This story was originally posted on Year Zero.
She fumbled with her keys outside her locker and kept her head down. Despite all the noise and the rush of people in the hallway, she held her breath thinking and hoping that if she continued to do so she would shrink away and no one would see her. She held her breath often, and had been in the practice of doing so since she was a little girl. Not so little, in fact, she was a fat girl.
Once the mad rush of high schoolers left the building, she lifted her head and peeked around her locker, but not as if she was actually peeking but nonchalantly, as if she was relieved they were all gone and now she could breathe. She breathed. The release was always a relief, and gave her a little, joyful sense of freedom, when she knew no one was looking at her. But then she felt her rolls of fat, and her belly protrude from underneath her shirt, and she was uncomfortable and self-conscious once again. This is why she held her breath: so that she could feel that little bit of joy when she let it out and breathed again. And then the moment was over.
She grabbed her backpack and zipped it shut, and flung it over her shoulder. She closed her locker, careful not to slam it like the standard practice seemed to be. She took one last look behind her to be sure no one was there to see her. Ever since she was a child—a fat child—she was conscious of people behind her laughing at her large butt.
She walked to the exit at the end of the long hall. She was conscious of the shush-shush sound of her jeans chafing together, the fat girl walking sound, she thought. She focused her attention on the sound of the trinkets she attached to her backpack, instead. She had a lot of trinkets: cute, funny, fuzzy, little trinkets pinned to her backpack.
She thought that cute little things would take the attention away from her fatness. She collected little figurines, small dolls, anything miniature she could, she stacked them on her shelves in front of her mirror in her bedroom. Or pinned them on her jacket. Or attached them to her keychain. And her backpack. Little, cute things dangling from everywhere.
It was the last day of school and she had no plans. She had done very well this semester and was proud of herself. She deserved a treat. But this is what Dr. Wassel told her she should not do. Each time she felt bad or good she would reward and treat herself with food, and that’s why she is fat, he told her, in not so many words.
She drove home. The house was quiet, as it usually is. She had the day off from work, since her boss thought she might have some end of school celebration with friends. Just because she was fat didn’t mean she didn’t have any friends. She had friends. She had fat friends. They were fat together, and that’s the reason they were friends. There were five fat girls. They drove around town cruising the strip in her 1992 Celebrity with mismatched doors, from the accident her brother was in years ago.
She put her bag down and went into the kitchen. She opened the freezer and pulled out a half gallon of ice cream. It wasn’t a half gallon any longer, she noted, but it was still called a half gallon for marketing reasons, anyway. That’s something she did a report on for her economics class. Instead of eating from the carton, she turned and got a bowl from the cabinet. She put it on the kitchen table. She got a spoon from the drawer. In a different drawer she fished out an ice cream scoop.
She scooped several scoops of ice cream into the bowl. She knew this was not a good choice. She put the scooper back in the carton but it fell out on the kitchen table top, with a clang louder than it should have been.
She started to cry, quietly, and put her head squarely in both her palms. Her whole body shook as she wept.
She sniffled one big sniffle and wiped under her eyes to be sure her makeup wasn’t dripping down her face. She cried so often that she could get it under control quickly, and she knew exactly where to wipe on her face to manage the make-up situation. She sat down on the chair and moved it back about a foot or two away from the table. She sat there with her hands in her lap. She looked at the bowl, the carton, the unruly scooper, now beginning to drip ice cream on the tabletop. She looked at the spoon. It was clean and hadn’t been touched. If she kept that spoon clean, she thought, she wouldn’t be making a mistake.
She concentrated her attention on the clean spoon. This is a tactic Dr. Wassel tried to teach her, to focus on something that will keep her from making a bad food choice. She intensified her gaze at the spoon, and tilted her head slightly so that the spoon would catch the light from the window behind her. She tilted her head ever so slightly to create a slow flash of light on the spoon. For a moment she may have meditated using the light and the spoon glare.
Then her concentration broke as some of the melted ice cream from the fallen scoop begun to drip to the floor. Her reaction was to clean the drippings immediately and she begin to reach for a towel, but then she thought about the implications of changing her focus from the spoon. She tried to let the melted ice cream continue to drip on the floor.
It was a hot day in June and she hadn’t yet opened the windows or turned on the fan in the kitchen. It was stifling in the kitchen. The entire carton of ice cream was sweating on the table, which was mixing with the melted ice cream from the scoop. She just hated a mess. She inched her chair back farther, to distance herself from the mess and the increasingly difficult bowl of ice cream to defy.
The bowl looked like a commercial or an advertisement for ice cream. She had never before scooped ice cream to look so perfectly round and enticing in the bowl. The sun behind her from the window felt like it was burning through her shirt and sweat was pouring down her back. She was agonizing now. She started rocking back and forth in the chair and humming a tune from Sunday school. She fixed her eyes on the spoon, now in the path of water almost streaming from the sweating carton. Please, spoon, please, don’t get wet, stay clean and dry, and we’ll be home free.
The spoon lay there innocently until a large gob of ice from the side of the container slid off, like an avalanche, landing within an inch of the spoon. She was now at the edge of her seat, rocking, humming, and rubbing her hands repeatedly up and down the top of her jeans to wipe the perspiration.
But now the spoon was in great jeopardy—in just a moment it would be tainted, dampened, dirty. She watched as the melted ice slowly made its way to the spoon, soon engulfing it. She felt hopeless now; the spoon left her gaze and shunned her loyalty. The spoon now belonged to the bowl of ice cream, fouled by the carton’s pollution. She leaped from her chair and grasped the spoon. She plunged it unhesitatingly into the bowl’s contents, now a soupy disaster.
She was left with no other choice.