WAKING MOMENTS
by Wilson Barbers


(For Matt L.)

~I~

Cameron hated it when she woke up thinking about her job, but it seemed to be happening a lot lately. This morning, it was with thoughts of yesterday's press conference: a circle-the-wagons event rushed out after news had leaked out about a meeting at her office. As spokesperson for the state's Child Protective Services, it'd been her task to fend off the press when word of new proposed standards for establishing child neglect leaked out. Though the new parameters hadn't been approved or even finalized, one of 'em was already garnering unwanted national attention.

The policy in question involved removing children from their homes for being an "unhealthy weight." Though Cam was ambivalent about this proposed new direction, as the official news face for CPS she was expected to act as if no bad ideas ever came out of the office. "We heard testimony from a number of medical professionals and nutritionists," she remembered saying into the cameras, "and it's something that seriously needs to be considered." She woke from her restless sleep with visions of the teevee camera lights still lingering on her eyes. Her negligee appeared to have bunched up in her sleep, constricting on her torso.

She rolled out of bed and pulled down her night garment, only find it still felt tight on her. Maybe she'd washed it in hot by mistake? Quickly pulling it off, Cameron hit the showers, but not before examining herself in the dresser mirror. A tall brunette with a well-toned physique, short-cropped hair and a girl-next-door visage that was perhaps starting to show a stress line or two on the corners of her mouth, it was very much the face that the department wanted to present: professional, yet empathetic, bright yet caring, pretty but not threateningly so. She ate right, took care of herself and had been blessed with the genes of two slim parents. This packaging, she admitted, had helped to propel her into a position usually held by workers ten years her senior - while most of the peers her age still labored as lower level caseworkers in regional CPS offices.

Apart from those barely visible stress lines, she looked the same as she always did. Smiling, Cam moved away from the mirror and grabbed some underwear from the top drawer. She didn't notice they were a size larger than yesterday's, just that they fit as comfortably as they ever had. Same with the Anna Klein suit she put on to wear to work. She thought of skipping breakfast just to play it safe, but ultimately opted for her usual: black half caff, half an English muffin (unbuttered) and a small container of no-fat yoghurt.

This usually sufficed for the morning, but for some reason it wasn't enough today. By the time Cam arrived at her downtown office, she was feeling the urge to take an uncharacteristic detour to the office break room - where she knew a box of Krispy Kremes would be waiting. None too surprisingly, she ran into one of her old classmates, a pudgy blond named Naomi who did phone work for the state crisis line. The girl had an uneaten glazed donut in her hand, but from the sheen of frosting that was glistening on her collar, it obviously wasn't her first.

"Saw you on the news last night," Naomi told her after swallowing her first bite of the new donut. "You were looking pretty impressive up there."

"Just doing some damage control," Cam replied, once she'd picked a cinnamon and sugar donut for herself. Been ages since she'd had one of these, but it looked irresistible. "Policy hasn't even been finalized yet, and here I am, having to defend the department."

"You've gotta admit the original idea's a little dubious," the plump phone worker said. "I mean, I know what it's like to struggle with your weight, but to penalize parents because they can't make their fat kids do what the rest of us can't either? That seems a bit off."

You would think that, wouldn't you? Cam couldn't help mentally countering as she considered her portly co-worker's pear-shaped frame. Yet she quickly backed away from this uncharitable thought. "We're only talking about the most extreme cases," she said, reaching for a second donut though she didn't recall eating the first. "Cases where there's a clear health risk for the child."

"And who decides that?" Naomi wondered.

"That's still being hashed out," Cam told her. "This is still all just in the talk stages, so beyond that I can't really say. S'likely that the policy won't go anywhere anyway." With that, she took a large bite of donut. "Skipped breakfast," she told the astonished Naomi who could never remember ever seeing the pristine spokeswoman so heedlessly hit the Krispy Kremes.

