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The most important thing to know about the Pennsylvania Turnpike is there are almost no exits. When I get on it, I always have a full tank of gas and an empty bladder because gas stations and rest stops are sparse. I’m driving through Lancaster County, where a number of M. Night Shyamalan horror movies are filmed. It consists of gentle, rolling hills and unobscured views of the sky in every direction. Fields of green are dotted by little farms and the more rural roads are used by the Amish, horses clip-clopping ahead of buggies. It’s beautiful, but eerily isolated. I suppose that’s why it’s used in horror films. I’m more inclined to see the beauty, probably because I was raised here.
It’s a two-hour drive from Philadelphia to Hershey and, so far, it’s gone well because my cat, Lumpy, is tranquilized in the back seat. I hate to do it to her, but if there is one thing my cat really hates, its car rides. I don’t mind them. They are far better than plane rides. It’s not that I have a fear of flying, or crashing, which is probably the more substantial fear. It’s because when you’re fat, the ridiculously tiny seats are pure torture.
Last year, at my fattest, I had to fly from Philly to Orlando for a conference and regretted not buying two seats. I sat crammed between two passengers who clearly detested my excess weight as much as I do and spent most of the flight leaning as far away from me as possible, because, apparently, obesity is contagious.
As much as I think about being fat, which is most of the time, I don’t **like** thinking about it. I believe it’s because I was a skinny kid. I know, every fat person says they were thin when they were younger, but I really was. I’m 5’5” and I swear I never weighed more than 120 pounds through high school. I don’t really know for certain, because one of many differences between fat and skinny people is skinny people don’t need to weigh themselves. Why would they?
In college, my bad eating habits caught up with me. I moved away and almost instantly gained the "freshman fifteen". It wasn’t a big deal, at first. In fact, a lot of my friends and family told me I looked better, and healthier. When I started my Master’s in English, I decided it would be a good time to start acting like an adult, so I started eating better and exercising. I managed to stay fairly healthy until I started my doctoral program.
Getting a Ph.D. is not easy. It may not have been as hard as medical school, which my brother went through, but it definitely has hoops, some of which were lit on fire like the ones in the circus. I didn’t help that I chose Proust for my dissertation topic. Proust wrote a long ass book and my ass grew just as big in the process. Fortunately, I met my husband in year one, before my ass had its own Tax ID, not that his opinion matters anymore as I’m currently a few signatures away from a divorce.
When my marriage fell apart, my weight really skyrocketed. Food became my comfort and I didn’t think about my body much since no one saw me naked anymore. Obviously, I knew I was getting heavier because, suddenly, I wore plus size clothes, but what really made me realize I was a fat person is how other people started treating me.
The first thing I noticed was the way men viewed me. Modesty aside, I’m not a bad looking woman and I got more attention than I could handle when I was younger. It could be because I’m blonde; a lot of guys have a thing for blondes. Either way, all of it disappeared once I wore double digit clothing sizes.
I felt like I was no longer part of the cool kids’ lunch table. I wasn’t invited out as much. Even my husband, Ed, stopped including me in some of his social activities. It’s as if they were ashamed of me or didn’t want a fat chick in their photos. Heaven forbid your Instagram feed be tainted by my fatness.
If that wasn’t bad enough, I started getting harassed by total strangers. If I drove the speed limit rather than race through a yellow light, someone would shout out their window, offering me drive-by counseling: “Your car doesn’t move any faster than you?”
Most of the time it was subtler, like the looks of consternation when I ordered dessert or the looks of surprise when I ordered something healthy. My favorite was when a friend suddenly became “concerned” about my health. Really? Do you have the results of my recent electrocardiogram? They were fine, by the way.
That’s not to say doctors were any better. They offered their fair dose of shame and blamed everything on my weight. I wouldn’t get colds as often if I lost weight. Allergies? Yeah, you’re allergic to being fat. Ear infection? Some of the fat must have gotten in the canal. Okay, they didn’t exactly say that, but almost.
