I wish I could say I fed Tal while we had scorching sex all night long. But that’s not what happened. Oh it’s what I wanted to happen- it’s what I tried to make happen- but after eating a big plate of pasta, Tal grew pantingly, uncomfortably nauseous.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” he whined, wanly, from my bed. This is not how I pictured Tal in my bed: with a large bowl clutched in his hands, a greenish tinge to his skin, squirming uncomfortably as his overfilled belly rebels.
I run a washcloth under the cool water and dab his face with it. I can see his pulse fluttering in his throat.
“I’m sorry,” he moans. “Ate too much.”
“It’s okay.” I smooth his hair. “You’re learning to calibrate how stuffed is full enough. And how far is too far.”
He presses on his gut, driving up burps. He massages himself, but it’s obviously not the sexually charged belly rubbing we did earlier in the car. It’s therapeutic.
“Never eating again,” he says.
“Well, that seems unlikely,” I say.
Unable to resist, I move my hands onto his belly, too, pushing up his shirt so I am touching his bare skin. It’s warm and taut, and he moans. Not in a good way. Then he leans forward and pukes all over me.
“Taliesin! There’s a bowl right there!”
He curls up small, as small as a 6’ 2” 270-ish pound man can.
“Sorry sorry sorry,” he says.
“It’s alright. But do go for the bowl if you need to throw up again. I’ll be right back. I’m just going to grab a shower.”
But when I step out back into the room, my hair dripping wet and my body clean and wrapped in a towel, Taliesin is gone.
And not just gone from my bed. Gone from the hotel. He doesn’t turn up for the last few interviews. I have to do them myself. He eventually does answer my frantic texts with a curt note saying that he’s fine, that he had to leave unexpectedly and I should finish up the project alone. Taliesin is gone.
Oh, there’s a certain amount of brief, professional correspondence as we wrap up our project. I feel crazy. How can Taliesin ditch me? The emphasis in that question changes as I spiral through anger and disbelief and sadness. How can TALIESIN ditch me? How can Taliesin DITCH me? How can Taliesin ditch ME?
He can, and he has.
I think about opening up an online dating profile and decide against it. I’m too destroyed to offer anything to anyone. I feel like I’ve been through a break up without going through a break up. Taliesin was never my partner. If I imagined that he could be, it was just that, imagination. All those conversations, all those plans... does he even remember them? Did they mean anything to him?
One night at 3:03 am, I delete his contact information from my phone. If he wants to be a stranger, let him be a stranger.
I throw myself into other things. My piano skills are the strongest they’ve ever been, thanks to all the hours of practice I do. I join a gym and try not to think about fat guys. Bicep curls, bilateral raises, burpees: the only way to keep from thinking is to be too physically exhausted to move. Some of my own softness melts away. Not all, but some.
Eventually I stop crying every day. Now it’s only every other day.
I’m an adult. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that time heals all heartbreak. I just need to be patient.
The conference where I first met Tal is coming up, for the first time since 2019. I’m nervous. I know he’ll be there. We are inextricably linked by the fields we love. A line from an Ani Difranco song runs through my head endlessly.
I don’t look forward to seeing you again. You’ll look like a photograph of yourself, taken from far far away, and I won’t know what to do, I and I won’t know what to say, except **** you, and your untouchable face...
Then I am there in the conference room, and Tal is across the room. Just as fat as the last time I saw him. No fatter. I can’t help looking at him at every moment when my attention isn’t on a speaker. He draws my eyes like a magnet draws iron filings.
We speak cordially in passing.
In my hotel room, I let hot tears fall as I sob. Tal is gone.
More months pass. I try to remind myself of all the things I disliked about him. He talks too much about himself. He has shitty taste in music. He clicks his jaw in an annoying way. He worries too much about what other people think of him.
The wound is healing, I think. Maybe. I’m alive, and while there’s life, there’s hope, right?
I don’t know what I am hoping for.
Then, one Sunday evening my phone dings. It’s a text from a number that’s not in my contacts. No name attached. All it says is three characters, three digits.
I frown at the screen and type, “I was right about what?”
“Me. What I wanted. I’ve gained 14 pounds on purpose and it feels incredible.”
“Wait. Is this Taliesin Jones?”
Suddenly the phone begins to play a cheerful tune, and I stare at it blankly before tapping the answer call button.
“You deleted my number?” His voice thrums in my ear, and my heart somersaults away. I’m shaking.
“You refused to talk to me for 8 months!”
“We spoke at the-“
“You downgraded me to acquaintance! We spoke like acquaintances!”
“I’m sorry, Laura. I felt so ashamed after what happened. I couldn’t bear to see you. After I- I didn’t want you to be angry with me.”
“I would never have been angry with you for that. But I’m angry with you now, Tal! You blanked me.”