Woman's never had to worry a day of her life about her weight, the hotline worker thought with more than a twinge of jealousy. Rumor in the office had it that Cam was seeing a handsome young up-and-comer in the State Comptroller's office, which seemed par for the woman's blessed life. Not that Naomi had any serious complaints about her own situation: she had a good job and a fiancÚ who loved her for all her moments of self-doubt. It was just that women like Cam seemed to have had everything handed to them so readily that she wondered if they had a clue about what it was like for folks who had to really work for everything, if they knew what it was like to be judged by a system for their inability to change something that they had no real control over.

Naomi liked Cam, knew that she was at heart a sweet and caring person. But some days she couldn't help wishing that her old college friend knew what it was like to have to struggle for the things she took for granted . . .

~II~

Cam hated it when she woke thinking of work, but it seemed to be happening more and more these days. She'd rouse replaying some call she'd taken on the hotline, visualizing the unseen caller who typically was in a heightened state of distress, thinking about the ways she might have handled the contact differently. It was never the calm calls she remembered.

"You've been doing this too long," she groaned, rolling her still groggy self out of bed. Her XL nightshirt had, as usual, crawled up her soft torso, revealing an abdomen that was on the verge of becoming a distinct potbelly. Pulling her nightshirt down, she stumbled into the kitchen where the timed coffeemaker was already dripping Maxwell House Breakfast Blend into the pot. After grabbling a container of French Vanilla CoffeeMate from the fridge, she checked the breadbox for the half-filled package of cinnamon donettes.

When she finally opened the carton, though, she discovered there were less donettes, only five or six, than she remembered. That's right - she'd grabbed a few at bedtime with her mug of cocoa and mini-marshmallows. Funny how she'd forgotten that. To make up for the smaller serving, she pulled out a couple of sour dough English muffins and slid them into the toaster oven. Cam'd learned since she'd started working on the hotline that if she didn't make herself a decent breakfast, she'd have a major migraine by ten o'clock - no way to go through the work day. After slathering her muffins with butter and strawberry jam, she took her morning meal into the living room to watched the a.m. news. A spokeswoman from her agency was on the air, defending a proposed new policy that Cam could already tell was going to bring in a ton of bogus hotline calls.

She was still feeling a bit peckish when she finished her breakfast. I'll have a pastry when I get into work, she thought, though experience told her it would probably be more than one. Fresh glazed donuts were a weakness of hers. Still, to tide herself over, she grabbed a handful of Vanilla Wafers and stuffed them into a gallon ZipLock. She left her place, one-half of a duplex that'd been built before the Second World War, and drove into the office. Took a while to get into the city, so by the time she'd parked her car, that ZipLock had long been emptied.

Working on the hotline, you didn't need to show up in office wear, but Cam didn't feel right dressing too casually, so she'd gone for a checked blouse and a denim skirt with control top panties underneath. The latter grew tighter as the day rolled on, but she considered that a part of the job experience.

She ran into Naomi, one of her co-workers, at the office kitchenette. Though Naomi was marginally hippier than her peer, they often joked together that they were twin daughters of different mothers. The two women shared the same zaftig farm girl physiques and predilection for between meal snacking. Eating was a way to ease the stress of their job - which was characterized by stretches of boredom followed by more manic patches - and Cam didn't beat herself up about it. To be sure, she had those moments (typically when she realized a once cherished top had grown too snug) where she thought, I've gotta cut down a little on the noshes. But those resolutions never lasted long.

Her family, plump Midwesterners all, had raised her to appreciate whatever was placed on her plate before her. Take this morning's break room offerings: two boxes of cream cheese Danishes, one of her favorites. The local bakery that made these went heavy on the cream cheese, always a plus in her book, so she piled two on top of a napkin. Every once in a while, some fuddy-duddy from the floor above send down a memo about the abundance of "bad food" on the kitchenette counter, but, thankfully, nobody took these seriously.