Suddenly, everyone thought I had all kinds of problems. Strangers assumed I was stupid and lazy. Friends thought I was either seriously ill or unhappy. They felt the need to point out my weight gain, as if I hadn’t noticed the way I no longer fit into seats, or into our thin obsessed society. It was un-fucking-believable.
My husband suggested I see a doctor. I thought that was rich given how he ignored my request to see a therapist for our marital issues. Still, I decided to indulge him and started seeing a counselor. Ironically, therapy is how I finally realized what a disaster our marriage was and that I wanted a divorce. I’m pretty sure Ed didn’t see that one coming when he made the suggestion.
Right after I moved out of our lovely town-home into a modest apartment, Pops died. My mother’s father, whom I adored, succumbed to colorectal cancer right before the holidays and for some reason that is what did me in. Maybe it was the two losses, my marriage and my grandfather, that were too much for me to bear, but I decided I needed to get my life in order.
By Christmas, I had hired a divorce attorney and joined a weight loss program. Trust me when I tell you Christmas is the absolute worst time to start a diet. Saying ‘no’ to carbs, sugar and booze during the eat, drink and be merry time is a recipe for disaster. That’s probably why I was total crap at it that month. On New Year’s, I, and every other American, vowed this time I would make it work. I gave up carbs, sugar and booze. I joined a gym, squeezed my fat ass into exercise equipment that wasn’t designed for obese women and got to work. It’s been five months and I’ve lost about ten pounds, which isn’t much and still frustrates me. Why is it we think we can eat junk for years and not gain weight, but one day of diet and exercise we expect to see a change?
Passing the exit for Intercourse – yes, there is a town in Shyamalan’s PA called Intercourse because everything, including interstates, has sex more than me – I check on Lumpy. My cat is still out of it, sleeping peacefully in her oversized crate, because like her human companion, she’s a bit plump. At least it looks good on her. My cat is freaking gorgeous. She’s a silver tabby with stripes like a tiger, fluffy cheeks and enormous grey-green eyes. If she were a human, she’d be a supermodel.
Lumpy Space Princess came to me when I moved into my new apartment last winter. A stray kitten, I found her on the street just outside my door, like a baby delivered by a stork. We took to each other immediately, and I easily fell in love with her friendly, affectionate personality. The two of us spent the winter curled up together in my bed binge-watching cartoons, which is what inspired her name. The hours of television also inspired my binge-eating which is why I’ve only lost ten pounds since joining the gym. It turns out you can’t work off all the calories in a pint of ice cream when you eat one daily.
To distract myself, I put on some Britney Spears. I’ve always liked her music but now I relate to her on a personal level. Britney knows about weight struggles and divorce. It might be all we have in common, but I think we’d be friends if we knew each other. Britney’s my girl. I could make a comeback, too.
The thought is timely as I arrive in my hometown of Hershey, driving through the intersection of Chocolate Avenue and Cocoa Avenue. On this street, the lamplights are shaped like Hershey kisses. Yes, this fat girl was raised in the town known for its chocolate. How’s that for destiny? As a kid, I visited the theme park and went on the tour complete with singing mechanical cows. My dad even retired from their factory. Sometimes he brought home one of the giant candies they sell. To this day, chocolate is my biggest weakness.
On the south end of town, I turn into the neighborhood where my parents live. My parents, meaning my dad and step-mom. My mother died when I was three from a medical error. She went to the hospital for a urinary tract infection and received an incorrect bag of saline. She was dead twenty-four hours later. My dad got a sizeable settlement, which is why he lives in a nice house despite a working-class salary.
I barely turn off my engine and Dad’s walking to my car. I’m to him, what Lumpy and Britney are to me.
I wrap my arms around his substantial waist and he pulls me into a giant bear hug. He’s over six feet tall, so I imagine it’s what a genuine bear hug would feel like. He runs a hand over his bald head as he peers into my car, taking inventory of everything I brought, including my cat. Meanwhile, I’m reminding myself that alopecia is a maternal trait. It’s bad enough I have the fat gene.
“Did Lumpy handle the ride alright?” He asks opening the rear door and gingerly lifting her crate.
