Everyone seems to be getting on with their lives except Maggie. At twenty-seven, she's still serving coffee at Joe's while her friends are getting married, having babies, and thriving in their careers. And now Olivia, Maggie's best friend since grade school, is getting married too. The man in Maggie's life? Well there isn't one, except the guy she has a crush on, Domenic, who works with her at the coffee shop. Oh, and her dog, Solo (the name says it all).
When Olivia comes to town and asks Maggie to be her maid of honor, Maggie is thrilled... but she can't help comparing herself to the new and "improved" Olivia. Way back then, they befriended each other because they both struggled with their weight. Now grown up, Maggie is still shopping in the "women's section" while Olivia went and had gastric-bypass surgery in search of the elusive size 2. But as the wedding nears, Olivia's seemingly perfect life starts to unravel, and Maggie realizes that happiness might not be tied to a number on the scale.
In this wonderful novel, Liza Palmer is both witty and wise, giving a voice to women everywhere who have ever wished they could stop obsessing... and start living.
"Kudos to Liza Palmer." -- People
"Palmer's likable characters and snappy dialogue make this novel stand out from the crowd." -- Booklist
"In a word: genuine." -- Herald Sun
|Publisher:||Grand Central Publishing|
|Sold by:||Hachette Digital, Inc.|
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Conversations with the Fat Girl
By Liza Palmer
5 SPOTCopyright © 2005 Liza Palmer
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDepends on the Size of the House
Why is a bulldozer in front of my house? There is a handwritten note pierced on the nail where my summer wreath once hung. The summer wreath now lies on the ground next to my front door. I coax my dog, Solo, back inside and pull the door closed.
Dear Tenant: I hope this note finds you well. I have decided to turn the back house into a lap pool. Please vacate by the end of the week. It is already Thursday. I keep reading.
It has been a pleasure being your landlord for the past three years and I wish you the very best of luck. Please let me know if you need a reference, as I would be honored to let everyone know what a great tenant you were. Thank you. Sincerely, Faye Mabb, landlord :)
I hold the lime-green scalloped note in my hand and look to the front house. My landlady is notorious for stunts like this. I thought painting my house at 4 a.m. was bad, but nothing remotely compares with this. The bulldozer's a nice touch.
I always thought I got lucky finding Faye Mabb's back house: decent rent and a safe location. Over the last three years, I've learned to keep my head down and stay out of her way.
I squeeze past the dusty bulldozer and walk the fifty or so feet to Faye's front door. Note in hand, I ring her doorbell. Faye opens the door quickly. I know she has been watching the events of the morning unfold through a crack in her yellowing curtains.
"I'm tearing down that back house," Faye burbles through the metal screen door.
"My house? How can you tear down my house?" The note is now wet with my perspiration. The tips of my fingers are starting to turn a grainy lime-green color.
"In forty-eight hours," Faye says. Even through the metal screen door I can see she is decked out in full regalia. Her whiterimmed sunglasses are perched atop her ratted bottle-blond hair. She is wearing her usual floral, skirted bathing suit, folds of tanned, leathery flesh cascading out top and bottom.
"You can't kick me out in forty-eight hours. I've got nowhere to go." I have my hand on the cold, metal screen door.
"Maybe you and your little dog can live in that Fancy New Car of yours." Faye gestures out toward the street with her mass of teased hair.
"At least give me a week. I can find a place in a week." Faye is swirling the ice in her ever-present highball, poking at the cubes with her bejeweled fingers.
"Fine. A week." Faye cocks her head back and takes a long look at me.
"Thank you." I oblige. The ice cubes flutter around the glass excitedly as her hands shake with glee ... glee or the first stages of liver failure. Fingers crossed for liver failure.
"But the bulldozer stays." And then she slams the door.
I back away slowly and continue to the street, where my Fancy New Car awaits.
For now, the best way to deal with this is not to deal with it at all. I get in my Fancy New Car, leave my soon-to-bedemolished life, and head toward my mom's house, which rests in the hills overlooking the Rose Bowl.
