Ever since I left home to go to college six years ago, I’ve been dreading my weekly phone calls with my parents.
Abby talks to her mother nearly every night. I can’t even imagine that. Once a week is about all I can stand.
If you think my parents are thrilled that their daughter has crossed into the territory of morbidly obese, you would be wrong. My weight has been a huge area of contention between my parents and me for practically my whole life. I can almost imagine my mother plucking me off her nipple, shaking her finger at me, saying, “Baby Emily, slow down! You’re getting too fat!”
My mother isn’t exactly skinny herself, but she’s practically Kate Moss next to me. She was always putting me on one diet or another when I was a kid. I literally don’t even have any memories of a time when I wasn’t on some kind of diet. But clever me—I always figured out ways to sneak food. I’d use my allowance money to buy extra treats in the school cafeteria or the corner store. Or if I was short on cash, I’d wake up in the middle of the night and raid the kitchen cabinets—my mom always kept the cookies right in the cabinet on top of the refrigerator. She couldn’t stop me.
When I was ten, I got sent to a child psychologist. I got sent to a shrink for being fat. I remember she peered at me through her half moon glasses, and said, “Emily, do you want to lose weight?”
“No,” I told her. And then I proved it by gaining twenty pounds that year. The lady kept a jar of Hershey’s kisses in her office. What was she thinking?
Also, my two sisters, one older and one younger, are both skinny. Without even trying. Honestly, I don’t get it. My older sister Camille is married to a doctor who treats her like a queen. My younger sister Denise is in college on the west coast, and from her Facebook wall, it looks like she’s having the time of her life. The two of them are great friends, and I, the middle sister, am left out.
This week, my mother doesn’t waste a second before she starts in on me: “Emily, I heard about a diet that really works.”
Oh, a diet that really works. Thank the Lord, I’m saved.
“It’s called the cabbage soup diet,” Mom says. “Nancy Garrison’s daughter tried it and she lost 15 pounds in a week!”
“Uh huh,” I say.
“You get to eat all the cabbage soup you want!” she says, like I’m supposed to be really excited about this. I hate cabbage. It stands to reason I’d hate cabbage soup if I tried it, but I’ll never know because there’s no way I would ever try it.
“Great,” I say.
“So you can eat like twenty bowls of soup if you want!” Mom says. I hear some shuffling of papers. “Also, Nancy said you have to take a laxative so you have three bowel movements a day.”
I’d like to think she’s joking, but I know she isn’t. There’s a part of me that wonders if my mother isn’t subtly encouraging me to develop some sort of eating disorder where I pump myself up with laxatives or vomit after every meal. Anything to be skinny, right?
“I’m not doing a cabbage soup diet, Mom,” I say. “Can’t you just… leave me be?”
“But, honey,” Mom whines. “I know you’d be so much happier if you lost some weight. Don’t you want a boyfriend?”
Imagine growing up as a teenager and every time you even hint to your mother that you like a boy, she tells you that if you lose some weight, maybe he’d like you better. I learned quickly not to confide in my mother. I definitely never told her about Norm, because I knew she’d think that relationship was really weird. She doesn’t get how relationships work in this decade. People meet online and they go for long periods of time without actually physically meeting each other. This is what people do. It isn’t weird at all.
Part of me wants to have a real life boyfriend just so I can say to her, “Hey, look! A guy can find me attractive even though I’m fat!” But most of me wants a real life boyfriend because I desperately want to feel the touch of a man who finds me physically attractive. And I’m starting to get seriously worried that maybe that will never happen for me.
I sit in the back at our next lecture.
I swear, it’s not about Brody. I don’t sit there hoping that maybe he’ll forget our conversation and sit next to me again. I haven’t been thinking about how cute his smile is or anything like that. I didn’t spritz myself with a bit of perfume before I left my apartment in hopes that he might be drawn to my scent.
I mean, that would be weird, right?
When there’s only a minute left until the lecture, Brody still hasn’t arrived. And that’s when I wonder about the impact of my thoughtless comment. What if he dropped the class? What if my mean comment humiliated him so much he decided he didn’t even want to be in the same room with me?
I breathe a sigh of relief when I see him enter the room. He’s wearing a black Mets T-shirt under a long-sleeved flannel shirt, and the dark color of his shirt makes the belt across his chest less visible. I look in his direction and try to smile. He won’t even look at me though. He drives straight past me to sit near the front.
Fine. Whatever. Actually, it’s a relief. I didn’t want to have to copy the notes for him every damn day. I’m glad he’s letting me off the hook.
My notes end up being awful. Every two minutes, I find myself staring in Brody’s direction. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. He’s made his feelings pretty much clear. What do I have to gain by obsessing over this whole thing? Nothing, that’s what.
