Matt Getty 48m 7,175 #anorexia
The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
When my girlfriend weighed 143 pounds, she stopped eating.
We’d just moved in together after dating for a year. I’d just realized I didn’t know shit about her. We had stopped leaving the room to fart months ago, had already owned up to our love for reality TV, already kissed with bad breath. But we’d never shopped for furniture together. I’d never seen how she reacted to dropping Chinese food on a rug.
In Ikea a fight over a long boxy dining room table almost got physical.
“Why the hell would we need a dining room table when we don’t even have a dining room?” I asked.
“The table creates the room,” she answered, “just like a family creates a home. If you don’t know that, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing with you. I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing with my life.” She called me a jackass, called me a motherfucker, called me the whole list of dirty names, started making up some of her own.
I stood there baffled. People walking by could have thrown futons into my mouth. I barely recognized her. Her face had gone from red to purple. She was trembling, holding her arms stiffly at her sides, her hands flared. Little judo chops she struggled to hold back from my neck. This suddenly was my girlfriend.
Our third night in the new apartment, she toppled a Tupperware container of kung pao chicken onto a Persian rug I had yet to notice. She’d been eating on the couch.
She cried. I laughed nervously unsure what to do.
“Shit!” she shouted, standing up and stamping her foot into the rug, chicken, and peanuts. “My whole life is shit! Shit! Shit!”
She crouched over the mess and sobbed. I knelt down beside her, touched her shoulders, said nothing.
The first half of that kung pao chicken was the last thing she ever ate.
When my girlfriend weighed 142 pounds, we had a little talk about the kung pao chicken incident.
“I’m not a happy person,” she said.
“You’ve done a hell of a job faking it up to now,” I said. “Hats off on that.”
“This is bigger than you and me,” she said. “It’s more than that, but I guess it’s all ours now. Can you handle that?”
“Sure. I could have the dining room table delivered here by four o’clock this Saturday. I looked on the Web. You can order it online.”
“It’s not about the table. But it is about the table. I don’t know. I’ve got baggage, but I don’t know what it is.”
“Leather perhaps. Maybe nylon? You can order luggage online too. Are we taking a trip?” I smiled weakly.
She didn’t. “You don’t understand what I’m saying, do you?”
“Not a word of it.”
She frowned. Tiny dimples had a field day on her chin. “Just promise we won’t get bored,” she said. “Promise we won’t become furniture to each other. Promise you’ll take me dancing.”
“OK, OK, and do I have to?”
When my girlfriend weighed 139 pounds, she started talking about her body parts as if they didn’t belong to her. “Look at this ass,” she said. “Look at these thighs.”
Then she started addressing them directly. “What do I got to do to get rid of you?” she said, staring down at a roll of stomach skin she’d pinched between her fingers.
Then she demanded answers, started shouting. “Answer me, lard sticks!” she screamed at her legs. “Get the fuck out of my life, you saggy pudge lumps,” she hissed at her breasts.
I disguised my voice and answered for them. They needed someone to take their side. “We don’t want any trouble,” I said in a high-pitched Southern accent I thought appropriate for her breasts. “Evolution and gravity are powerful foes. When did softness cease to be a quality women valued?”
Her legs I gave a thick Scottish brogue, her arms a Midwestern drawl, her stomach a child’s voice, innocent and sincere, emanating, I imagined, from her navel. “I’m where you began,” it pleaded. “You can’t hate me.”
She only got more worked up, spitting curse words at herself, dissecting her body into an anatomy of anger.
I walked into the other room, left her alone, her body silent. Hers to do with as she wished.
When my girlfriend weighed 132 pounds, she asked me how she looked.
“Thin,” I told her. “You look thin.”
“Do I look unhealthily thin?” she asked.
“Damn it!” She punched my arm. “How can you say that to me?”
When my girlfriend weighed 124 pounds, she was the happiest I’d ever seen her. We went to her sister’s lesbian wedding. I was supposed to meet her whole family, but her parents didn’t come. “Daddy doesn’t approve of the whole lesbian thing,” she told me. It was the first hint I got about her father. “Sometimes I think my sister’s doing all this just to piss him off.”
