Ooooooof. So much to say about this series so far!
First off, your writing style is amazing. Love your descriptions, internal dialogue, and intricacies of the plot. It's so juicy, it's like a soap opera I can't stop binge watching.
I was not prepared for how much I would like Darrell! Especially since I'm not really rooting for Mia right now and haven't been for quite sometime. (I have faith you'll turn that around though, if that's your plan.) I also love how you make your characters distinct via dialogue and vernacular. Can't wait for the next installment!
There’s an inevitable point in life where there’s nothing coming to look forward to.
All the good, all the excitement, all the joy is behind you. Everyone reaches it one day. Whether it comes late, not till you’re 89, you stop talking for a couple days, stop eating, and everyone knows it’s about a weeklong wait till your death. Or whether it comes early, not necessarily in age, but long before your death finally comes. If you know you’ve reached that point, and you’re not expecting anything good left to come, life is a long slog.
A slow torturous exhausting trek to reach nothing in particular, just to pass time.
When things are good, people tell you to savor the in between moments, not to get too focused on waiting for things you’re excited about. If you’re a teenager, they tell you, ‘don’t get too excited about moving out, these are the best years of your life’, if you’re single they tell you, ‘don’t feel you’re just waiting to get into a relationship, these are the moments you’ll look back on and miss when you find one’.
But perhaps feeling like you’re constantly waiting, is human nature. Even if you have nothing at the other end of the wait to look forward too, the sensation of waiting remains. When you’re aimless, the brain interprets that to mean you’re waiting. If you’re searching frantically for something to do, something to fill the time with, that must mean you’re waiting for something. Even if when you step away from that feeling and wrack your thoughts for what exactly it is, you’re waiting for, you remember, oh right there’s nothing on the other side of this time I’m killing. I’m just searching for something to do, to pass the time till death.
That wasn’t quite true right now, he was frenetically searching for a way to pass the time, not till death, but till his flight back to Chicago tomorrow. Him and Rachel both, had no idea what to do now that their dad was in the house again.
It wasn’t having his dad home that bothered him. It wasn’t seeing how permanently fatigued he was. Or hearing him continue to try and act normal, picking fights about politics with Rachel, for fun it seemed now, not their heated ones of old.
No, it was hearing Rachel attempt to make plans with him for the near future. Even the things they’d discussed last night together, the plans they made for making things easier for him once they left. So optimistic, so meticulous, so utterly useless sounding now as they were pouring out of her mouth for a man who’d so clearly checked out. So clearly realized, he’d reached his point. The point where you realize, it’s all downhill from here. It’s definitely not at the peak of your mountain, more like somewhere halfway down, just before the decline gets too steep to keep walking. To do anything but fall, lose all sense of control.
It was okay though.
He wasn’t in that moment anymore. He’d opted out. He couldn’t stand being in that house a second longer. He realized he was bad for leaving, but it felt like his head was on fire back there. Or like his skin was covered in ants. He was that mentally uncomfortable, watching the display of sickness, of slow decline.
Honestly, if he were in his dad’s boat he’d probably just want to die right now. There’s no need to sit around for a year, waiting. Trying to be healthy, trying to be better, not for hope that things will improve, but just to get more time to sit around and search for things to do to pass that time.
But he could breathe again now, because he’d found his haze.
His thing to blur the moment. The lovely combination of 5mgs of Ativan, Rachel’s rental car full of liquor they’d ‘thrown away’, and the ability to drive around to buy whatever he wanted to eat. Ativan wasn’t what he was looking for, he was hoping to find Xanax, texting all his old contacts all morning in a fog starved hunt. And this was all he could find. He’d only heard of it from the time one of his old buddies from college got committed to a mental hospital/rehab clinic and they’d dosed him heavily with Ativan and Seroquel. It had seemed incredibly bizarre and counterintuitive, rehabs drugging people to the point of being barely able to speak? For what? But his friend’s description of how he felt, made him curious enough to jot down the names of both medications.
His sense of time had lost its edges.
His skin tingled, and he felt like a philosopher. Moments faded from memory seconds after they’d happened. So, he found himself at that Cajun restaurant beside his old job, sitting on three tiny little chairs pushed together, what he had ordered already completely forgotten.
And the urge hit him to talk to Mia.
“I wanna tell you about my dream.”
“Like dream dream? Like asleep or like your goals?”