* * *
Pasadena, a suburb just outside Los Angeles, bursts with scenes straight from the California postcards off the spinning rack. Children playing outside, blond beauties in convertibles, and incredibly fit people running for fun, a pastime I never quite bought into. Rumor has it that each year thousands of people move to Pasadena after watching the Rose Parade. But I grew up here and could never imagine living anywhere else.
Even though Pasadena is several freeways away from LA proper, the religion of perfection is still widely practiced here. Walking into local malls or filling my car with gas, I have often felt like I've stumbled into a casting call for the newest sitcom: "Pretty Girl 4" or "Hunk 2." If you've ever been told you're beautiful or "should go into acting," you end up here. This means the top 1 percent of the beautiful people in the nation are just walking around the city, willy-nilly. Then there are people like me, who anywhere else would be categorized as "normal." But in LA, if you're over a size 0 you're just shy of a circus sideshow.
It's the beginning of summer and I have the air-conditioning on in my Fancy New Car, a Volkswagen Beetle. A car that is neither Fancy, nor New. It's just newer, and apparently fancier, than Conversations with the Fat Girl 3 my last car. Somehow it has made Faye Mabb nervous that there may be some type of revolution a-brewin'.
Even in the confines of my air-conditioned car, I feel hot already. My long brown hair is up in its usual ponytail. I check myself out in the rearview mirror at a stoplight. I try to focus on the good. The brown eyes seem inviting, but are they almondshaped because I am "exotic" or is it just my cheeks pushing them up so fiercely? My lips are full, which is a plus considering they are the gatekeepers to the gapped front teeth lurking behind them.
The V-neck T-shirt and Adidas workout pants are already sticking to my body. I swore I wouldn't be here again. Hot and uncomfortable. I have made New Year's resolution after New Year's resolution swearing to lose weight once and for all by summer. Summer, with its tank tops and bathing suits dangling in front of me as the constant brass ring just out of reach. I want to be able to dress appropriately for the climate and not feel the need to hide under layers of clothes that are far too hot and way too confining. It is approximately two hundred degrees outside but I actually considered putting on my long black sweater over the shirt due to paranoia regarding back fat. What if I couldn't control it by tugging and/or strategic lunch-table placement?
There is an implicit understanding that Mom is driven everywhere. She has her light brown hair done every four weeks, nails manicured every week, and is presented with new, shiny baubles on every calendarable holiday by her beloved new husband. My mom has looked exactly the same for as long as I can remember. She stands a mere five foot two, and as I grew taller it became apparent that I got no genes from her side of the family. Like my sister, who's possibly even shorter, Mom is physically tiny. Once again, it became apparent that I got no genes from her side of the family. Insulated in winter clothing, which in LA means a flirty sweater, my mom probably doesn't tip the scales at a hundred pounds. But her presence cannot be missed. One raised eyebrow, one purse of the lips, and whole civilizations topple. I question my dependence on her. She has always been the family sounding board, and my sister and I have tried to be hers. I don't trust this quake-ridden California earth, but I would walk sure-footed on my mother's word.
She sits in the passenger seat fiddling with the seat belt as we drive to lunch at EuroPane. We discuss the cost of fighting Faye Mabb and her "eviction." My mom is a divorce lawyer in town and begins the conversation by educating me on just how illegal Faye's little eviction is. The question then becomes whether or not I want to stay.
"She was laughing and joking about me and the dog living in the back of my car," I tell my mother as we order at the counter.
Wooden tables and chairs dot the bakery's cement floor. It's the wafting smells of fresh bread and pastries rather than flourishes of decor that make this bakery a great destination.
"Joking about you having to live in the back of the car? She said that? Asshole." Mom takes a bite of her strawberry yogurt parfait as I make an apologetic face at the server. When my two nieces were learning to speak, the family feared their first word would be asshole, based on its ample usage by their dear, doting Grammy.
