Ghost in the Attic

Marnie Meikle
8 min readJan 6, 2022


Photo by Peter Herrmann on Unsplash

Attics can be scary places.

In the movies, they are often filled with cobwebs. The broken windows give bats free access to scare the poor children who are hiding from a faceless ghost. Other attics are melancholic, dimly lit. A trunk sits in the corner as an elderly couple opens it, taking out memorabilia, reminiscing about days gone by as they prepare to sell the family home.

Our attic has no windows or bats. It does have an empty trunk in the far corner that came with the house, boxes of holiday decorations, suitcases, and folding chairs and square tables from the bridge games that the previous homeowners used to host. And, there is a ghost.

This ghost has been with me since 1976. It has followed me from home to home. It moved into our attic when we bought this house in 2000. Prior to that, the ghost lived under my bed, in my bedroom closet, and in the bottom of a steamer trunk that served as a coffee table. You can either be haunted by ghosts or confront them head on. The choice is yours. I recently decided to confront mine.

“Dear Parent,

Every girl is a special girl with her own particular personality; her own special needs and desires. Each is growing up towards the fulfillment of a happy, successful future. For a young teenager to be burdened with the problem of weight in these most important years is indeed a serious handicap.

The overweight girl is often unhappy. Haphazard, on-again, off-again diets and the resultant frustrations are likely to make the young girl think her weight problem is hopeless. Unless preventive measures are taken in time, her mental, physical and psychosocial health may eventually be threatened.

Concentrated efforts to correct the condition should be made while she is young, before her problem becomes serious. At Camp Stanley, your daughter can enjoy a happy, wholesome, carefree good time for 8 wonderful weeks while losing an average of 20 to 45 pounds. She will find it great fun to join in weight reducing activities with other girls her own age, who have the same problem.

…the greatest joy will be the new confidence of a happy girl glowing with the radiance that comes from within.


Gussie Mason”

Sign. Me. Up.

In the winter of 1976, during my first year of high school, I found the ad for Camp Stanley in the back of my Seventeen Magazine. I was miserable. I had attended public school for my elementary years but my parents switched me to an all-girls private school in the fall of 1975. It was there that I was smacked in the face with the meanness and ostracization that comes with being “the fat kid”.

I was befriended by teachers and two or three classmates. Fitting in was not easy. It was an awkward situation. We newbies joined a group of girls who had moved up through the private elementary school together. We had to work hard to fit in.

The gym shorts sold by the official supplier were not available in my size. Mine were custom made for me by a seamstress. So, not only was I one of the last to be chosen when the class was divided into teams for sports, I didn’t look like the other girls either.

My pediatrician wrote a note to the school administration so that I would be seated at the “diet table” in the cafeteria at lunch. We picked at cottage cheese and lettuce while the rest of the girls devoured soup and a hot meal. Looking back, we were probably the lucky ones — we avoided the shepherd’s pie — but at the time, sitting at a “special” table made me feel anything but.

“Who can be self-conscious when everybody’s in the same boat? That is perhaps the greatest single advantage of our slim-down camp. No need to worry about “I look too fat in shorts” or “I’m too clumsy to dance”. Self-consciousness disappears and day after day sturdy self-confidence takes its place.”

Sign. Me. Up. NOW.

I learned a lot that summer at Camp Stanley. Eight weeks away from home living in a cabin with nine other girls, three counselors, and all the drama that comes along with it was eye opening. I was serious about my commitment to losing weight, and I was shocked that a camper across the hall had asked her parents to mail her Mars bars! They were confiscated by the counselors when she opened the package.

I knew the cost of the camp. I understood the value of money. These eight weeks in the “pollen free Catskill Mountains” cost more than a year at my private school. I wasn’t going to waste my time.

I won Camper of the Year for Division 5, I learned how to fence, I dutifully jogged from activity-to-activity just like photos in the brochure. I wrote in my journal about my commitment to continue to lose weight when I got home. I drank my Alba 66 and 77 (diet chocolate drinks that were eventually pulled from the market) and I chewed my diet gum and sucked on hard candy both loaded with sorbitol. At the end of the season, I had lost 35 pounds and my Wrangler bell-bottom jeans simply fell off.

The return to school in September reaffirmed who my true friends were. Girls who had shunned me in my first year were suddenly talking to me. I wasn’t picked last in gym class. I was invited to Halloween parties. I went to a high school dance with a friend from elementary school and wore NEW bell bottom jeans in a much smaller size. I got my ears pierced. Something had changed.

“…smaller sizes, loss of pounds and inches, better posture tell the happy story. Our new girl is delighted with herself. Dramatic proof of her success is the end-of-camp photograph placed next to the beginning of camp photograph.”