“Ha noooo don’t be silly, I don’t have any goal dreams. Not really. I’m not fuckin’…like thinking I’m gonna be a rock star or a famous author or something. I live in reality. I’m not fuckin’ sixteen. Haha. You know? It’s like… you get to a point in life where you realize, there’s no likelihood of living in dreams. In anyone’s dreams. Yeah. Um, haha yeah what was I talking about?”
“Umm, you were going to tell me about the dream you had?”
“Oh yeah! So, I think that when we die… or not even just when we die, but also every so often this just happens for no reason. We get transferred into a new dimension. And this can happen at any point randomly, right? Like this is why people have psychotic breaks, this is why some people are just fucking weird or like schizophrenic, okay. Because they’ve gotten to experience other dimensions. Just for a bit. And in my dream, I got flipped into one. And it was terrible, but beautiful. I can’t explain what it looked like. It was so vivid, nothing worked like how it does here, energy was used differently. And I didn’t understand anything. I couldn’t. It was too new, too alien. Everything I tried, didn’t work, didn’t turn out how I thought it would. Everything I touched-- …Oh shit wow, that is a lot. Oh god, how embarrassing,” his voice dropped to a mumble.
The food arrived on a huge round over-packed tray, usually reserved for when waiters try to bring everything out at once for large groups of people. But instead of resting it on a stand, to pass out each dish to each individual person, the waitress just gave him the entire tray.
Since everything there was for him, after all.
“Where are you?”
“By downtown,” he said chewing loudly, “like kinda in Deep Ellum.”
“I mean what are you doing?”
“Nothing… I mean I’m just… overeating in public. Haha… making a spectacle of myself. It’s kinda disgusting… Not the food, I mean. The food’s pretty amazing.”
“You never eat in public anymore.”
“I know… but I’m reasonably fucked up right now on these pills, so it’s okay.”
“Are you okay?? Ugh you’re freaking me out. I want to come see you, but I can’t. You don’t sound okay. It’s scaring me.”
“Aww is it? You’re so fucking adorable.”
“Does your family know where you are?”
“Nah, I had to be all sneaky and take Rachel’s keys. I’m quite impressed with myself honestly.”
“Are you going to drive back after this?”
“Not right away. It’s fine, don’t be worried about me. I’m fine.”
She sighed and said nothing.
“Hey, I miss you. You know, that right?”
She laughed, “No I genuinely didn’t know that. You don’t always act like you would.”
“Yeahhh that’s because men are fucking trash,” he found himself suddenly doing a valley girl impression, he didn’t know he knew how to do.
She laughed again, he wished he could listen to her cute little laugh on repeat. It seemed to warm his whole brain, being able to make her laugh.
“Oh my god, I never thought your voice could go up that high!”
“Yeah neither did I. I guess I’m versatile.”
He looked out at the enormous pile of food in front of him, amazed he’d managed to mindlessly eat most of it already. He was beginning to wonder whether he’d completely lost his ability to feel full. It seemed like nothing did it for him anymore.
“I wanna tell you this, while I’m still faded enough not stop myself from saying it. I’m… so glad that I have you. You know… I don’t really have anyone anymore. I don’t know what happened. Maybe I never did, I knew loads of people yeah, but not where anyone was genuinely important to me, you know? And now that my dad is going to die…and I know that’s going to shift everything…for my family. Like it’ll be de-centered now. It’s got me feeling so disconnected from the world. Untethered, it’s weird cause we were never that close or anything, I guess it’s just conceptual. I can’t explain it. But anyways, if you weren’t in my life, I think I’d completely dissociate from reality right now,” he laughs, “Cause then it’d seem like there was zero chance of having anything left to look forward to in my life. It still feels like that now really. Like all the best parts of my life are over. But because of you, there’s some chance that isn’t true. And I really need that right now. You’re— Oh wait hey ma’am, I’d like to order dessert.”
By the time he got off the phone, her heartbeat was pounding in her eyeballs. Her thoughts were racing too fast to process.
She wanted to contact his family. But had no way of finding them. Off the top of her head, she couldn’t even remember his sister’s name.
Instead, she called Katie.
“I think I’m in over my head with Scott.”
She laughed, “Why? What’s wrong with him now?”
Her voice cracked, “He’s in a really dark place right now. He’s out of town and he called saying he was high on some pills. He said all this stuff, weird stuff. I think he needs real help, like to the point where I don’t know if he’s even safe right now. And... I feel so trapped, he said that he needs me, but I don't think I can help him. I'm not even sure if I'm good for him anymore.”
