Authors: Erin Mayes
Roxanne came to breakfast braless, in a tracksuit and oversized
sunglasses, nursing a hangover. She smelled like approximately forty martinis,
probably due to a little Saturday-night overindulgence at a bar with her single
As I was neither single, nor much of a social butterfly, I’d spent the
previous evening tamely watching TV and eating Chinese takeout with my
So, I’d arrived to breakfast sober and with my lady parts responsibly tucked
away in various undergarments. Although, sure, my underwear weren’t
contemporary or stylish, unless you’re over the age of seventy-five and into
sensible, supportive, flesh-colored bras with molded cups.
I rock full-coverage knickers. And mom jeans, circa 1983.
Roxanne and I had a sporadic tradition of meeting for long Sunday brunches,
during which we’d imbibe enough mimosas or Bloody Marys to coax Roxanne out of
her hung-over stupor and have me cackling loudly about the week’s
We usually stuffed ourselves silly with crepes, bacon and alcohol, and
then sent for my boyfriend, Chuck, to collect us and take us home to nap for a
On this particular day, I was well into my third mimosa and sweating abundantly.
We had our camera phones out and I was taking photos of the food for my blog,
and snapping pictures of Roxanne hamming it up with duck-face poses, tailor-made
for social media. Suddenly our waiter appeared and offered to take a photo of
the two of us, together.
“No thanks,” I said automatically with a shake of my head as Rox said
Roxanne handed the waiter her phone. He was handsome and dusty blond, and
smiled to show us his two beautiful rows of gleaming teeth. He was probably a
graduate student, putting himself through college, I mused, as I tried to focus
on not being beet-red – guaranteed to be an altogether unsuccessful
attempt when a handsome boy was staring at me while three cocktails were
fighting an omelet in my stomach.
The waiter’s nametag said “Marty.” Was it possible someone so charmingly
good-looking was named Marty in this decade and this city? Maybe he was Mormon,
with that blond hair and nineteen-eighties name. In any case, Marty took a few
photos, from different angles, insisting “One more,” after taking each photo. He
stood closest to me as he took the photos, to my discontent. As the larger girl
in my duo, I should always be the person farthest from the camera in any given
photo, so as to create the illusion of being smaller than I actually am. It’s a
widely known, unspoken rule. If a big girl has
girlfriends, the girlfriends will sometimes even stand
in front of her, shielding her body with their skinny stick legs, to the best
of their abilities.
Marty snapped another photo as I grinned painfully, all too aware of the
sweat collecting along my hairline and my gut pouring out of my jeans.
“One more,” Marty said again.
“Nope. Marty? Here, Marty,” I stood with my arm stretched toward him to
reclaim Roxanne’s phone. “That’s great. Thanks so much.”
Marty reluctantly surrendered the phone and beamed another smile at
Roxanne, whose tracksuit top had unzipped just enough to give the young waiter
an eyeful of her unfettered cantaloupes. She sipped coyly on the straw in her
Bloody Mary, batting her big, last-night’s-makeup eyelashes at him.
,” I admonished. “Marty
is, like, seventeen.” Realistically, Marty was probably more like twenty-two.
As the two of us were twenty-seven, dating Marty was not entirely outside the
realm of possibility, but knowing Rox, she’d chew him up and spit him out once
she’d had her fill of him.
She shrugged, winking at me. “I’m gonna leave him my phone number.”
“All right, Breasty McGee,” I laughed, passing Rox’s phone back to her.
She took it and pulled her top’s zipper to a more discrete position.
Rox wrote her phone number and a smiley-faced heart on the check Marty
dropped off a few minutes later. We piled our cash on the table and stumbled
out of the restaurant, giggling.
Monday arrived too soon, as usual. Yawning at my desk in the dimly lit
law office, I opened my email and clicked on a notification informing me there
was a photo of me on Facebook. My lip curled in dread and knowing. The trick to
these Facebook photos is to “un-tag” yourself as quickly as possible, before
anyone from your past can glimpse the current hideousness that is your thighs.
