I’ve been in a funk lately with my writing. Waiting on a submission that has started to make the rounds to different editors is a kind of slow-drip torture. In turn, this has produced a similarly tortuous effect on the state of my writing. As I attempt to pen another novel, I’m plagued with thoughts about failure. I know in the past I’ve said, getting an agent who gets me is success enough and then I’ve said, being out on submissions is success enough…truthfully, in light of last weeks events in Newtown, CT, my worries and obsessions are silly, nothing, nil. I’m blessed to have my family safe and healthy.
Still, after tragedy, life resumes with its tiny worries and small stuff. So here are mine. I worry I won’t get that book deal for the fourth novel I’ve written. I worry 4 is not the magic number. I worry all the hard work of this new book of which I am so proud of won’t ever see the light of day in book form…blah, blah, blah.
In the past I’ve dealt with such feelings by sharing my work in any way that I can, a reading, self-publishing, blogging, etc. So here I go, a blog that will showcase some work. The following is part of my graduate thesis completed in 2011, almost 2 years ago. BIG, FAT, BROKEN HEARTS is a collection of painfully humorous and somewhat edgy YA short stories. I published my favorite piece from this collection in the first volume of Sucker entitled “Theater Geeks In Love”. Below is the eponymous My Big, Fat, Broken Heart.
MY BIG, FAT, BROKEN HEART
“Mmm…you feel so good.”
As Bryan, aka The Twenty-Year-Old Senior, mumbles sweet nothings into my ear, all I can think about is Derrick. That his rough fingertips should pressing on my skin, his hands under my sweater. His smoky breath on my neck.
The groping hands move up over a small roll of flesh on the side of my body. Flesh that used to not be there. With each week that goes by since my breakup with Derrick, more flesh appears on my body. And, with each stupid boy I go out with to try and forget Derrick, the more depressed I get.
But not so depressed I let the fooling around go far.
“Uh, Bryan, I better go.” I push his hands away.
“How come?” His hands leave, but his face looms.
Because I must get inside and consume massive quantities of anything to take away the slimy feeling of your mouth on my body. Because I would rather devour all the food in my pantry—hell, my refrigerator, pantry, and the canned goods Mom keeps in the basement, even the stewed tomatoes, than sit here being mauled by you.
“I have lots of homework.” Then I add, “Huge research paper for History.”
He looks at me like he doesn’t understand. Since he is a twenty-year-old senior, I gather that he doesn’t.
“Thanks, though.” Apparently sarcasm is wasted on TYOS.
With that, I yank open the door and hop out of the truck. Key in hand, I push it into the lock of the front door and slide myself inside. I don’t bother to wave to TYOS.
After I close the door, I pause to listen for the rustle of my mother on the couch or the squeak of my dad getting up from his leather lounger. Nothing but silence. It shouldn’t shock me that my parents so oblivious. My mother always has her head up her ass, literally, she teaches yoga and attends those Kripalu retreats every other weekend. Her answer to everything lately is “Just breathe, honey. Take a deep breath and go outside, get some fresh air.” Really, Mom? Okay, as long as I can grab a smoke while I’m at it. As for Dad, the other night at dinner he attempted some small talk.
“I haven’t seen that Debbie in awhile? You two have a fight?” He doesn’t look at me when he talks, and when he talks to me; it’s over a meal usually. This one was his cheesy chicken surprise. A big glob of yellow cheese sauce clung to his upper lip as he spoke.
I watched the blob cling for dear life to his mouth and stuffed a large forkful of the sloppy crap into my mouth. Debbie moved away back last June, and Derrick and I broke up for the final time at the end of October. It’s now almost April.
But I was too tired to explain all that so I said, “Yeah, big fight. Huge.”
I stand at the door way and flip on the light. I like that every time I open my bedroom door, the first thing I see is a framed photo of a runner in silhouette on the beach, knees pumping, waves crashing. On the bottom of the poster, it says, “Success equals motivation plus determination.” I got it at the mall last year with Mom, when I was on the track team. Debbie, of course, turned it into a dirty motivational message: “Success equals making out plus doing it.” We would crack up, especially because at the time, doing it seemed very far away. Now, standing here, success of every kind seems pretty impossible, unless you count smoking a pack a day or downing four boxes of snack foods in a sitting.
The digital alarm clock next to my unmade bed reads 11:30. My parents always go to bed before ten, and since I’ve never been home later than eleven, they probably assume I’m asleep.