Katie's tone shifted, “Um okay. Why call me about it?”
“I’m just stressed, I don’t know what I should be doing.”
“Is he in physical danger? Like call the police type danger?”
“Calm down then! I’m sure he’s fine, he’s just being how he is! You should be used to it by now.”
“He’s not like this.”
“Guess you forgot all the times you’ve complain to me about him.”
“No, but this time he sounded… like bad. Like on the verge of a breakdown.”
“Okay okay," she sighed, "But you know, what I don’t get is how you didn’t see this coming.”
“How would I?”
“Um he’s a walking red flag! Think about it from my perspective, think about the night we met him. There’s perfectly good-looking probably well-adjusted guys all over the room, and somehow you choose this sloppy drunk catastrophe, he’s talking too loud, he’s telling racist jokes, he’s bumbling into everything cause he’s too fat to function, he’s totally unable to read the room and notice that nobody cares to hear him ramble on about how many drugs he took in college. He’s a total caricature of a person, like a comedy sketch roasting American tourists or something. I only helped you win him over, cause I thought it'd get him out of your system faster. But no, here we are two years later and you’re telling me you’re shocked that Scott’s a basket case? I’m shocked you couldn’t tell that from day one!”
She was too stunned to pull together any sensible words. She genuinely didn't see this coming. Sure Katie had moments last year, where she seemed at odds with Scott, not to this extent.
So she mumbled some gibberish and hung up.
Who else could she go to for advice?
Not her mom or her sister. They wouldn’t get it. She hadn’t spoken to any of her other friends from home in long enough that it’d be awkward to suddenly call them out of nowhere with a personal problem. Of course, if it wasn’t about Scott, she’d probably go to him and ironically, he’d probably give half-decent advice.
There was only one person left she could think of.
It’d be kinda fucked up though, wouldn’t it?
The next day, she squinted through the late afternoon sunset to see Scott’s ever-recognizable giant wobbly body sloshing towards her spot in the parking garage.
He hadn’t asked her to pick him up at the airport, but she offered last night after she got off the phone with Darrell, in accordance with his advice. She had a plan now.
He told her the only thing she can do for someone like that is get them into therapy. And she agreed, but she told him there was no way this person would ever agree to it.
As she got out of the car, Darrell’s words echoed in her head, “Get her comfortable first, you know butter her up, make her know you’re with her. Then you bring it up. Slow. Get her to suggest it to herself if you can.”
‘Her’ because she’d told him it was her sister who’d called her sounding so unnervingly self-destructive. That it was her sister who she knew would be so aggressively anti-therapy, that she’d need a full scheme to even propose the thought.
At some point, it was going to become impossibly difficult to keep up with all her lies to Darrell.
When she reached Scott, she felt a strange apprehension. Butterflies, like she’d forgotten how to be around him. She looked up, taking in his features as she debated whether to hug him. Those deep-set intense eyes, flawless straight nose and soft lips, rounded cheeks, that thick wavy hair she wished she could reach while standing to run her fingers through. He too looked hesitant, but he reached his arm around her first, crouching for better access.
It was indeed true that hugging him felt like hugging a waterbed, but she was lying to herself before when she thought that as if it were a bad thing. She never hugged him straight on anymore, now she’d stand at his side, and focus on wrapping her arms around an area of his body, rather than trying for the whole thing. Now she had one arm pressed into the middle of his chest, her hand tucked in the deep valley between his puffy breasts and the rise of his stomach. Her other hand rested on his pillowy shoulder. His love handles and side rolls bulged out against her, pushing her further away from his face than she wanted, like a fortress.
Back at the car, she reflexively walked to the passenger seat. He’d taken to sitting at a slight side angle in the driver’s seat lately, she assumed because sitting straight his belly pressed too hard into the wheel making it hard to steer. It looked dangerous, she thought, he’d be less able to see the right side.
Once they were on the highway, she asked gently, “So, how’d it all go? Are you okay?”
“It was okay. They got pretty pissed at me for disappearing on the last day but, eh. They’ll get over it.”
He’d dodged the crux of the question, “But how’s your dad?”
“It was all fine, for the most part.”
“Was it? But yesterday you said he was dying, is that… true? You hadn’t explained anything to me before.”