I’d never been to a lesbian wedding before, but I was open-minded. Both brides looked lovely. My girlfriend’s sister, a wide-hipped sturdy butch in a navy-blue pants suit, her betrothed, a short, curvy Eastern European with a fake orange tan, penciled in eyebrows, and a giant poofy wedding gown.
Everyone asked my girlfriend if she’d lost weight. Old friends whispered the question to her during the ceremony. In the receiving line her sister slapped her ass and demanded to know her secret. As we danced to an unbelievably loud Neil Diamond medley at the reception, a silver-haired aunt shouted the question into her face.
“What?” my girlfriend asked, as if she couldn’t hear.
The aunt screamed louder. “Have! You! Lost! Weight!”
“What?” my girlfriend asked over and over, smiling as her aunt repeated it two more times, then laughing herself to tears just to hear it shouted again and again and again.
When my girlfriend weighed 118 pounds, she started asking me to look at other women’s asses. To study them, really. To contemplate them for much longer than I’d ever thought possible.
“Look at her ass,” she’d tell me as we stood in a subway car, waited on line at a movie theatre, or strolled down a crowded sidewalk. “Is my ass bigger than hers?”
She wouldn’t take a quick “no.”
“You’ve got to really look at it,” She would tell me. “That woman right there, stare at her ass for seven minutes and then get back to me.”
I stared at big asses, small asses. Round, flat, short, and long asses. Asses that looked as firm and solid as an unripe apple, and soft, saggy asses that had given up the fight years ago and, in that, seemed to possess a kind of stoic wisdom.
The more I looked, the more I loved them all. There was vulnerability and strength in every single one. Some remnant of the child making faces behind the adult’s back. Thumbing its nose at every staring fool. Each ass was proud, each ass defiant.
So I never had to lie. “No,” I told my girlfriend again and again. “Yours is definitely smaller than that one too.”
When my girlfriend weighed 112 pounds, she told me it was time to meet her parents.
She warned me about her father. “Everyone calls him ‘Colonel,’ but he’s never been in the military,” she said, nodding slowly.
She told me he was a difficult man. He had a way of getting what he wanted. Usually it involved making physical threats to innocent bystanders.
She told me he used to be an airline pilot, but he was forced into retirement after he kicked a passenger because a stewardess wouldn’t laugh at one of his jokes. But I shouldn’t mention that. Or her sister’s marriage. Shouldn’t mention cats or dogs because he hated small animals, thought pets were a sign of weakness, preferred to pretend they didn’t exist. And I shouldn’t look him in the eye when he eats, shouldn’t let my fork touch my teeth.
After a while she wrote me a list. I looked at it and laughed.
“This isn’t a joke,” she said. “I grew up with this man.”
When my girlfriend weighed 107 pounds, we took her mother and father to a pricy steakhouse. Her father insisted on ordering for everyone. Even a few people at another table. He seemed not to notice his daughter’s weight loss, her hollow cheeks, the caved-in eyes, the shoulders that looked like they could cut glass.
When I couldn’t finish my rib eye, he called me a communist.
The remnants of grizzle and fat remained on my plate uneaten. He banged on the table and ranted about the failure of socialism across history. “You think you know what’s going on in Cuba?” he shouted. “You know what Castro wants you to know and that’s it. Now eat your goddamned steak.”
I laughed again, softer this time. If laughter could be asked as a question, that’s the sound I was making.
Then he threatened to assault a busboy if I didn’t finish. I looked at my girlfriend, her plate untouched, completely ignored by her father. I looked at her mother, her plate clean as a surgeon’s sink. They looked down at the table and shook their heads.
I choked down my last scraps of meat.
When my girlfriend weighed 96 pounds, I took her swing dancing. We didn’t know what we were doing, but I just spun her around, threw her in the air like a baton, and everyone went nuts.
Truth told, they probably didn’t know what they were doing either. The swing dance fad had ended years ago, so mostly these were just people who still had the clothes.