"I've been meaning to get out of there anyway. This is just a way of nudging me out earlier. I'm okay with it. I really am." My voice cracks as I pull two diet sodas out of the self-serve refrigerator and rig my chair so my back will face the wall.
"Everything is going to be okay? better than okay." Mom stirs in her granola.
"I know ... I know."
I think about languid Sundays with coffee brewing and Solo at the foot of my bed. The Household Chore Chart I made. I begin to cry. When Mom looks at me, I valiantly brush the tears away. I feel eight years old again.
"Change is hard," Mom says.
"But it's the only home Solo has ever really known. I mean she ... she ..."
"Solo is a dog. She'll be fine. However hard this is, it will be so much better than what you've got now."
"I can't conceive of moving right now. Olivia's wedding is coming up in less than two months. She's my best friend, for chrissakes, and I can't even get it together in time for her wedding? I am totally uprooting and ... and when am I going to be able to start my new exercise and diet regimen? I've got a fucking bridesmaid's dress to get into, for the love of God. I had my life a certain way, and now it's totally ... totally ... this sucks." Can a twenty-seven-year-old woman stomp her foot in public?
Frustrated and ready to move on, Mom changes the subject and we begin discussing possible outfits for Olivia's wedding. This brings up a sore subject. I am going to be nowhere near where I want to be for that wedding. Another date that comes and goes as I fail miserably. I can see the red circle around the wedding date now. Mom assures me we'll find a dress. I stopped looking in mirrors a long time ago because I never liked what I saw. I want to look nice and be comfortable. I can't do that if I'm still where I am now. I start having flashbacks of my freshman year in high school when Mom said those same words: "We'll find a dress." Sometimes a sow's ear is just a sow's ear.
His name was John Sheridan. (Yes, The John Sheridan. Every high school has one, different name perhaps, but they all have one.) His blue eyes were only accentuated by dark hair, a body with broad shoulders that tapered into a perfect V at the waist. He was at the top of the junior class, played water polo, and actively dated the mythical Caroline Pond. (Yes, The Caroline Pond. Every high school has one.) John began tutoring me in French class. Tutoring, speaking, dating, kissing, you've got to start somewhere. All I knew how to say was "Je ne comprends pas," which means "I don't understand." I argued this was the only sentence I needed to survive. I liked the class for two reasons: The John Sheridan and the crepes our teacher, Madame Hart, made every Thursday.
During one of our tutorials, John mentioned that Caroline Pond couldn't go to the homecoming dance. Her parents were receiving some volunteer award the same night as homecoming. Caroline had to go to the Volunteer Gala Ball Fund-Raiser, and John was left out in the cold.
John Sheridan must have seen me as a project of sorts. I was so asexual, no one would think his relationship with Caroline Pond was on the rocks if he took me to the dance. On top of this, he was known for his charity work. Going to the dance with me would be just another day at the soup kitchen. Pushing this ugly truth aside, I paraded around like I had landed the date of a lifetime. I was going to homecoming with The John Sheridan, the only man alive to look good in a Speedo. Now, what was I going to wear?
At first, Mom, my older sister, Kate, and I naively looked in the Young Women's department. I was not looking forward to a day of taking off my clothes, trying on dresses, and enduring my mom and random salesladies asking "how everything is." To keep the shopping experience from becoming a complete fiasco, I pointed out some problem with each dress. I looked fat. And each dress only accentuated that. But I couldn't say that to my Mom. It would break her heart. She couldn't fix that I saw myself as fat. I felt horrible every time she tossed another possibility over the slatted door of the dressing room. I'd always feared that hell was really some type of Orwellian reality in which I would be damned forever to the harsh lights, 360-degree mirrors, and those damn slatted doors of department store changing rooms. So I only told her about things she could fix. That way at least my mom stayed unbroken. "My boobs don't fit" was always a popular reason. Who could argue with that? "It's tight in the arms" was also safe. For some reason, "tight in the arms" was not as hard hitting as, "I'm a fat fuck, Mom. Just wrap me up in a tarp, put some lipstick on me, and roll me in the direction of The John Sheridan."
