures and Boyd’s angelic figurines: each photo testifying to days gone by when Lee modeled for a living.
In fact, her life had been filled with physical pursuits. Lee loved to hike wilderness trails, compete in various cycling events, and hunt with a compound bow.
“It took Karla five years to get her first deer,” her husband Jay Lee said. “But she never quit.”
The couple had carried on a running romance before formally dating: they met while jogging at a State park.
“We had a six-minute-mile courtship for a couple months,” Jay Lee said, “before having our first real date.”
The couple said Karla Lee was the model for two large figure drawings in the master-bedroom. One of the nude pieces is only six years old.
“I developed an auto-immune disease,” Karla Lee said.
Her doctors put her on medication like Cytoxin and Prednisone: up to 24 pills per day. Karla Lee explained that the chemo destroyed her thyroid, which helps regulate the metabolism. And there were additional side-effects, some too embarrassing for her to mention.
Her son Kyle Lee said, “Prednisone gave her the chipmunk cheeks.” And Karla Lee jokingly vowed to pay him back.
She wore a size five until age thirty-seven and a size six until age forty, Jay Lee said.
“Now I can’t find anything big enough to fit comfortably,” said Karla Lee.
There is no getting around dealing with the disease and the heavy side-effects of the medications, but Karla Lee takes it in stride most days: though she admits having a sense of guilt, for having been one of the so-called “pretty people,” who judged others by appearance.
“I remember hurting a nice lady’s feelings when I told her she wouldn’t fit into my circle of friends,” Karla Lee said. “Now I’m the one who’s ignored and doesn’t fit in.”
How does she know the tables have turned? — She carries the proof.
At least 56 people cared too little about her to remember her name, and 313 people threw away all pretense of tolerance and insulted her to her face, or within ear-shot.
When asked which type bothers her the most, she says, “I can’t stand any judgmental attitude now.”
Yet she is also willing to forgive.
Every time Karla Lee sees a “prissy bitch” stick her nose in the air at someone else, she reminds herself that she used to do the same: believing all fat people got that way from eating.
“I now know better,” she said.
And she emphasized that she respects herself more today than when she was, “just another pretty face.”
© Jerry Thomas