"How was your night with Wesley?" she asked Naomi as she grabbed a wooden chair to rest her plump buttocks, a bit of midriff bulge showing as her blouse slipped out of the left side of her skirt, her full calves flattening against each other when she leaned a bit to the side to cross them at the ankles. Wes had been an ex- of Cam's, and when he'd first broken off their relationship, her starting assumption had been that it was because she'd gained weight over the past few years. Once he'd hooked up with her friend Naomi, though, she'd been forced to abandon that theory. Looked like she and Wes just hadn't been simpatico.

"Quiet and low-key," her co-worker said. "We NetFlixed a movie and sat back to watch it." She paused as if trying to decide how much detail she was going to reveal, then continued. "Because of its subject matter, Chocolat, Wes brought two big bars of Lindt's chilli-flavored chocolate bars with him. Felt rather wicked finishing 'em off."

"Wes have any?"

"A little," Naomi giggled. "But not much."

They sat in silence for a few moments, companionably noshing on their pastries. When she finished her two, Cam considered splitting yet another one with her co-worker, but once she got her fingers on the Danish, she decided to take the whole thing to the phone center with her. Who cares if I get fat? she half-jokingly thought. It's not as if I have a boyfriend, and, besides, I can do this work at twice my size.

She finished her brunch before she got to her phone, and by the middle of her second call was already wondering about today's special in the downstairs cafeteria. It seemed like she spent more and more of her time idly thinking about eating, more of her day being hungry. When she was alone in her apartment, she often kept the Food Channel on her TV just for company and comfort. If she had any money, she'd be a full-blown foodee.

You need a boyfriend, girl, she told herself as she clicked off her last call and reached into her purse for a Kit Kat - preferably a chef at some high-end restaurant. . .

~III~

Cammie was just not a morning person. But as the mother of three early rising, very hungry children, she didn't have the luxury of sleeping in very often. She could hear them rattling in the trailer kitchenette, the seven-year-old yelling at her older sister for getting into the sugar cookies. "Thought I'd put those out of reach," Cammie groaned as she struggled to pull a fading caftan over her head. It was, she noticed, a whole lot tighter on her middle - and not from any shrinkage either.

It took effort to lift her fat self off her mattress. If she had a full-sized bed frame, it wouldn't be an issue, but that was out of the family budget. As a result, she had to gracelessly heft her 280-pound bod out of her too-low bed. Her ex-, when they were still together, had made more than one "joke" about her early morning floundering - and occasionally, she'd still replay one of those unfunny jokes as she began her morning routine. No good way to start the day, that's for sure.

She didn't bother with checking herself in the mirror, just pulled down the caftan, stepped into a pair of pink imitation crocs and toddled into the kitchen. The scene was chaos, as usual. Her eldest had set up breakfast for them all: overflowing bowls of generic "Crispy Rice" with mounds of sugar on top. A part of her knew she shouldn't - the school nurse had bitched her out just one week ago when she found those fruit pies in her kids' lunch bags - but she pulled down last night's take home, anyway, and gave each kid a jelly donut. She got the day-olds when she left her shift at the diner, and at her income level she couldn't afford to turn 'em down. There's fruit in that jelly, Cammie told herself as she grabbed two apple cinnamon donuts for herself.

Leaning against the counter, the fat mother sighed and considered her three round school-aged children, two girls and a boy, all of whom had clearly inherited their ma's fat genes. She'd been a chubby kid herself in elementary school - and a corpulent teenager - though it hadn't been due to lack of diet and exercise. Her mother, who herself had fought the battle of the bulge most of her adult life, had been a harsh taskmistress when it came to Cammie: forcing her to go on various low-cal diets, cajoling the family doctor into a diet pill script, pushing her daughter into "healthy" activities that bored her to tears. It had never worked, of course. She sometimes thought that her upbringing was the reason she occasionally gave her own kids slack on the food front. That and the fact that low-cal eating was so much more expensive.