I shuffle across the beige carpet and close the door. I tug my socks off and toss them in the pile of dirty clothes that has collected next to my already full hamper. Then, my phone rings.
My hand freezes midway before picking it up. Debbie? Could it be? My heart sinks a bit at the thought. I don’t want to talk to her, haven’t wanted to since the last time we spoke, and she told me she had a boyfriend named Ted or Ned or something and that she forgot to tell me she was asked to be captain of her cheerleading squad—running was no longer important to her.
My second thought is, maybe it’s Derrick. Damn, I still think that, even after all these months. Derrick used to always call late at night. It made me feel dangerous and sexy. One time he called close to midnight and said, “I’m five minutes away.” This was before he got his license, so he biked the six miles from his house to mine. When he arrived, I let him in through the basement. We just sat on the hard, musty floor and fooled around until my mouth was actually bleeding from kissing.
I grab the phone.
My heart drops. How could I even let my mind go there? I close my eyes. Of course, it’s not Derrick.
“Alison.” I sink into the black beanbag chair beside my bed and open my eyes.
“I just wanted to make sure you got home safe and sound.”
I laugh. Try to be happy. Alison does make me feel happy most of the time.
“Bryan is just an older guy, not a criminal.”
“Actually, technically, you are JB.”
Jailbait. We both laugh.
“Seriously, I called to check in and also remind you about tomorrow.”
Oops. I completely forgot. Alison is trying to get me to join track again. She says it’s been enough time of “mourning” Derrick. They are having a spring season get-together/fundraiser this weekend. I didn’t exactly get kicked off the team back in September, but after missing two weeks worth practice, and fainting at the one I did manage to get to, the coach told me to take some time off. It’s now the spring season and Coach has been following me everywhere I go at school, handing me forms, giving me the schedule, doing everything possible, short of putting the sneakers on me, to get me to come back. Ironically, Alison got assigned as brownie maker for tomorrow. I happily offered to do that job for her to which she very reluctantly obliged. But I thought I wasn’t fat, I told her when she protested. She just shook her head.
I shift the phone to my other ear. “Brownies have been made. I ate an entire pan first, just to make sure they were good.” I pause and wait for her to laugh. She doesn’t. Instead, silence. Then I say, “I need to stop making brownies because I’m wearing them on my ass right about now.”
“Stop the fat talk,” She reprimands.
She sighs then says, “Sorry.” She can’t go all the way with her tough love, and I can’t go all the way and tell her how much it sucks to be me.
She changes the subject. "So you had a good time with TYOS?”
“Let’s put it this way, you know that song Bust-A-Move?”
“Well twenty-year-old senior is probably thirty because while the credits were rolling, he said, ‘Guess what song I’m thinking of—‘ “
“Yeah, he said, ‘Bust-A-Move’.”
Alison howls. Then she says, “And you let him?”
“Well—only a little kissing and a little touchy feely.“
“I hate to say this, but I think going out with other guys isn’t really working.”
Alison won’t do tough love with me, but she is on a mission to help me recover. “It’s time to move more on plan b, okay? BHD is killing you.” Broken Heart Disease. Killing me, no. Making me fat, yes. But she didn’t say that.
“He was nice, though,” I heave myself up from the beanbag and unzip my jeans. Ah, relief, I can breathe. I lean the phone on my shoulder and wiggle out of my jeans. He brought me flowers, half dead carnations— but still. Flowers. Derrick never did that. Plus, it felt sort of good to be on a real date. Even if kissing him made me sick.
“Listen, Coach told me she’s really glad to have you back.”
I don’t say anything.
“She said she’ll help you get back in shape—“
“I thought you said I’m not fat?”
“You’re not!” Alison sighs. “You know what I mean.”
“Listen Alison, I’m sick of this whole Biggest-Loser-make-over shit. I’m fat. I’m out of shape. That’s the way it is—“
“But it doesn’t have to be.”
“Just be ready tomorrow at twelve, okay?”
When we hang up, she doesn’t end with her usual TTYL.
After we hang up, I throw on my old, grey sweat pants and an East Side Bowling T-shirt I stole from my Dad. I slide into my slippers and then tiptoe down the hallway to the stairs. Before I take the first step, I realize I have to go to the bathroom. I pivot and glide back through my room and into my bathroom. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror above the sink. No double chin or rolls around my middle. I decide for the hell of it to weigh myself. I get on the scale. The numbers blink and beep. 135. It still shocks me to see numbers higher than 110.