“Yeah.” I peer in and she’s still out like a light.
“I’m sure she’ll be awake soon. We’ll get her a special dinner and she’ll perk up in no time.” He smiles and carefully carries her into the house.
If there’s one thing I really adore about my dad, it’s his affection for animals. We have that in common. I grab a few bags from the car and follow him into the house, which is quieter than usual.
Candy is my step mom. For once, I am not talking about food.
“She’s with Roger.”
Roger is their dog. Unlike me, they give their pets human names.
“Out for a walk?”
“No, a playdate with Bitzer.”
Yes, this family has dog playdates. I told you, we love our animals.
“Who’s Bitzer belong to?” I ask the question as we make our way upstairs to my childhood bedroom, past photos of me when I used to be thin and photos of my mother when she used to be alive.
Jake is a longtime friend of my older brother. He's also a construction manager I have a meeting with tomorrow.
Dad deposits Lumpy’s crate on the floor of my childhood bedroom and opens the little hatch. Allowing him to gently nuzzle the top of her head, she opens one eye, taking in my father before closing it again. Chuckling, he walks to my bedroom door, offering me a warm, adoring Dad smile before leaving.
“Welcome home, Ashley.”
Standing outside Pop’s house, I try to analyze it objectively: a 1950’s cape cod in a desirable neighborhood on the south end of town, four bedrooms, two and a half baths, kept in reasonably good condition by it’s only owner. What is harder for me to process, is that the house is mine.
With my grandmother and mom, an only child, gone I shouldn’t have been especially surprised he left it to my brother and I. What surprised me a little, was that my brother, Matt, relinquished his claim on it instantaneously. Matt and his perfect family live in a gorgeous home they have no desire to leave. He’s also a wealthy physician, so I know he doesn’t need the money. Still, in his ever calm and collected voice, he told me immediately, “It’s yours.” Ever since our mom died, Matt has been looking out for me. He is all heart, which may be why he’s a cardiologist.
I’m waiting to meet the real estate agent, a woman I went to school with named Lacey. I despise almost all real estate agents, and Lacey is no exception. However, she’s the best agent in our town and I want to sell this house for top dollar, which is exactly what she’s good at.
I know it might sound heartless to sell the home of my doting grandparents and my deceased mother, but, what none of them ever experienced, is college debt and I have a mountain of it.
Lacey pulls onto the tree-lined street in a Mercedes and hops out looking like the million bucks she probably grossed last year.
“Ashley!” She squeals as she struts toward me in heels. Damn. I wore jeans and my Nyan cat tee shirt.
We share those air kisses on the cheek that I detest.
“You look fabulous!” She coos as she takes in my appearance. I don’t know why people say that to fat people. We always know they’re lying.
“As do you.” Unfortunately, it’s true. She hasn’t gained a pound since high school and I wonder if she has a personal stylist.
“Stop.” She does a fake eyeroll and bats her hand, before plastering on her best real estate smile. “I’m so excited to see your house!”
I’m sure it kept her awake all night.
“Let’s take a look.” I offer and retrieve the key from my pocket. It has a blue plastic ring wrapped around the top which Pops must have needed as reminder. It hurts to picture him getting old and forgetful, almost as much as it hurts that he’s gone.
“Lead the way,” Lacey enthuses and follows me toward the front door.
The first thing I notice when I open the door, is the smell. It’s not a horrible smell like cat piss or cigarettes, but the house smells old and musty, as if it were inhabited by elderly people, because it was. Some of Lacey’s smile fades as she takes in her surroundings. I know what she sees. The house is old and has never been updated. Suddenly, I feel defensive and want to promise her something more than what we currently inhabit.
“I’m meeting with Jake Moore to discuss some necessary updates.”
“Oh, good!” Her fake smile returns. “He does wonderful work and his sister is absolutely brilliant.”
“His sister?” Jake’s sister is about five years older than me. We didn’t go to school together and I can’t say I know her well.
“Yes, Jess is a master of décor. You should talk to her, too.”