They couldn’t get enough of us, though. The more savage and violent our movements got, the more they cheered. I threw my girlfriend behind my back with one hand, turned and caught her with the other. I held her by her shoulders and swung her through the air, bent her waist around my neck and spun her all the way down to my ankles.
They screamed and applauded.
They were in a frenzy by the time we left. Men begging to dance with her, women pawing at her clothes. I had the feeling that if I would have snapped her over my knee, they would have carried me off on their shoulders.
When my girlfriend weighed 83 pounds, people began to stare.
A little girl coming up the other way on the escalator at the mall looked at her and cried. Her mother turned the little girl’s head away, glanced briefly at my girlfriend, and then stared daggers at me.
When my girlfriend weighed 76 pounds, I tried to force-feed her in her sleep. I waited until she was unconscious. Then I got out a pint of chocolate ice cream. I whispered the names of flavors into her ears until her lips parted and her tongue peeked out past her teeth.
“Rocky Road,” I whispered. “French Vanilla, Caramel Swirl.”
I spooned the ice cream in slowly, and for a few seconds I thought it was actually going to work. Then she woke up gagging and pissed as hell.
She said it was a betrayal. Accused me of “gastronomic rape” as she wiped melted ice cream off her face.
“Whether I eat or not is my choice,” she said. “Not yours. Got it?”
I didn’t say anything. Drops of melting ice cream fell from the spoon to the bed spread.
“This is me,” she said. “I’m not some damsel in distress, and this is not some dragon for you to slay. OK? I don’t need you to rescue me. I just need your support.”
Part of me felt like she had a point, and part of me felt like, “Fuck her.” It didn’t matter. They both added up to the same thing. “OK,” I said. ”Don’t eat. It’s your choice.”
When my girlfriend weighed between 70 and 60 pounds, I lost her in the apartment for three days. I didn’t find her until her sister came to visit with her lesbian wife. I folded out the sofa-bed and there she was, curled up with a pile of coins and a spare set of keys in the space between the cushions and the floor.
She said she’d been calling out for days, but her voice had grown weak from the drastic weight loss. Even as she cussed me out for leaving her in the couch all week, it sounded like she was whispering.
The visit was strained and tense. My girlfriend’s sister got drunk early each afternoon and spent most of the evenings snoring on the couch. Her lesbian wife couldn’t stop staring at my girlfriend. “What do you do to stay so thin?” she asked.
“I don’t eat,” my girlfriend said.
“What, your boyfriend doesn’t let you?” she asked. “He beat you up if you get too fat?”
My girlfriend didn’t answer. Just laughed uneasily. Her sister’s lesbian wife looked down at her own waist, slid her hands over her hips, and then looked at me, smiling.
When my girlfriend weighed 58 pounds, I cheated on her with her sister’s lesbian wife. My girlfriend was lost in the couch again. Her sister was passed out. I could hear my girlfriend calling me faintly between her sister’s snores, but I ignored her. Maybe I was still mad over the whole “gastronomic rape” thing. Maybe I was sick of having a girlfriend who didn’t eat.
Her sister’s lesbian wife found me in the bedroom looking at fake celebrity porn on the computer. I tried to close the browser and hide what I was doing, but she asked me questions about their bodies, asked me to go to other Web sites where they had pictures of large half-naked women being punched and choked by men half their size.
She asked me if I pressured my girlfriend to lose the weight, if I pushed her to be so thin. She let her hand linger on mine as we both reached for the mouse at the same time.
“Tell me I’m fat,” she demanded as she turned and straddled me in the chair. “Call me a pig.”
She tore at the buttons on her blouse, and I felt myself growing hard against her thigh.
“Tell me to lose some weight,” she begged. “I’m a cow. A big fat horse. Say it.”
She was neither overweight nor attractive. But it had been so long since I’d held anything other than bone against my body.
I gave up. I told her she was a big gross whale, and we fell back onto the bed and had strange and angry sex.
Afterwards I slept soundly for the first time in weeks. I dreamt of trees, fruit, living things.
When my girlfriend weighed 52 pounds, I started using her as a coat rack. She asked me to do it. Her knobby shoulders offered themselves up as perfect pegs, so we hung coats on them.
