November 14, 2015

chapter 1 – start at the beginning, fatty

Filed under: untitled memoir — Tags: — franklet @ 6:30 am

There is supposed to be some moment, isn’t there? A clear visual catharsis – when you dump all the wine bottles out at once, or smash your meth pipe into shards before you realize that means you have to sweep up broken glass – is always how it happens in the movies. A lightning strike of clarity event when it just suddenly makes fucking sense. I know this is how it is supposed to happen, because, I mean I those people who write shit for the movies and televisions and tell-all memoirs can’t be making it up, right?
Fuck them.
I knew I was supposed to say that, right there. I’ve got that much of the formula figured out. Like someone who knows the punchline of the joke and can deliver it, but the build-up is always the problem isn’t it. Wait. Shit. I fucked that up, too. I really should know what I’m doing. But I don’t.
Cue the dramatic flashback.
I was a fat kid. No really. Not like fat fat. That’s just your imagination. Look at the pictures. Seriously. It was like a mild fat at best. Uncommitted fat. Community college fat. Christian rap fat. Yet, it felt so much worse to me. I wonder if in the third grade someone told Joanna Bottlin that she was never going to be a doctor, because she was, you know, a girl, or some shit. I picture her round cheeks pinched with frustration under those massive bows she used to wear, all steely-eyed determination to beat back the odds or something. It probably happened just like that. Like right after she told me I was fat in the third grade and I couldn’t sing and I saw myself externally for the first time.
I saw me like she saw me. And I believed what I saw.
They say you should start at the beginning, right? My dad would tell me I’m being “retarded” (the quotes are ribbed for my protection. Like I’d never say that word in that context. Seriously. Don’t boycott me. Unless it’s gonna make me more famous.) Anyway. My dad would tell me how stupid (heh. That should be my safe word during sex.) I am for thinking like that about myself. He’d be one of a litany telling me some variation of the platitude.
You’re not stupid, Frank. You’re amazing or some shit. Really. You… (insert pitiful attempt at raising my spirits).
I know what you’re thinking.
“Yeah right, Frank. No one gives a fuck. You’re making this shit up.”
Anyway. Joanna Bottlin. The beginning. It makes sense, somehow. She told me I was fat, that I couldn’t sing. And I accepted it. Her conviction swayed me. The earnestness of her childish cruelty struck me, hit me in the way that truth so often does when adults make the mistake of sharing it. It fucking hurt. I took her truth, made it my own.
From that moment forward, being a pattern seeking human being, I found every bit of necessary evidence to confirm my new truth. Every slight. Every misconstrued intention, every thoughtless gesture of foolishness. All those egos flailing about trying to see what the limits were, and I took it all.
Personally.
So yeah. Joanna Bottlin is a fucking doctor now. Ironically enough she’s not just any kind of doctor. She’s a physiatrist. What the fuck is that? Heh. She does physical therapy for people with disabilities. Her life’s work is helping people who can’t help themselves. I wish her the best. And I hope she’s fat. But happy about it.
So. I was sure I was fat. By the time I got to high school I had taken the baby steps towards the driving philosophy which sustains me now: jump into the wave. I had started years before with the joke that “fat floats” at swim team practices, surrounded by the nubile, thin boys in their Speedos, each of them so blissfully unaware of their own beauty, but I imagined each of them somehow entirely fluent in the depth of my ugliness. It’s selfish to see the world this way, but you know, I was fat. Fat people are selfish, by nature. Please don’t boycott me. In high school I met Brent Cockley. He was a swimmer. Slender and beautiful, brilliant and cocky. Everything I wanted to be, everything I wanted inside me. I couldn’t control myself around him. I wanted him to like me so much, I was willing to endure his hate and vitriol just for the chance to be close enough to stare at him. Not that I didn’t fantasize about attacking him, out of nowhere, using my size and force to simply hurt him. That was a regular moment for me. But I never did it. I never had that Fight Club desire to destroy something beautiful. I’ve always been the kind to hedge my bets just maybe, because, you know, just maybe he’ll…
Brent called me fat. I didn’t have to work to accept it then. It was so familiar a part of my self it didn’t wound me anymore to realize it, not like those first times I squeezed the soft lumps of my feminine breasts while wearing a towel on my head after the bath, after singing Madonna into the hairbrush in front of the mirror. But it still hurt. Because Brent said it. Because it wasn’t just that he saw my truth, it was that I saw his. And I was convinced.
He’s everything. And I’m nothing. And in all the right proportions.
We eventually became acquaintances. At least, he tolerated me in the collegial fashion of teenagers who drink together at parties unexpectedly. Who knows? He may have even liked me, may have thought I was worth knowing. Might have even thought something about me was attractive. No way to know now. He died shortly after high school. Supposedly threw himself off a tall building in Australia. More irony I suppose.
By the time high school was over I had given myself a name, a clever misdirection which allowed me to hide my shame. I cast off the part of me I hated, but embraced it at the same time.
Jump into the wave, fatty.
I became Phat Phrank. Really, at the time it seemed clever. A satirically earnest attempt at mockery couched as bravado. I had the phrase emblazoned on Senior memory items, just in case anyone questioned my conviction, questioned my acceptance of the truth, which by this point was wholly my own.
I can’t blame Joanna or Brent for what happens next. They were part of the story, but the blame…
I  get that all to myself.

