I remember when The Cars Candy-O came out. I was a little older than the first album. The boys at school, I can see what they would have thought of the cover. It was grown up, with high heels and boobs. It was a year later than their first album, and I was a year older. I owned a bra, but it wasn’t serving much of a purpose at that stage. The cover was something adult and unattainable, when I was 11. The music wasn’t though. Especially Candy-O.
I was sitting on a bench along the boardwalk. My beach sandals I had thrown on in a rush. I had been wearing a tank top with a cardigan over top and a pair of ripped leggings I had sewn up, just to wear around the house, when everything kicked off. In the apartment I had hung up on my friend, telling her I would call her back in a minute. She had tried to talk over the shouting. “You do realize this is abuse,” she said calmly over the phone. She was trying to talk over the voice screaming at me that I was lying to her. “I’m just going to grab a few of my things. I’ll call you back when I’m out of here.” I said.
I can’t remember what I had grabbed. My cat was cowering behind the pull-out couch. Before I left I had reached down and pet his head to ease things, so he would feel fine. He hated shouting and arguments. Once in a similar situation before, when I lived elsewhere, I found him hiding in the corner of the closet. I grabbed my chargers and my phone and put them in a separate bag, my laptop and my purse, put on my sandals and a cardigan. I was shaking and my chest filled with adrenaline. I hated leaving my cat there but I was relieved when I got out the door. He probably didn’t know if I was even coming back.
The last couple of months, I had spent nights there lying awake, getting ready to bolt out of bed, afraid he was going to puke on the fancy beige carpet. The door to the sundeck was often open, and he would go out and find plants to chew on, or maybe a bug, which he would chase down, and that would set him off. I would bolt out of bed in the night and clean up the mess, if he did, hoping nobody would notice anything the next day.
I walked out and down the hill to the beach. I couldn’t figure out what had happened. This was the place of long walks the last couple of months, watching the kite surfers. I found a bench. It was overcast and later in the day so there weren’t many people walking. It was early November.
I put my bag on the bench and got out my phone and called my friend again. I felt my eyes grow hot, as if I was going to lose it. I was thinking of going into one of the restaurants and getting something to eat. Contacting friends, there might be somewhere I could stay.
“I don’t know where is far enough away,” I said. Maybe here is too close. Maybe I should go to one of the cafes farther down the beach.”
“They are not going to come after you,” she said.
But I wasn’t sure, then.
It had started out with just comments, when I would get something to eat, asking what I was doing about my weight. I started to keep a stash of food hidden in my room. Bananas, peanut butter, things that would fill me up, or apples. I would sneak them into my bag when I went out for a walk and eat them along the beach as I walked, throwing out the banana peels in the bins by the pier.
The day he first said that to me, I had been out walking four or five miles each day all summer, even as much as 10 miles on some days. I could stand in front of the bathroom mirror in my underwear like I did on that day, and see where there was muscle, and think I looked pretty good. I felt good.
In the restaurant I looked at the screen of my laptop. I had gone for a manicure recently and decided on red nail polish. It was a salon downtown. A manager at my office had given me a gift card. I told her I would go get my nails done when I feel better. Four years later I had finally gone. The manicurist sounded Eastern European. I was a little afraid of her, she was sort of grouchy with me. First it was because I hadn’t already picked out the polish I wanted when she was doing other things. I went over to the shelf with all the bottles and picked out one that was a pale pink, which she took from me. When I sat down again though I changed my choice about the polish. I decided to be more adventurous and go with the red. I was glad when she said I was done, even though the polish was still wet, I didn’t wait. But then I thought, who knows where she had come from. It can’t be easy starting up here when you had been from somewhere else.
“You used to be such a pretty girl.”
Then he said “You’ve always been fat.”
We were sitting at the table, eating lunch. “There are women down there along the beach he said, working their asses off to lose 5 lbs You have to lose about twenty.”
I stood there and looked at him. That was the deal, he said. If you want to stay here, you had better lose weight. What’s the point of anything if you don’t.
It was then I challenged him. That’s what set her off. It’s none of your business. I wanted it to stop. Stop with the comments. About what I ate and how I looked. Or I’ll look for someplace else to stay. Then you better start looking, he said. You are fine with this, I said, the fact I might not have anywhere to go?
You left here twenty years ago, as far as I am concerned. That was it.
It was then I shut myself away from all the voices, as I sat on the couch that I had been pulling out into a bed every night. I sat expressionless. I could see the ship in a bottle I had given him as a gift when I was about ten. I was never fat. I didn’t think I was fat now. That’s just the way healthy people are. Maybe some people who walk along the beach could afford to lose 5 or ten pounds. Most normal people could. Except for you, I said to him.
I plugged in my laptop to charge and I could see the red streaks of polish across the screen. I had held it up as a shield to stop her hands that were reaching for my shoulders and neck. I had ended up folding it over my face at one point. I wet a napkin and tried to wipe off some of the streaks in the light of the cafe. I had ordered a double chocolate something or other and a coffee. It was hard to see the pale blues of Facebook with all the violent streaks of varnish.
Before I left we had just finished lunch. “If a man took you out to dinner and you ate what you just did, he would be ashamed to be with you.”
She was yelling right up close to me now, and I was pushing her away. Get her off me. Get her off me, I had yelled.
He grabbed her around the waist, so that her feet were off the floor and she was still shouting. even though there was nothing to him. “Stop the shouting,” he said to her. “We’ll get kicked out of here.”
That was all done then, and after I had hung up the phone with my friend and pet my cat on the head, I started collecting my things. I just have a normal women’s body. I had remembered a conversation I had with someone after I was running one morning, at a different place and time, when I had said I had lost weight. “You’re not going to turn into one of those stick insects are you,” they had said outside the pub one sunny morning. No, I had said, waving the thought away in the air. As I walked to my front door then I mulled over in my mind, the fact that I could never be Candy-O if I was a stick insect.
This is a work of creative nonfiction; though it contains no composite characters, names have not been revealed. I have tried to recreate events, locales and conversations from my memories of them, but I have taken some storytelling liberties, due to my interpretation of events, fading memory, lack of time machine, and need to cherry-pick some memories over others in order to express my thoughts within the story. Liberties include alterations to the timeline of events.