Larissa lived through many heavy eating years. She pulled pork sandwich after pork sandwich to her face. Three each lunchtime. Then she'd check the fridge. If there was no more meat, she'd drive the two blocks down to M's fast food. She'd eat two or three burgers there for supper. That's where she met Art. Five feet nine and 290 pounds at least. She measured in at five foot five and 200 pounds. They stared at each other's massive girths, then Arthur smiled. "Let's see who can eat the most tonight," and Larissa laughed. "Is that a date?"
They chomped and feasted their way through chips and chicken and chipotle and avocado dip. Weiners and muffins and fried eggs and plenty of pasta. When the first date was over, they both fell into bed beside each other and digested. Both sighing or snoozing, pointing out cracks in the ceiling and popping antacids. Arthur flicked on his big screen TV and they checked out cooking shows.
They went out for six months, then moved in together. Art owned a condo with two jumbo refrigerators. The lovebirds shared the same interests in food -- they ate everything but salad and tofu. "We are soul mates," said Larissa. She'd never felt so close to anyone else before.
All went well for a few months. Then, small things came up. Small things that turned into larger ones.
"I think you are serving yourself bigger portions than me," Larissa mentioned one day, as Art doled out the spaghetti and meatballs.
"I'm weightier than you," joked Arthur. "Therefore, I get the bigger share. You can always go back for seconds."
"You don't understand," Larissa continued. "That means you're thinking more of yourself than of me."
"I'm sorry, I'll try to give you more next time," Art attempted to scoop a few more meatballs from his plate to Larissa's. She pulled the plate back.
"It's the principle of the thing, it's how you feel in your heart." she said. "If you really knew me, you'd serve me with a smile, not with that grim glum look you always have."
"I don't think I'm grim and glum."
"Well, you are," Larissa turned away. She pulled herself up the stairs and into the bed, lay there staring at the ceiling, giving out a few sobs. All her life, people hadn't treated her fairly, and it seemed that Art was no different.
He remained in the kitchen, eating Larissa's meatballs as well as his own, trying to overcome his hurt feelings.
Larissa eventually decided she'd been too hard on Art. He wasn't her mother, or her father. She shouldn't have taken it all out on him. When he came to bed she told him, "Sorry I said those terrible things."
"That's ok, darling," he replied, although his stomach felt quite upset. Larissa gave him a pat on the shoulder. The next day they went out together for a special makeup steak and potato feast.
However, the pattern repeated itself, again and again. At every meal, Larissa suspected that Arthur purposely served himself more and better portions. She couldn't help it, the feeling came out of nowhere. In addition, he always left a mess in the kitchen. It was Art's kitchen, but now that she lived in his house, Larissa felt she deserved some say in the upkeep. After every meal there was also food smeared all over Art's face. He often had jam on his hands and when he opened the fridge, he put sugar fingerprints all over it. Disgusting. She loved Art, but she couldn't stand his quirks. Part of her wondered "why am I so angry?" and the other part said "You have a right." She knew the anger came from deep down in her psyche, and had nothing to do with him, yet it seemed the more time they spent together, the angrier she became. Maybe it was the close proximity of their two large bodies, or merely the sound of Art banging the serving spoon on the plate as he doled out the food. Something drove her over the edge more and more often.
"Why don't you serve the food yourself, then?" Art often retorted.
Larissa replied "It's not about me, it's about you."
The arguments always ended with Larissa running and sobbing upstairs, and Art eating Larissa's portion to feel better. Then Larissa felt contrite at her outburst, and apologized to Art. He always said "That's ok, hon," though his stomach hurt more and more after each row, and they kissed, then went out to a restaurant the next day for a makeup meal.
One breakfast, after three fried eggs and a particularly intense food row, Arthur reached his hands to his head. "I feel so dizzy."
"What are you faking about now?" Larissa demanded.
"The room is spinning," Art said.
"I think it's just gaslighting." Larissa took another bite of her toast. Irritability consumed her. She woke up to leaf blowers blasting outside, and the repetitive sound of a pile driver pounding in the nearby harbour. "You've been acting so morose lately," she scolded. "What's wrong with you?"
Art gripped the side of his ear. He stood up shakily, his face a leached white. Then he collapsed.
His fall shook the room and rattled the windows.
"Omigod!" Larissa screamed. She rushed over as fast as she could, fell to her knees and shook his shoulders with both her hands. No response.
She called the ambulance, but it was too late. A massive stroke. "He must've had a huge blockage," said the coroner. "Was he under much stress? It seemed like his brain exploded."
"I shouldn't have complained so much," sobbed Larissa. "I should have let him eat as much as he wanted."
After the funeral, as penance and as a new start, she vowed to begin a strict and serious diet. After all, the disputes had all been about food. Every time she thought of Art, and about her angry response to his differences, Larissa lost her appetite. She munched slowly, mostly on salads and tofu, reliving how she'd berated her lover over trivial matters, knowing how sorry she'd felt after every row. Then she spat most of the food back into a kleenex. All the guilt from the memory of him falling to the carpet, his huge body blocking the doorway, helped her lose a hundred pounds in a few months.
She rode a stationary bicycle many hours a day at a local recreation centre. The movement calmed her, gave her a focus for the stress. After four months, she appeared svelte and toned. One morning, she conversed with a very thin, fit grey haired man jogging beside her on the treadmill.
"I'm going hiking tomorrow, would you like to come?" said the man, Hank Alonzo, a retired geologist from Hartford, Connecticut.
"Yes, I need to lose more weight, and tune up these flabby muscles," said Larissa. "I lost two more pounds last week."
They hit it off very well on the hike, sharing food knowledge in common, such as what's the healthiest lettuce and where to find the best organic produce. They began to date every weekend, always going on active outings. Larissa took a cruise with Hank up to Alaska. By the Juneau Glacier he asked her to come live with him at his mansion in San Francisco.
"I thought I wanted you only as a friend," she told him. "Now I'm confused."
"You need some fattening up," said Hank.
"I'm not ready yet," Larissa said. "For that level of commitment."
She was down to 90 pounds by then. Hank cooked up delicious vegetarian stews and healthy protein dishes at his Tower Hill condo, but fasting was such a habit Larissa didn't feel like anything more than a few radishes with a dash of celery. She experienced little anger now, either to others or to herself. The not-eating habit no longer felt like punishment, and in fact her growing lightness and joy felt quite pleasurable. Not so much to carry around, or lift up, or sit with all day.
Her happiness grew the more weight she lost. Art faded in her mind, becoming a distant ghost. By the time she reached 75 pounds and went into the hospital diagnosed with severe malnutrition, she was so guilt free she didn't even remember what he'd looked like. "I erased all our photos," she told the doctor. "I think he was skinnier than me at first. What i remember most was that he deliberately served me more at dinner. Such a selfless person."
"You must gain weight," the doctor replied. "Or you will fast yourself to death. These pills will help."
"Well, Dr. Liz, before today, I deserved to starve," she said. "I've been a terrible person, But now, I think I'm light enough to begin breakfast again, as long as I only eat a little."
"I'm happy to hear that," the doctor said.
The next morning, Larissa took her first pill, and two hours later, she consumed a medium sized bowl of steel cut oats. Though she felt food heaviness, she experienced no remorse. She looked in the mirror, noticed some oats on her chin, and laughed. "That actually had some taste." She called up Hank on the phone and asked him to bring some wine into the hospital to celebrate. "Just sneak it through," she giggled.
She was ready, once again, to learn to love her food.