Perhaps if the kids' father had stuck around, they might've been financially better off - though if she was honest with herself, she'd admit that it probably wouldn't have made much difference. The man's temper and his drinking had lost him more than one job over the years they were together. As she'd gained and kept the accumulated baby weight of three pregnancies over the years they were together, he'd grown nastier in his jokes. We're better off without him, she thought.

Her new boyfriend Wes, the cook at the downtown diner that employed her, was more stable and positive, though she didn't imagine either her or her children losing any weight once he fully came into their life. Wes had the body you'd expect of a long-time fry cook and was a strong believer in big portions. It was the way he'd been raised and fed as a kid, and he saw nothing wrong with it. She hadn't either, until the school nurse had started sending home those letters about how out-of-shape her eldest two were. Out of shape? she remembered thinking the first time she received one of those damn notes. Lady, have you seen how active these two are? It wore her out just keeping track of the little spuds.

She took a sip of instant coffee, her wide rear flattening against the silverware drawer while she tried to will the caffeine into doing its job. Those extra hours at the diner were exhausting, so much so that she briefly dozed off on her feet. When she started into wakefulness, she was fifty pounds heavier, though as far as she knew she had long been this weight. Most of Cammie's new poundage resided on her forefront: her way-too-tight caftan had split its seams along both sides of her torso; her hungry belly had dropped two more inches down the front of her voluminous thighs and had developed a fold at the navel. As she yawned back awake, two deep chin lines formed on her considerably rounder face. She reached into the donut box and was relieved to see that there was one still left. Funny, she thought she'd brought home a baker's dozen, but that couldn't be right, or there'd be more in the box.

The youngest had spilled her milk and cereal, Cammie saw. You'd think with a trailer as small as theirs, it'd be easy to keep clean, but kids were kids were a perpetual mess. The mop head had grown too nasty to use, so she was forced to resort to paper towels to soak the milk off the floor, swishing them around with her bare fat feet. When she bent over to pick up the towels, the splits in her caftan grew even bigger and more noticeable. Looked like she was gonna have to pull out the sewing machine tonight, make herself a larger one - her third this year. She'd grown pretty adept at making muumuus out of slightly irregular cloth from the budget bin at Mass-Mart. Thank God her waitress uniform still fit. If just barely.

"The nurse wanted me to give you this," her middle child said, once her brood had all finished breakfast. Figures the girl'd wait until the last minute to give it to her. It was, Cammie saw, another booklet espousing the benefits of healthy eating. The school had been sending them home with her children on a weekly basis. She'd dutifully read them, but in every case, the menus they recommended were beyond her means, even with food stamps.

"Thank you, sweetie," she said, placing the paper along with its others inside a Betty Crocker Cookbook she'd been bequeathed by her mother. "Now get dressed for school." As her kids dashed off, she stacked their bowls into the sink, then trudged into the bedroom to don her uniform.

She examined as much of her 332-pound self as she could catch in the medicine cabinet mirror. Cammie's second chin hung lower than she previously remembered it, and she didn't recall seeing that crease at the base of her largely invisible neck before. Sighing, she rubbed some bargain skin cream into her face and wished she had the money for some decent makeup. The only stuff she had in the cabinet was some much too garish remnants from her pre-mommy days.

Checking out the lower third of the mirror, it looked like she was showing much more cleavage in her waitress uniform, in part because her cushiony shoulders kept her from being able to button her tops fully, but also because her pendulous breasts had seemingly gone up a letter. But since that translated into bigger tips, Cammie wasn't bothered by it. (Buying comfortable bras that offered decent support in her size was another matter.) She always made a point of fully buttoning her blouse whenever she showed up at the kids' school, though, if only to hide the Petunia Pig tattoo on her right breast.

Her stomach was still demanding more breakfast, but she ignored its pleas so as to not set a bad example for her kids. Once she got to work, she told it, she'd be able to sweet talk Wes into frying up something good for her, his apple fritters, perhaps. Walking her young 'uns to the edge of the trailer park, her swaying belly leading the way, Cammie happily anticipated a plate of her boyfriend's luscious cooking. She watched her brood get on the school bus, cheerily waved goodbye, then slowly huffed down the block to her own bus stop. With her added belly weight, the hem of her waitress dress had risen by a couple of inches, revealing the extra fold where her lower thighs were beginning to droop.

