I was born fat. From dust to dust, they say, but had they seen me on my day I arrived into the nurse’s arms, perhaps the saying would be less about dust and more about the strength of woman to bear such an enormous child for nine months, much less give birth to one. A far less pithy phrase, but nonetheless true when it came to me. Perhaps there was a much skinnier child born somewhere else who had properly sized legs and slender arms that he flailed around as he screamed his first breath of air. Maybe God had seen him and thought babies ought to be fatter, and since I was next in line, He overcompensated in His generosity and gave me an extra dose of fat. Of course, being a fat baby isn’t necessarily a problem. Fat babies are cute. They have pudgy cheeks and button noses, like miniature Santa clauses without beards and half the jolliness.
With all the crying babies do, you would expect they’d be much thinner. Screaming and crying burns an awful lot of calories. Not that I scream and cry to lose weight now. That would be silly for a thirty five year old woman. At this age, we are much more sophisticated, and prefer sweating off the pounds in hot rooms full of red-faced women, puffing and struggling on stationary bicycles. We work very hard to get nowhere. Then when we are tired of the bikes and anxious energy, we insist yoga is the way to go, and stretch our bodies into all kinds of useless shapes to create a slender line from head to toe. The silence in the rooms is worse than my shaking arms as I lift my body off the floor into downward dog. I am an expert in all kinds of exercise. Pilates, tai chi, home workout videos, tennis, plain old running, all of it. I have tried everything I could afford and been quite faithful, too. Every class I have made friends who inspire me with their sweaty smiles and toned stomachs, and tell me that I, too, will look like them if I keep coming to every session.
So I come.
And when I see little change, I quit.
My friends don’t keep in touch afterwards.
I understand by now that I am their pet project, the one fat girl in the class who doesn’t reek of desperation. I’m friendly and funny, and even attractive in some ways. I might not look sleek in yoga pants, but they say I have a sunny disposition and a quick wit. For that, at least, I should be grateful. I like to think that it was that particularly sunny disposition of mine that brought him into my life.
He said he liked my smile. He said he liked the way my eyes became all squinty and my dimples showed. He said I had pretty hands and pretty hair. He said that I smelled really nice. I had met him while drinking coffee one morning at a cafe near my office. The cup was a pale lavender color. I remember clearly, because he was wearing a tie that same color and I thought it looked nice.
« One Latte, please,» he said, smiling at the barista taking his order. I sipped my coffee and glanced at him over the rim of my mug. He leaned against the counter and looked around the small cafe. I had never seen him before. This was my territory; I came nearly every morning to have my customary mocha, and even every lunch break if I could manage it. I knew the regulars here, and this man was not one of them.
Perhaps it had been the force of my curiosity, beaming from my eyes I tried to keep half hidden behind my coffee cup. Perhaps he had been watching me, too, and noticed I was staring. Perhaps it had been the mysterious magic of the universe concentrating all in that one second to make destiny happen. Whatever it had been, our eyes met in one electrifying moment, and I felt a thrill run through my whole body, every last wobbling, overweight, inch of me.
He smiled. I kept my cup to my lips though I wasn’t drinking anything and watched with an emotion close to anxiety as he came towards me.
« May I sit here? » he asked, indicating the one other chair by my table. I nodded, finally putting the mug carefully on the table in front of me.
He seated himself, adjusting his lavender tie slightly around the collar. I liked the color.
He asked my name. I told him. I asked his. He told me.
«Frank, » he said, with another friendly smile. He had good cheekbones and long eye lashes.
I smiled back, and said, « Nice to meet you. »
« Cute dimples, » Frank said.
« One latte! » the barista hollered from behind the counter.
« Ah, that’s me, » said Frank. He stood up and picked up his drink. It was in a to-go cup. Before he walked out the door, he paused and looked back at me, « Are you here often? »
« See you again sometime, then, » he said. And then he took his square shoulders and fine waist out with him through the door and into his car, which drove away.