Unfortunately, Roxanne had posted the photo the night before, and I was
just now seeing it. Which is when I realized exactly how terrible a mistake I’d
made in allowing myself to be seen in public in my eighties mom-jeans.
The problem was, at that moment in time I owned two pairs of jeans that
I use the word “fit” loosely.
One pair was valiantly encasing my ass the morning of my breakfast with
Rox. And, as I could see in the photo, it was creating a formidable muffin top
I’d sought to disguise with a stretchy cable knit sweater and a scarf. (Word to
the wise regarding cable knit – it’s not for the pudgy.) The sweater and
scarf were doing exactly nothing to disguise my stomach rolls.
They were jeans I should never have worn in polite company, much less
this century. They were tight, acid-washed, and tapered at the ankle.
Given the choice, I would have worn my other pair of jeans, which were
rapidly fading but definitely more socially acceptable -- a darker wash and a
more flattering, stylish fit. I’d thrown them on the previous morning only to
realize I’d managed to smear chocolate over a good portion of the crotch and
thigh regions at some point during the prior week. Rubbing the chocolate stains
furiously with a damp paper towel hadn’t gotten me anywhere. They’d needed to
be washed, in an actual washing machine.
The Facebook photo was dismaying. Sitting next to Rox, I looked like a
beast in acid wash. The thigh closest to the camera bulged over the edge of my chair,
and to my horror I realized actual cellulite dimples were discernible through
the fabric. My stomach was clearly drooping over the too-tight waist of my
jeans, and the scarf simply sat on top of it. My forehead glistened with sweat
and my cheeks looked bloated. The expression on my face was one of apprehensive
discomfort, which wasn’t any huge surprise – I hadn’t taken a decent
photo in years, not since gaining weight.
But the major shock was just how big I looked. I’d reached a point where
if I said to someone, “I’m just so fat,” there was no hope of that person
denying it and claiming I was, maybe, just a little chubby. I was fat.
Still, somehow, when I stood in front of the mirror each morning, I
didn’t quite see how pillowy my face had become or how thick my legs had
gotten. Sitting next to Rox, I looked like some woebegone obese girl who a thin
girl had taken pity on and fed breakfast to.
It was an awful, awful photo, and I told Roxanne as much immediately.
“Don’t ever tag me in a photo that disgusting ever again,” I demanded,
craning my neck over the top of my cubicle wall to shoot daggers out of my eyes
and into the side of her head. Rox had gotten me this detestable legal
secretary job right after college and we spent most of every weekday gossiping,
and occasionally working when an associate came up with something for us to do.
“What are you talking about?” she asked distractedly. She didn’t even
look at me; she was engrossed in an online page of four-inch, pointed-toe,
“This disgusting picture of me at brunch yesterday. Did you even look at
Roxanne sighed and looked my way with a small frown.
“Let me see,” she said, standing and resting her arms on the cubicle
I pulled up the photo. “See?”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“This. And this. And this.” I pointed at my thighs and arms and face in
“Oh, sheezus,” she said. “Well if you don’t like it then untag yourself.”
“I did, but that’s beside the point,” I said. “As my friend, it’s your
duty to prevent the dissemination of unflattering photos of me.”
Roxanne gave me a look that said she thought I was being overdramatic.
“What about that picture you posted of me throwing up in Laurie’s
backyard last year?” she accused.
She had me there. I suppose I could consider this payback.
“Well, that photo was hilarious,” I explained.
“Hmmm,” she replied, settling back into her seat to continue perusing
I pulled the photo up on my computer several more times that day,
indulging in the sick fascination I had with my own fat. How could the person I
saw in the photo be me, when I didn’t feel that big? The woman in the photo
probably walked like a fat person – but
didn’t walk like a fat person. This woman in the photo had three
chins, but when I looked in the mirror I only ever saw the one.
The photo continued to plague my thoughts as I drove home from work in
the rain that evening. The digital clock in my aging Ford Escort said it was
almost six o’clock as I rattled up the long driveway bordering the shingled
brown Berkeley townhouse Chuck and I had been renting for the last four years.