November 6, 2015

12 – Leave a Mess (Montage)

Filed under: Montage — Tags: — franklet @ 2:18 am

Chapter 12

When the phone went dead Desiree Nichols stared at the receiver in her hand, as though by sheer force of will she could transubstantiate the hard black plastic into something else, something she could plead with, something higher. Unyielding to even her most fervent demands, the plastic merely hung loosely against the palm of her hand, held just so by the contact of its surface against her skin. Around her the bustle of the call center thrummed, but it was distant, not directly connected to her moment.
I don’t need this shit.
$12 an hour was more than most people made to sit and make phone calls for eight hours – especially when those phone calls did not involve selling anything. Yet Desiree felt she might have been happier doing anything else, even selling carpet cleaning or Google ad listings over the phone. Anything but calling person after person to alert them to their loved one’s unknown presence in the emergency room. She had been other things in life: a pizza delivery woman, a bus attendant for the East Baton Rouge Parish School System, a cook at Sonic, and a cleaner at veterinary office. None of those jobs had paid anywhere close to $12 an hour, and none of them involved eight hours in the same chair. Desiree had always been moving before, even when she wasn’t going anywhere.
I should call Mrs. Moran again. Leave a message. She’d want to know her husband is…
Desiree’s thought chain was interrupted by the sound of multiple chairs moving, of an accompanying silence that touched her ears like a Pavlovian caress. Soft soled shoes began to squeak against the tiled floor and the bustle of the hospital came back to her, in a motionless rush of wind and sound.
“Want to come with us to Port Royal?” Nene asked.
Desiree stared at the woman, open-mouthed, for far longer than was social acceptable. Nene’s brown eyes tracked Desiree’s green ones, slowly widened as annoyance gave way to concern.
“Are you OK, Des?” Nene asked.
They were not friends, not really. Drinks after work were common for most of the call center shift workers whom Desiree worked around, but she did not often join them. This, to Desiree, meant they were not friends, yet Nene insisted on calling her Des as though they shared something more than phone lines a few meters apart. Something more than the transmitted grief they offered strangers from a distance. Nene was not a horrible person, not inherently, but Desiree looked at her then and all she saw was a monster. A foulness cloaked in scrubs, with the the thinnest skin of impatience underneath, delicate to the touch and brittle. Desiree backed away, unable, or unwilling to stop herself.
Nene snorted, a near clucking sound. “C’mon Jessica. This white bitch think she too good to hang wit us. Fuck her.”
Jessica, her skin a far paler version of Desiree’s darker, sallow-colored covering, stopped just short of sighing. Desiree had also once been a junkie, but she had escaped with her life, her freedom. Her sanity. Most of her family and friends knew, of course. They had sent her to rehab until it gelled, had bailed her out of every situation she had fallen into, thankfully jail had never been one of those situations. But Jessica, despite having the creamy, unblemished skin of a Disney character, was still a junkie. The woman stole pills from the hospital itself, and thought it some big secret. Jessica thought herself immune from the possibility of her own destruction, or at least Desiree assumed it was so. She didn’t make a habit of talking with Jessica, but most of the other phone techs talked about Jessica. They couldn’t help themselves, the woman’s beauty alone would have made her a target, even if she weren’t sleeping with that surgeon twice her age. The one who foolishly let Jessica steal his password or whatever they used to access the online prescription system. Someone would eventually discover the trail Jessica left, would track her, and punish her. For this reason, among others, Desiree avoided anything to do with the woman.
Not just because I know she has Oxys.
She must.
“Let her alone, Nay.” Jessica said, a glint of some sadness coming from her blue eyes at Desiree. In another life, another time, they might have been friends. Desiree could certainly use a good friend who could understand the burden she carried around with her, like a twin consumed in the womb; a dead, sucking piece of her, lodged somewhere inside.
Nene snorted again, tossed her head so that the thick twist pinned to the back of her skull swayed the slight amount physics allowed. It was a bright red, unlike the rest of the woman’s deep brown hair. An unnatural, but quite beautiful red. Wherever Nene went to have it done, the stylist knew how to color hair. It was flawless, even though it didn’t fit the woman’s pocked face, her gapped teeth, or her often painful smile. The one she adopted moments before she snorted in displeasure. Desiree had seen the smile many times in the five years she had worked at The General’s Call Center.