She didn't remember the bench being so far away, but she didn't really mind the extra walk. The day was brightly sunny; the air was crisp and cool. For a brief moment Cammie felt her worries leave her heavy body.

As she lowered herself onto the concrete bench, she received a buzz from her purse on the cell phone. Didn't know I had any minutes left, she thought as she clumsily pulled it out from the bottom of her wrapper-strewn purse. The number was unfamiliar and when the female voice on the other end called her "Miz," she knew it had to be something official.

It was a Naomi Something, calling from the state's Child Protective Services. "We've received a call from the school about two of your children," she was told. "Apparently, you've already been briefed about their concerns."

That small moment of worry respite? Gone in a flash. . .

~IV~

Cameron woke up replaying much of what she planned to say at her press conference this morning. She didn't mind it when she did this to herself - sometimes it took a good night's sleep to get a fresh take on things. Lying in the bed beside her, Wes was quietly snoozing - for a big man he was a remarkably silent sleeper - and since she wanted him to get his beauty rest, she carefully edged to her side of the bed, grabbed a roomy 7X robe and hefted herself to her feet. Wes made a slight noise as she stood to get her bearings: when a woman her size left it, even a sleeping bedmate took notice at some level.

Still, she was glad to see him still sleeping; she knew he'd come in late from the restaurant the night before: a recent five-star review by the Undercover Gourmet had brought in more customers, and he was happily reaping the benefits. So was she, Cam smiled - their commercial-sized refrigerator was filled with leftovers daily. She was so busy at work that she relished the convenience of being able to microwave a carton or two and eat at her desk. Grazing the day away was a habit that would draw more than a few disapproving looks from the fat phobic, but, hey, she'd been a big girl all her life.

Why not enjoy it?

Shrugging her lightweight robe onto her decidedly-not-lightweight body, she shuffled into the kitchen and turned on her laptop, then started the Krup coffee maker. While her computer rebooted, Cam opened the fridge and pulled out a bowl of cream, some cleaned strawberries and two bagels. That last she put in the toaster oven, while she settled down to a large bowl of strawberries and cream, making sure to drain the now-pink liquid at the bottom of the bowl after she'd finished off her fruit. After placing the bowl in the dishwasher, she grabbed a package of Nova Scotia lox and cream cheese to add to her bagels. By the time, her coffee pot was filled, she had her bagels fully prepped.

Sitting at the kitchen table, she bit into her first bagel as she pulled up the text of her statement. She didn't really focus on the screen until she was done with half her bagel, but once she did, she felt pretty good about what she'd written. Still read pretty tight, she thought, after scrolling through twice and making a few small tweaks. As guardian ad litem, she had taken on a class action suit against the state's Child Protective Services - an unusual move since her job typically had her representing individual kids within the child welfare system - against a newly enacted policy that had the state trying to remove "too fat" children from their homes. Having herself grown up a plus-sized girl, Cam had uncharacteristically injected herself into her own statement, but she figured once the cameras got a look at her 500-pound self, there was no way she could act as if she didn't have some level of personal investment in this case.

"I grew up fat myself," she read off the screen, "and I know my parents tried everything out there to help me get skinny. These were people who had the means to try every faddish weight loss gimmick, to get me on diet pills, send me to fat camp and ensure that everything I ate followed the latest recommended regimen. The parents of the children that I'm representing today don't have the money or the resources to try these unsuccessful tactics. Does that mean we should be removing these children from their homes?"

Say it, sister! Cam thought as she wiped a dollop of cream cheese off her lowest chin. She thought about one of her families - the trio of energetic kids whose hard-working waitress ma struggled to make ends meet - and she knew that she was on the right side. Sometimes as a lawyer, you found yourself taking cases that were more than a little dubious. Not this time.