“Okay.” Silently, I wonder if that will cost more money. Probably.
I walk Lacey through every room, taking in the faded wallpaper and scuffed trim. The house is worse than I remember, amplified without any personal effects. The knotty pine kitchen cabinets and avocado appliances are hopelessly outdated, and each bathroom contains unique color palettes, with teal and pink fixtures coordinated to match the tile. When Pop’s and Gram lived here, the original decor felt nostalgic, but now, it just feels old.
I hurry us outside to show her the backyard, which shares a border with a well-maintained city park. I want to end this tour on a positive note.
"**This** will sell the house.” Lacy gushes as she takes in the view.
“However,” she purses her lips as she turns toward me. “It needs major updates, Ashley. Kitchens and bathrooms sell houses and right now…” she frowns like a toddler while waddling her head and I picture dumping catnip in her hair before letting Lumpy loose.
“As I said,” I remind her in an overly sweet, slightly patronizing voice, “I’m meeting with Jake tomorrow.”
“Then the house is in good hands!” She theatrically throws up her perfectly manicured nails and offers one more air kiss before walking back to her car.
Before I leave, I take another walk through the house. My dad and Candy have cleaned out most of the belongings. The furniture is in storage and, eventually, I’ll have to decide if I should keep or sell it. Perhaps it’s the emptiness or being here for the first time since pops died, but my heart is heavy as I shuffle across the matted carpet in the living room.
Returning to the floral bedroom, my chest tightens as grief envelopes me. This is where I got to know the mother I didn’t have long enough, where I listened to her vinyl records and read her dog-eared books. I am selling the only thing I have left of her. As I walk out the doorway, I’m tempted to look over my shoulder one more time to take it in. Instead, I swallow my guilt, reminding myself this is just a room in a building and she hasn’t lived here in decades.
When I get home, Candy and Roger have returned and are in the kitchen making dinner. Well, Candy is cooking. Roger is watching. The idea of Roger in an apron is hilarious.
“Roger!” I gush and stoop down to scratch his ears. Roger is a yellow lab and almost as beautiful as Lumpy.
“Do you ever greet humans first?” Candy chuckles while stirring something creamy on the stove.
“Candy, oh my sweet, Candy!” I drape my arms around her neck and kiss her cheek repeatedly as I hop up and down, practically humping my poor step-mom. “I’ve missed you so much!”
This is no lie. I really do love Candy. She raised me, and well, I might add.
“I’m making your favorite.” She smiles brightly as she opens up the oven, the scent of fresh baked garlic bread filling my nose. “Fettuccini.”
Oh, God. Carbs. And creamy, garlicy carbs which are second best only to sugary carbs. All of which are a big no-no unless I want to have two Tax ID’s assigned to my ass.
“That smells amazing,” I smile back and decide to address the food issue later.
Sitting around the dinner table, I load half my plate with salad, a small amount of pasta and no bread, which my dad instantly notices.
“Aren’t you eating?”
I knew this would happen. Part of being my dad’s girl has been indulging our bad food habits together.
“Dad, I’ve been trying to eat healthier in recent months. I put on some weight with the divorce and I want to lose it.”
“You look beautiful.” He reminds me firmly. “You always have.”
“When are you going to see Matt and the girls?” Candy interjects. She has mastered the art of step-parent diplomacy.
“I’m going over for dinner tomorrow.” I smile genuinely. I can’t wait to see them, even my annoyingly perfect sister-in-law.
“Don’t take Lumpy.” Dad warns.
“Why not?” I ask, affronted.
“Rain will probably eat her. That kid puts everything in her mouth.”
Rain is my toddler niece. My brother and his wife, Skye, chose nature names for their children. It could be worse, I suppose.
“Ashley did the same thing at that age.” Candy reminds him. “She turned out fine.”
Except, I still put everything in my mouth. It’s why I’m so fat.
“Speaking of Lumpy, is she still sleeping?”
Suddenly I feel terrible for not thinking of my cat every waking minute. I’m fairly confident she thinks of me all the time.
