November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Elizabeth Helen Spencer

Pounds

On Monday Dr. Brussels says, “It is a new month. I think it is time.  Do you feel ready to express your anger, and be honest with the people in your life?  When you start to let go of your fury you will shed its physical manifestation …”

She grabs her midsection passionately and squeezes.

“Oh, right. It’s going to be bathing suit season in a couple of months.”

“Lydia.”

Her voice is stern, a reminder to be serious. 

I look away, at the empty sushi tray by her feet. Why does she always eat during my appointment, doesn’t offer to share and leaves her trash sitting out?  I have doubts about Dr. Brussels. 

“If you get this anger out of your belly,” she continues, “I think you will see results right away.”

I want to be healthy.  And hot. At least it’s not a liquid diet.

I look at the clock and then she looks at the clock.

“Time,” she says.

I walk to Washington Square Park because it’s close to Dr. Brussels’ office.  I don’t want to go back to work.  What I really want is a beer, but it’s only one o’ clock so I just sit on a bench in relative isolation from the homeless people and lunching office workers.  I think about Dr. Brussels’ theory.  It was actually my theory first. “I want to lose thirty pounds,” I said, “but I carry my anger in that fat and I don’t know how to get rid of it.”

The extra weight has distributed itself pretty well on my 5’2” frame.  I’m bigger than I was in my twenties but most of it is from the anti-depressants. You get an office job and realize you don’t need to go to the gym every day because you’re not sleeping with as many people as you were in college.  Maybe you’re not sleeping with anyone.  Maybe you find gyms as pleasant to be in as holiday-season shopping malls.

Dr. Brussels loved the challenge.  For a year she made me talk to her footstool. The footstool became my mother, my ex-lovers, my skinny sister, my co-workers.  By the end of the year I was spitting, gesturing, crying, and screaming at that footstool.  Once I threw up.  She was kind enough not to charge me for the re-upholstering because I already pay on a sliding scale.

Pigeons fleck the grass on their lunch-hunt.  I decide to start with my most recent ex-boyfriend because I don’t think an expression of anger will surprise him.  I just hope the public arena will keep me from freaking out. My stomach tightens with anxiety and I remember that I haven’t eaten lunch, but I’m not hungry anymore.  I don’t want the beer either.  My stomach is closed; it is adamant.  Nothing gets in before something comes out.

“Hello,” Justin says. “If this is about your books, Lydia, I don’t have them boxed up yet, okay? I’m a little busy right now.”

“This isn’t about my books,” I say.  “I need to tell you something.”

He sighs.  I can hear other voices in the background, one of them a woman’s.

“I’ve been pissed off at you for most of our relationship, but definitely more so since we broke up, and definitely the most since we started sleeping together again.”

“We slept together, like, three times.  I don’t think it’s something we’re starting.” 

 “You can’t treat me like a convenience,” I squeeze out.

“What does that mean?”

“It means that you only call and ask how I am when it’s convenient for you, which is usually when you want to sleep with me.”

“Three times, Lydia.  Three times.”

“For most of our relationship,” I say, my voice getting higher, “I put all the effort into making things work.  We wouldn’t have stayed friends if not for me, and maybe we shouldn’t.”

“Then why do you still call?”

“And one other thing.  Every time we slept together I was thinking about the boyfriend before you.”

He is silent.

“Okay, maybe that’s a lie,” I say, “but even the most amazing sex, which I’ll admit we had on occasion, cannot make up for the way you treat me.”

That’s a lie too.

“I feel like a non-person in your life,” I say.

He takes a deep breath.

“I don’t really know what you want. I think you’re still relying on me for emotional support, but I can’t give you that.  Maybe we shouldn’t talk for a while, just let the air clear out.”

“You’re probably right.  But I still want my books back.  And I have to ask: do you still love me in any way?”

“I’m not in love with you anymore,” he says slowly, “but I still care about you.  I think you’re a good person to know.”

