All I can think about as I walk from the bus stop to my apartment is the apple pie that I bought yesterday. That pie is basically consuming all my thoughts, to the point where I can just about taste it. It’s a lattice-crusted apple pie, filled with tender, sweet apples and gooey caramel. I ate about a third of it last night after dinner, and I plan to finish it tonight.
Like I said before, I like to eat. I won’t lie about that. Yes, when I’m in public, I pretend like I’m on a diet. But I’m not. I mean, what’s the point?
I’m a champion eater. I could probably consume 5,000 calories in one sitting, no problem. I’ve got snacks and treats hidden all over my bedroom. My favorite thing of all in the entire world is chocolate—milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate—I’m not picky. Fancy, expensive chocolate is best, but I think chocolate is one of those things that’s delicious no matter where you get it. Like M&M’s—that little burst of chocolate within the shell—it’s like a little droplet of pleasure in my mouth. I once bought a giant tub of M&M’s and ate them in a single day. Okay, more than once.
Granted, I’ve never had a guy’s cock in my mouth. But it’s really hard for me to believe that it would be more pleasurable than a mouthful of chocolate.
That said, I love apple pie too. And I know it’s the only thing that will make me feel better about what happened on the bus.
Except when I open my refrigerator, the pie is gone. Gone. Completely vanished. In fact, every single scrap of my food is gone. Even my TV dinners in the freezer. Instead, the fridge is filled with nothing but… oh my God, just fruits and vegetables! And bottled water, which I think is the stupidest thing on the planet. I mean, why would you pay money for something that comes out of the sink for free?
When my horror subsides slightly, I take a breath and analyze what just happened. It doesn’t take me long. It’s pretty damn obvious.
“Abby!” I scream. “Abby, get out here!”
When I moved to Manhattan two years ago, I knew that unless I wanted to live in a studio apartment the size of a closet, I would have to have a roommate. That’s how Abby came into the picture. She seemed perfectly nice when I first met her, when she was advertising a single room in a two-bedroom apartment. The fact that she was a yoga instructor should have been a tip off for me.
Abby said that she wanted a friend, which I was fine with. I’ve had a lot of trouble making friends since moving to the city, so it would have been great to have a roommate who was my best friend. But Abby didn’t really want a friend, as I discovered. She wanted a project. And that project was called Get Emily to Drop Fifty Pounds. It’s a project she won’t abandon no matter how much I assure her that it’s a lost cause.
But this is the first time she’s resorted to tossing all my food in the trash. That girl has crossed a line.
“Abby!” I scream again.
I open up the cabinet under the sink, which is where we keep our trash can. I know this is a pathetic act of desperation, but I start rummaging through it for my pie. I have no qualms about eating pie out of the garbage. But apparently, Abby predicted this because the garbage is empty. My amazing apple pie is probably long gone.
That bitch. I’m seriously going to wring her skinny little neck.
Abby eventually emerges from her bedroom, her thin brown hair in a high ponytail, wearing her usual attire of a tank top and yoga pants. I hate how smug she looks.
“Abby,” I say, slipping the trash can back under the sink to hide my shame. “What did you do with my food?”
“I got rid of it,” she says, sounding like she has performed some humanitarian task, rather than having just tossed all my groceries out. “I replaced it with stuff that’s better. I spent a fortune, Emily. It’s all organic from Trader Joe’s.”
I am so angry at her. I honestly can’t even find words to express it.
“I’m trying to help you, Emily,” she says quietly.
“I don’t need your help,” I say through my teeth.
If I sat on her face, it might kill her.
Abby smiles at me. “Can’t you let me make you dinner? I’ve got a delicious recipe from my Vegan cooking class.”
Let me tell you, Abby does not have a “delicious recipe” from her Vegan cooking class. Aside from the fact that I’m pretty sure all Vegan dishes are awful, Abby is a phenomenally bad cook. She baked me a Vegan cupcake once and I almost broke a tooth on it. When she starts making something on the stovetop, I generally stay in my room because the smell is just so bad.