“Yeah it’s true, he has liver failure,” he said with little emotional affect, “Don’t be weird about it please. In fact, here’s my exchange, you keep whatever thoughts or sympathy you feel like expressing about it to yourself, and I promise I won’t get all mopey existential crisis on you again, okay?”
“Not a great deal,” she forced a smile at him, “I like knowing what’s in your head.”
He stretched out one hand and mussed up her hair, so it tumbled into her face, “Well I hope you enjoyed it while it lasted then.”
Okay, that was somewhat playful. Maybe he wasn’t annoyed by her questions then. “Do you know when you’ll visit again?”
He sighed, his voice low and flat, “Whenever he needs me too. Whenever there’s some emergency or progression of things… Though, I don’t know if I can get back there again so spur of the moment like this.”
“I need time to plan before traveling. As it turns out, planes do not work for me anymore,” he laughed deprecatingly, “At all.”
“Oh right, yeah I figured that might be an issue.”
“Yeah…I tried a few things too, flew first class the way there and that wasn’t great. Then on the way here I switched to two coach seats, and that was a little better. Except that now I had to walk through those tiny coach aisles.”
She tried to visualize him twisting and squishing himself, barely able to waddle through. She’d never seen anyone as large as him on a flight before, she couldn’t imagine how he’d squeeze through, “…Did you fit?”
“Not really,” he said in a tired tone that made it clear he was understating it, “Then the person sitting in front tried to recline and his chair wound up on me. So, he couldn’t fully recline, because I was in the way,” he touched the furthest out part of his belly absent-mindedly as he said the word I, “And naturally, he complained to a flight attendant, because god forbid, he doesn’t get his last half inch of recline. Lucky we were already in the air, so I couldn’t get kicked off the flight.”
His expression stayed neutral, “So I guess I’ll have to drive there next time, fourteen fucking hours. On a goodday. Can’t think of anything else I can do really…. Well. Other than lose weight obviously. But I’m being realistic.”
She was unsure of when exactly to broach the topic of suggesting he get a therapist. He was going to hate that so much. She knew Darrell was right that she had to get him at his most comfortable first, before he’d be willing to listen.
“What do you want to do tonight?”
He looked at her quizzically, “I thought we were just going home.”
“I want to treat you. Anything you want to do.”
“Umm hate to disappoint, but I just want to relax.”
“Come on,” she whined, “it doesn’t have to be realistic. If you could do anything right now, what would it be?”
“Hmm… I don’t know. Maybe… hang out in a hot tub. It’s that kind of weather now, where it’s cold enough outside for it to be nice, not too hot. And being in water, having those jets going, it’d be pretty fucking fantastic after that flight.”
“Okay! I’m going to find you one then!”
He gave a skeptical, bemused half smile, “What’s up with you? You’re trying to impress me again all of a sudden?”
She squinted at him, “I’m just celebrating that you’re back. There’s nothing weird about it,” then returned to scrolling her google results.
“You won’t find one. Unless we stayed at a hotel. And I am not staying at a hotel, I want to sleep in my own bed again.”
“We could always book a night at a hotel, just hang out in the hot tub for a while, then go home?” she offered.
He raised one eyebrow, suddenly looking intrigued, “Or we could do it the old-fashioned way and sneak in.”
“Sneak into a hotel??”
“Yeah,” he looked like he was enjoying her reaction, “Trust me, they won’t care.”
“I’m not sure…”
“Are you scared?” he said grinning, his eyes alight, “Don’t worry I’ll guide you. I’ve done it a couple times, it’s fun, it’s not something anyone polices really.”
She bit her lip, “Okay I trust you. Let’s find a nice one then. Like a rooftop one!”
He pulled into the lone parking spot a couple blocks away from the hotel. “We shouldn’t have picked one downtown, now we have to walk,” he grumbled quietly.
Mia ignored him, remaining firmly planted in the passenger seat as he sluggishly hoisted himself out of the car. “It says you can get arrested for trespassing! Look at this story I saw, this homeless guy snuck into a hotel pool to bathe, and the owner assaulted him! And he still went to jail for sixmonths!!”
“Yes, because he was fucking homeless.”
“So? That doesn’t mean something similar couldn’t happen to other people!”
“Homeless people get arrested for everything, they’re way over policed. They attract scrutiny just by standing around. Nobody cares when people like us do trivial things like this okay? Now are you gonna make me stand outside the car all day?”
She got out of the car, “People like us or people like you?”
