Do you know how horrible it is to be the fat girl your entire life? You grow up and all your friends emerge from puberty as the pretty, cool girls and you emerge bigger and with more acne. The only reason my tits are bigger than theirs is because I’m fat.
I drowned my teenage sorrows in chocolate, ice cream, snack cakes, and my absolute favourite: mozzarella sticks. So yeah, not exactly a balanced diet, but my mum was constantly trying to make up for being a single parent by giving me what I wanted all the time. You can imagine I’m not the most well-adjusted adult, but I think I deserve credit for at least knowing that. My therapist says I’m a victim of my family life cycle, but my mum just called me a brat. We haven’t really spoken in years.
When I left home, I got a job at the hospital gift shop. It’s easy - mostly selling dime candy to overworked nurses and blowing up balloons for people who’d just gotten bad news. It had health insurance though, which is the main reason I’ve stayed here all these years. I rent a small apartment a couple of blocks away, so it’s an easy commute. I even bought a cat a few months ago to keep me company. It’s a relatively good life for what I’ve gone through. Then everything changed.
It was a Sunday, so the shop was slow and even slower due to the freezing rain pounding the windows. I was talking to my coworker Stacy about the date she had last night, desperately trying to not give away the fact that I’d never had a date in my whole life. I’m almost thirty.
“So yeah, he asked me if I wanted to come back round to his place for a nightcap, but I’m just getting tired of sex with random dudes, you know?”
I nodded as if I knew what anonymous sex with hot guys was like and yes, of course, it was such a burden to be lovely and desired.
“I’m supposed to see another guy tomorrow though, so maybe he’ll be better,” she smiled and adjusted the ornaments on the Christmas tree we were putting up for the shop. I accidentally dropped one of the ornaments and it shattered on the floor, the fake snow inside going everywhere.
“Oh god, I’ll clean it up - sorry!” I relished the chance to go and search the stock room for the broom so I could find a quiet corner to cry a little bit. My therapist says self-pity isn’t always bad, so I indulge myself sometimes. God, I just wanted to be skinny. I would’ve given anything to be thin and cute like Stacy, who frequently had men come in the gift shop just to ask for her number. A pharmacist once bought five candy bars in a single day just to come in and see her.
I got myself together and came back out to the register after sweeping up my mess. My eyes must’ve still been red from crying because the Laffy Taffy guy asked me if I was alright. I remembered him only because he bought three strawberry and two banana Laffy Taffys almost everyday.
“Oh yeah, allergies, you know?” I smiled.
He cocked his head. “In the gift shop?”
“Oh well, you know. Anyway it’ll be $1.05,” I said, putting his candy in the bag.
He nodded and left, glancing back at me once on his way out. Never try to comfort the crying shop girl - it’ll only embarrass her further, trust me. The day went on as normal and I didn’t see him again until I was locking up the shop for the night. Stacy had left early for a massage, because she had the most wonderful life and all I had to go home to was my cat. He rounded the corner as I fumbled with the lock. It felt like the correct key that would fit changed from day to day.
“Hey there, need some help?” he asked.
I dropped the keys and swore. Wasn’t it bad enough that I couldn’t do this stupid thing and just go home, but now someone was witness to me messing it up? That was enough to push me over the edge and I sat down on the ground, sobbing.
“Oh god, okay, uh, are you okay? Should I call someone? Are you in pain?” He looked around frantically for an errant nurse to wave down.
“No, I’m okay,” I choked out between sobs. “My life just sucks and I’m awful and fat and I’m going to die alone, so it’s great. I would give absolutely anything to be skinny. ”
“Ah,” he said. “Yeah, I get that.”
I wiped my nose on my sleeve and looked up at him. He wasn’t fit, but he was certainly the size of a regular person. I doubt he understood what I went through on a daily basis. He had so much that he didn’t even understand. I would’ve killed to just look normal like him. He smiled slightly at the look of skepticism on my face. It was clear I wasn’t buying his bullshit.
“I bet things will change for you real soon,” he glanced at my nametag. “Helen. I bet things will change, Helen.”
I did finally make it home that night. I could hear my cat yelling at me before I even turned the key in the lock. What a lovely home to come back to. I fed him and immediately fell into bed. I was so sick from crying that I wasn’t even hungry.
Days went by like that - just routine: go to work, come home, go to bed, then do it all over again. After a few months of my boring routine, I started to notice that my clothes were fitting looser. My face seemed a little thinner too. Was I losing weight? Stacy even mentioned one day that I was looking great. Maybe it was time for me to buy a new shirt? I grabbed an XL in the shop and excitedly went home to try it on after my shift. I couldn’t believe that it fit. I even had a hint of maybe some curves? I decided right then that I was going to make a dating profile. Stacy had been pushing me to make one for a while now, but the idea of taking pictures of myself was horrific. It repulsed me. But now… now I felt and looked great.
Life had turned around for me completely. I went out on dates and lost weight at an astonishing speed. I was even down to a medium size now. People came into the gift shop to talk to me. I mean, they still talked to Stacy, but they talked to me now too! I was young and small and hot and I couldn’t believe it. I’d even had a date for Valentine’s Day, which I’d never had EVER.
Laffy Taffy guy came into the shop while I was telling Stacy about how my date went. He’d taken me ice-skating and I’d felt beautiful and graceful out there. We held each other’s mittened hands while we twirled around the ice to George Michaels. Stacy even teared up a little bit.
“You look great!” Laffy Taffy guy said while he put his candy on the counter. “What have you been doing? I need your diet and exercise regime for sure.” He smiled and patted his belly.
“Oh nothing really,” I beamed. “It just fell off! Didn’t do a thing.”
“Really? Not anything?”
“Yep, just a gift by the grace of God,” I smiled. I remember thinking maybe he’d slim down too if he laid off the daily Laffy Taffy habit. I thought about what he'd said more after that.
I did try eating a little more, even indulging in mozzarella sticks that immediately made me throw up. I was freezing all the time now and despite my love of my new body, I wore heavy sweaters to keep warm. I couldn't keep any food down and I had these crushing headaches constantly.
Stacey pulled me aside one morning before we opened up shop.
“Hey, I know maybe I’m stepping outside of my boundaries here, but I wanted to urge you to see a doctor. Unexplained weight loss can be a sign of some serious things. Again, I know it’s not my place, but you ought to check.”
I scheduled the appointment for next week. I worked at the hospital, so luckily I could see one of the practitioners there. I figured he'd tell me to try to eat more protein or something. When I left my appointment I saw Laffy Taffy guy sitting in the waiting room, his legs kicked over the armchairs as if he owned the place. He smiled and waved.
"You said you'd give anything, right?"
I ran all the way home and finally collapsed in my apartment. I called my mum, which I hadn't done in years. I wondered if she even had the same number. She didn't answer and I left a voicemail, my voice shaking.
"Hi, Mummy, it's me. I know we haven't spoken, but I wanted to tell you. It's cancer."