She loved it. Loved having jackets and hats piled on her, umbrellas hooked to her fingers. Soon she asked for shirts and pants to be added.
“I’m made for clothes now,” she said, begging me in whispered shouts to empty the closets again, cover her in her clothes, then my clothes. “Everything fits. Everything.”
She disappeared in clothing. You’d look at her standing in the corner, and all you saw was a pile of clothes.
“I want to be the clothes,” called her muffled whisper from beneath the pile. “More clothes, less me.”
When my girlfriend weighed 47 pounds, I told her I’d been unfaithful with her sister’s lesbian wife. It was hard to tell if she was angry or not. Her voice had gotten so soft that everything she said was just a long hiss. I leaned in close so she could scream into my ear.
“Tell me everything about it,” she asked. “Every detail.”
She laughed, and her voice sounded clear and full for a moment.
Then we tried to make love for the last time. It was complicated and sometimes painful. We were all elbows, ankles, and knees. Angular. Our bodies struggling to join in an intricate erotic geometry.
“How was it for you?” she asked me when we finally gave up.
“Pound for pound, it was the best sex I ever had,” I said.
She smiled, and I knew we’d be fine.
When my girlfriend weighed 43 pounds, her family finally held an intervention. Her sister said her father had been keeping any of them from saying anything. He’d said she was just doing it to get attention. If they ignored it, she would start eating again. But when her voice started getting too weak to take his phone calls, he decided to get serious.
Family and friends crowded our apartment, ate our food, drank soda. It was like a party, only angry.
“You wanted our attention? Fine, you got it,” my girlfriend’s father said, pacing back and forth in front of her as she lay folded up next to me on the sofa, staring off into space.
Her mother mostly just cried, put her head in her hands, and said “why” a few times. Some other family members tried to talk, but her father held the floor.
“If this is part of your non-violent, make friends with the world bullshit, let me just tell you, you’re off base,” he said. “Eating is the cycle of life, sweetheart. The real deal. Not that horseshit they sing about in Disney cartoons. You need to eat. You need to kill. It’s a universal imperative. The moral contract is based on murder. You kill, you live, life runs through you and gets shit out to kill or be killed again. You opt out of that circle, and you’re not protecting anything, you’re not stopping death. You’re putting the breaks on life.”
My girlfriend said nothing.
A lot of people shot questions in my direction. “How could you let this happen?” “What kind of man are you?”
“The kind that doesn’t force-feed his girlfriend in her sleep?” I offered.
They weren’t hearing it. Almost everybody seemed to blame me, thought I’d caused it somehow—except for my girlfriend’s sister’s lesbian wife, who’d gained some weight since I last saw her. “I don’t think he had anything to do with it,” she said, shooting me a dirty look and then looking at my girlfriend and widening her eyes suggestively.
“Oh, shut up,” said my girlfriend. “I know he fucked you, and I don’t care. Truth is, I don’t care what the lot of you has to say. My body, my business. My weight, my business. You were all so happy for me 60 pounds ago, so keep smiling. It really doesn’t matter, because I’m not doing this for any of you. I’m doing it for me.”
It was a great speech. Too bad no one heard it. Once she’d dipped below 50 pounds, her voice had grown so weak that you couldn’t really hear her unless you pressed your ear to her mouth. Even sitting right next to her, I could just barely make it out.
When my girlfriend weighed 44 pounds, she started to thin out in places I never thought you could. Her ears actually looked smaller. Then her nose, her eyes, her entire skull. Her shoulders narrowed, her hips collapsed, her ribs curved in towards one another. It was like her bones were losing weight.
When my girlfriend weighed 41 pounds, she started using my “pound for pound” line as if she’d made it up herself. It irked me at first, but I let her get away with it. She didn’t have much. When people expressed concern over her health, she said, “Pound for pound, I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been.”
When people stared, she said, “Pound for pound. I’m the sexiest woman in America.”
When large men walked past her on the sidewalk, she said, “Pound for pound, I’m the best boxer on the planet.”
Nobody could hear her but me. I’d grown used to her tiny voice by now, could hear it clearly on a crowded street, my sleep, when she wasn’t even talking.