Except as soon as lecture is over, I squeeze out of my seat and walk up to where Brody has parked his wheelchair. He’s fiddling with the joystick control on his chair and doesn’t acknowledge my existence in any way. Even when I clear my throat loudly.
“Hey,” I finally say to him.
He glances up at me briefly, then nods, expressionless. “Hey.”
I squeeze my fists together. “Um,” I say. “Do you want to copy my notes?”
Now I have his attention. Brody raises his eyebrows at me. “I wouldn’t want you to have to go to the trouble. I’m just going to ask Dr. Nichols.”
“I really don’t mind,” I say. He frowns and I add, “Really.”
“No, I don’t want to bother you,” he insists. “I’ll ask Dr. Nichols.”
“It’s not a bother,” I say. “I promise.”
“Look, it’s not a big deal,” Brody says. “I’ve asked professors for their notes before.”
“And I said it’s not a big deal for me to copy my notes for you.”
“You don’t have to though,” he says.
I narrow my eyes at him. Honestly, now I think he’s just being annoying. “Listen, how many times am I going to have to tell you I’m okay with it before you’re willing to use my notes?”
A tiny smile plays on Brody’s lips. “One more time, I think.”
I sigh and roll my eyes. “Fine. Can you please copy my notes, Brody?”
And then he rewards me with that great, infectious smile. It actually makes me feel a little tingly. Sheesh, he’s cute. “Okay, since you asked so nicely,” Brody says with a wink. “Let’s go.”
There isn’t enough room for him to do a 180 degree turn and get out through the back door, so we go toward the front door to the classroom, which happens to be closed. The two of us just stand there for like a minute, before Brody says to me, “I’m not so great at doorknobs. Can you open it, please?”
I’m such an idiot. How did I not realize he couldn’t open the door? Obviously if you don’t have much strength in your arms, doorknobs have got to be a challenge. It seems like such a simple thing—being able to open a door. And he can’t do it.
As we walk to the copy machine, Brody says to me, “I like your shirt.”
I’m wearing a black dress shirt that minimizes my girth and follows the curve of my boobs. Pretty much everything I own is a shade of black—I’m not exactly into flashy colors. I don’t have any shirts that I’d call “sexy,” but this was the best of the bunch. I decide not to tell him that I wore it on his account. Or how secretly thrilled I am that he noticed.
“Thank you,” I say as I feel my cheeks grow warm. And I feel compelled to add, “I like yours too. Let’s go Mets!”
“Not a Yankees fan then?” he asks, winking at me.
I shake my head. “Never. I went to Wellesley for college. And over in Massachusetts, you can be a Mets fan, but if you’re a Yankees fan, they skin you alive.”
“I don’t like them either,” Brody says. “I used to. Like, years ago. But… I don’t know. It’s like there’s this giant robot going around clobbering everything in sight, and at first it’s pretty fun to watch the robot and maybe you even cheer for the robot. But eventually, you wish someone would defeat that goddamn robot. You know?”
I laugh. “No, that makes sense.
We arrive at the copy machine just a little too soon this time. I copy the two pages of notes from the class, feeling like quite the expert at this machine by now. I press the two warm sheets of copy paper into Brody’s backpack. “Thanks,” he says.
“You don’t have to thank me,” I say.
“Sure I do,” he says.
As we face each other, he smiles at me. That great, infectious smile. I find myself smiling back. Then out of nowhere, Brody blurts out, “Do you want to have dinner with me?”
What? I stare at him, my heart slamming in my chest. “You mean like a date?”
That didn’t come out right. I watch his ears turn red. “Well, no, it doesn’t have to be. We could just go as friends if you’d like. Either way, I’d still like to have dinner with you.”
So this is what it feels like to get asked out on a date. I wonder if he has any clue that this is the first time I’ve ever been asked out. Maybe he knows. But he seems kind of embarrassed about the whole thing, so maybe he’s not thinking that way. I try to imagine him looking at me, and thinking I’m the sort of person he’d like to go out with or maybe even kiss. Good thing he doesn’t know about my breast fungus. (Although that’s actually much better.)
“So what do you say?” Brody asks me, his smile faltering slightly.
“Okay,” I say.
His eyes light up. “Yeah?”
“Sure,” I say.
“That is awesome,” he says, nodding happily. “Are you free tomorrow? I know it’s Saturday, but…”
“Yes,” I agree. Maybe a little too quickly. I don’t want to seem overeager. Oh well.
What I really want to say to him that I do want this to be a date, but I can’t quite get the words out. The thought of admitting to a guy that I’d like to go out with him is enough to make me blush.
To be continued....