“That last thing,” I say, my voice rising again, “is bullshit. I get mad at you when you say things like that.”

A space the size of a Robin’s egg clears out in my stomach.

I lose five pounds by Wednesday.  The next Monday I feel a little weak.  I try to get out of bed, but my legs wobble when my feet touch the hardwood floor.  I call into work and my boss’ administrative assistant answers the phone.

“Marissa, it’s Lydia,” I say.  “I’m not feeling well. Need to talk to Henry.”

“He’s attending a conference. Would you like me to tell him you won’t be in?”

I think I hear exasperation in her voice.  She’s on my list along with the rest of the office, but not for today.  I feel a clean line of nausea go down my throat and pool at the bottom of my stomach.

“Yes, Marissa, that’s exactly what I’d like you to tell him,” I reply evenly.  “And please tell anyone who needs to get a hold of me that I will check my email today.”

“Sure,” she says in her artificial sweetener tone.  “Feel better.”

I hang up.  Before I worked for a non-profit I thought that everyone would be extra nice.  I mean, when you’re walking around fulfilling some higher mission how can you not smile?  But everyone is fake.  It’s like there’s some kind of invisible Joan of Arc Virtue Pageant taking place at all times, and if they sense you’re even the tiniest bit ahead they have no qualms about elbowing you off the runway.

I try to get out of bed again.  I have to use the furniture to steady myself on the way to the kitchen.  I think I just need to drink some tea and have breakfast.  I’ve noticed that my appetite has been down since I called Justin; honesty is stressful.  I open the refrigerator; there is a block of fine cheese I could eat with bread. My stomach growls, but not in the hungry way. I fix my eyes on every object in the fridge, one at a time, and wait for my stomach to react.  Halfway through I notice a pattern.  My stomach vetoes every item that isn’t green. Strange, but what can I do?  I make a salad for breakfast.  I reach for a cucumber and then remember that they’re white inside.  I consider buying Fruit Loops and only eating the green ones.

I feel alright after eating some broccoli and decide to call my mother.  First I brush my teeth. She can smell bad breath through the phone lines and will ask why I’ve let myself fall into such a slump.  I coil myself around a large pillow in the living room and press the phone against my ear. It’s only 7:00 a.m. on the west coast, but she’ll be up, ahead of the rest of the country.

“Good morning, sweetie, are you calling me from work?” she asks.

“No, I’m at home.  I’m feeling sick today.”

“One is or isn’t sick, Lydia.  If you only think you might be sick you really should go to work.  You don’t want a pattern to develop.”

“A pattern?  Mom, this is pretty much the first sick day I’ve taken in my entire life.”

“Is it very important, darling?  I was just watering my tomato plants.”

“It is,” I say. 

She exaggerates a sigh. 

“Before I tell you, you should know that this is a therapeutic exercise designed and overseen by Dr. Brussels.”

My mother loves my psychiatrist.  She was recommended by a friend of a friend of a friend, but Mom acts like they were college roommates.   

 “She’s been a miracle worker with you,” Mom says.

She thinks I’m such a nut job that anyone who could treat me must be a genius and a hero.

“I’m so happy to hear that you’re cooperating with her.”

“Just listen to me, okay, Mom?”

“I’m listening.”

“Why didn’t you pay more attention to me when I was little? I was your only child.  What was going on in your life that was more important than me?” 

I hold my breath.

“That was a long time ago.  You’re thirty now.  How is it relevant?”

Her voice is high and pinched, which is what it sounds like when she’s trying to stay in control.

“Well, it was a handicap both when I was growing up and into my adult life.  In fact, it’s the experience that I attribute my current unhappiness and trouble with relationships to.”

“Trouble with relationships?” she repeats, an edge coming into her voice.  “I don’t think you can blame that on me.  You pick such terrible men. They’re trouble before the relationship even begins.”

I hug the pillow until I start to lose circulation in my arms.