After pouring another cup of java and some fresh cream, she dropped her robe and waddled into the bathroom. She loved the feel of the apartment's cool air on her skin - she had a lot of skin with which to capture it - and knew that Wes had no issues at all with her big-ass self walking about naked. Her 78-inch DD breasts bobbled on top of a 74-inch middle that hung in an apron down each of her 40-plus-inch upper thighs. Their walk-in shower had a hand-held, which was essential for a gal her size and shape: without it, the water just cascaded down her mountainous forefront without ever hitting the parts of her it shielded. Her cankles would be bone dry.

As the shower warmed, Cam did a quick personal inventory in the large bathroom wall mirror. When she leaned against the bathroom sink, her belly pressed against the vanity cabinet edge. Perhaps she should lift her paunch and plop it down on the sink to get a closer look, she half-joked to herself, patting her jiggling abdomen. Instead she backed off and gave herself a final once over.

She saw an attractive super-sized brunette with long hair and Betty Page styled bangs, dimpled pink cheeks and two chin lines. Beneath her full-fed face were breasts that would have dropped over to her sides if her bulging upper arms weren't so huge. Her flesh was pale and largely unblemished - her weight gain had been slow and inexorable over the years, so it looked as if her skin had been unsurprised by it. As she raised her drooping arms to run her fingers through her hair, her forefront jiggled insouciantly. As her top bobbled, the tiny cartoon tattoo on her right breast playfully moved from side to top.

What kinds of children would she have if she and Wes ever decided to go in that direction? Happy ones, she hoped. Whenever she visualized 'em, she couldn't help thinking of the Campbell's Soup kids.

She showered, then chose a conservative 6X grey Ulla Popken skirt suit, which she spiced up slightly with a red blouse underneath the jacket. Without looking down (her mountainous belly blocked them from view, anyway), she stepped into a pair of dark red flats. A light dab of Alexandra de Markoff makeup and she was checking out the fridge for a couple - no, better make that three - of Wes's goodie packages. She didn't even bother to check the Styrofoam cartons' contents, since he knew what Cam liked. After kissing her still-sleeping chef lover goodbye, she headed for her office (a short jaunt from their downtown apartment), though not without first making a stop for a bag of Dunkin' Donuts.

Two hours later, she was at her press conference, standing behind a podium not quite wide enough to block either side of her ample frame.

She knew most of the reporters covering this story by name: over the years, she'd grown notorious in the state as a quotable critic of CPS policies. The departmental spokeswoman Naomi was there for her statement, of course; Cam half-remembered sharing some social studies classes with the woman back when she still was in pre-law. Cam suspected that Naomi had been chosen for the role since she was modestly chubby - a waif compared to Cameron but not so slender that she looked like a fitness bully. She appeared uncomfortable to be there, in any event, and from what Cam had heard through the grapevine, the woman wasn't all that happy about this newest direction that CPS had taken.

Perhaps she'd invite Naomi out for lunch after the press conference. She looked like she'd appreciate one of Wes' lobster salads, and the way Cam was feeling right now those three cartons back at the office weren't going to be enough to get her through today as it was. Nothing like taking on the state to get you working up an appetite, she thought with a grin, unconsciously licking her full lips before launching into her opening statement. Plenty of time to think about lunch after you get through this, girl, she told herself.

As she began, Cameron found herself totally focussed in the now. A few lines in, and she noticed Naomi unknowingly nodding in agreement.

When she'd woken up this morning, Cam had been optimistic about the day ahead, and it looked like her optimism hadn't been misplaced. She flashed on all the women she'd met in her life - from slender to super-sized - and in that moment she felt like she was connected to them all. Standing before the cameras, a young and forceful super-sized professional woman who'd worked hard to get where she was, Cameron knew without a doubt that she was where she was meant to be.

And so she was . . .

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