Fat Camp: How I Spent My Summer Vacation

This story was written and performed by Melissa Smrekar for the live, personal storytelling series Oral Fixation (An Obsession With True Life Tales) at the Wyly Theatre in Dallas, on March 17, 2014.

The theme of the show was "Elephant in the Room."

Oral Fixation creator and director Nicole Stewart says, "Melissa cracks the audience up with her story of falling in love at fat camp, but she also shares an important lesson: 'It's never about the 15 freaking pounds!' Read her story here and don't miss her hilarious and charming performance."

The first time someone mistakenly asked me if I was pregnant, I was 16 years old at a church brunch.

The second time was by a carnie at the fair, and when I said no, he asked me if it was twins.

The third time, I was on a hotel shuttle on my way back from a wedding when the bus driver, who was barefoot and eating Funyons, asked me, "So, what do you do?" When I said I was in school, she screamed in reply, "No. When are you due?"

In the words of my eloquent generation: WTF.

I've been the same height since the fifth grade and enduring unsolicited criticism from strangers for just as long. So, the summer before I moved to North Carolina for college, I decided to lose the 15 pounds that I considered the barrier to my happiness. I figured the most efficient way for me to lose weight was for someone to pay me to do so. So, I Googled fat camps! On my application, I said that I wanted to work at a "fit camp" to help young girls foster a healthy body image. I omitted my main objective: I wanted to wear shorts without getting third-degree chub rub and not sweat when I ate.

I was hired and soon on a plane to Massachusetts. Rounding the corner at baggage claim, I was greeted by a jovial and rotund new co-worker. We chubs gotta stick together.

On my first night at camp, I settled into my un-air-conditioned dorm room. I was reading The Devil Wears Prada in my pink jammies and Chanel glasses with my window open (because it was so effing hot) when I heard a whistle. Looking outside, I found a tattooed guido in an Italy jersey with a towel hanging from the pocket of his cargo shorts who hollered at me, "Yo, come hang out."

It was the first night of my life going to bed with my window open, and a man was calling to me from below. Ready to meet my John Cusack, I quickly put on a bra and headed downstairs to star in my own romantic comedy. His name was Marcus. He was in charge of the male staff and technically one of my bosses.

Ten years my senior, he was confident and forward and told me at first glance that I was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. I, lonely and insecure and so desperate to be loved, quickly fell under his spell.

On my first night off, I was writing in bed when Marcus knocked on my door. Grabbing one of my pigtails, he told me he liked my hair braided. He caught me by surprise when he leaned over and kissed me. I replayed that moment in my head until I fell asleep, feeling happy for the first time in forever.

Every night after that, I would braid my hair and sneak over to Boys Hill to see Marcus after my campers were asleep. One night, Marcus was acting anxious, and I asked him what was wrong.

"I don't know how to say this," he stammered, "but we either have to be everything or we have to be nothing."

I was caught off-guard. I barely knew Marcus, and I'd never spent time to consider what I liked about him -- or even if I liked him at all. I just liked being liked. I didn't want the attention and affection to end, so I picked "everything."

"Everything" meant being committed to Marcus behind closed doors because, since I never heard him acknowledge our relationship, I didn't either. We became an epic (and apparently secret) couple. People definitely noticed something between us, from our stolen glances and the way Marcus always managed to be near me. I could feel their whispers prickle my ears, but I assumed they talked about us because we were such a strange pairing. I wore full-skirted dresses and was planning a trip to Paris. He gambled recklessly and daydreamed of making it onto the World Poker Tour.

It was against all logic. I was the girl who loved boys named Hunter who drove Chevy trucks and fished and cited George W. Bush as their personal hero. I couldn't imagine even being friends with a heinously dressed Canadian who smoked weed and wore puka shell necklaces. Even so, I fell head over heels for this man who showered me with compliments and got me drunk on Smirnoff Ice.

I felt like such a grown-up when Marcus took me to a casino on our day off. We stayed overnight in a hotel room, and he was so respectful when I requested a room with two beds. That night, in full-length pajamas and with my head rested on his chest, I noticed that Marcus had a tattoo of a beautiful angel, with "Maria" written underneath. I asked him who Maria was, assuming it was his mother (don't Italians get tattoos of their mom's name?). Instead of answering me, he pushed my hair behind my ear and kissed me. I felt so drunk with love that I didn't even think this was strange.

One afternoon, near the end of summer, I noticed Marcus having a solemn phone conversation in the other room. With his head hung, Marcus told me that he had just gotten off the phone with Maria, his fiancée. My mind raced while everything clicked into place. All those murmurs? That tattoo? The elephant in the room -- the fact that everyone knew but me -- was that Marcus was engaged! Like all the great male manipulators over time, he convinced me that they were having problems, that he didn't love her, that he didn't want to get married. I looked into his piercing blue eyes and selfishly chose to believe him.

For the dance on the last night of camp, I slipped into a strapless size 6 Marc Jacobs dress and couldn't help but laugh. To my amazement, I didn't look like a sausage casing at all. I had been so caught up in my fat camp love affair that I didn't even realize I wasn't fat anymore.

When Marcus and I danced to David Gray's "This Year's Love," the lyrics punctuated the moment perfectly:

Cause it takes something more this time
Than sweet sweet lies
Before I open up my arms and fall

It felt like a cross between She's All That and A Walk To Remember. I wasn't the DUFF (designated ugly fat friend) any longer; I was in a single-digit dress size and the leading lady in my PG-13 rom-com! It was everything I had ever wanted.

The next morning, Marcus drove me to the airport. We sat inside, tearful and largely silent. What was there to say? I couldn't imagine not seeing him ever again, but I didn't want to bring him back into my world, either. Could he really be my date to my sorority's Great Gatsby cocktail dance? Could I see him sitting next to me in church or hunting with my dad? For the first time, I understood that Marcus and I could exist only in that finite time and place.

It felt like I had been hypnotized by the concept that someone could find me desirable, and the second my airplane touched-down in Dallas, I awoke from this trance. I walked to baggage claim, lighter in every possible way. I fell out of love as quickly as I fell in love, and in the process realized that that's not what love is.

Over an AIM chat, Marcus told me he wanted to call off the wedding so we could be together. I wrote back that there wasn't a chance in hell. Less than a month later, Marcus was married. He called me when he got home from his honeymoon. I didn't answer, but my heart was broken. Not for myself -- for Maria.

Almost a year later, I looked Marcus up on Facebook and saw a picture of Maria for the first time. She had long, dark hair, olive skin and a pretty smile. She looked like a 30-year-old version of me.

It's been eight years, but I still think of that summer often. It never was about the 15 pounds. It never is about the 15 freaking pounds! That summer taught me that you can have your heart broken and still be OK; that moments of foolishness make you wise; that part of dating is learning what you don't want; and that you have to love yourself before anyone worthwhile ever will.

I still struggle with blaming carbohydrates for all my problems and far too often define my self-worth by my dress size, but I know who I am today: A girl with a strong mind and sharp tongue who doesn't take sh*t from anybody. I may have kissed a fool, but I'll never let a kiss fool me again.