I get off the scale and go downstairs, into the kitchen. I pause at the doorway between the kitchen and our family room.
I see the carnations. They hang limp in a glass vase resting on the Formica countertop, next to the sink. The lights are low on the honey-stained maple cabinets.
I pull open the over-stuffed freezer—a gallon of vanilla bean Stop & Shop ice cream and three boxes of Slender Snacks—there were four boxes, but I downed those yesterday after school when I saw Derrick walk by with Angie I Give Blow Jobs Sommers. They had their hands in each other’s pockets. I guess if I were a skinny bitch blowing him, he’d still be with me. There are five packs of frozen tofu for mom’s weird lunch concoctions she takes to work. A bag of French Fries, a box of frozen waffles, and several freezer-burned bags of frozen peas. Ugh. I close the freezer.
I stare into the pantry at the various boxes and bags. Aha! I reach for some Tasty Cakes. I pluck a box of granola, some bran flakes, and two packs of oatmeal from the shelf and close the door with my hip. I put them on the countertop—one at a time. Then slide over to the maple cabinets that house our salad bowls—the big ones. I have to use both hands to pull out the heaviest one—it’s blue with large yellow flowers. I place it on the spotless countertop. Old Formica but Mom scrubs the hell out of it so it shines like granite.
I realize that I’m starving despite the pan of brownies I ate this morning. Assembling the meal is actually the best part. Excitement mixed with fear. It reminds me of what I felt the first time Derrick kissed me. Outside, the smell of falling leaves in his hair, and his hands on my then-skinny hips and his mouth—
Now I’m pissed. Funny, seconds before, before I thought of HIM, I was giddy and happy. Looking forward to my binge. And now….forget it. I’m just pissed.
I fill the bowl to the very top, my heart pounding. I shuffle over to the fridge again and grab the handle, which is slick with the oil from my father’s greasy hands after dinner—he refuses to wash his hands. Or maybe he just doesn’t notice. It surprises me Mom didn’t wipe it down furiously as she always does after he attempts to cook. I jerk open the door with the broken water filter/ice maker and grab the skim—HA!— milk. That’s like how Dad orders a twenty-piece McNugget, a supersized order of fries, and an apple pie from Mickey Dees and then gets a Giant Diet Coke.
I pour the milk. Then I amble back to the fridge–why rush? Parents are fast asleep, and I have three boxes of granola and Bran flakes stashed in my bedroom, under my bed. Hell, I can give myself permission to eat all night.
But I decide not to go into my closet. A better place is the basement. I don’t bring a blanket to sit on as I settle down next to the rumbling furnace and lean against the bumpy, concrete wall behind me. The only light is from the hallway between the finished and unfinished sides of the basement. The bowl is cradled on my neatly folded legs—it’s amazing I’m still so limber after not running or stretching once this school year.
The earthy grainy smell of bran flakes and granola mixed with peach and chocolate peanut butter brushes my nose. It smells like love and tastes like sex—both of which I’ve only read about in the erotic novels I found shoved under my parents’ bed. Both of which Derrick promised me before he decided to fuck Angie Blow Jobs who was both “not getting fat and not a pain in the ass” as he so eloquently told me over the phone when we broke up the third and final time and then followed that with, “So, we’re done”.
I clutch the heavy serving spoon, cold and metallic-tasting, and swan dive it into the bowl.
The stomach pains after a binge are sharp and murky.
I grab my bowl and spoon and climb back upstairs, feeling the sloshing of my meal and the linger of sugar and salt on my tongue. I head into the kitchen and quietly put the dishes into the dishwasher. Then stagger up the stairs to my bedroom. I don’t bother to brush the sour taste out of my mouth. I just crawl in between the comforter and cool sheets.
I stare up at the glow-in-the-dark stars encircling my light fixture. My stomach is puffed and hard from trying to digest. I picture all the chewed up food, thick and brown winding through my colon. A wave of nausea washes over me but that too is a welcome uncomfortableness. At least I’m feeling something other than my stupid broken heart.
Last year, before she moved away, my best friend Debbie helped me put these stars up. When we had sleepovers, we would lie on my bed and stare up at them and talk. Sometimes about our futures: I couldn’t see mine clearly, couldn’t even dream of one really, so focused I was on running and racing. I had vague dreams about that, something about the Olympics, maybe. Debbie wanted to be a singer. I almost laugh thinking about her, how she can sing every Brittany Spears song or quote lines from her one movie, but Debbie can’t turn her homework in on time or memorize vocabulary words for English.