He rolled his eyes, “What does that even mean? I have no benefit here that you don’t have. If anything, you’re the one with the easy time, cause I do attract some level of attention.”
That was true. People did stare at him sometimes.
He continued, “We’re just going to walk in, act relaxed, chit chat with each other, and go straight to the elevator.”
She tried to focus on Scott’s relaxed face as he cheerily talked nonsense to her about whether O’Hare or DFW airport had the better layout, and not at the intimidating workers in the glitzy lobby. Now more than ever, she wished he could walk faster.
Once they reached inside the elevator, she realized she’d been holding her breath and let it out in relief. He grabbed her shoulders, and gave them a teasing little shake, “There you go! You did it! Was that so bad?”
“We haven’t made it yet,” she said embarrassed to be such a paranoid rule-follower.
“If it needs a key card to get into the pool, search your purse as if you lost it, and someone will probably let us in.”
“Agh I thought you were doing all the acting!”
“Well I don’t have a purse, do I?”
Much to her surprise, his plan worked. Seconds after sifting through her purse, a guy on the other side of the door opened it for them.
As she stepped out onto the roof, she was amazed by the view. This building was slightly lower than the skyscrapers surrounding it, like they were nestled into a secret cityscape enclave. The night air was alight from the shimmering gold and silvery lights of the surrounding towers. The infinity pool glowed brilliant aqua, up to the edge of the roof.
She slid off her clothes, revealing her stringy bikini they stopped to buy. Scott too didn’t own swim stuff, so he wore black basketball shorts, one of the last things he had adjustable enough to still fit him. He kept his t-shirt on and sank himself into the water as is.
“Don’t you want to go in the hot tub?” she stood at the edge of the pool looking at him. He was already fully relaxed, floating on his back with his eyes closed, “Too hot,” he opened one eye to look at her, “Hey come here, I wanna tell you something.”
She squatted down by the edge, as he swam closer to her. He grabbed her wrist and dragged her into the water.
“Agh!” ice cold surrounded her. He misjudged his positioning slightly, instead of landing square into the water, she crash-landed against his belly. She grasped at his shirt to pull herself onto him like a life raft, as much out of the freezing water as possible.
He was laughing pretty hard at her reaction, until he got a good look at her, “God you’re shivering!”
“There’s a reason we’re the only people in the pool right now,” she spoke through chattering teeth.
Still amused, he trudged to the shallow end with her still clutching onto him, “It’s okay, you can use me for warmth.”
She pressed herself into him harder, as he wrapped his oversized arms around her. She pulled her knees up to her chest and held his wrists for leverage. It was very warm and comfy in that position. Completely cloaked by him, enveloped in his flab, the water barely touching her.
The guy who let them in seemed to be staring at them from where he was seated at the bar. She tried to ignore him, instead looking up at Scott’s face, the reflection of the pool water flickering onto him.
He was gazing dreamily out past the edge of the pool at the view of the city, as tiny cars raced passed disappearing behind other buildings.
“Still regret picking one downtown?”
He snickered, “Okay you were right about one thing. But I was right about the rest of this idea.”
Remaining perched atop his belly, she eased her legs back into the water. He smirked, “Ah, are you done being a pussy about the cold?”
She splashed water in his face, “Not yet! Don’t you like me hanging onto you like this?”
“Eh it’s boring. I want to race,” he said with a glint in his eyes.
She drew her head back in surprise, “You do??”
“Don’t look so shocked.”
“I just never thought I’d hear you say those words!”
“Yeah well, we haven’t been together so long that I can’t still surprise you.”
She pushed herself off of him, allowing the glacial water to lick against her arms and waist, “Let’s go then!”
They got into position at the shallow edge of the pool.
She could never keep her eyes open; the chlorine burned too much. But she could feel from the rush of water than Scott had already shot ahead of her. By the time she reached the other end of the pool and rubbed the water out of her eyes, she saw he was fully relaxed sitting under the waterfall watching her.
He fake yawned, “Finally you’re done, I’ve been waiting for hours!”
“I can’t believe you’re so fast! That’s crazy!” she exclaimed.
He rubbed the back of his neck, “Yeah I used to swim quite a bit, guess it’s like riding a bike.”
“Seriously! I never thought you could move that quickly! You should swim more often!”
He looked mildly uncomfortable all of a sudden, “I’m not that fast, you just don’t really have any technique.”
She wondered where his sudden awkwardness had come from. Was she making too big of a deal of it? She changed the subject, “Can we go in the hot tub now?”