“She’s awake. I took her some water and food,” Dad reassures me.
I finish my meal quickly, a bad habit according to the weight loss experts, but I want to see my cat, who has awoken to new surroundings. I throw my dishes in the dishwasher and hurry up the stairs which leaves me breathless because I’m such an out of shape pig.
“Lumpy!” I coo as I open the door to my room and see her stretch languidly while yawning. “There’s my beautiful girl!”
She lays on the floor and reaches skyward while I rub her belly and do my best Lumpy Space Princess voice which sounds like a chain smoker with a valley accent.
“Oh, my glob! She’s so full of lumps! She has to fight ‘em off ‘cause she’s so fabulous!”
Lumpy rolls around for a few more minutes before bumping her head against my hand, because she loves me. My cat is so amazing.
“Let’s go for a walk.” I smile, and she squints her eyes at me making my heart melt.
I grab her special cat leash and scoop her into my arms before going downstairs. She knows how to use stairs, but I like to spoil her.
Dad and Candy don’t remark on the weirdness of my walking a cat. Instead, I harness Lumpy and lead her out the door.
As soon as I leave our driveway, I remember why I loved this neighborhood as a kid. It’s full of well-maintained family homes a stone’s throw from a park, library and the school I attended. I remember Matt and I riding our bikes under tree-lined sidewalks, experiencing a mostly idyllic childhood despite the loss of our mother. As corny as the town motto is, it really did feel like the ‘sweetest place on earth’ as a kid.
I head to the park, past the swimming pool. It’s a warm day and cold water sounds like heaven, but I would probably empty the pool if I jumped in. Instead, we walk under the trees near the playground. We stop when Lumpy sees a bird and I watch as she wiggles her butt, pretending she is going to pounce. We both know she won’t because she’s so enormous. It’s okay. We all have our fantasies.
Speaking of… Holy hell, who is that walking the husky? It’s like a break in the clouds has caused sunlight to shine provincially onto Cocoa avenue and I’m blatantly staring at a model who strolled off a nearby shoot.
Walking toward me, down the other side of the street, is a perfect male specimen with the most amazing smile as he talks aloud to his pooch. He seems to be coaxing his furry companion, not yanking on the leash like some evil douchebag owners tend to. Realizing his dog stopped for a reason, he waits patiently as the dog does his thing and, the nice guy he is, gives the pup a treat before taking a bag out of his pocket and cleaning up. My dream man is generous and tidy.
I cannot get enough as I try to take it all in: tall with dark hair - which I’m partial to despite my being blonde - and muscular but not in an obsessive gym rat kind of way. He looks naturally strong. Damn, I bet he can move.
Of course, because I’m too busy staring at his body like the sex starved psychopath I am, it takes me a full minute to realize he’s looking my direction and smiling. I glance down at Lumpy for confirmation.
“Are you seeing this?”
Lumpy is too busy staring at a chipmunk to answer. Still, I’m certain **this** man could not possibly be smiling at **me**.
Feeling a little self-conscious, I chance another look as I start walking and the dude offers me a wave. I scan the area as deftly as possible and see no one else is around. I suppose he could be extraordinarily near-sighted. Not wanting to be asocial, I offer the smallest wave before scooping up my cat and heading back to my parents’ home.
I also try to recall which box contains my vibrator collection because that stranger will be fueling my sexual fantasies until the batteries wear out.
I woke up fat today. It probably shouldn’t surprise me every morning, but it does. That’s what happens when you grow up thin, before putting on fifty pounds in a decade. It feels like a fat suit you can’t take off.
I also wake up horny. Despite finding my vibrator collection the night before and using my favorite, I still have the husky owner on my mind. I like to fantasize about men, but only those I don’t know. Otherwise, it feels like stalking. I also like to fantasize about me with a perfect body. I have a whole Pinterest board devoted to bodies I wish were mine.