“Mom, I just want to know why you were hardly around. Can you answer that?  I mean, if you’d only shown me a little more encouragement …”

“I did encourage you,” she interrupts.  “I wasn’t around because I was getting my MBA so I could get a better job and send you to the best schools so you would be encouraged and have the chance to do whatever you wanted with your life.”

“But I didn’t want encouragement from anyone except you and Dad,” I say.

“Lydia, don’t be a baby.  You want to know the truth?  You never had any clear direction. Dance lessons, gymnastics, a drum set, swim team, photography – whatever your interest was that year we made sure you were nurtured in it.  You chose to go to art school in New Mexico over Princeton.  Do you think we were happy about that?  I couldn’t sleep for a month.”

I hold the receiver away from my ear.

“And you still don’t have any clear direction. You went from art to the medical field, but we’re so happy you got that job at the non-profit.  If nothing else, you’ve got to have health insur-“

Click.

I drop the pillow and run to the toilet.  My stomach clamps and sends its juices up my throat.  This is the first time I’ve ever hung up on my mother.  It feels good.

On the last day of the second week I weigh myself.  Ten pounds lighter and I feel like shit.  Weak, achy, sluggish.  The weirdest thing is not being able to eat anything that isn’t green.  I go to friends’ houses for dinner and pray that there will be vegetables.  They think I’m on some kind of fad diet, or maybe starving myself. I tell everyone that I’m trying something new, involving honesty, and swear that I didn’t read it in a book or on the internet. 

“My body’s adjusting,” I say, “and I’m listening and it’s telling me that it only wants to eat green.” 

What can they say?  Luckily, I have supportive friends.

I get naked in front of the mirror.  My body doesn’t look too different.  My boobs have shrunk, and there are places around my stomach where the skin seems to have receded but is still loose. Anyway, ten pounds means I’m one-third of the way there and I haven’t said anything at work yet.

I skip an appointment with Dr. Brussels.

“I’m on a roll and I’d just rather wait to talk about it until it’s all done,” I tell her.

“Why do you think you can dictate a new therapeutic arrangement, Lydia? Don’t you think you pay me to know better?”

“Not this time,” I say.

“Fine,” she says, “but if you don’t come back next week I will not be able to see you anymore.”

I go to work and it’s terrible.  My boss turns in his resignation and everyone is on edge.  Their conversations circle around the empty spot like they’re sniffing out opportunities with words.  No one is qualified to replace him.  Marissa cries after he tells her.  She cries the whole day, doesn’t even bother to wipe her nose before answering the phone, and makes sure everyone can hear that every sentence she utters is forced out mid-wail.

After another lunch of steamed spinach with a side of broccoli I am not in the best mood.

“Shut up!” I finally snap in the 3:00 hour.  “Shut up, shut up, shut up!”

She stops crying.  Everyone stops whatever they’re doing.  I’m not an ass-kisser, but I’m usually polite.

“I’m angry because I don’t think you are sincere,” I say to Marissa.

I look around the office.

“No one is being sincere,” I repeat.

Then I switch to the ‘we’ pronoun because I think it will be less threatening.

“We are a selfish, catty, scheming office.”

Marissa starts sniffling.

“And Marissa, I hate to break it to you, but you didn’t even like Henry.  You thought he stared at your chest too much.  So stop the crying already.  No one believes it.”

She stares at me, her mouth slack.   I walk into my office and very calmly shut the door. 

I am getting ready to leave at 4:55 when an unfamiliar woman opens my door.  She identifies herself as someone from HR, a department I didn’t know we had. I know what comes next; they always fire people at the end of the day.

“Ms. Pearson, the outburst you had this afternoon created a hostile environment for your co-workers. I’m afraid that we find this kind of behavior unacceptable.  I have a resignation letter with me; you can sign it right now or we can terminate you.  Whichever option you choose is effective immediately.  Please collect your belongings. You will not be allowed to return to this office tomorrow. See the shipping department if you need boxes.”