We saw each other the next morning at the same table. I arrived first, ordered my customary mocha, and settled into my usual seat. A few minutes later, Frank showed up, saw me, smiled, and came and sat without asking. The next day the same thing happened. And then the next after next. We talked easily, and laughed often. I found myself drinking skinny lattes like Frank instead of mochas, and perhaps I was imagining it, but I felt lighter than before. I was taking squash classes by now, and my partner was a tall, fit blonde high school girl who was taking squash because her mother had insisted. We talked well in between sets and made a decent team. By the end of the week, she knew all about Frank and said, « either talk to him and get his number or I’m going to go and steal him first. » Teenagers these days have no respect.
I never got around to asking Frank for his number. We met at the cafe as usual at nine am. I ordered a latte. Frank did the same. He paid for us both. We sat ourselves at the usual table and I opened the conversation by asking what his weekend plans were. It was Friday morning now.
« Ah, « Frank said. He paused, and took a sip of his drink. I waited, holding my own mug in my chubby hands.
« Well, funny you should ask, » he said slowly. « I was hoping – «
At that moment, the front cafe door opened with a rather loud bang. A strong wind blew through and lifted my bangs clear off my forehead. We both looked up to see a woman stride inside, looking completely unapologetic for her brusque entrance. I smoothed my hair back down and turned to Frank to continue our conversation, but Frank looked odd. He continued to stare at the woman. So I looked at her once more. I noticed some new things this time. I noticed that she was quite tall and had long legs encased in well-fitted, denim jeans. She had long hair and slender arms. Her waist was slender, too.
« One Americano. » she said briskly at the counter.
It was a mimicry of my meeting with Frank. The woman turned to take in the little cafe’s interior, and her sight fell onto the man sitting across from me. I imagine she saw me as well, since I take up so much space, but perhaps people like her only notice other people like her. Tall, fit, well-dressed people with defined jaw-lines. People like Frank. She smiled a rather cat-like smile in his direction. She didn’t have dimples. Frank didn’t smile back, but continued to look at her with that strange expression. I wondered if he had fallen into a catatonic state, hypnotized by this woman’s perfect proportions and fox eyes.
« Well, » I said, in an attempt to salvage my dignity. « I think I should go now. Have a good weekend. »
Frank turned to look at me as I stood. He seemed to move in slow motion, his eyes moving first, then his head, then his attention. He opened his mouth to say something, put out his hand as though to reach out for me, but I turned away.
« Bye, » I said, firmly, then cut across the silent, instant drama playing out in front of me. I imagined I was some kind of living wall of human woman, slicing apart whatever connection had sizzled into reality between this tall intruder and my Frank. But no matter how big I was, no matter how much of me I wedged in between these two people, I was too small and insignificant.
I left the cafe and I didn’t return for another three months.
I suppose saving money on my daily mochas inspired me to use this money on another class. Swimming became my morning routine instead and I continued doing squash in the evenings. Squeezing into a swimsuit every day at seven am instead of indulging in a hot, steamy mocha was one of the hardest things I had ever made myself do. But seeing Frank meet that woman in my cafe would be even harder. So I poked my flabby arms into the elastic suit and swam.
My friends smiled and sweated as I sweated and smiled back in my Zumba classes during lunch hours. They liked me a whole lot more nowadays. My mother said I was fading away. I said that I didn’t know what that meant and refused to take home her famous lasagnas because I insisted that I had no refrigerator space. I stayed out of my house as much as I could, running errands, meeting friends, watching movies, going for bike rides, shopping. I never found time to stop by my favorite cafe, which was alright because I never got Frank’s phone number and he had never asked for mine so there would be no rendezvous there anyway.
It was a Friday afternoon when my squash partner called me. « I can’t make it to class today, » she said apologetically, «I’ve got a big exam I need to study for. » Sure, I replied, I understand. « Maybe you can go on a Friday night date with you know who instead, » she said coyly. I realized suddenly that I had never told her that I hadn’t seen Frank in months. Good idea, I said and hung up.
I finished work and walked my usual route home. I sometimes took a bus. Sometimes I took a bike. But today the evening air was sweet and balmy, and having no squash class to get to, I figured I could use the extra exercise.