He glanced over at it, “Yeah there’s no one in there now.”
She quickly climbed out of the pool using the pool bench and he followed, with what looked like great difficulty. Once he’d reached out, his walk was staggered, he’d gotten too used to the lack of gravity in the water. His wet shirt clung to his skin, his rolls and dimpled skin as exposed as if he’d been shirtless.
The hot tub was quite small, she realized once inside. As he eased himself in, the water rose from reaching just above her breasts to up to her neck. The smell of chlorine was even stronger here than in the pool. He filled much more of the space than she expected and kept adjusting his position on the bench. She now understood why he wanted to wait for the other people to leave.
They continued to chat, and she asked one of the people still lingering in the area to take a photo of them.
“Oh my god, this came out so perfect!” she showed him, careful not to let the water splash onto it. Their spot in the hot tub was framed beautifully by the city lights. She was tucked under Scott’s arm, with her hand rested against the side of his chest. Their size contrast was especially apparent.
After a few more minutes, once he seemed fully relaxed, resting his head on the edge of the hot tub and allowing the bubbles to massage his neck, she decided to bring up the topic. It hadn’t left her mind the entire time they’d been up there. She had reconsidered mentioning it at all, afraid it would ruin their evening. He was having such a nice time. But she reminded herself, that was the point. To make sure he was in a good mood so she could spring it on him when he’d be at his least guarded. His least defensive/reactive.
“I’ve been thinking…about a thing,” she began hesitantly.
He squinted at her curiously, with a bemused smile, “Okay... Always good to think of things. What’s up?”
“What do you think about going to therapy?” She spoke quickly, as if that would make the conversation end faster.
A confused look crossed his face, “Hmm I dunno…seems a little unnecessary, doesn’t it?”
It was simultaneously exactly what she expected him to say, but lacking all the offense and pushback she’d braced herself for. Maybe this getting him comfortable first thing was a good strategy.
“You don’t think it could help?”
He looked concerned, “With what? I mean I know you’ve been lonely since we moved here, but I hardly think a therapist could change that. Unless something else is going on that you haven’t told me about?”
She laughed quietly, understanding now why he reacted so calmly. He thought she was asking for herself. This gave her an opportunity. She could exit out this conversation completely now, and he would be none the wiser. She wasn’t sure what to say next.
He responded to her silence with increased concern, “Are you… depressed or something?”
Agh! This was off script, she had no plan for this!
He sighed, “I did notice something was up with you.”
“What do you mean?” she said, a bit peeved.
He shrugged, “I dunno, you’re distant.”
“I’m distant?!” Was he serious right now? Had he experienced the same past few months as her?
“I’m not criticizing you, it’s just something I’ve noticed,” he said cautiously, as if he were talking to a wild animal, “If anything’s wrong you should talk to me about it.”
“You must be very out of touch with your behaviors and what it’s like living with you, if you think I’m the one who’s been distant. Do you know how stressed I’ve been about you this past week? You never tell me anything! You kept a whole crisis to yourself, and only even told me because you were high and now you act like nothing happened and everything’s my fault? I think you might be actually crazy.”
He laughed unbothered, “Okay… then why do you want therapy?”
“I don’t! I meant that I think it’d be good for you!”
His expression darkened and he shifted away from her slightly, “I see. Well that’s a little ridiculous, I obviously have no use for that.”
She attempted to soften her tone, “Everyone could benefit from it. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with you. I only bring it up because you scared me so much when you called me, and it made me put together some of the things you’ve said over the whole time I’ve known you.”
“Like… that you said you think you have nothing good left in your life, but me.”
He cringed, “That meant nothing. I was very high when I said that. And mostly I was just upset about seeing how sick my dad was.”
“It’s not just that.”
“What else then?” his voice was stern and harsh. She felt like a bad student being reprimanded by a principal.
How was he so good at making her feel crazy? Before this conversation began, she’d been fully convinced that he was in a dire place and needed help. Now it felt more like she’d imagined the whole thing or made it up. But she couldn’t be completely wrong, could she? Just the fact that he was likely now back up to (if not over) six-hundred pounds would alone be enough to convince most people that he needed some form of help. She obviously couldn’t bring that up though, not unless she wanted to ruin their whole next week.
“Ma’am what is your room number?” a security guard approached them, seemingly out of nowhere. Her heart dropped. She looked at Scott panicked, but he was still glowering at her.