I’ve noticed that Abby mostly just eats a lot of raw vegetables. What kind of enjoyment could a person possibly get from crunching on raw cauliflower?
“Please?” Abby asks.
She will never let this go. And since there’s absolutely no food in the house and I’m too tired to go outside, I guess I’ll just let this happen.
“Fine,” I mumble.
“Oh, yay!” Abby exclaims, clapping her hands together.
She dashes around the kitchen, trying to put together a meal for me. Even though I really hate her for throwing away my food, it’s actually sort of sweet how excited she is. I know she really does mean well—it’s just super annoying.
But from now on, I’ve got to be more careful around Abby. I thought that now that I had escaped the watchful eye of my parents, I could finally eat whatever I wanted in my own home. But obviously I can’t. I’m going to buy a mini-fridge for my bedroom, and I’ll buy more non-perishable foods to hide in my closet. I’ll lock the door to my bedroom when I’m out. And then when I finish this damn Master’s and get a big fat raise, I’ll lease my own place and be able to eat whatever the hell I want.
“I’m going to make you a roasted mushroom and brussels sprout salad,” Abby says.
“Great,” I say, plastering a smile on my face. I hate salad. Hate it. It’s essentially leaves. There’s nothing about it that tastes good to me. But Abby seems to eat it for nearly every meal. I have to wonder where Abby gets her enjoyment out of life, because it’s definitely not from pieces of lettuce.
I’ll sit here and eat Abby’s salad—or at least, I’ll try. And as soon as she retires to her room, I’m going downstairs to the diner down the block. I’m going to get a big, juicy cheeseburger, with grilled onions and thousand island dressing on it. With a side of onion rings. And cheesy fries. And I’m going to wash it down with a vanilla milkshake. No, a chocolate milkshake.
And I’m going to get myself at least two slices of apple pie.
I’m sure it makes me the absolute worst person in the entire world, but I choose a different seat at my next Software Engineering class, one closer to the front of the room. I tell myself that it’s because I want to see better, but that’s not it. The reason I switch my seat is entirely an attempt to avoid Brody.
Not that he doesn’t seem like a perfectly nice guy. But I just don’t feel like making an awkward copy machine trip after every single goddamn lecture. He needs help—I get it and I feel for him—but can’t he at least rotate who he gets his notes from? Wouldn’t that be fairer?
Yeah, I’m a terrible person.
Anyway, my little plot is a complete fail. A couple of minutes before the lecture is due to begin, Brody wheels into the room and even though there are several other people he could choose to sit next to, he pulls up next to me. I glance over at him, and he flashes me this smile like we’re old friends.
I want to be pissed off. But you know what? It’s hard to be angry with the guy. Brody’s got one of those really infectious smiles that makes you feel like you have to smile back. I definitely don’t have that kind of smile, but he seems happy when I return his.
At the end of lecture, Brody respectfully allows me a minute to extract myself from the desk. Then he says to me, “Hey, Emily, I hate to bother you again…”
“You want to copy my notes,” I say.
He smiles again. Christ, he’s cute when he smiles. “Yeah, I would. Please?”
I notice he says “please” a lot. I know it’s proper etiquette and you’re supposed to say please, but let’s face it, most people don’t say it. But Brody always does. Considering how much he probably has to ask for help with things, I guess it’s a good habit to have. He was raised right.
“Sure,” I say. And again, I return his smile.
For the second time, we make the harrowing journey to the copy machine. I watch Brody as he pushes his hand into the joystick on his chair and his lower body bounces with the imperfections on the floor. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s paralyzed. He goes a little slower this time, so I don’t have to jog to keep up with him. I’m barely even winded.
“What do you think of Dr. Nichols?” Brody asks me.
“He’s pretty good,” I say. “I like the lectures so far.”
“Are you trying to get a Master’s or a doctorate?” Brody asks me.
“Just a Master’s,” I say. “For now. You?”
“Ditto,” Brody says. “I’m a code monkey now and I know this is the only way I’ll ever get to advance at work.”
You work? I almost blurt out. It seems amazing that Brody could hold down any sort of job. But then again, why else would he be taking this course? It’s not like software engineering is that incredibly enjoyable.