I feel a huge lump in my throat. I struggle to the toilet and, for a few moments, I feel the swell in my stomach. Then the nausea subsides. I really wish I could be bulimic sometimes. I rest my head against the bowl.
The next morning, I’m jarred out of a coma-like sleep by the phone ringing. I dig the phone out from under my pillow. “Hello?” I grumble.
“Did you recover from TYOS?” Alison asks.
It takes me a minute. I groan.
“I’m here.” I sigh. “I’m fine.”
I struggle to sit up. My hand hits an empty package of cupcakes. I pick it up and then try to throw it into the wastebasket by my bureau but miss by about a yard. Figures.
“Good.” I hear a shuffling noise. Probably trying to push one of her four cats off her lap. They always jump on you if you sit down. “We’re still on for the party, right?”
“I’m not in the mood.”
“You know this party is a good antidote to moping.”
“I’m not moping. I’m recovering from last night.”
“From your rendezvous in the closet, right?”
Actually, I think, I sat on the cold floor of my basement and had a food orgy. Instead, I opt for silence.
“Alison, you’re not my mother.” I cut her off.
“Well, no. I’m not because she hasn’t said shit to you—“
For some reason, that one hurt. It hurt a lot. Tears pricked the corner of my eyes. ‘“Look, I’ve got tons of homework and stuff. So, go with out me. Okay?”
“Bye, Alison.” Somewhere, in the back of my mind, maybe, with cobwebs and dust and a collection of many things I’m deep down pissed about, I know that my mother is totally aware of what’s going on. Given that all my clothes are too tight, and we are running out of food way too quickly. My mother may have her head in her butt, and my dad may work too many long hours, but just like they figured out I had been schlepping my blankie to preschool everyday, they will find out about this. Even though I hid that blankie in my little knapsack and only snuck visits to the coat closet during snack time, Mrs. Walker caught on and called my parents. My mother told me, “We’ve known about the blankie, sweetie. We just wanted to give you some time to this all out on your own. But it’s been a few weeks so now, we’re going to have to help you out.” We made a plan, blankie only at home, and I had unlimited access to it as long as it stayed in the house. By the end of that year of preschool, I threw blankie in the trash.
I guess that means I need to binge in the closet at school? I begin to wonder if my mother just said that to me all those years ago, that maybe the truth was, they didn’t have the energy to confront me or work on trying to help leave blankie home.
I stare at my ceiling. Suddenly I want to take down the stickers. I turn my face to the side and look at my clock. 9:30. Five hours have passed since my food orgy, and my stomach is a murky pond desperate to be dredged.
I haul myself into the shower, purposely throwing the Dial soap into the trash. Pathetic to use it just to smell like Derrick. Dove would do instead.
After I finish my scrub down, I stare at myself in the foggy mirror and look down at my bloated stomach. Kangaroo pouch. Yuck.
Mom. Probably in her yoga gear. Black, drawstring cotton pants with a black tank top, on her feet, tan moccasins.
A soft knock on the door. “Good morning, sweetie.”
I wrap myself in my terrycloth robe and throw my hair in a towel. I open the door, “Hi, Mom.”
Her short, brown hair is tucked behind her ears— the only person I know with a “page boy” hair cut. She smiles and hands me a cup of tea, the tea bag still in it, sweetened with honey I can smell. “How was your date last night?”
I take the tea, careful to cup it on the bottom. “Fine. He was okay.” She steps to the side and follows me to my room.
She sits on my beanbag and smoothly folds her legs. I sip my tea, and then put it on my dresser and take the towel off my hair.
She cocks her head. “How about if you join me for yoga this morning? Or, we could run, too. I know it’s been awhile.”
I grab a comb from the bureau and hold sections of my wet hair so it doesn’t pull. Could this be the intervention I’ve been waiting for?
Just then Dad pokes his head into my room. He wears a plaid robe with a belt that barely fits around his waist. “Morning.” The New York Times in his hand. He looks at Mom. “I have to go into work in twenty minutes.”
My mother strains her mouth into a smile as she gets up from the beanbag. “That’s okay, hon. Leah and I are going to spend the day together.”
Maybe this is the intervention I don’t really want. I feel bad for her but more for myself. I need to get out of the house and away from everybody.