He glanced at the security guard casually, “We’re actually here for the wedding. A lot of our friends are staying here, but we’re in The Hoxton, just down the road.”
“The pool is for patrons only, I’m sorry but I’m going to have to ask you all to leave.”
“Is that so? We were told otherwise, by one of your guys downstairs,” he said sounding genuinely irritated.
She stared at him in disbelief, was he really going to try to argue about this when they were so clearly in the wrong?
The security guard looked confused to her surprise, “Oh really? Well maybe that was someone new, we do typically only allow customers.”
Scott sighed as if he'd been deeply slighted, “Okay understandable, don’t worry I’m not gonna give you a hard time. We’ll be out of here in five.”
The guard smiled at him, “Okay great.”
As the guard walked away, she couldn’t help but be impressed by how well he’d handled the situation.
“See I told you they don’t actually care,” she was relieved to hear his tone was already back to normal, friendly and light.
“You’re a good liar.”
He stood and climbed out of the hot tub, the floor creaking loudly as he returned to it. He squeezed water out of the bottom of his shirt, “Yeah..." she could hear a slight edge creep into his otherwise easy-going tone, "You know, your low expectations of me are completely unwarranted. I hope you realize that someday.”
Before Mia moved in with him, he used to stockpile snacks in every room of his apartment, so whenever he wanted food he wouldn’t have to get up for it. He had things stuffed throughout his bedside dresser, inside the ottoman beside his living room couch, even a couple non-melting things in the table on his balcony. It was too embarrassing of a habit to continue with another person around all the time. Plus, when she first moved in, he was right in the middle of a semi-successful weight loss attempt. He was at his most motivated to stop doing things like that.
These days, he’d gradually phased that habit back in. In a much lower scale way, just a handful of candy bars (things he could eat quietly) hidden by his side of the bed, so he wouldn’t have to get up in the middle of the night and wake Mia so often. It was mutually beneficial really.
Over the course of the winter though, he began to escalate it a bit. They’d gone home for two weeks over Christmas, and since getting back to Chicago he found the city had slowed to a crawl since the first few snowfalls. His friends no longer wanted to have their bar work sessions as often. Even Mia couldn’t find as many of her little Meetup group events anymore. So, through no fault of his own, he’d semi fallen back into hermit mode. Now his bedside dresser was completely crammed with food, barely covered by two t-shirts to keep it obscured enough that Mia could open that drawer without noticing.
His appetite had increased. He didn’t know why. The newest thing was, that he couldn’t focus on his work, without eating. It had been the case for years now, that he couldn’t enjoy relaxing or doing nothing without a stream of food, but work or being mentally occupied in some way had always been a refuge for him.
When he got back from Dallas the first time, he had weighed himself for the first time in four months. He was unsurprised to find he weighed 615 pounds. The depressing milestone of passing six hundred left him unexpectedly unphased. He’d gone numb to it. All he felt was annoyance at realizing he’d have to search for a 700-pound capacity camping chair to use in class now. It would be even harder to come by than 9XL clothing was.
It wasn’t ideal, this newfound apathy. Normally when he reached a new highest weight, he’d freak out and it’d force him to get things under control, at least for a couple months. Without that panic moment, he knew he was instead continuing to gain more weight. Some faraway buried part of his mind was in fact freaking out about it, but somehow that didn’t translate into a felt emotion.
So, he watched ambivalently, as if he were looking in on someone else’s life, as he faced new challenges with each slight gain.
He watched as he became unable to fit in the shower without leaving the door open. He watched himself spend longer and longer amounts of time in bed. He watched as he gradually stopped going to his apartment building’s lobby door to pick up his own delivery orders, instead always sending Mia to get them. He watched as he started skipping out talks and social events more frequently, because he was too physically drained to do anything not required of him.
And he understood now.
People don’t just suddenly lose their ability to walk. They don’t go from being a fully functional person, to immobile. He wasn’t technically losing his ability to walk now.
All he was losing, was his willingness to walk. It simply hurt too much. Something had to be really worth it to justify going through such torture for it. And his definition of worth it was getting more and more strenuous.
He didn’t just lose his willingness to walk suddenly overnight either. In retrospect, it took him years to get to this level. First, he lost his desire to do anything even slightly physically active. He stopped wanting to go to football games, where he’d have to stand up too much in hot weather. He stopped wanting to go anywhere he’d have to dance. He stopped wanting to go anywhere that required him to use stairs.