“Oh, I know,” I say instead. “That’s my situation too.”
“Not that I don’t like my job,” he says. “But I’ve got higher aspirations, you know? I’ve been on kind of a hiatus from the degree and now I’m trying to pick things up again. I took some classes at Queens College but those mostly sucked. Anyway, it’s too big a commute from where I live now.”
I look at him in surprise. “Are you from Queens? Like, originally?”
Brody nods and raises his eyebrows at me. “Yeah. Are you?”
“I am!” I say excitedly. It’s the first time I’ve actually felt like we aren’t just making awkward small talk. “Where in Queens?”
Brody grins at me. “Did people ever ask you growing up how you managed to get into the city all the way from the Caribbean?”
“Yeah, all the freaking time,” I laugh.
“Where’d you go to high school?” Brody asks.
Brody gasps. “You’re kidding! Me too!”
I shrug. “Well, it’s the only decent high school.”
“That’s for sure,” Brody snorts. “Hey, what year did you graduate?”
“Nice,” Brody says. “I was 2006. We were there at the same time.”
“True,” I say. I try to remember from my freshman year if I saw a senior guy zipping around the halls in a power wheelchair. Seems like the kind of thing I would have remembered. But I’m drawing a blank.
“Of course,” he says, “you were a freshman while I was a super cool senior. So we couldn’t have really interacted unless I was, like, pushing you down the stairs or something.”
I stare at Brody in surprise. He doesn’t look like he’s in any position to be pushing anyone down stairs, although maybe he was a little more mobile back in high school. That doesn’t seem like the kind of thing he’d have done at any age though. Maybe it’s just his face deceiving me, but he seems like one of those genuinely nice people.
“I’m kidding,” he finally says when he sees the shock on my face. “Seriously though, what’s your last name?”
“Davison,” I say.
“Emily Davison.” He rolls my name over his tongue. I have such a boring name, but I sort of like the way it sounds when he says it. “I don’t think I remember hearing about you.”
“What’s your last name?” I ask him.
“Nolan,” he says. And before I can comment, he says, “Yeah, I know, Brody Nolan. Could I be any more Irish?”
“Could be worse,” I say. “Your name could be… Seamus Murphy.”
“Or Flynn McMahon.”
“Or Finley O’Sullivan.”
Brody finally laughs. “Okay, you’re right. Could be worse. But Brody Nolan’s pretty bad. Especially with my face.”
I look at Brody’s face. As I’ve said before, he’s got a pretty attractive face. Nothing wrong with this guy from the neck up. So I have absolutely no idea what he’s complaining about. He doesn’t even look particularly Irish aside from the hint of red in his hair, not that Irish guys are intrinsically bad looking or anything. “What do you mean?”
“I have freckles!” Brody says.
I look closer, close enough to smell his spearmint breath, and my own breath catches just a bit. It turns out he’s right. He really does have light freckles, mostly over the bridge of his nose and over his cheekbones.
“They’re practically invisible,” I point out to him.
“They were horrible when I was a kid, but they mostly faded when I hit puberty,” he explains. “But if I went out in the sun without sunscreen, I’d have a serious recurrence.”
“Well, I wouldn’t have noticed them.”
“Most people don’t.” Brody shrugs. “But that’s probably because most people aren’t paying much attention to my face, you know?”
You can’t accuse Brody of not having self-awareness. He’s right—you see a guy in a power wheelchair and his face isn’t really the focus of attention. Nobody looks at my face either, except to tell me how exquisitely pretty it would be if only I dropped a hundred pounds.
“Hey,” Brody says, a smile playing on his lips, “you going to copy those notes there, Emily?”
“Oh, right.” We’ve been standing by the copy machine for several minutes now and I’m still clutching my notebook. Somehow I got distracted by Brody’s cute face and almost-freckles. “Sorry.”
“Don’t say sorry,” Brody says. He rubs his nose with the back of his wrist, which looks a bit odd. It’s pretty clear he has zero function in his hands. “You’re the one doing me a favor.”
“Right,” I mumble as I fire off the first copy.
