Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fitting in

After Kate pulled out of her driveway she unbuttoned her jeans so they wouldn’t keep digging into her belly as she made the drive across town. Standing up she could get away with these pants, unfortunately sitting down was another story. They were the only pair left that she could get into anymore, and they were getting tighter by the day. Everything felt tight, her clothes, her jewelry, even her skin. When she caught a glimpse of herself in the rearview mirror she could see that her face looked swollen and almost puffy. She wanted to turn the car around and go home, to strip off what she was wearing and climb back into her baggy sweatpants and tee shirt. But there was no choice, they were out of even the minimal basics like milk and bread; she needed to go to the market. She pulled into the parking lot of the brightly lit A&P and discreetly re-buttoned her pants before getting out of the car and walking quickly into the supermarket, grabbing a cart by the door.

Every time she reached for something or bent down to get an item off the shelf, she felt her jeans dig in or her shirt lift up revealing more of her stomach than she wanted. She looked around to make sure she was alone and tried to readjust her clothes, pull up her jeans over the roll of fat across her middle, untwist her blouse, tugging the material trying to stretch it over her bulging body. With each aisle she felt bigger and bigger. The uncomfortable feeling of not fitting into her clothes, not fitting into her own body, not to mention her life, intensified with each step.

Because it was her life that was really the thing that didn’t fit anymore and she knew it, the truth was unavoidable when she was forced to face it. She didn’t belong here, didn’t belong in this body or this supermarket. She wasn’t supposed to end up like this.

As she unloaded her cart onto the conveyor belt she had to fight back the tears. God no, don’t let me lose it here in front of all these people. A panic welled up in her like a rising tidal wave and it was all she could do to swipe her debit card and bag her stuff, rushing to get out of there before the torrent overcame her. She kept her head down and tightly gripped the handle of the cart as she briskly pushed it across the parking lot. One by one she practically tossed the grocery bags into the backseat, not caring what was in them. She barely reached the safety of the driver’s seat before the tears would wait no longer and came pouring down her cheeks. As she drove out of the A&P parking lot crying her eyes out, she again unbuttoned her jeans and this time unzipped them too, feeling the need for total relief from the confines of pants that no longer fit her any better than her pathetic day to day existence.

When she was safely at home in her baggy clothes again with the food put away, she sat at the kitchen table and tried to calm down. She tried to sink back into that numbness that she could always manage to find once she was alone and away from the rest of the world. Kate ran her hands across the battered old pine table, as if trying to ground herself with each stroke, fingering each familiar scratch and furrow that was worn smooth with years of use. She’d once thought growing older would be like that. All the rough spots, all the scrapes and hollows of experience or loss would fill in, growing softer and smoother as the years went on. But that’s not what happened. For every deep groove that was worn flat some new mark was made, gouged fresh, jagged and rough. Life didn’t get easier, it was even harder than she’d ever imagined.

She ran her hands over her own body now, feeling the rolls of fat undulate like rippling waves. Her chin, once slightly pointed and a little bony, was now round and full, bulging above her sagging neck. Where did it go? Where did her body go, her life, her future?

Kate knew it wasn’t too late, but it was later than it should be. Yes, she could change things, almost everything in fact, for the better. But it would never be as good as it once was, and more importantly, it wouldn’t ever be as good as it should have been if she hadn’t let herself go in the first place. That was what got to her the most, if only she’d taken care of herself all along and never gotten fat to begin with, she might have aged gracefully. She definitely would have, she was sure of it.

Instead she gave up. She got scared and intimidated by the simple things in life that everyone else managed to handle – college, marriage, motherhood, career. She failed at all of it and now it was becomming obvious she was drowning her shame with food, smothering herself into nothingness. No, it was worse, she didn't fail, she didn’t even try to succeed to begin with. Either way, the end result was the same. She had no education, no career, no marriage anymore, one dead child and another that was as foreign to her as if she were a creature from another planet.

Enough. She was going too far, thinking too much. Kate stood up and walked over to the counter where there was one grocery bag left unpacked. She carried it upstairs and headed to her bedroom. As she passed by Nola’s room she could see the sliver of light from beneath her closed door. “I’m home – there’s bread and cold cuts downstairs if you want to make yourself a sandwich.” She heard a barely audible “okay” and with relief continued on down the dark hall. She was glad Nola didn't want to talk. Not tonight. She climbed into her unmade bed and reached for the remote. Mindless sitcoms and a package of cookies. One more night wouldn’t make a difference.

Tomorrow she would do better. Tomorrow she would wake up early and make breakfast for her and Nola. Something healthy, something they could sit and eat together at the old pine table, scratches and all.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Nola sat on the bottom step of her front porch and felt the cold granite begin to send its creeping chill throughout her little body. Dried, brown autumn leaves scraped the sidewalk in front of her as they skipped along in the rising breeze. Twigs and branches were scattered across the lawn from last night’s storm and Nola decided to pick some of them up while she waited for her father. She gathered as many as she could and carried them down to the small grove of white pines at the edge of the woods behind her house.