As I drew nearer to my home, I saw my cafe on the corner of the street. The sun had fully dropped and the lights looked so inviting. It had been such a long time, I reasoned. Perhaps I’ll get a mocha. Or a latte. I had missed them a latte. I chuckled to myself.
The bell rang lightly as I pushed open the door. It all looked the same. It smelled the same. The espresso machine was grinding coffee beans and the counter was empty. The barista must have stepped into the backroom for a moment.
I turned to my little table and felt a not entirely unpleasant drop in my stomach when I noticed it had an occupant. Glancing back at the empty counter, I figured I would wait for the barista and take a seat at my favorite spot. Just for a short while, I reasoned to myself.
Frank didn’t look up from his book until I was nearly standing directly in front of him.
«Hello, » I said. I shifted my feet slightly.
Frank’s eyes flicked upwards at me. Then he blinked rapidly and stood up suddenly. We looked at each other for a moment. The espresso machine stopped grinding, and the Bossa nova music that played faintly around the cafe was too loud in my ears.
«It’s been quite a while, » he said. His voice was warm. He was taller than I remembered. But he wasn’t smiling. His expression was searching and he looked slightly puzzled. He clearly never expected to see me again. I was a little hurt. We looked at each other for another moment. The barista returned to the counter. I could hear the clinking of mugs knocking together as she restocked the cupboard.
«Excuse me, » said Frank, «I was just surprised to see you. You look… » he paused and gave me another searching look. «Different, » he finished.
I wasn’t sure how to accept that. I shrugged and gave a noncommittal smile.
«You’ve still got the dimples, I see, » he said with a smile in return. «Nice to know some things never change. »
Now I felt sure there was a hidden insult in his words.
I stopped smiling. Frank wasn’t shaken. He made a gesture to the seat across from him. I sat gingerly. It was suddenly much warmer in the cafe, particularly around my face.
Seated, looking at each other across the small table, it was an expanse of unspoken words. I wanted to ask him if he was still seeing that skinny woman. I wanted to know if he had come to this cafe every day hoping I would show up. But most of all, I wanted to ask if he was glad to see me right now. Ta-da, I wanted to say, throwing my hands into the air and doing a tap number on the table. Look at me! How long it’s been! And now you can see me again. Surprise! But I held my hands politely in my lap and waited for him to say something first. I was always good at waiting. Waiting to see if all my workouts made me lose weight. Waiting to see my diets take effect. Waiting for my exercise friends to call me for a night out. Waiting for someone to notice how unhappy I was.
Frank opened the conversation.
«How have you been? You’ve lost an awful lot of weight. I didn’t recognize you at first. »
I wasn’t even aware I had looked any different. I looked down at myself involuntarily and saw the same uncertain, oversized girl full of false bravado and fragile hopes.
« You look good, » he said quickly. « I just didn’t know it was you. You haven’t been ill, have you? »
Ill? I briefly thought back the past three months. Had I been?
«I was wondering if you’d show up here again, » He added, smiling slightly. «I’ve been wanting to tell you something all this while but I didn’t have a way to contact you. »
My attention returned in full.
« I’ll just say it now, because who knows when I’ll run into you here again, » he said. « But I had hoped we could get dinner together sometime. That is, » he gave a wry smile, « if you eat food anymore. »
Now. There are sensations that are hard to explain. That relief when you fall into bed after a long, long day. The momentary gravity-less second as you hang midair jumping from a swing at full height. The invisible sound of snow falling.
« Alright, » I said. « I’m tired of coffee, anyway. »
Frank smiled. He asked for my phone number.
« I’ll call you, » he said, standing up. I gazed up towards him from my seat.
« Ok, » I said.
The cafe was empty of people, but full of warmth. We walked towards the front door, and soon the cafe was empty of me and Frank, too.
But we met for dinner the next night. Me and somebody who kept me laughing and talking all night. I ate a whole lot. A full meal in a long time. And I enjoyed it thoroughly.