She slides a piece of paper across my desk.  They must actually keep resignation letters on hand for a situation like this. I ponder my options.  I have little savings, not even enough to live on for a month.  If I resign I can tell my next employer that my mother suddenly fell ill and I needed to care for her.  As much as I hate its generic language, I sign the letter.

When I come home I go right to sleep.  I don’t wake up until ten the next morning.  I can tell that I have lost even more weight, but I don’t bother to check. My clothes hang with a ghostly emptiness off of my shoulders and hips.  Could it be the flu?  I call Dr. Brussels.

“I need to come in today, if I can get out of bed.  Do you have any openings?” I ask.

“What is the nature of your emergency, Lydia?”

“I wouldn’t call it an emergency, although my whole life is kind of being derailed along with this plan of yours.”

“I can see you at 3:00.”

I feel energy come back into my body.  I drag myself to the bathroom, turn on the shower, take a bar of soap from its holder and begin to lather my skin.

At exactly 3:00 I take a seat in Dr. Brussels’ waiting room.  A small radio plays classical music at an inoffensive volume.  Magazines fan out across end tables, the same four actresses reappearing on the covers. My eyes jump with my stomach, from Lose 10 Lbs Here’s How, to Why Men Cheat and Women Secretly Don’t Care (Because They’re Cheating too), and back to Three Miracle Workouts from Three Oscar Winners. I feel anxious. I check the time on my cell phone: 3:05.  Sometimes when Dr. Brussels is late I think she’s forgotten about me and I knock on the door.  Usually there’s just an especially upset person in the room running over their appointment time.

At 3:08 a middle-aged brunette emerges.  Dr. Brussels gestures for me to come in.  She takes in my appearance, but doesn’t allow her expression to change even slightly.

“Lydia, how are you? It’s been a long time. I am very eager to hear how you’ve made out with the plan.”

“I feel like I’ve had the flu since last week.”

“Why don’t you start from the beginning?”

“Well, I called my ex-boyfriend first. It did feel good to tell him that I was angry about the way he treats me and that I won’t put up with it anymore. He didn’t hang up on me or say he hates me. We just agreed not to talk for a while.”

She nods. “Good, good.”

“And then I talked to my mother.  I told her that I felt like I didn’t get enough attention as a child. I hung up on her and she hasn’t called me since.”

“This could be a huge breakthrough for you,” Dr. Brussels says, “we will begin to focus on your mother as soon as this treatment succeeds.”

“But, I feel terrible.  I’ve lost like 25 lbs this month. I have no appetite, and when I’m hungry my stomach balks at any food that isn’t green.  I lost my job because of your treatment.”
            “Green, green,” Dr. Brussels muses. She looks up at the ceiling as if to ponder a riddle. “What do you think the significance of that color is?” she asks.

I’m exasperated.

“It’s the color of jealousy.  I don’t know.  I’m afraid to talk to my friends, afraid that I’ll suddenly start yelling at them even if I’m not angry.”

“Well, you must stay the course.” She says. “I think your present strife will lead to great rewards in your mental health.”

“Is that all you have to say?”

“Emergency sessions are half as long as regularly scheduled appointments.  I had to squeeze you in and I’m afraid our time is up now.”

I leave, feeling more than a little bit sore about the $100 check I handed over.  I feel like an anecdote in an article she will write: “Subject reported feelings of fatigue and isolation, yet progress has been encouraging.  Instructed subject to continue.”

I turn around in the lobby and ride back to the ninth floor.  I knock on her door, even though I know it would inexcusable to interrupt someone else’s session.  She is alone, which makes me even angrier. 

“Listen,” I say, “I’m feeling pretty angry about the check I just left with you.  I don’t feel you really earned it. sYou didn’t give me any emotional support.”

She steps back and turns her head to look at something on her desk.  When she looks at me again she has a huge smile on her face.  Her eyes display the conviction of people holding bibles or guns.

“It’s working,” she whispers, “I knew it, it’s working.”