Picturing me with a tiny waist and the husky man with no clothes, I reach for the device I threw under a pillow the night before. My favorite vibrator is really weird looking. It has a rabbit at the top and a shaft with a bulbous tip, but it must have been invented by a gynecologist because it can get me off in less than five minutes. This is useful because the humming tends to alert Lumpy who thinks the thing moving around under the sheets is something for her to pounce on. I love my cat, but she’s a buzzkill when she infringes on my sex life.
I have another mini vibe that you can wear on your fingertip. It was advertised on Amazon as a personal massager for headaches, but everyone in the reviews was using it as a vibrator. If you ever want a good laugh, read Amazon reviews for sex toys. They are hysterical.
My third vibe is a large, complicated contraption with multiple types of movement and vibration. I don’t use it much because its porn actor size and if I eventually have sex with someone other than myself, I don’t want him to feel like he’s waiving a stick in a cave. I also have to be careful because the buttons are sensitive, and I’ve found it turned on a few times when I laid it down carelessly. I think it scares the hell out of Lumpy.
Poor Lumpy has no sex life. We took care of that possibility as soon as she was old enough for surgery.
I know describing my vibrator collection makes me sound like a giant pervert, and maybe I am, but my soon-to-be ex-husband is partly to blame.
Edward’s nickname is Ed, the same letters as the acronym for erectile dysfunction, which is appropriate given that it’s why we’re divorcing. Because e.d. ended my marriage, I know almost everything about it. Erectile dysfunction is the inability to achieve or maintain an erection. It affects half of men over age forty and Ed was forty when we got married. There are medications for it, but Ed refused to take them because he insisted it wasn’t unusual and happened only occasionally. Unfortunately, each of those occasions were with me.
The e.d. showed up during our engagement. Ed blamed it on the stress of the wedding, which was confusing because we had a simple service with less than twenty people attending. Our honeymoon, which I imagined would be hours of lovemaking was anything but. The couple of times I sexually assaulted him, he went soft after a couple of thrusts.
I worried he had health problems. Another thing I know about e.d. is that it’s an issue with blood vessels and if the highway down south is clogged, it might be clogged up north as well. I requested Ed see a cardiologist. He did, and we found out he was in top notch health. No traffic jams anywhere. Worse, he only lost the ability with me. On his own, apparently there was no problem.
A few months into my marriage, the only sex my husband and I were having was in solitude. Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with masturbation. I haven’t stopped since I was a teenager and figured the whole thing out, but I didn’t marry a man I was attracted to so I could rub them out on my own all the time.
I should mention that Ed is a psychologist and very good at explaining a situation in a way that gives him an advantage. The problems in our marriage where not his erectile dysfunction, he insisted. I was stressed by comprehensive exams, my dissertation, my ailing grandfather. It was never him. I probably was stressed by those things, but my lack of a sex life – with anyone other than myself – was also a major source of stress.
Orgasms, on the other hand, are a great stress reliever. These days, I masturbate to replace the high I used to get from food. Without sugar and carbs, my body has been desperate for dopamine and there are far worse ways to handle withdrawal. I consider it a kind of public service.
I hop down the stairs for breakfast, happily post coital until I see my Dad in the kitchen making pancakes. This is bad because, one, seeing any parent too soon after sex is disturbing and, two, because I know the pancakes he is making are for me. Damnit, Doug.
“Dad, you don’t need to make me breakfast,” I gently chastise him as I kiss his cheek.
“Who said these were for you?” He laughs because the stack is enormous. He heaps two piles onto plates and sets them on the table next to syrup, another thing I can’t eat.
Grabbing a coffee, I try to figure out the best tactic to address the issue without hurting my dad’s feelings.
“Maybe I should cook for you.” I offer.
I open the fridge and find eggs, which are on my good food list, but the only vegetables are celery, which looks old, and iceberg lettuce, which is essentially water. I decide to make scrambled eggs. Maybe the protein will prevent my blood sugar from skyrocketing. As I whisk eggs, Dad sits down to his pancakes looking only slightly disappointed.
“What’s on the agenda today?” He asks before pouring a boatload of syrup onto his plate.
“I’ve got class this morning. Then I have an appointment to meet Jake at the house this afternoon.”