“Actually,” I put the comb down. “I have a lot of homework. Big paper. I’m going to go to the library.”
Even though I really do have a history paper due, I decide to forget the library and walk the half a mile into town. Maybe go to Barnes & Noble, drink a latte, and read Seventeen—Debbie would be proud. Forget it. I don’t even really like Seventeen. The weather is cool enough for my dad’s Cornell sweatshirt but warm enough for just a T-shirt underneath. The sky is blue-gray, and it feels like it might rain. The large houses give way to smaller ranches and finally buildings emerge as I reach the public park. The large oak tree Derrick and I shared many kisses. I walk over to it and run my fingers down the ridges of the trunk. God, I’m so pathetic. I sit down and wish I had a cigarette.
I pull blades of grass and try to think of reasons not to feel depressed. Positive thinking is what my mother calls it. I close my eyes and the damp air makes me think of running. My arms and legs pumping, bursting through the rain— the last hard run I had last year was in the rain after a major fight with Derrick. When I finished, it was a total cleanse. I open my eyes. I’m a far cry from a great run, and I’m in the worst shape of my life, but the air now is the same as it was then. So I’ll try for some positive thinking. I pull out my cell phone to see if Alison called. Nothing. My whole body feels so heavy, and I can’t help it, I feel so lonely. So sad. I stare down at the grass, feel the air around me.
Chocolate Hostess Cupcakes dance in my head. A large order of McDonald’s French fries floats across my brain.
I haul myself up and race out of the park and down one block to Gary’s Corner store. The bell jingles as I rushed inside. I bolt down the baked goods aisle. Grab a package of chocolate cupcakes and a brownie. Onto the candy aisle. Snatch a Twix, a package of Sweet Tarts and a hand full of mini Reece’s Peanut Butter cups. I dump it all onto the counter. The guy at the register is bald with white crust on his lips.
“Seven dollars.” Crusty Guy says.
I throw a ten at him and just before I fly out the door, I tear open the mini Reece’s and pop one into my mouth.
As my feet hit the concrete, I feel drops of rain on my face. Perfect. I wipe the chocolate from my mouth and as I’m about to rip into the Twix, it begins to pour. My hair sticks to my head, and I walk quickly down Epiphany Street, stuffing the Twix back into the bag. Starbuck’s is across the street. Derrick works there. It’s just before one o’clock, and I know he’ll be walking out the door in a few minutes. I lean against an office building under a canopy. I can’t think clearly. I have no idea what I want to say to him or why I want to see him. I should be calling Alison, going to her house to apologize, not wasting more energy on Derrick and yet—
The rain eases into a drizzle, and the clouds dart across the sky. Suddenly Derrick pops out of Starbuck’s. He jingles his keys to his car.
I want to reach across the street and stroke his shiny, soft hair. I want him to gather me up and kiss me for hours as we listen to his retro playlist with all the heavy guitar and power ballads. I want to go back to his house, snuggle into his bed, and roll around while his dog Marty sleeps at our feet.
I stand behind a tree, clutch the bag, and watch him cross the street. He’s about ten yards from me, and I know he’ll see me soon. Will he say anything?
He looks at me for a second—no expression—then ducks his head down and speeds up. I drop the bag next to the tree and scrambled over to him. He begins to walk in the other direction.
“Derrick, wait! Stop for a second.”
He stops, but doesn’t turn around. Oh, God, I think, this is it. Please let there be no chocolate on my face.
I tug at my hair with my free hand and walk over to him. I inhale hoping to smell his soapy scent, but all I smell is the garbage from the dump behind the building nearby. He shifts from left to right. “What is it?” His green eyes slice me in half.
“Uh, how are you?” My legs wobble.
He raises his eyebrows. “What do you want, Leah?” His voice is soft.
The rain has halted, but the sky is so dark that I feel like it’s late at night.
“I—,” I look past him at the garbage. My throat feels so tight. What do I want? I stare at his chest, then my eyes drops down and then before I really can process what I’m doing, I sink to my knees. No tears now. I reach for him.
“What the hell?” He shoves my hand so hard I fall backwards onto the wet pavement. I don’t try to get up, and he doesn’t help me. We just stare at each other, and the look on his face is total shock. I wait to feel something—embarrassed—yet I feel absolutely nothing. Then his face hardens, but he reaches down to pull me up and his hand feels so warm and strong that my throat tightens again.
We lock eyes before I turn and begin to run.