“You right, Jess. C’mon, gurl, let’s go get it.” Nene grabbed her large, worn canvas bag. Desiree knew what was inside of it: diapers, toddler stuff, some books, clothes for Nene’s two boys, shoes, and other things the woman always seemed to have on hand. Nene’s purse was almost as large as the woven bag, but of expensive looking leather material. Desiree had heard the woman brag about how she got the thing on eBay for $200.
A Louis for $200, yes, indeed, Miss Baby!
Desiree hadn’t bothered to point out that it was obviously a fake. No one sold a $2000 purse in perfect condition for $200. Not on eBay, not in a pawn shop, not in a fucking fantasy, dream world’s Tanger Outlet mall. But even if Desiree had been inclined to tell Nene this, she knew the woman would not hear it, would not want to hear it, so she would not. Desiree spent enough time of her day talking to people she did not wish to talk with, explaining what they did not wish to hear, enduring their shock, anger, grief, despair, and sadness. She had no desire to coax any such emotion from Nene.
After Jessica and Nene disappeared, Desiree’s eyes went back to her screen. It had gone black, the screen saver activated. She could move the mouse, get the call screen back, and call Mrs. Moran again. Tell the woman her husband had been in an accident, and she needed to come to the hospital soon. But it was hard to summon the drive. Hard to explain to herself what the point of it all was.
It won’t change anything. He’s going to die. And if Bree Moran comes up here she’ll just have to watch. What’s the point of that? The woman probably deserves better than to experience her husband’s death first hand. No one wants that.
Desiree stood and gathered her things, determinedly putting the previous call from her mind. She left the hospital and drove towards home. Her car’s MP3 CD player began to play, finished the old Smashing Pumpkins song which had been playing when Desiree drove in earlier. The shuffle was activated, so even though the CD only held a hundred or so songs, Desiree never knew which one would be next. But she knew the hundred extremely well. She hated the radio, the only thing worth listening to on it was NPR and by the time she got off work she didn’t want to hear the world’s news, so she always drove home with the MP3 CD, always, at least, since the AUX jack had broken two years before, when Jeremiah had jammed a cord into the hole with too much force. It hadn’t worked right after that, cutting in and out, until it quit finally a few days later. Desiree had always intended to have it fixed, but she never could find the money or time enough to drive the will to see it done. Instead she recorded an MP3 CD from her laptop.
She always intended to record others, but somehow she never got around to that either.
The drive hummed along, and a Tori Amos song came on. Hey Jupiter. The really sad one with the “ohs” in a really high pitched voice. Desiree liked Tori, but didn’t love her like Chris did. Her second best gay friend was a recovering drug addict, and like Desiree he scorned meetings. But unlike her he had not gone through the seemingly endless yawning months of rehabs, the variations on the theme of meetings so imperceptibly altered that each became a frame in a reel, only adding up to movement when something external turned the gears to add motion. Chris loved Tori Amos and his appreciation had been enough to perk Desiree’s interest, but not enough to instill anything like what drove him. Yet this one song seemed to capture her every time she heard it.
“If my heart’s soaking wet, boy your boots can leave a mess…”
This had been the line which first sneaked its way into her mind, twisting around like some kind of infectious disease, refusing to allow itself to be unattached. Ironic, maybe. Maybe not.
When she reached home the feeling Desiree had long come to associate with work would not leave. It dissipated outward from her like a fog, extending just far enough about her to change the atmosphere surrounding her. She set her things on the table and knocked over a beer can. Liquid sloshed across the table splashing on the papers and books Desiree kept there for her school work.
Terrence.
She didn’t say the name aloud, but it roiled through her mind in an angry bubble, full of disappointment and sadness, of impotence. The apartment was mostly quiet, the sounds of early evening outside were a calming influence, normally, when Desiree arrived home, but today they struck her as somehow cruel.
Where is he?
Stepping gently, her brain telling her that quiet was the best idea, somehow inspiring her to be attempt surprise, all the while mostly certain she was simply entertaining herself. The fucker isn’t even here.