Beneath the sheltering branches of the tall straight pines Nola had created her own version of a bird’s nest in the crunchy carpet of dried pine needles that blanketed the ground. She’d carefully scooped and swept the mounds of needles into the outline of a circle large enough for her to sit in, adding twigs and pinecones to build the sides up over a foot high. She liked to imagine she was an exotic bird living high in the tree tops. Nola took the sticks she’d collected from the front yard and added them to the growing rim of her nest. Then she restacked some of the twigs that were knocked down during the previous night’s storm. When Nola was finished she stretched her arms out wide and slowly moved them up and down, flapping gracefully as she ran around to the front of the house, imagining that she was gliding through the cloudy sky as she zigzagged her way back to the steps. Nola sat once again on the granite slab. Her father still had not come out.

While she continued to wait, Nola noticed there was now something on the sidewalk that wasn’t there before. It looked like a ball of dried grass but when she got closer and gingerly picked it up she could see it was a small, perfectly formed bird’s nest -- a real one! Nola shivered with a combination of cold and excitement as she examined the delicate treasure, cupped carefully in her hands to secure it against the wind that was starting to kick up. Even though it looked fragile, as Nola scrutinized it she could tell that it was stronger than it seemed. This was smaller than she’d imagined a bird’s nest to be, it was hard to imagine any bird she’d ever seen actually using it, let alone sharing it with a brood of babies. Nola wished Grandee was here today, she would know what kind of bird built the nest. Grandee always knew everything. But her grandmother wouldn’t be here for several days yet. Nola needed to find a place to keep the nest safe until then. She wanted to take it to her room, but she couldn’t go back into the house now.

Instead Nola went around to the back porch and carefully reached her hand through the white painted lattice work running along the bottom and placed the nest gently underneath the weathered floorboards, tucked in a clump of leaves near one of the support posts. This was her special hiding spot, the place she kept things that didn't belong in the house, things her mother would say were dirty like pretty rocks or bits of broken pottery and twisted rusty nails that she found near where the old barn once stood.

“Nola Grace, where are you?” Nola jumped a little. She’d strayed from her waiting spot and now hearing the terseness of her father’s voice she knew he was not happy. “I’m sorry Daddy, I’m coming.” Nola called out as she ran towards where her father’s car was parked in the driveway. But he was already coming around the side of the house looking for her and she almost ran right into him. He grabbed her arm and walked a little too fast for her to keep up, partially dragging her along as he muttered under his breath, “How many times do I have to tell you, huh? If I say wait for me on the front steps then you sit your butt down there and don’t move till I come out. Jesus Christ, you’re gonna make me late, gotta look all over the place for you. If you’d just do what you were told once, just once…” and his voice trailed off as they reached the car and he waited impatiently for her to climb in. Nola was trying to get in quickly while not getting her dirty feet on the seats at the same time, but sure enough when she looked beside her she could see little pieces of leaves and pine needles all over the back seat. Thankfully her father didn’t notice and had already closed her door to go around the front of the car and get in. Once they were on their way Nola quietly reached over and picked up all the little bits and pieces she could, shoving a crispy fistful into her coat pocket before they reached the end of their street.

When they arrived at her school the long circular drive was empty. Usually cars were lined up along the entire length and even into the street beyond while parents waited to take their turn, one by one dropping off children under the watchful eyes of the waiting teachers. But no one was here now, not a single car. That meant that she was late, very late. Her father got out and opened her door, then got right back into the car.

“Daddy, I think your supposed to walk me in tell them why I’m late,” Nola said as she stood by the open car door, leaning into the back seat a little so he could hear her.

“Can’t I just write you a note or something?”

“Um, I don’t know, I guess so.”

Nola’s father rolled down his window. “Shut your door and give me a minute.” He took his black notebook out from the flap pocket of his coat and began to scribble quickly. Then he tore the page out and handed it to Nola, “Here, they can call me if they don’t like it. Hey, don’t go around the front of the car,” he snapped as she started to walk away, “always go around the back of a car, Nola, never around the front. Someone’s liable to run you over if they aren’t looking.” His words seemed to hang in the air for a minute before the realization of what he’d said caught up to him. Like Ethan, Nola thought, the person that ran over Ethan hadn’t seen see him. And then for the first time that day their eyes met. Nola thought her father looked sad and she wanted to give him a kiss goodbye. But he quickly looked away and before Nola could move he rolled up the window and drove off.

Nola stood there alone in the parking lot. The wind wrapped tangled strands of hair across her face as she looked at the low brick building and wondered if anyone from inside could see her. But the single row of windows revealed nothing, only a dimmed reflection of surrounding trees and clouds, as if the building were really floating in the sky.

She closed her eyes tight and thought, maybe the school was empty? Maybe today was actually Saturday? That had happened once, her mother had gotten her up and fed her breakfast, drove her here only to find an empty parking lot, just like today. But she’d been on time that day, even a little early, and her mother quickly realized her error. They’d laughed and gone out for pancakes. But Nola knew there was no mistake today. Her father would never make that kind of blunder.

As she walked up the sidewalk to the red steel doors that led down the long hall to her kindergarten classroom, Nola slowly picked out all the pine needles from her pocket and rubbed them between her fingers before letting them fall, pulverizing each little piece as she walked along. She thought about her nests, both the real one and the pretend one, and hoped that they would withstand the whipping winds that now blew the faint crumbled powder from her hands before it could leave a trail on the dark macadam, easily whisking away any trace of her late arrival.