We finally found what we were looking for in the Mother of the Bride department: a tight pink crepe dress with a dropped waist and Peter Pan collar. Pleats fell down the front of the dress. Mom said they drew the eye away from my Area, a term I used when referring to my ever-burgeoning belly. Of course pleats drew the eye away; that would tend to be the case when one's eyes had so many other places on which to feast. It was not my first choice, but first-choice outfits didn't come in my size. We bought the dress.
John drove us to a local Italian restaurant that Caroline had recommended. Apparently, Caroline Pond "recommended" a lot. Throughout our dinner, almost every one of John's sentences started with "Caroline says," as he parroted some Pond Bit o'Wisdom. When he wasn't repeating something verbatim that Caroline said, he stared at the breadbasket in the center of the table, tapping his fingers on the large diving watch that dwarfed his left arm. I sat before him like a child before a magician? waiting for him to perform as I had always dreamed. But I was disappointed. It was like catching that same magician smoking a cigarette and bouncing a buxom trapeze artist on his knee out behind the big top.
By the time the waitress asked if we'd like to see the dessert menu, I was actively mourning The John Sheridan I had come to love: The John Sheridan who had the personality I put together out of various S. E. Hinton characters with sprinkles from the Knights of the Round Table. The John Sheridan who sat before me now at this tiny Italian restaurant somewhere in the San Gabriel Valley was nothing like my creation. He didn't smoke cigarettes he rolled himself, and I doubt he even knew the first thing about swordplay to defend my honor.
The night ended with us driving by Caroline Pond's house to see if she was home from her Volunteer Gala Ball Fund- Raiser. She was. I waited in the car for thirty minutes while Caroline told John about her evening, so John could recount every detail back to me on the long ride home. John yelled to Caroline that he would be back in "twenty" and hopped in the car. As we pulled into the driveway of my house, I remember thinking how awkward these last moments were going to be. What was the end of a date like? Is this where he would finally unveil the real John Sheridan? I tried to remember every detail so I could retell the story of my first kiss to Olivia. Olivia who had set her sights on Ben Dunn, the senior starting quarterback who made The John Sheridan look like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and was famous for referring to girls he had been with as "They've Been Done by Ben Dunn." Classy.
I sat still in the passenger seat trying to put what I thought was my best kiss-me face on. I remember pouting my lips a little and slightly glazing over my eyes. In retrospect, it must have looked like I was having a small stroke.
John quickly announced that he had fun but it was getting late, so ... Had he learned nothing from his days at the Round Table? John leaned over and wrapped one single arm around my shoulder as his car idled loudly. He then proceeded to pat at my back like an impatient mom burping her full-to-bursting new baby. I kept both arms at my side and just sat there, floating above what was happening. Did he not want to give me the wrong idea? I floated back down just in time for one last pat. I pressed a smile out and stepped from the car. Did he think he just gave me some big, beautiful moment I would cherish and retell at family dinners? Could he have possibly thought it was anything but awkward and embarrassing for both of us? No, John Sheridan believed he had given me the thrill of a lifetime. I just felt robbed.
"Why don't you give yourself a fucking break?" Mom snaps me out of my walk down Memory Lane.
At this point, a small blond family turns around.
"Could you hold it down?" I beg.
"You never give yourself a break. You're going to drive yourself crazy if you live like this for the next couple of months. The wedding is not about you. It's about Olivia and Adam. I know this is completely foreign to you, but a lot of people think you're pretty amazing looking." Mom sips her diet soda and glares at the small blond family, a Pasadena fixture.
"What about my house?" I whimper.
"What about it? You've outgrown it, Maggie. Faye Mabb did you a favor. The only favor she'll ever do anyone, I'm sure."
Excerpted from Conversations with the Fat Girl by Liza Palmer Copyright © 2005 by Liza Palmer.
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