In June of ’99 I was heartbroken, ignorantly anorexic, and fucking a fat guy.
As kids, our mom had always said, “Sugar rots your brain.” Leaving our dad that summer of ’83 was like an earthquake in the Pacific, and the despair that erupted from her brought a tsunami whose unrelenting convulsions razed the villages of his debauchery. In her devastation, she vowed to clean house with the unforgiving force of a conned goddess, and within months, all signs of irresponsible parenting had vanished—the upside-down Frisbees used to hold baggies of weed and rolling papers, cigarette butts and Tecate cans in potted cacti along the driveway, and—much to our toddling dismay—the Doritos, Chips Ahoy, and Dr. Peppers we so coveted. Dad disappeared, and we were suddenly allowed slices of watermelon, the occasional yogurt and strawberry smoothie, and (if we were good), all natural hard candies sweetened with fruit sugar.
By the time I hit 19, I was a mess. After moving into a co-op whose psychedelic mushroom mural overtook the wall of the dining commons, I joined a sorority infamous for a code of sisterhood defined by stick-straight hair, beamers, and barfing up dinner. I didn’t know who I was, and I was willing to try just about anything to figure it out.
These schizo moves were symptomatic of a larger issue. My parents’ divorce hadn’t riven me in quite the way advocates of the nuclear family worried—I made all A’s, joined clubs, was polite. But with the shattering of my mom’s delusion that our father would abandon his addictions and infidelities for the family they’d created, came an inability to mask her embitterment toward all men. At five, pondering the lyrics to “Billie Jean,” I puzzled aloud, “If the baby’s eyes look just like his, why does he say it’s not his son?”
“Because that’s how men are, Remy.”
This sense of alienation from the opposite sex had superimposed itself over my baby psyche, and as if to prove my mother right, my subconscious had led me over and over into the dens of lions. Emotionally fucked lions. Scarred and scared, I entered my last teenage year like a maniacal suburban housewife, her tumbler ever filled, her smile plastered with cheap lipstick and whitening strips, her proverbial black eye a “silly accident.”
In the struggle to maintain some façade of normalcy, I did what any ordinary American girl would do—I stopped eating. I reasoned that if I’d only been skinnier, prettier (same thing, duh), he would have loved me. I didn’t really get that it was an eating disorder; I thought of it as “selective ingestion”—and it was working. Forsaking snacks and then building to meals brought hunger pangs that delighted me. Even better was the concerned admonishing of my friends: Rem, you’re losing too much weight; you look seriously skinny.
Music to my ears.
It was around that time that I met Sam. Sam was a friend of friends. He was kind of a dick, usually stoned, and loved fast food with a steadfastness that put my newfound food phobia to shame: Where I might occasionally cave from my perma-fast to sneak a little macaroni and cheese, he would relentlessly down several double doubles. Needless to say, he was a chubby dude.
Initially, I hated him. He talked a lot of shit and saw no reason why I should be excluded from it. Being skinny, being nice, being smart—having a vagina—none were deterrents. The infancy of our relationship was built on cutting one-liners. Once, when a bunch of us were hanging out in his room—a converted garage separated from his parents’ house—our friend asked jokingly, “Hey, if you and Remy got married, what would your wedding song be?”
I cut him off from across the room with Police lyrics—“Don’t stand, don’t stand so, don’t stand so close to me.” Everybody laughed.
But the truth was that I had an affection for Sam. The more he pushed me away, the more I wanted in. I wasn’t attracted to him, but I couldn’t shake the underlying magnetism of dysfunction that pulled me unwittingly toward men who questioned my worth. It was—I’ll just say it—sexy. So when the two of us ended up alone in his room the night of my 19th birthday, drunk and under-sexed, one thing naturally led to another.
It wasn’t long before Sam and I were kind of a thing, and with our budding romance came lots of 3am runs to Jack in the Box for onion rings, stops at the Carl’s Jr. drive-through for strawberry cheesecake, and blissful afternoons at Del Taco for… well, tacos.
As he broke down my resistance to food, I broke down his resistance to me. Gone were the jabs and biting displays of disdain. He took care of me—let me move in to his converted garage for a while when my mom kicked me out, showed up to my shifts at The Coffee Bean to keep me from getting bored, and bought me little trinkets—books and bracelets—when we were apart.
It was synergistic. The internal self-loathing I’d re-routed to my body eased as my feelings for him deepened. I came to see his bulk as cherubic, and the tenderness of his soft body calmed the raw nerve I’d been carrying obliviously all my life. Maybe men weren’t as callous as I’d thought. At night I would snuggle up behind him, wrapping my arms around his doughy middle before floating off into an entirely peaceful slumber. He was fat; I was happy.
Years later, I ran into Sam at a party. He’d moved to Italy to escape his nightmare parents, and with that pledge to bury his troubled past came a newfound commitment to raw vegetables, homemade soups, and lentil salads.
He’d lost weight. A lot of weight.
We chatted, awkwardly caught up the way you do with exes. “You look good,” I told him, and though I knew that was true by any standard measurement of physical attractiveness, in my heart I missed the roundness he’d once carried. His heft and glut. The way I used to drape my arm across his belly after making love, sleepily toss the plastic bag from strip-mall Chinese take-out onto the floor, its cheery Thank You Have a Nice Day the last thing I saw before my laden lids overtook me, and I drifted off to sleep.