The notes are only two pages this time. I wonder if I took sloppier notes, hoping that Brody wouldn’t like them and maybe stop asking for them. No, I’m way too anal to do something like that.
“I really appreciate this,” Brody says, as I put the pages in his backpack again.
“It’s okay,” I say. I zip up his bag and turn to face him. “What else are you going to do, right?”
“You don’t mind too much?” he asks. “I know it’s a hassle for you.”
“Well,” I say. “I do sort of mind. I mean, it is kind of a pain to have to do it after every single lecture, you know?”
Sometimes, things come out of my mouth that I can’t entirely explain. Why did I tell Brody it was a pain helping him? I have no idea. Well, that’s not entirely true. It’s true that it is a hassle to help him. But at the same time, I enjoyed it today. I liked talking to Brody.
In any case, Brody looks so hurt when I say that. Hurt and surprised, like I just punched him in the face. Which, in all honesty, isn’t entirely fair. For Christ’s sake, he just said it was a hassle! All I did was agree with him.
“I’m sorry,” he says quietly. “I don’t want to be an imposition. I’ll just ask Dr. Nichols to give me copies of the notes from now on. I won’t bother you again.”
“You don’t have to,” I say quickly. “I mean, it really isn’t that big a deal.”
Brody seems to be studying my face, which makes my cheeks start to feel really hot. “No,” he says. “It’s fine. I’ll ask Dr. Nichols.”
“Well, that just makes more sense,” I say, swallowing a lump in my throat. “He’s the professor, so I’m sure his notes are better than mine.”
Brody nods and flashes me a tight smile. “Yeah.”
What’s wrong with me, really? Brody is one of the few people who’s tried to befriend me in the last two years, and my first response is to tell him he’s a pain in the neck. I must have some deep-seated desire to spend my life absolutely and totally alone. That’s the only reason I can think of for being such a bitch to an obviously nice guy.
As I stand there, trying to figure out if there’s something I can say to make it right, Brody does a 180 degree turn in his wheelchair. He zooms down the hall to get away from me as fast as he can, and I can tell he’s never going to talk to me again. And for some reason, that thought makes me really sad.
That night, I’m lying in my bed, working my way through a bag of mini peanut butter cups, when I see the familiar number pop up on my cell phone. I deleted the contact a while back, but unfortunately, I still recognize the number instantly: Norm Donohue.
I stare at the phone, shifting on the sunken area of the mattress that I always slide into during the night. The peanut butter cups churn in my belly, mixing with the pizza I had for dinner. Norm’s number is the last thing I want to see on my phone right now. I’m in no mood to take a call from my ex-boyfriend.
This probably requires an explanation:
I know I said I’ve never had a boyfriend. Well, that isn’t entirely true.
In college, I watched all my friends, even the ones who weren’t particularly attractive, pairing off with guys. Meanwhile, my own weight kept ballooning up. I’d always been shy, but after I got over 200 pounds, my shyness became almost crippling. I couldn’t even contemplate dating a real guy.
So the only alternative was a guy who wasn’t real. In a sense of the word.
Yes, I discovered internet relationships.
The internet is different. The men there don’t see me—they don’t know that I’ve got so many folds of fat that there’s fungus sprouting between them. They don’t know how many chins I’ve got. They don’t know that I just ate twenty peanut butter cups, and I don’t even like peanut butter cups that much. On the internet, every girl is a pretty, skinny girl until proven otherwise.
It was during my junior year of college that I started flirting with men I met online. It was so goddamn easy when I wasn’t face to face with them—I wasn’t shy at all on the internet. But I was careful about it. I’d go out of my way to pick guys who lived at least several hundred miles away from me, so there would be absolutely no chance of ever meeting them in real life.
At my peak, I was a bit of a slut (in spite of being a virgin). I was “dating” about half a dozen guys online. I’m a great email pen-pal.
But of course, most guys didn’t want to “date” me without seeing a photo. And obviously, a real photo would have killed the fantasy. So my go-to place for photos was the Facebook page of a girl named Nadia that I sort of knew from high school. Nadia is skinny, blonde, and very cute. But not so pretty that she seems unreal. Plus Nadia had a very active social life and was constantly posting photos of herself. So I essentially had an endless supply of photos of “myself” to send to these guys.