Hearing the phrase so often eventually got me curious. “What does it really mean, though?” I asked her. “To be the best at something ‘pound for pound.’ I understand what’s implied. But the words themselves . . . what do they really mean?”
“It’s simple,” she answered. “It means because I have less pounds but an equal amount of me. Each one of my pounds is worth more.”
“So then you’re not just disappearing,” I said. “You’re growing more dense. You’re intensifying with each pound you lose.”
“There’s more of me in each pound,” she said thoughtfully, considering the implications of the phrase for the first time. “Pound for pound, I’m the most me I’ve ever been.”
When my girlfriend weighed 38 pounds, she couldn’t wear clothes anymore. She cried for an hour. Soaked herself so bad her fingertips pruned. We eventually got her some clothes from a toy store. Not Barbie clothes. They were actually too anatomically correct. We had to stitch together the stuff they made for those new dolls with the giant heads, huge feet, and tiny waists. At this point the Barbies were actually more life-like than my girlfriend.
It was a shame. Barbie’s wardrobe had a bit more variety. Everything my girlfriend wore now was either covered in glitter or prominently featured words like “brat” or “kitten” in swollen curlicue letters.
When my girlfriend weighed 34 pounds, I took her country line-dancing. She fractured her shin on her first stomp-kick turn. We had to go home early.
I carried her to the car effortlessly. I’d carried her before but this was different. She felt so light—the opposite of a burden. I held her in my arms, and I felt like I was floating.
When my girlfriend weighed 31 pounds, I begged her to eat. I even tried to trick her by putting her old clothes on a plate.
“You are what you eat,” I offered.
She ate half a cashmere sweater and threw up.
When my girlfriend weighed 26 pounds, she told me how it all started.
“It started with that table,” she said. “I knew it was stupid the whole time. That was part of it too. Me knowing it was stupid.”
“Does it help if I tell you that I knew it was stupid too?” I asked.
“Shut up. This is important. I’m going to say something important now.” She paused, ran her finger over her lip. “That’s really how I was feeling then too. Like I wanted this to be important. We were moving in together, and it was like we were doing grown-up stuff, you know? Not wanting to get that table, it was like you weren’t on the same page. But it was also like I felt, if this was going to be important, I’d have to make a big deal out of it.”
“And you did a great job of that.”
She shushed me angrily and slapped my knee, her fingers so thin they tickled. “So when I dropped that kung pao chicken, I thought about how you always hear how it’s the little things that really break your back, and I thought, What if this was one of those little things for me? And I just thought for a second, What if, because of this, I never ate again? So at first I just played with the idea. But the longer I went, the more real it got. Then at one point I realized it was the one thing that no one could take away from me. The one thing no one could protect me from. The one thing that demanded nothing from me. Does that make any sense?”
“Sure,” I said. “Makes perfect sense. That and the fact that you’re just real fucked up.”
“Of course.” She smiled, leaned in, and kissed me. Her lips had disappeared weeks ago. All I felt were her teeth, hard and true behind a thin veil of dry skin.
When my girlfriend weighed 18 pounds, I took her dancing at an ultra-trendy downtown club. We waited in line for twenty minutes, me in my best suit, her in a plush burgundy dress we’d gotten that day at Toys ’R Us.
Then a bouncer offered us a deal. Apparently, they needed a temporary extra section in the velvet rope. Someone was getting more from the club’s basement storage room, but he wanted to know if my girlfriend could fill in in the meantime. “I’ll get you inside in like ten minutes,” he said flexing his meaty neck from side to side.
There were hundreds of people ahead of us. My girlfriend nodded, and we followed him to the front of the line.
She stretched as far as she could, hooking her feet into the ring atop one short metal pillar as she clung with her fingers to another. Groups of two or three, sometimes more, would walk up against her and stop. The bouncer would look them over without moving his head. Then he would unhook my girlfriend’s feet, lift her up, and let them in, or just wave them away if he didn’t like what he saw.