I didn’t need to carry around the photograph because I was the living proof. I could see it in the mirror. I could see it in my old clothes. I felt it inside. I would try on my Wrangler jeans time and time again as if to remind myself that I would NEVER EVER be that girl again.

I eventually packed away the Wranglers. They became a symbol of accomplishment. A reminder that I was once THAT big! Through my teen years, I would occasionally pull them out to make sure that they still slid down easily — to assure myself that I wasn’t sliding backwards.

How many people do you know who want to fit into clothing that they owned when they were thirteen years old? It’s ridiculous. I realize that. But, I couldn’t get rid of the jeans. The memory of how they used to fit pre-camp haunted me.

Life happens.

1984: Met a boy. Started dating. Lost weight. Confided in him my tale about “Fussy Gussie’s Fat Farm” and showed him the jeans. Too big!

1990: Marriage. Joined Weight Watchers pre-wedding. Lost weight. Jeans are too big!

1993: Pregnant with my first child. Jeans won’t even do up. Thank goodness!

1997: Daughter’s third birthday. Jeans are big again!

1999: Second pregnancy. Bed rest. Jeans? What jeans?

2000: Birth of my second child. Nervous breakdown. You want me to get dressed?

2003: Second nervous breakdown. You want me to get out of bed?

2005: Diagnosis of bipolar disorder. New meds. Who cares, what’s another 60 pounds?!

The jeans fell to the bottom of the pile and my priorities shifted. I completely forgot about them until one day several years ago when I went to try them on and they didn’t fit. As in, they didn’t even zip up. I was shocked. I shouldn’t have been. I knew that I weighed more than I did when I had started at Camp Stanley so logically the jeans wouldn’t fit. BUT they had always SEEMED so damn big! They represented a time in my life when I felt so small and insignificant as a person and yet so huge and ugly. Each time I held up those jeans they looked massive. Their wide legs looked as if two people could fit inside. The memories of shopping for them would come flooding back. In my mind, they were the biggest size of pants available at the store and I had to buy them. I shoved them back in the bag in the attic and vowed to not think of them ever again. Impossible. Ghosts do not rest.

Looking back over the forty-six years since my summer of “permanent weight loss through re-education in eating habits, physical activity and development of new interests”, I wondered why couldn’t I let them go?

Are the jeans like the “Ghost of Christmas Past”, there to teach me a lesson? Bringing me back to my past, to remind me of the difficulties that I overcame, the true friends that I had before I lost the weight, not the ones who courted me once the jeans fell off. Perhaps the jeans remain with me to remind me that I really wasn’t so huge and ugly, but that I was merely a teenager going through changes that all adolescents must endure.

I decided to confront the ghost head on for one last time in 2021. The year seemed right. Forty-five years since camp. An anniversary of sorts. It just so happens forty-five is the “sapphire anniversary” according to the wedding website The Knot. “The deep blue color of this dazzling gem is a reflection of a couple’s deep love for each other. Nearly five decades together is quite an achievement,…” Well, the jeans aren’t quite deep blue anymore, but we do seem to have a deep love for each other.

I started losing weight when COVID-19 reared its ugly head in early 2020. I’ve continued to do so and in the early spring of 2021, I added walking to my routine thanks to a dear friend and her dog who got me out in the early mornings. I logged over 900 kilometres in ten months. Given how poorly I play, I likely walked another 100 kms on the golf course from May through September. For those of you still living in miles, that’s about 620 miles in 2021.

July 2021: Jeans are out of the attic and in my closet. Not even close to zipping up.

September 2021: Button does up. Who needs a zipper anyways?

October 2021: Zipper and button do up. Breathing is highly overrated. Can’t sit down.

December 2021: Jeans zip up! Button does up! Breathing is relaxed. Look, a chair!

Am I the same weight as when I LEFT camp in August 1976 at the age of 13? Nope. I will likely never see that number again.

Am I the same weight as when I STARTED camp eight weeks earlier at age 12? Nope. I don’t really care.

I weigh five pounds more than I did when I was an unhappy, unhealthy 12-year old child. How absurd is that?! I’m active. I’m healthy. I eat a balanced diet and I’m taking care of my mental health. The thing is this: I discovered, on my own, that it wasn’t the weight that was holding me back. It was my own ghosts. So I opened the attic door, and I let them out.

The Wrangler jeans (left) “before” in June 1976 and (right) in January 2022.

…the greatest joy will be the new confidence of a happy girl glowing with the radiance that comes from within.



Marnie Meikle

Storyteller. Volunteer. Recovering communications employee. Wife, mother, friend taking a leap of faith. Admitting that writing is in her blood.