“Sounds good. Do you know how much you want to put into the house?”
“I’m thinking about half of my alimony settlement.”
I’m a little uncomfortable sharing details about this. Dad doesn’t know that Ed paid me off with a hundred thousand dollars rather than face years of alimony. Ed may have had e.d but he also had a substantial salary, whereas I was in school most of our marriage. It didn’t bode well for him in our divorce. I feel only slightly bad about taking the money, because I’m still mad at his penis.
“Jake will help you figure that out,” my dad reassures me.
“I’m sure he will or Matt will kick his ass,” I joke.
“Matt won’t have to do any such thing. Jake’s a good guy.”
This is true. The thing about my brother being such a great person is that his friends tend to be great also. I really should have dated one of them instead of marrying e.d., I mean Ed. However, Jake would have been one of the last of his friends I would have considered.
My dad is right; Jake has always been a really nice guy, but he was kind of a nerd when we were growing up. I don’t think he hit puberty until after high school and most people thought he was twelve when he left for college because he was so short. He was also chubby, not that I hold that against anyone. Basically, he was a super nice person who happened to be a disaster physically, kind of like I am now. Unfortunately, this makes me feel better about seeing him today because my ego is so deflated lately.
I serve eggs to Dad and I, which he eats without complaint. Fortunately, he eats in record time, so by the time I finish my eggs, Dad’s leaving the kitchen and I can throw away my pancakes in secret. I’m a little sad about it because I really love pancakes, at least my mouth does. The rest of my body hates them.
It’s a thirty-minute drive to a community college in Harrisburg where a former member of my doctoral faculty now teaches. She’s agreed to hire me for the summer as an adjunct, allowing me to earn a little extra money. During the academic year, I teach in the Penn State system as an associate professor. I’ve been lucky to be assigned online English courses at Penn State, but I am less lucky here. I have to schlep to this campus twice a week for my summer class. Maybe it will be good for me. I do a lot of snacking at my computer when I teach online.
Driving into campus, I take in the surroundings. I’ve never worked at a community college before and I’m surprised at how pretty it looks. I guess I have a stereotype about them being dilapidated since the tuition is so much cheaper. Looking around, I can’t help but wonder if the other schools are just overpriced.
The walk takes a while because there aren’t any good parking spots and I have to haul my fat ass farther than I want. I can be incredibly lazy about walking. I’ll circle a lot several times rather than walk. Of course, I show up a little sweaty to her building because my body is so over-insulated.
I’m not nervous about teaching freshman composition. I taught it every semester as a graduate assistant during my doctoral program, but I can tell as I walk into the classroom that this is a different group. I don’t see the young, polished, overly ambitious types that were at my pricey grad school, which is where I racked up my debt. These students are of varying ages, at least one older than I am, and they are dressed modestly, many in comfortable shoes, which I will have to do next time because my feet are killing me in heels.
“Good morning,” I greet them and a few smile back. Too many look tired and like they don’t want to be here. I decide to help them wake up.
“Welcome to organic chemistry.” I announce in a clear voice as I unload papers from my bag. “We will start today with a pop quiz to help me assess your readiness. This well be included in your final grade, so please, do your best.”
Glancing up, I see their horror-stricken faces, a few glancing at each other in confusion, and I try not to laugh. I am such a sick fuck.
“Forgive me.” I mock surprise as I look at my schedule. “This is, in fact, Introductory Composition. Welcome. I’m Dr. Madison.”
“Let’s see who we have joining us today.” I take out the roster and know I am going to butcher most of the names, because a few decades ago, parents largely stopped using normal names in their desperate attempt at creativity. Unfortunately, their kids pay the price. I glance at the list and try not to roll my eyes. Knowing this is awkward for them also, I try to help.
“Please correct me if I mispronounce or if you go by another name. Soosin?”
I pronounce it as Susan and a young woman raises her hand. I mentally pat myself on the back for getting it right.
I look up and find an ambitiously fashionable woman with extremely long nails offering a nod.
I pronounce it as Leia, like princess Leia, who is awesome by the way.