Sometimes it almost got ugly. Two college-aged fraternity types waved their arms and leaned against my girlfriend when the bouncer said he’d let in the girl they brought but not them. A group of four short European men dressed in black tried to peel her fingers away and sneak in when the bouncer wasn’t looking, but my girlfriend held tight until he turned around and chased them out of the alley. Anytime anyone was refused, they walked away looking not at the bouncer who’d ordered them away, but at my girlfriend, the soft barrier between in and out, the border between their desire and their inadequacy.
When they’d finally found their spare length of rope and offered to let us inside, my girlfriend refused. “I’d like to keep at it and finish up the night,” she said to both me and the bouncer. I told him what she’d said, and he just shrugged.
We stayed long into the night. After the crowds had left my girlfriend seemed almost lost.
“That’s it,” said the bouncer. “We don’t need the ropes anymore. I’d tell you guys to head on in, but it’s last call.”
I told him we’d just be heading home, but my girlfriend didn’t move. She looked like she was going to cry. “What’s the matter?” I asked her.
“The way they all looked at me . . . I’d never felt such hatred and such longing at the same time,” she said. “It was wonderful.”
When my girlfriend weighed 14 pounds, her father called me drunk and in tears. He said he was calling for her, but she hadn’t been strong enough to hold a telephone in weeks. For a while I could hold it up to her ear, and she’d scream as loud as she could, but as her voice got weaker and weaker, that had become pointless.
Her father knew all this, but when I explained it to him again and tried to rush him off the phone, he just kept talking as if it were me he’d really wanted to talk to all along.
“Do you know what it’s like to raise daughters?” he asked me.
“No, sir,” I said. “No, Colonel, I mean.”
“More than anything in this grand shit-stain of a world, daughters will teach you what an asshole you are. You see the world through their eyes. Only you know the truth. You smash those two things together and you take a look at yourself . . . It ain’t pretty. Now, both of them are busy erasing themselves from my life, and that’s all I’m left with—me through their eyes, the truth.”
When my girlfriend weighed 11 pounds, I didn’t knock her over when I sneezed. Not because that would have been physically impossible, but because when I gasped before the sneeze I inhaled her down to her ankles.
Her feet hung from my mouth like the ends of thick, undercooked noodles. I tickled them before coughing her back up, and I felt her laughter rumble deep inside my belly as if it were my own.
When my girlfriend weighed 9 pounds, her father called back to tell me more. He didn’t even bother to ask for her this time, just went right into it.
“When they were little, they wanted to be princesses,” he said weakly, struggling not to cry. “But I made them play as knights. I wanted them to be strong. I wanted them to know they could do anything men did. So I built a dragon in the basement—out of the legs of their dolls and the head of some pony with rainbow colored hair. For swords I made them use their plastic high-heel dress-up shoes. They wanted to make friends with the dragon, but I told them they had to kill it . . .”
He explained the rest of what he did. The argument over whether a dragon could ever be friends with a knight. How he piled their dolls in front of the dragon’s head, said it was going to breathe fire on their dolls if they didn’t kill it, actually got a can of hairspray and a lighter.
“It was only supposed to scare them,” he said. “But you play with fire . . . What can you expect?”
The flame caught one of the doll’s toes. They went up quickly. I could see it. Clothes burning like cheap paper. Plastic faces melting, collapsing in on themselves.
“That shook them into a frenzy,” he explained. “I got what I wanted. They beat that dragon to shit with their little shoes. They were still at it after I’d put out the fire. Their eyes were crammed with rage. For just a hair of a second I thought I’d taught them something important. Then, of course, I saw that they weren’t looking at the dragon. They were looking at me.”
When my girlfriend weighed 8 pounds, I held her like a baby. Curled her up in my arms, her body brittle but unbreaking. I looked into her deep-set eyes, her face a death’s head wrapped in skin, and I sang to her. It was a lullaby about sleeping, falling, dying.
Aren’t they all?
When my girlfriend weighed 3 pounds, I took her dancing on my back. Took off my shirt, put on some Al Green records, and said, “Have at it.”
I could just barely feel her. Her feet tickled my bare skin like thin fibers from a feather. I laughed so hard I cried.
When my girlfriend weighed 1 pound, I noticed her for the first time. Like we were just now meeting.
