Editor’s note: The following is the first in a three-part series.
By Marjorie Stradinger
Green-blue eyes dancing, a small pink jewel sparkling on her nose piercing, a birthday gift from Thomas. Andrea Jean Laemmel looks like she’d be more comfortable with legs crossed under her small frame on a comfy sofa, rather than sitting on a hard wooden chair at The Whistle Stop in Windsor, Conn. She pushes through comfort zones.
“Thomas says when I’m really happy, my eyes turn green,” she explained, referring to her husband of three years.
Seeing them makes me smile. Opposites: Andi is 4-foot-10, and Thomas is 6-foot. They met in Germany.
“I was born in 1981, in Coon Rapids, a suburb of Minneapolis,” she related, as Sarah took our order. We decided to share the Sicilian panini filled with Italian deli meats and cheeses, and the pilgrim, turkey, brie and cranberries.
“I grew up where most moms stayed home,” Andi said. “We had an open-door policy. My mom always said good people follow good people. There were about 45 kids. We still have contact with them.”
Second of four, her two older sisters are Brooke and Jane, and her brother Eddy is the baby.
“Brooke was a bully…tallest in her class,” Andi said. “She moved on, and I became a bully. We were the only ones who went to (Catholic) school. I had to wear those jumpers that never fit, because I was heavy…heavy my whole life.”
I met Andi on treadmills in our health club, where she continues her rigorous self-discipline that resulted in her losing 50 pounds a year ago.
“People called me fatty and fatso; I was crying all the time,” Andi said. “I came home from the bus crying every single day. My mom sympathized; she was overweight growing up, too. I was active. I think a lot of it was emotional. My parents were adamant about us being in sports. I was never very good at it.”
Sarah served our fabulous sandwiches.
Andi gave up on sports before high school.
“One girl hid my clothes when we were in the shower,” Andi remembered. “There were two male coaches; nobody came in. I had to wait ’til my mother came to find me. They were mean…I cried a lot…never went back.”
“Crying isn’t your usual now?” I asked.
“I even come across very cold,” she said. “Lately I’ve been feeling…all day long I cry. I woke up this morning and said, ‘It’s over.’ I have to move forward. When you take on the limit of your comfort zone, that’s how you know you’re growing. It’s really uncomfortable, and next time the comfort zone’s a little wider.”
“When did you develop this sense of self?” I asked.
“Germany. I had a great, fun time,” she explained. “I had a goal, a dream. I was in a biology degree, but third year…picked chemistry. I’m good at math, figuring out things. I was going to be a dentist, but struggled with college…hated it. I thought you had to have a bachelor’s in life science to go to dental school…had to finish physics. In the meantime, I had nothing to do…finished core requirements. So I took German. I thought it would…raise my grade point average.”
Her chemistry professor told her that her dream would turn into a nightmare.
“Telling me I can’t, I’ll try harder,” she said. “I was too stubborn to change my mind. I barely passed. I could be Einstein if people would let me.” She gives another of her deep chuckles, often punctuating her colorful speech.
She continued: “My mom didn’t think I’d graduate. I never wanted it…was only finishing…because they were supporting it…a gift to my parents. Sounds terrible. I don’t mean to say they sent me the wrong direction.”
Andi wanted a creative path.
“Dessert?” Sarah asked.
Maple walnut cake.
“I like frosting,” I hinted.
“I do, too,” Andi said.
“I usually have friends who eat the cake,” I explained.
“Too bad,” she twinkled, diving fork into frosting, giving another belly chuckle. “Here…I’m a giver. There’s a big chunk.”
Graduating with degrees in chemistry and German, Andi researched opportunities abroad, found a course teaching English to adults through Cambridge University in Berlin.
“I didn’t have time to go home…graduated May 12. My plane was June 1. I had to sell the idea to my parents,” she said.
“They were paying?” I asked.
“That’s why I had to sell it,” she said. “I (thought) this course was a job. Maybe I didn’t want to know the truth. I knew if I didn’t go then, I’d get a job, live the normal, straight, safe, narrow life that people live after college.”
I replied, “Sounds like a prison sentence, or the girl in the musical The Fantasticks, who says, ‘Please, God, don’t let me be normal.’”
Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the May 19-25, 2010 issue