By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
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By Angelica Leicht
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By Sean Pendergast
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The Fat Admirers adored Cathy; her e-mail was more active than ever. But eventually the fun of on-line flirting wore off, and Cathy started ignoring most of the guys who wrote her, chatting with her friends instead.
A guy named Dave Ferguson, a jet-aircraft crew chief for the Department of Defense in Fort Wayne, Indiana, says that he usually just chats with people about golf; he doesn't know what made him look at Cathy's AOL member profile. He followed the link to her Web site, thought she was pretty and sent her a note.
Cathy wrote him back, but his note didn't stand out; he was just another guy who lived far away who she probably would never meet. He sent her instant messages, and she didn't respond. But Dave persisted, they talked on the phone a few times, and eventually they arranged to meet.
In August '98 she had her second cover spread in Dimensions. This one showed her and two friends, Frannie Juneau and Zsalyan Whitworth, as "the fat trio"; the issue was put in all the goodie bags at NAAFA's Los Angeles convention. Dave dropped by the convention, and they had dinner and went dancing.
"Wow," was all he thought when he met her. Cathy thought he was nice, but she wasn't bowled over. "He's different from any guy I've dated," she says. "I've always dated Mr. GQ-type guys, and he's an all-American-type guy."
He asked if he could call her. She said sure and gave him her number in Houston. She didn't think much of it; she'd given her number to a few other guys, and she figured none of them would call.
But the weekend she got home Dave called, and they talked for a few hours. He seemed sincere. He started calling regularly.
She didn't want a relationship at first because relationships were too much trouble. But she was sick of dating.
"You get tired of all the jerks, the assholes and the charmers," she says. "I was tired of being the beauty queen. I was ready to just be Cathy."
They were supposed to meet in Vegas in October, but Cathy's dad got sick and she had to close the store and take an accounting job so she could fly back and forth to Florida.
Dave visited her at her sister's house in Pensacola on New Year's Day; Cathy's father died January 8. It was a Friday afternoon, and Dave was working in Tampa. He got in his car and drove straight to her sister's house. He didn't make it to the funeral, but his being there showed Cathy that he cared a lot about her. He made her feel better than her family did. He saw her every weekend in January.
"We all like Dave," Ruby Lee says.
"He fits," Carlette says.
They liked him, and they liked how he obviously cared for Cathy. He loved her green eyes and her gap-toothed smile. He liked it that she cared so much about her family, didn't put on airs and didn't dress up too much to meet him.
Her size doesn't matter to him, he says. He just looks at Cathy. He has dated both skinny and large women, but he doesn't have a preference.
"I don't look at her that way," Dave says. "That's not where this relationship is -- that's not what it's all about. I could care less if she was 90 pounds or however she is now. I fell in love with her because she's a wonderful person. She's a very open person, very caring, very family-oriented and a very nice person."
On Valentine's Day he told her he loved her. She said she loved him too. They sat in his car and listened to Reba McEntire sing "Forever Love"; he decided that's their song.
Dave and Cathy have seen each other every month since. They talk on the phone three times a day and chat on-line at night. Cathy always knows where he is; if he's going out to dinner or to a movie, he calls to let her know.
When he drives 18 hours to see her, he stops and calls every two hours. When he leaves, they both cry. Usually Cathy insists on sleeping alone; he's the first person she has ever been able to share her bed with. She has always been an independent girl, but she tells Dave that she wants him to take care of her. She wants him to make all the decisions.
The doctors told Cathy that she most likely can't have kids. She doesn't ovulate regularly. She usually gets her period every other month -- and that's with birth control pills to regulate it -- but she has gone as long as six months without menstruating. Pregnancy, they say, would put her and the baby at too great a risk.
But she likes children, so she plays with her nieces and nephews. And she's trying to start a big brother/big sister program for NAAFA members and large children.
Dave doesn't mind that Cathy can't have kids. He's 54 and already has two sons in their twenties.