I introduced myself, and when I shook her hand, barbed and delicate like the foot of a baby bird, there was no longer any mystery. I understood her with the clarity we reserve for strangers.
She was finally what she was.
When my girlfriend disappeared, I found out her sister’s lesbian wife was pregnant.
My girlfriend’s father told me. He’d been calling every day for the last week. We’d had some good talks.
“I’m trying to be OK with the whole dyke thing,” he said. “Maybe she doesn’t have to be erased if I can deal with it. Maybe this baby just shows they really can do anything a man and woman can do. I wonder how they pulled that off, though. I’m not up on all the latest procedures.”
I wanted to tell him there weren’t any procedures, the baby was mine, the truth would come out, their marriage would end, I would be blamed.
“I got to go,” I said. “Just call your daughter. Tell her you love her. Don’t call her a dyke.”
When I hung up the phone, I asked my girlfriend for advice, walked around the empty apartment talking to nobody, thinking maybe she was still there somewhere, just too thin for me to see, or maybe lost forever in some other piece of furniture.
“I have to do something,” I said. “Don’t you think? It’s my baby, right? They’re going to figure that out.”
I listened intently for an answer. Still, not moving, not breathing for what seemed like hours, I heard things I’d never heard before. Our neighbors, an old retired couple, singing soft love songs to each other. Children outside teasing one another in cruel whispers. Footsteps of insects crawling in the walls.
Then I heard her voice. Or maybe I imagined it. There was no way to tell anymore.
Over the next week we had some of our best conversations. Our most honest heart to hearts. Sometimes I lost her voice when a car drove by outside, or one of the larger insects scurried through the wall, or she just got tired of talking. But it didn’t matter. I’d come to know her well enough to carry both sides of the conversation.
She told me I’d have to take responsibility. I’d have to try to make a family with her sister and her lesbian wife. I’d have to grow up. I’d have to buy a dining room table.
I talked honestly for the first time about my own feelings of inadequacy, my sense of helplessness. How it felt to watch someone I loved waste away. How it felt to be unable, and then even unwilling, to stop it. How it felt to be jealous of her now. To wish I could disappear like her.
When my girlfriend stopped answering me altogether, when I could no longer even imagine her quiet voice, when she’d finally lost all the weight, I flew out to her sister’s. I brought a dozen orange roses and a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I had big plans.
I slept on the plane most of the way, and as I slept I dreamt of the baby and my girlfriend. They tangled together in that odd half-formed dream logic. One wasting away beside me, the other growing day by day in the dark recesses of a woman who wanted me to make her disappear.
In my dream I was the creator of all of it. Not just the baby, but my girlfriend’s weight loss and the strange connection between the two. Then sometimes my girlfriend was the baby, and I was pregnant. Or she was pregnant, and I was the baby making her hungry enough to eat again. In the end, I didn’t even know who was pregnant anymore, but the baby was all of us. Me, my girlfriend, my girlfriend’s sister, her mother and father, you name it—all of us waiting inside, waiting to be born into a world of stark light and noise.
It all stayed with me long after I woke. Even by the time I rang my girlfriend’s sister’s doorbell, I wasn’t completely sure if it was the baby, my girlfriend, or myself I’d come to claim.
It didn’t go as I’d expected. They took the flowers, but they both just stared at the book.
“Is that some kind of sick joke?” my girlfriend’s sister asked.
I stammered for a few seconds, trying to explain why I was there. “I want to do the right thing . . . I know it will be hard at first . . . It’s for all of us.”
“I had a miscarriage about a week ago,” said my girlfriend’s sister’s lesbian wife.
“By miscarriage, she means abortion,” said my girlfriend’s sister. “But alas the truth is sometimes just too challenging for my wife.”
As I sank back onto their love seat, dropping the book on the floor, they started yelling at each other. I’d walked into a fight that had probably been going on since the day they met.
“How could you do that without talking to me?” I interrupted finally.
They both stared at me, mouths open. “Why the hell would she talk to you?” said my girlfriend’s sister. Then she laughed. “Oh my God. That’s why you’re here. That’s so cute. I see why my sister liked you.”