“I’m sorry. I was so confused and scared in my mind about what happened and what I wanted, I just, withdrew. I wasn’t... I guess I wasn’t thinking about what you were feeling at all.”
“Well I know that.”
“I understand if you don’t want to talk to me. I’ll hang up.”
“No, don’t go.”
There is a slight pause and then I ask, “why were you scared?”
“It felt like you opened a hatch into my most hidden and taboo desires, and let out this monster secret I didn’t know I had. I saw myself as a person who had successfully lost weight for such a long, and then you told me that that’s not who I am and it’s not who I want to be, that I want to be the opposite of that. And then I fucked it up- I made such a fool if myself- I was disgusting. I’m so sorry. But I needed some time to process what was happening.”
My eyes are filled with tears that threaten to spill over.
“I missed you so much, Tal. You have no idea.”
“I thought you were mad at me.”
I am! Oh I am. But that doesn’t mean- I still care about you. It doesn’t matter how angry I am, I haven’t stopped caring about you.”
There is a moment of silence and then I say, “why are you contacting me now?”
“Oh,” he says, “at first I told myself it wasn’t true, that I didn’t like...what we did. I swore to lose all the weight I’d gained. But then I didn’t really want to do anything to make that happen. I just kept on trying to ignore your words. But they kept buzzing away in my brain. And whenever I was offered cookies I couldn’t help but take two. And then gradually I started taking three and four. And a little voice in the back of my mind whispered “it’s just a few pounds. What if I just tried gaining a few pounds?” And, well, I started eating a bit more. And today I weighed in at 286 pounds. I had this overwhelming urge to tell you that I did it, I fulfilled your command.”
I run my hand through my hair until it’s as ruffled as my thoughts.
“No. We can’t.”
“Oh.” His voice is small.
“Listen. It’s not easy for me to be direct about these things. But you’re important to me, and I can’t, I don’t, I need to be able to go find you if you disappear. I need it to be my right, Tal. Do you understand?”
“No, I’m not sure...”
“Ah, I’m not being clear enough yet.” I hesitate. I feel as if I am about to be swallowed up by the void. My heart is pounding. “I want to be able to love you fully and freely, without holding anything back. Love is a verb, an action, which is why I am not saying that I love you now. You haven’t allowed it. And I- I hadn’t offered it. I was afraid. I am afraid now. But I can’t live with scraps anymore. I want everything. All of you, your body, your mind, your heart. And in exchange I offer all I am. My body, my mind, my heart.”
I stop, dizzy with fear. I said it. I finally said it, words I have turned over and over in my mind on dark nights.
“Are you asking me to marry you?”
“That would be hasty. I want it to be an option if all goes well.”
My heart is breaking in his silence.
“Yes. I accept.”
I don’t know how to process this.
“I need to see you,” I breathe. “Sunday, why is it Sunday? But Friday. I’ll come to you. There are a lot of things we need to discuss.”
I walk up the stairs to the hallway where his apartment is. I’ve never been here before. It’s a nice building, not fancy but fairly new. I knock on the door and Tal opens it.
We stare at each other for a moment before he steps aside and says, “Come in.” I cross the threshold.
My attention is caught by his belly. For the first time it has a roundness to it, a sphericalness that runs from top to sides, like a big drum. He is wearing a blue plaid button down, not one I remember seeing before. The buttons don’t gape and the shirt flows loosely over his body. It’s certainly a size up.
He still has a double chin, creasing into a fat roll as he smiles at me. He shuts the door and wraps his arms around me. I slide my hands up his soft chest, grab his collar and pull his face down towards mine. Our lips meet, and suddenly I am not in any doubt or fear or anxiety. This is right.
I kiss him thoroughly, lips and tongue and teeth and breath. My hands are fumbling with his shirt buttons, opening them to reveal a white cotton undershirt underneath. He’s such an old-fashioned creature sometimes.
His hands are on my back, sliding down to cup the curve of my ass. I break the kiss and push him gently in the direction of a nearby couch. “Sit,” I command, and he does, his eyes glowing. His round gut rests in his lap. I straddle him and pull at his shirt until he removes it. He shucks off the undershirt to reveal a lightly hairy belly. A thicker dark tangle of hair on his chest covers plump manboobs. I can see that a second little roll is beginning to form below his tits. It disappears into the top crease of his belly.
His hands and forearms are still average but his upper arms have grown a little pudgy. I squeeze the soft fat on the underside of his arm and Tal gasps.
“I told you I needed to see you,” I murmur, kissing his forehead, “all of you.”
“Don’t I get to see all of you?” He asks.
“Of course. Eventually.” I run a hand along the curve of his belly, down to where it laps over his jeans.
“286 looks good on you,” I say, grazing my nails on the slope of his heft.
“Actually it was 290 this morning,” he says with a sheepish note in his voice.