But the issue is, once you lose your willingness to do something, you stop doing it.
And once you stop doing something, well that is when you lose your ability.
Even class he’d often be tempted to skip, though he knew he couldn’t get away with doing so regularly. It was the one thing about his life he did not want to compromise. No, no matter what happened he was going to finish this degree.
Despite that perhaps being a lawyer must not have been all that he’d imagined, after all his dad apparently must’ve been miserable for years and he had no idea. But that was different, he was a corporate lawyer. A soulless job in a lot of ways. Surely what he was doing would be different. He’d be able to derive some fulfillment, some meaning out of life with human rights law. What else would he do really? If he stopped going to class and dropped out, where would he go with his life? The thought of being back in limbo with no future again made him shudder.
So today, as every other day, he pushed through the pain, got out of bed. Those first few steps lately felt like the bones in his feet were shattering. It was a new pain he hadn’t experienced before, and it was the worst. He was sure if the extra weight or the last couple months of being much more sedentary had caused it. But he had to take breaks because of it. As if his body needed to warm up before use.
He trudged outside through their back door to the parking lot. A gust of snow hit his face as he opened the door. The back door didn’t swing open all the way, he had to suck in as hard as he could to barely squeeze through sideways. Still easier than having to walk all the way around through the front though.
The ground was completely frozen and had been for the last few days. It was a constant cycle of puddles that would never dry. They’d only melt into gray filthy slush then re-freeze then melt again. He was terrified he’d slip and fall one day. His body couldn’t handle even the slightest injury at this size. Just a sprained ankle would put him in a wheelchair for weeks, because crutches would be impossible for him and it’d be dangerous to start putting even a bit of his weight on a damaged ankle before it was fully healed.
Since winter began, Mia frequently asked him, “Why oh why did you make us move here!” in an exaggerated voice as if she were kidding.
And sometimes he’d respond with something like, “I don’t know! Let’s leave! Let’s move to Venice Beach rightthe fuck now!” And she’d cheer and they’d happily talk about it all evening as if they were actually making a real plan.
Then the next day he’d open the door again only to be blasted by snow and perpetual grayness.
He pulled himself into his car, leaving the door open and sitting sideways with his legs out, as he struggled to catch his breath from the walk. Properly situating himself into the car enough to be able to close the door was an additional ordeal he had to prepare for. He barely fit now. It took a lot of jostling and readjusting himself to get his stomach in a position where he could comfortably turn the wheel and to get both legs far enough in that the door would close. Once all that was done, he had to stop and catch his breath again before he could drive off.
He dreaded seeing Amal in class today, she was going to give him shit for having missed the past two days. She thought she was helpful in some way, he supposed, that she was holding him accountable. She was quite wrong. All it did was annoy him.
Even Mia had taken to using his belly as a table these days.
That’s when you really know you’re way too big, when not only can you rest things on there, but other people do as well. When they’d watch tv and have dinner she’d lean into him and rest her plate on the furthest edge of his belly. At first, he was surprised that it worked, especially when he already had something placed on there as well. He didn’t think he could rest multiple plates on himself and have them hold balance.
They were watching Narcos and having Mexican takeout when she did it again. She nestled into him and slid her plastic tray onto his belly. From there she plucked up one of her tacos and began to eat it with her head slightly over him so she wouldn’t drop crumbs on the couch.
He didn’t know why, but in this moment, it irritated him to his core. He wanted to shove her tray off of him onto the floor.
Instead he picked it up and aggressively dropped it back into her lap, spilling orange rice all over her and the couch, “Stop putting your shit on me.” He was impressed by how calm he managed to sound.
She looked up at him, all wide-eyed and small and innocent looking. That annoyed him as well.
“Oh! Umm… okay! Sorry, I didn’t know it bothered you,” she said, stunned.
“You’re gonna get stains all over my clothes,” he mumbled, feeling foolish for overreacting.
She continued to stare at him her face incredulous, then she began picking up the mess.
Was he being petty and ridiculous? Her reaction made it feel like he was. He bristled with the frustration of having more to say but realizing he’d seem like a moody lunatic if he said anything else.
She reached for a pillow to set in her lap to rest her plate on instead. Then she scooted to the other side of the couch and leaned away from him as they watched the rest of their episode in silence.
At least he watched the rest of it, she seemed to develop a sudden fascination with her phone after that.