loved somebody, she loved them with all her soul. She was so full of love
, but was terrified of showing it. Unrequited love
was her specialty
. She hid behind glasses
, behind a waterfall
of light brown, slightly curly hair, safe in her cocoon of shyness that served as a barrier
between her and the rest of the world. No pain, no sadness here, but joys were few and far between.
She saw him almost daily, and she loved him. Jake was his name. She knew this not because he had told her when she had asked, but from conversations she overheard while making espresso at the coffee shop where she worked. He ordered the same thing every time he came in, a green tea chai latte, and she watched from behind her glass lenses as he sprinkled the drink with nutmeg and grabbed a coffee stirrer to chew on while he waited for it to cool. It was a lot easier to stare at people unnoticed when you wore glasses. They made you invisible.
As she closed for work that night she listened to the rain as it fell against the roof. It was two in the morning, and she’d walked to work this afternoon and was starting to regret that decision because the rain showed no signs of letting up. She turned out the lights and locked the door, standing in her long coat in the small relief from the downpour in front of the door. She hugged herself for a moment, steeling herself for the walk ahead.
A car pulled up to the sidewalk in front of her, and a man got out. A regular at the coffee shop, who’s name was Brian. He’d introduced himself. He ran up to her, through the pouring rain, his black curls matted against forehead, eyelashes sparkling with tiny drops. He asked her if she needed a ride, stopping before he reached the canopy. She thanked him and stepped out into the rain. Water beaded up on her glasses and she could barely see, but he was right in front of her and she stopped. All that time she had been watching Jake who had never noticed her back, she was being watched by him. He removed her glasses slowly, and kissed her in the rain.
He pretended to be asleep, but he was really watching Jake. A soft breeze wafted in from the open door to the balcony, where he stood wearing nothing but his boxers smoking a post-sex cigarette. He would pretend to sleep for the seven and a half minutes that it took him to smoke, watch him as he dressed in the stillness and left for his own bed, his own home. Jake didn’t know that he watched, and he would never tell him. It was just sex, right? How could he ever tell him that in his own mind at least, it had become something more?
She woke with a start, waking up from a most terrible dream. For a second she feared that it was true, that she had lost control, that she had eaten the spaghetti, the garlic bread, the cheesecake. All of it, and now it was going to go directly to fat. The realization that it had only been a dream was the most wonderful feeling she’d ever experience in her life, but just to be safe she went to the bathroom and stepped on the scale. 126 pounds exactly. Her goal had been 128, but once she reached that she realized that 113 sounded a lot better. The goal weights she set were always two pounds lighter than an even number, to give herself a little bit of leeway and to account for scale errors.
She knew that she wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep. She needed to atone for the sins, for eating all of that food. No matter that it had all occurred in a dream. She dressed and put on running shoes, and left the house, planning what she would eat the next day. 800 calories. As she ran, she recalled the previous days, what she had eaten on those days and the number of calories. 1000 on Monday, 600 the day before that. 900. 1400; she’d had a bad day, she’d slipped. 1200 calories. 700. No, she decided, I won’t eat 800 calories tomorrow, I’ll eat 400.
Her life was ruled by numbers. Numbers on the scale, the table full of numbers that appeared on the packages of food that she memorized, numbers of miles ran and crunches completed. They were something to think about, they gave her life some order. They took her to another place, a world completely controlled by her until her surroundings were reduced to a tiny speck, dwarfed by the scale of her obsessions.
She blacked out, but had no idea for how long. Came to, lying on the sidewalk in a suburban neighborhood miles from her own at four in the morning. She stood up, slightly disoriented, and resumed her running.
The house was so lonely when Peter was gone. Yes, when he was here it was lonely as hell, but full with his presence even if the love they had shared had long since faded. Her daughter was shrinking, her son, well, he was sinking, deeper and deeper into a world that she knew very little about. She knew that she didn’t want to know about it, but she continued to pry into both their lives, the secret knowledge that she had about both of them filling the empty spaces left by the silence that glued the family together. She knew where he kept things, holding a bottle labeled Percocet in her hands. There were twenty pills left in the bottle; would he miss another one if it were taken? She’d gotten into the habit of taking these things when Peter was gone, wash them down with one of his beers and sit on the couch, her eyes fuzzy and her mind dreamy. Here, the knowledge that Peter was out of town on business but had surely found something—someone—to keep him warm that night couldn’t touch her. Her skeletal daughter, her promiscuous drug-addled son; even thinking about them couldn’t hurt her.
This night was different however, she held the bottle and had the urge to take them all, one by one, with a vodka chaser. Her hand was shaking as she stared at the little orange bottle, labeled with the name and address of a perfect stranger, wondering if she had the courage to actually go through with it.
She heard the front door open and close and quickly returned the pills to their hiding spot. She made sure the room appeared undisturbed and nearly flew down the stairs. Angie was home, she appeared to have been crying. Her mother hugged her, allowed her baby girl to cry in her arms and trying not to wince as she could feel each individual rib in her daughter’s back. Angie sobbed and asked for help, and the woman who only moments before had been holding the bottle of painkillers was a rock of strength.