“It’s Luh-dash-uh,” she corrects me and I look at the name again. She explains further. “You say the dash.”
“Got it.” I make a note and move on.
Oh, you have to be kidding me. Honey Pie?
I look up questionably and a woman whose legs are propped up on the desk in front of her raises her hand. “Honey Pie.”
Finally, I see a normal name.
I scan the room and someone with chin length hair and a baggy shirt, shyly raises a hand.
“I go by Shay.”
I smile and write “T” next to the name, as I’m pretty sure Shay is trans and I should learn about the LGBTQ center on campus.
There are a few more normal names on the list, including an Ashley, because everybody loves the name, including lewd dating websites.
“Alright. Let’s get started.”
I pass out the syllabus and start to do my thing when a young man wearing a hat nearly covering his eyes saunters in and collapses into a chair in the back.
“Name, please?” I ask him.
I’m immediately picturing the turtles from Mario Bros and wonder what kind of psychotropics his parents used when they chose the name. As I scan the list for unchecked names, I think I’ve found a match.
“Yeah.” He crosses his arms and I realize he brought nothing to class, not even a pencil. This should be interesting.
Class goes fairly well. I take a little more time explaining course expectations and mentally adjusting mine, because I have a feeling this group will be like nothing I have taught before.
Of course, I am starving when class is over because I threw away half of my breakfast, and now the fast food restaurants are calling my name, loudly. I grit my teeth and take a packed lunch out of my bag, munching on a turkey cheese roll up and celery as I drive home. God, I miss burgers and fries. Oh, and milkshakes. Those go great with burgers and fries.
As soon as I’m home I strip out of my uncomfortable work clothes and look for something to wear to the house. I don’t want to make the same mistake I made with Lacey, so I find a comfortable, but not too casual, ensemble. Getting dressed, I’m grateful I had the lighter lunch because I can button my pants without denting my intestines. I actually have a little room in the waistband. Thank you, Baby Jesus.
I’m not religious. I just like the idea of Jesus, especially cute, little baby Jesus.
Since I haven’t seen Lumpy in hours I brush her and pet her until she’s sick of me, then I head to my grandparent’s house. I’m early, so I kill time looking around the yard. It was beautifully landscaped when I was a kid, surrounded by flowers planted by my Gram. A large oak tree shades most of the backyard and I remember camping under it with Matt.
Pops and Gram did those sorts of things with us, while sharing tales of how they did the same with our mother when she was young. They were the keepers of her history and it felt special when they opened that treasure chest for Matt and I. To a certain extent, I wish I could keep the house, but if I make enough money of the resale, I might be able to clear my college debt, which is the proverbial albatross around my neck.
I’m staring at the oak tree and thinking of my mom when I hear a car pull into the driveway. Curiously, I walk around the side of the house and freeze when I see him. Husky owner, the guy I’ve been jerking off to, is in the front yard peering into my empty car. This makes zero sense. Good looking men do not follow overweight women. My mind races and the answer it formulates causes me to stop breathing for a minute.
Oh my god! He’s stalking me! This tragically beautiful man stalks fat people. What if he eats fat people, like some sort of Jeffrey Dahmer or Hannibal Lector with a fat fetish? I guarantee, if I were on a plane that went down in the Andes mountains and the passengers had to eat someone to stay alive, I would win that lottery. I could probably feed them for a week. Maybe this guy wants to feast on me for a week.
I notice a truck in the driveway with a decal for Moore Construction on the door. Thank God, Jake is here! The cab is empty, so he must be in the house. I left the front door unlocked in case he arrived when I was outside. I tiptoe to the back door, so the cannibal doesn’t hear me and quietly enter the house.
“Jake?” I whisper scream because I’m almost hyperventilating in fear. I hear a creak in the living room and repeat his name a little louder. “Jake?”
I’m so relieved to hear a familiar voice I want to cry as I hustle into the living room.
“Jake, thank God you’re here, there’s a really creepy…”
I stop mid-sentence, unable to speak or move, because the husky owner is standing in the foyer smiling at me.