Soon after graduating from college, I met Norm. We ran into each other on a message board for geeks, and we got in a passionate argument about freedom of speech on the internet. It got ugly for a short time, but then when I hinted that I was a woman, he backed off. And started being nice. More than nice.
Our relationship progressed quickly. We talked on the phone pretty much every other day, and chatted via text messages during the day, or else instant messaged each other. He was really great, really sweet, really understanding. And he was also fairly attractive too in the photos he sent me—nice dirty blond hair, a solid build, penetrating eyes behind thick glasses.
I “dated” Norm for nearly a year. It got so intense that I dropped all my other internet relationships, and then it was just me and Norm. I know this is going to sound dumb, but I started to feel like he was my soulmate. I always thought that soulmate thing was bullshit, but then I met Norm. He and I connected on so many levels. Like we’d be on the phone for hours, and I don’t even know what we talked about.
I loved him. I really did.
When I think about it, I still feel racked with guilt over the way I played him.
In some ways, Norm knew me better than anyone else in the world. But in other, more important ways, he didn’t know me at all. The only photos of me he’d seen were actually of Nadia. I refused to Skype or do Facetime, no matter how much he begged, claiming I didn’t have the internet capabilities. I was constantly lying to him to protect him from finding out how I really looked.
If I could do it over again… I don’t know. I wish I hadn’t sent him those pictures of Nadia. I wish I could have been honest with him. Maybe he would have been okay with the real me. I mean, stranger things have happened. Maybe right now, Norm and I would be a happy couple right now if only I’d been honest.
I mean, probably not, but it’s possible, at least.
In any case, by the time I realized how deeply I cared about Norm, I was already screwed. I’d already sent him loads of photos of Nadia. It was too late to say to him, “Whoops! That wasn’t me!” That wouldn’t go over well at all.
Norm lived in Palo Alto in California and I lived in New York, so geography made me feel safe. But I knew this situation had serious potential to come crashing down on me. And of course, after a few months, Norm started to suggest we find a way to meet up.
I always had the perfect excuse: work, family, no money. A plane ticket across the country wasn’t cheap and Norm was just as broke as I was. Plus Norm was taking care of his elderly mother, so it was harder for him to get away. So we just kept talking on the phone, planning all the things we would do during a meetup that I knew would never happen.
One day, Norm said to me, “If I send you half the money for the plane ticket through Paypal, do you think you could come for a week?”
At first, I said no. But then he got more insistent, almost angry about the whole thing. He said, “What’s going on? Don’t you want us to meet?” So I agreed to do it. I had to. Norm sent me the money, and I really did think about buying the tickets. I was on the airline website and everything. I thought maybe if I showed up at his door and explained in person, maybe he’d forgive me.
But in the end, I couldn’t do it. I just kept imagining the look on his face.
The right thing to do in this case would have been to end the relationship. But instead, I pretended to buy a ticket for two months in the future. I got him all excited for the trip. He even cleared out two drawers in his bedroom for me. We talked every night about what we were going to do when I got there.
And then two days before, my grandmother died suddenly and I had to cancel.
Not really. My grandmothers are both alive and well. And I was terrified that one of them might die as karmic retribution for my lie. But I needed an excuse to get out of that trip. Sorry, grannies.
I’m not sure he entirely bought it. He asked me too many details about it to the point where I could tell he was questioning my story. Also, I refused to reschedule the trip. I knew he wasn’t going to buy two dead grandma stories.
Just so you don’t think I’m completely evil, I returned the money that he sent me for the plane tickets.
After that, my relationship with Norm quickly fizzled. Unlike a real life relationship, there was no definitive, official break-up. He just stopped calling me.
I have no idea why he’d be calling me now. Nothing good can come of it. He still thinks I look like pretty Nadia and the reality is that I’m barely squeezing into an XXL T-shirt that I got for helping out at a company-sponsored food drive.
To be continued....