“I don’t get it,” I said. “Why didn’t you at least tell me?”
“Relax,” said my girlfriend’s sister, smiling. “My wife fucks a lot of guys. She’s one of those Howard Stern lesbians. Half the time, I think she just got into the whole scene because she’s too lazy to shave her pits.”
I still didn’t get it. I kept babbling about my rights as a father until my girlfriend’s sister’s lesbian wife stepped forward and drew me the picture.
“I’d already known I was knocked up for two weeks when I slept with you,” she said. “That’s why I did it—to get rid of the baby. I thought you’d make me lose enough weight to have a miscarriage. My wife, God fuck her, says I have an unfounded faith in the power of men to magically transform my life. At least I’m not the one with the daddy issues.”
They launched back into the fight that was their love. Chased each other from the living room to the kitchen, to the bathroom. Broke the vase they’d put the orange roses in. Collapsed crying on the stairs, telling each other, “You are my everything.”
I told them I was going to get going, apologized for misunderstanding the whole thing, asked if they wanted to keep the book.
They sat down on the sofa opposite me, and I just kept talking, my voice now a creature with its own mind. I told them everything. The fight in Ikea, the kung pao chicken, the asses of other women, the swing dancing, the day we buried my girlfriend in clothes, how I held her like a baby.
Then I told them about my dream on the plane. About me, the baby, my girlfriend, and all of us. Even if it wasn’t mine, I told them, they shouldn’t have gotten rid of the baby.
“I would have taken it, taken care of it for us,” I said. “I would have raised it strong and proud, and complicated, and beautiful for all of us. I would have taught it that dragons are neither our friends nor our foes, but powerful, magical creatures deserving both our fear and our pity. I would have taught it that everything deserves our fear and our pity—even ourselves.”
“Would you have taken the swelling and the stretch marks too?” asked my girlfriend’s sister’s lesbian wife.
“The morning sickness?” asked my girlfriend’s sister.
“The varicose veins? The back labor? The torn perineum?”
“The chance of death?”
“I would have done what I could,” I said, picking the book up off the floor and laying it on the coffee table between us.
“Exactly,” they both said, as if that settled it all.
We sat silently for a few minutes, but it felt like longer. Then they asked me more about my girlfriend. They wanted to know every detail of our last days together.
Then finally they got to the question I could tell they’d been dying to ask the whole time, the question they wanted to ask me as soon as I got in the door. Would have asked me over the phone if I hadn’t told them I was coming.
“Before she disappeared,” her sister said.
“In the last seconds,” said her sister’s lesbian wife.
“How did she look?” they both asked in unison, leaning forward on the edge of the sofa, their hands curling together, touching tenderly and casually on the coffee table.
“She was beautiful,” I said. “I could barely see her.”
“When My Girlfriend Lost the Weight” started as flash fiction and is now evolving into a novel.
I always underestimate the scope of a story at the start, and I truly believed this would be around 1,000 words. The plan was to only write vignettes for three or four different weights, but it got to be too fun too fast. I enjoyed the mix of absurdity and tenderness I was finding in writing, and I hope that comes through for others when reading.
After getting to the point where the story felt finished (then revising and rewriting much of it and then feeling again that it was finished for real this time), I read about Mollie Fancher, a real woman who reportedly ate nothing for more than a dozen years in the late 1800s. As further proof that it is impossible to truly make anything up, I soon found that Fancher was part of a wider trend of “fasting girls” that extends back to medieval female saints and stretches forward to what we now see much more clinically as “eating disorders.”
This discovery has since brought me back to the story to see if there is more there. Though I consider “When My Girlfriend Lost the Weight” complete as a short story, I’m now trying to see if it’s possible to write a separate little vignette for each pound lost. That may eventually turn into a novel version of this story, or it may just be an interesting exercise.
As for what this story might mean in the wider context of body image, eating disorders, or consumption in general, all I know is that readers’ reactions have varied. Some take away a positive feminist reading; others find it offensive and insensitive. As I like to consider myself someone who provides entertainment for people who are smarter than me, I defer to any reader’s opinions on such things.