With one arm Desiree pushed, as softly as she could, the door to her bedroom open. The lights were off. It smelled strange. Her nose sniffed and bristled at the scent, somehow aware of it, but also unable to actually place it. What is that?
The room was empty, as she had expected. He’s not here. Desiree stopped walking softly. She let her feet hit the carpet with the slightly more ominous thud as she walked to the master bathroom of the one bedroom apartment. My apartment. Where the fuck is he?
When talking to Terrence, or about him, about them, Desiree was careful to always sound as though she were a team player. As though Terrence having no job, drinking during the day, disappearing for hours, half-days, at random intervals where not something worthy of her concern. Telling herself before she told others something less deceptive and more affirmative that Terrence was out fucking someone else was commonplace. Oh, he’s trying Mom. Really. Jobs are hard to find.
In her own mind she would add, full of snark, especially for a dude with micropenis.
It wasn’t supposed to matter, that Terrence had the dick of a toddler. It wasn’t supposed to be the reason he drank himself insensate. Wasn’t supposed to be the reason he spent what will he seemed to have on having a body so perfect it shattered Desiree’s resolve every time she saw it. It wasn’t supposed to, but it did. Desiree was as close to being obese as society would allow without branding her in need of a caretaker. Since letting Terrence into her life, starting school online while also working full time, since leaving Chuck, Desiree had gained almost her entire former body weight, nearly a hundred and forty pounds. It hung off her like wasted potential, something she often said to herself.
It’s like sacks of wasted potential.
The bathroom was a mess. A small, triangular piece of toilet paper was on the floor by the toilet. The shower curtain was opened, leaving the tiled space to glare at her. A smattering of products lined the large vanity top around the sink. The mirror was covered in fine spots, which distorted her reflection in the least flattering way possible. It was all too much. Desiree pictured herself sweeping it all to the floor and screaming as she pulled at her hair. Imagined herself gathering his things into the plastic laundry bin, which happened to also be full of his musty clothes. But when she bent over to pick up the triangle of quilted paper she could barely breathe enough to right herself. Desiree huffed as she dropped the piece into the open toilet.
She heard the front door open and close. Gritting herself to finally have the conversation, Desiree turned around and walked toward the living room, toward the front door. She found Terrence in the kitchen, shirtless, covered in sweat, his broad back the most perfect natural V trailing down to that slight patch of hair just above his rounded ass. Desiree loved that spot, that patch. The hair was oddly soft and Terrence loved when she ate his ass, so she was allowed to touch it whenever they had sex. Seeing that patch made her horny for a moment, but it passed. Sex with Terrence was awful in reality, the most one-sided sex Desiree had ever had. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had an orgasm.
Terrence seemed unaware of her presence as he leaned into the open refrigerator to pull out the carton of milk, which he drank right from the container. Desiree snarled, but he neither heard her nor would have cared if he had. His unoccupied hand scratched at the downy spot above his ass. As he lowered the carton he farted, then belched, replaced the carton, open, into the fridge and turned around, finally noticing her.
“You’re home.” he said.
Desiree rolled through appropriate things to say. Nothing stuck. Each was like the flashing text on a wheel in a tribal casino. She knew she had tell him to leave, but his nipples were hard from the cold of the fridge and her attention could not escape them. She wanted to tell him so many things, but her mind was determined to disallow it. Instead she looked off to the side, at the wall instead of his perfectly hardened, slick chest, and said. “Yeah. It’s almost six.”
The things she left unsaid finally came.
And the apartment is a fucking mess.
You haven’t cleaned anything.
You’ve been drinking.
You left to workout, but couldn’t be bothered to throw your beer cans away, to pick up your stray toilet paper, to put the toilet seat down, to close the shower curtain.
Suddenly, this detail struck Desiree.
The shower curtain was open.
He never showers during the day, he always waits until after his workout. He never showers….
The words escaped her mouth before she could process them fully, as she preferred. Before she could imagine the effect they might have, before she could dream about the consequences, before she could weight the possibilities.
“Who did you fuck?”
