There’s sadness at the first drop, then deep grief as it starts for real. Just one drop, there’s still hope, but then you know for sure: not this time, not this month, not now.
Once I asked Judith how many chances we get and she said as many as it takes. She’s the one who never gives up, you can believe that. She used to weigh three hundred and fourteen pounds, but then she decided: Overeaters Anonymous. Eighteen months later, she was a healthy-sized woman. I loaned her money to get the extra skin tucked up afterward because what else would I use it for? My settlement and disability go a long way since I hardly go out.
She was only my next door neighbor at the time, we weren’t close yet, but I’d see her coming and going, I’d say hi, so would she. Til one day she came inside when her air conditioning was on the fritz. We watched Oprah, people talking about their body shame. It wasn’t the best feeling in the world, us sitting there together, me with my withered leg and burn scars, listening to people talk about their shame. But Judith talked freely about the skin thing, the extra folds, her embarrassment. It’s not the first time someone’s disclosed something private to me, something you’d expect them to keep to themselves.
Judith started to come over in the evenings, tell me about her day, her night job at the movie theater, meetings she went to. Not just the overeaters meetings, but incest survivors, debtors anonymous, alcoholics anonymous. She said she didn’t have all those things, it just felt like she did, and that’s what counts. You should come too she said, no one judges.
But she doesn’t know. It’s one thing to be fat and another to be … well, something else.
Sometimes in the magazines or on TV there are stories about people who overcome the odds, people who face adversity and don’t become bitter, who don’t give up, who face everything with grace. The legless man who runs the marathons, the burn victim who’s a stand-up comedian, the child-bride who lost her husband and protects her baby by shooting the intruders. These things are real, they happen, I give you that.
But then there’s me, and hundreds, maybe millions, like me. Here we are, completely ordinary. When something hits us we break in half. I used to be ashamed of us until Judith enlightened me. Without us, she said, those other stories would never be told. We make them possible. Be proud.
And then she laughed and from where I sat I could see the pink scar under her chin where they sucked some extra stuff out.
When the doorbell rings Digger runs for cover. He gets low to the ground and his butt wiggles like a caught fish while he squeezes under the couch. It’s a pullout, so there’s not a lot of room underneath. He used to fit just fine but then he grew and forgot to tell his brain, so when the bell sounds he does what he’s always done. Once I had to open it up to get him out.
My apartment’s right next to the stairwell. I can tell Guy’s on his way up when I hear echoing steps pounding toward me. I hear people in there from time to time, smoking, fighting, having sex. They think it’s private because everyone takes the elevator.
Well, not everyone. Guy never takes the elevator. Running up the stairs invigorates him. He likes a challenge. That’s why he likes me, he says.
It was Judith who found Guy. You’re entitled, she said, you should take advantage.
So now he comes once a week to give me exercises. He says there’s no reason I can’t go out, live a full life. He tells me about all the amazing things I could do if only I were so inclined, if only I weren’t me. His body insults me, the pulse of it, the pump of his heart. Letting him into my apartment makes me want to fumigate. Get out I want to say, I have to sleep in here, I have to eat.
But I do what he tells me because Judith wants it, because I want her to have what she wants.
She comes home early on Tuesdays. She brings falafel sandwiches with extra tahini sauce. One time we ate them in bed, but only once, because did you ever try one of those things?
Judith likes me to talk when I enter her. I say Beautiful, so beautiful over and over until she comes. She thinks I’m just saying it as part of sex but I’m not. Afterward she lies with her legs up on the wall for half an hour. I cast tarot cards on the pillow while she waits. I throw them until they’re right, until the Empress says we’re having a baby. Sometimes I even add a suggestion for names. Gunther, I say, wasn’t he a lion tamer? Or Greta, a G word, certainly.
How about Guy she says.
And I look at her face. She’s staring out the window and I can see the deep bruising under her breasts, the dark brushmark that never quite goes away. Her face itself is unreadable.
Not Guy, I say, That wouldn’t work.
No, I suppose not, she says, and she seems faraway when she says it.
Would you want it to be Guy I ask.
Oh, what does it matter she says and she turns over, It never would be.
I lie down behind her and put my hand on the space right above her pubic bone, above the place where living parts of me are still swimming. I’ve been told the healthy ones have up to five days to stay alive. I suppose the others, the ones that aren’t so strong, are already dying in there. Dying, or breaking into pieces.
Story by Kerry DeMunn
Photo by Kramer O’Neill
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