It had been raining, and large puddles collected in the pocked asphalt
I tugged my oversized
purse from the passenger seat and held it self-consciously in front of my
midsection, remembering suddenly that I’d bought the enormous purse for just
this purpose – to shield my body from the prying eyes of judgmental
The wet weather had teased my curly hair into a frizzy triangle of steel
wool that sat unattractively atop my skull. I wasn’t wearing much makeup
– just a little mascara that had probably melted into the lines under my
eyes a few hours earlier – and some lip balm. I hadn’t bothered to put on
a full face of makeup in months – and why should I? I lived with my
boyfriend, who’d never complained about the way I dressed or my makeup, besides
which – who was I fooling? I was going to look fairly terrible on any
given day no matter what I smeared on my face.
Chuck’s pickup wasn’t in the driveway. He often worked late hours at his
job at the newspaper, so I was never quite sure when he’d be home and when he
wouldn’t. There was no dependability of schedule when it came to being a
reporter – if something happened on the cops beat, he had to cover it,
and that often meant long evenings home alone for me. Unfortunately, most of
the cops-beat stories happened late at night and on the weekends, when the
natives grew restless and felt like shooting each other.
Still, these late evenings seemed to be a much more frequent occurrence
of late. I suspected Chuck was avoiding me, or solitude, or a moment of quiet
during which his mind might wander, might remember.
THREE MONTHS EARLIER
The phone was ringing. Someone’s phone. My phone? No. Chuck’s. Why in the
world was the phone ringing? I blinked blearily at the clock on my nightstand.
Three-twelve a.m. I rolled over and shook Chuck’s arm lightly.
“Your phone’s ringing, babe.”
I’ve personally never received good news in the middle of the night. The
possibilities are few. Sometimes it’s an ex-boyfriend, drunk-dialing. Sometimes
it’s a severely drunk friend who needs a ride. Sometimes it’s a wrong number.
Sometimes someone has died.
Chuck checked his caller ID. It was his mother.
It wasn’t good. He threw back the covers and sat on the edge of the bed,
speaking softly. He was hunched over, his sleep-mussed head resting wearily in
I clicked on my bedside lamp and stared wide-eyed at him, my heart
thumping. Something was terribly wrong.
He hung up and stood uncertainly, swaying a little. His face had
blanched; he looked terrified. “What is it?” I asked. His lips seemed reluctant
to form the words for a moment, but he finally said it: “My dad died …”
“Oh my god. What happened?”
Chuck stared at me, blinked once. “He had a heart attack.”
I’d sprung out of bed and was making my way toward him. He stood stock
still, in shock. Shaking with adrenaline and cold, I wrapped my arms around him
“I’m so sorry.”
I didn’t want to let him go, as much for myself as for him, but he pulled
away. He was dry-eyed. The full weight of what had happened didn’t seem to have
hit him yet.
“I need to fly home.” He moved toward the closet and pulled out a duffel
“Of course,” I agreed. “I’ll come with you.”
“No,” he said. “I need to be with my mom right now. I’ll let you know
when to come.”
He was mechanically folding shirts and placing them in his bag.
I guessed he was right. I was his girlfriend, not his wife. I’d never
even met his parents, since they lived so far away. We’d been a couple for a
long time, but never treated our relationship like a marriage, they way couples
who spend holidays together do.
“Ok,” I agreed quietly.
Chuck strode from the bedroom and I crept behind him helplessly. He found
his laptop in the living room and quickly booked a plane ticket online. I
perched tensely on the edge of the couch.
His flight was several hours away, so he very rationally decided to get a
couple more hours of sleep. I nodded agreeably and crawled into bed beside him,
turning my lamp back off.
Somehow, he was sleeping. I could hear his telltale deep breathing. This
didn’t seem normal. I mean, I knew Chuck’s relationship with his dad was
complex, but I’d have expected a more dramatic reaction. Too tense to sleep, I
laid beside Chuck until his alarm sounded.
I watched him reach over to turn the alarm off and then lie back wearily
on his pillow. Suddenly his face crumpled and the tears I’d been anxious to see
were flowing heavily, soaking his pillow. He brought his hands to his face and
shook with grief.