The edges of Terrence’s mouth curled into what could only be described as the potential of being snide. His background was in Theater, a major reason he was unemployed, despite having an M.F.A. from NYU. He was a consummate actor and she could not escape the knowledge that he always had control of his expressions, and used them as he wished. It was not a slip. He wanted her to see the possibly snide smirk hiding behind his mouth, but also wanted her to doubt herself, to believe she was only making herself see it. It would have amazed her if she had been in the state to examine all of this at that moment. But Terrence’s skill was honed and he would not allow that, he never did.
“You if you take off that shirt.” Terrence said, moving his body in fashion of a dancer, languid and loose, so the muscles flashed at her in a tempting display. Does he practice moving like that or does it just happen?
Desiree’s urges spiked. The beauty of Terrence’s shape, of the hard slip of his frame, overtook her. He undulated towards her, flapping his cock at her from underneath his shorts, clearly not bound by the tight underwear he preferred. It was the dick flap that did it. Desiree closed her eyes, clawed at her determination, her desperation, to not be snatched into the scam Terrence was weaving. His ungentle fingers touched her sides. Her body thrummed.
No.
Desiree jerked away. Her eyes flashed open. Terrence appeared before her different now: sweaty, clammy, hard, and smelly. Little flaws floated to her vision. The strange shape of his areolas, the scar running along his chin, the shaved armpits, belly button that stuck out like a misplaced finger, the tan lines. All these little points shored up the rising sense of distaste, overcame the innate attraction her body was trying to foist upon her. Her hands met his sticky skin and pushed him away. Their eyes locked. She saw fury there.
“What?” he asked, shock plain for a moment, on his face.
“The shower curtain was open.” Desiree said, slow and measured. “I left it closed this morning.”
Recognition stormed across his features in a quick flash before he asserted control, but Desiree, looking for exactly this caught the quick change. It cemented her feelings.
“I want you to leave.”
Silence gulfed between them, pushing them apart with tidal forces. Terrence didn’t say anything. For a long moment he didn’t do anything either. When he smirked, fully and unbound, the expression was cold and hard.
“You and your tiny little dick.” Desiree added, her voice a chirp as the insulted bubbled, close to unwilling, from her lips. His face did not change. She never saw the slap coming. When her eyes could focus again she was picking out delicate tracery in the Mexican tile of her kitchen floor. The underside of her cabinets had collected small bits of detritus: particles of dry food, stray strands of hair, a nib of a paper towel, the ragged piece of a spider web. Desiree, not good with the bending, had never cleaned the spot before. She studied the grain of the wood used to build the cabinets, the pattern of lines underneath the stain flowing like charred amber still life paintings. As she stared, she focused on a spot where a small knot in the wood had darkened, its shape eerily reminiscent of a woman’s head, with flowing hair around the profile of her formless face. The image called to her and she focused on it for a long while before the pain finally smashed into her.
A dribble of hot liquid ran down her chin. He split my lip. I need to call…
Her thought was interrupted by the appearance of a pair of knees, followed in slow motion by the rest of Terrence as Desiree looked upward, her eyes skimming the triangular shape of him. His eyes were coldly fascinating as they considered her. “You’re so clumsy.” he said, his expression all forced kindness. He reached a hand towards her, palm down, and she flinched away from it.
“Don’t be that way, it’s not my fault you fell down.” he said.
There was nothing she could do to prevent him touching her. His fingers against her skin made her soul want to crawl out of her flesh and run, to hide. But there was nothing she could do. He lifted her carefully off the floor, handed her a wad of wet napkin and guided her hand press it against her split lower lip. “What am I going to do with you?” he said, softly, careful, and full of affection.
Desiree was spun about. As though her inner monologue, the very series of words that combined to be her had been lifted off a page, jumbled about, cut from a magazine cover and artfully pasted on a ransom letter. They still said the same thing they always did, but it was not her.
This isn’t me.
Terrence moved close and wrapped his arms around her. His face was close to her ear. “You should be more careful, Des. When you fall down like that you’re liable to leave a mess, and we both know how much you hate leaving a mess behind.”
He pulled away, put both hands on her shoulders, looked into her eyes, his brimming with forced emotion, apparent to them both.
“Neither of us wants that,” he lied.

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