FOF comedian Esther Goodhart finds humor in hard times. After turning fifty, having two heart attacks and losing her sister, comedy is her catharsis.
[Editor's note: The essay below, by FOF Esther Goodhart is part of a series of personal blogs from our readers. Have your own story to tell? Email your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Esther performing stand-up at Caroline's Comedy Club in New York City.
When I turned fifty years old my mother didn’t make her yearly phone call to wish me happy birthday.
When I asked why, my mother said unhappily, “Because you are old. Now, everything falls down.”
Sure enough, the following week I fell and broke my ankle. This wasn’t shocking since I’ve had Familial Dystonia all my life. I always fall. But why did my breasts have to fall? Before I turned 50, I had perky breasts. Now my bra size is 38 long.
I also became totally insecure about my butt. It seemed to get wider and flabbier. I’d ask my husband, “Do these pants make my fat ass look fat?”
I was eating so much that, indeed, I got fat. I’m Korean. Korean women are usually very thin all their lives. Korean food is the synonym for “colon blow.” There is so much fiber and roughage in Korean food, an hour after you eat it you are passing wicker furniture.
I abandoned Korean food when I converted to Judaism and discovered the joys of Jewish cuisine: blintzes, schmaltz, kugel and my favorite, a slice of challah with a brick of butter. Whenever I go to the store to buy Jewish food, I ask if it comes with scotch tape so I can attach it directly on my butt.
I ate so much and gained so much weight I developed Type II diabetes. My doctors were crushed for me. “Take this seriously. You could lose your eyesight or have a heart attack or a stroke!” I took it in stride.
I had two heart attacks…in two months.
I was running for Town Council during my first heart attack. In the recovery room my political opponent paid me a visit with a box of 12 Dunkin’ Donuts. Really?!?
(Left) A political flyer used when Esther was running for office. (Right) NJ Gov. Chris Christie with her right before lapband surgery.
For most of my life I collected shoes. Now, in my 50s I collect medical doctors. They all pleaded with me to lose weight! As they pleaded they prescribed more and more medications: meds for my Dystonia, meds for my diabetes, meds for my high blood pressure, meds for my heart disease…forget food, I’m gaining weight swallowing all these meds!
My doctors pushed me to get the lap-band procedure. I resisted because I believed I could lose weight by myself. I finally visited the lap-band surgeon and said to her, “I’m not that bad, right?” She said, “Well, based on your tests you are morbidly obese.”
MORBIDLY OBESE?! Oy gevalt, Asians are not known to be “Morbidly Obese.” Okay, maybe BUDDAH is, but I vowed NOT to shame myself, my family or the entire Asian race with my fat.
I was still running for Town Council during this time. My mother said to me, “No one will vote for you because you are so fat. You must reduce!” I said, “Well at least I look young.” My mother said, “You look young because your fat pushes out all your wrinkles.”
I had the lap-band surgery. Immediately my diabetes was under control. Well, all right!
But, I had to tighten and loosen the band over and over again because I would vomit up food AND my medications. Loosen the band to keep my meds down but then I would eat. Tighten the band so I wouldn’t eat but my meds wouldn’t go down either.
I fell into depression. Not because of the frustration and difficulty of my meds and food, but because my belly was scarred from the implants of the lap-band. I may be fat, but I have no cottage cheese on my butt. Cellulite, schmellulite, my satiny smooth Asian skin was ruined. I had marks all over my belly. I had trouble with this.
Usually when I’m upset I allow myself to wallow in self pity for 2 minutes and then I’m over it. But this time I fell into deep depression and this depression was going on for a long time. I’d comfort myself with a bologna sandwich and then vomit.
Then, to my despair and horror, my sister Martha died. We were like Irish twins, one year and a week apart. She was also the complete opposite of me. I was born pissed off. I have a fierce and fighting spirit. Martha was timid and sweet. We were different in every way except we shared the same health issues.
Both of us said, when we were young, “we don’t care what people say. We love to eat and if we die from over-eating at least we died having a great time.” But I tried to control myself and get healthy. Martha sat at home and ate and was careless about taking her meds. I always took my meds. I exercised sometimes—by looking for a chair to sit down in.
Martha was happy to sit home all day while I was restless and wanted to take big trips. Martha took the biggest trip of all: she went to heaven.
At Martha’s funeral someone tried to make me feel better by saying, “Your sister is gone but what is she missing really? She misses getting old. She misses seeing how ugly and hard the world is.”
I responded, “But, she also misses her daughter’s successes. She misses seeing her grandchildren grow up. She misses being with me! I miss her!” When Martha died she took with her our past, our present, our future as sisters. The one person who knew me best is gone forever.
I’m not so cavalier about my health anymore. Her death is my spiritual rebirth. I want to live while I’m alive. I strive for a healthy life. I live to honor Martha. I live for my husband and sons. I live for me.
Martha and I used to laugh when we saw the Life Alert commercial. An old woman is on the floor and yells, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” We’d ask, “Are we going to be like that when we’re old? Because we’re like that now.” We were teenagers, then.
I’m 56 years old now. As my mother has acknowledged, my breasts fell down, my ass fell down. I still fall down…but I always get up. I am an Asian woman rising, I’m over 50 and fabulous and my mother doesn’t have to call and tell me that.
See Esther at one of her upcoming performances: May 1 at the Hilton Hotel in NYC, Comedy Night for the American Family Service Center or Sept. 19 at the Manhattan Beach Marriott Hotel in Los Angeles for the Asian Pacific American Women's Leadership Insitute.
Visit her website
or Facebook page
for more upcoming appearances and news.