Ross Griff CC
One night out to see a play. Sam Shepard, The Curse of the Starving Class. I sit with ___, somewhere near the back. After he wants me to come home with him, but I have been changed. I have been awakened. I have seen myself in the naked body eating butter onstage. I cannot pretend tonight to be a lady to him, I cannot pretend to be anything but diseased.
Weston: My poison scares you.
Wesley: Doesn't scare me.
Weston: Good. You're growing up. I never saw my old man's poison until I was much older than you. Much older. And then you know how I recognized it? Wesley: How?
Weston: Because I saw myself infected with it. That's how. I saw me carrying it around. His poison in my body.
We have fucked maybe once before after months of flirtation and meaningful conversations and it did not go the way we had hoped. I would stand behind the front desk at the high-end gym where I was working. I had night shifts and there were few people coming in or out so I would read. You would walk over from the juice bar and fold your arms and lean over the desk. What have you got there?
There are other men from this gym, all of a different class from me though, and so the bond was not there. I actually cannot imagine a better setting for a romance based on poverty than here, with the executive keys, celebrities, the Mayor popping by. My pristine blue collared shirt and brown eyeshadow. Maybe the only other person who understood me as much as you, someone high up. But I think he’d grown up poor in North Philly. A boxer. He would also talk to me in the nights. I quite liked him. Defensive when other men wanted my attention though. Is he bothering you? No. Yes, and no. It is always so difficult for me to see the difference between kindness and something more. He related most to Jon Snow in Game of Thrones. When he heard I did not have a television he brought one in his car for me. Let me drive you home I can install it. And how did I manage to say no to that one while still staying in his employ? Each year I become smarter. Or, more cynical? Perhaps he was only being generous. Fatherly. And the forever doubt is as difficult as anything else.
I quite liked you. A film buff who loved comics and Tom Robbins. Very tall with a wide face and big grin, a gap between the front teeth. This was when I had begun to actively and consciously restrict and you made me smoothies to my specific qualifications. Only carrots and soy milk and a little bit of agave and vegan protein powder. My skin already with the yellow sheen of jaundice that would get worse and worse through the summer.
I am in love with ___, but after the play, I know I cannot be with him. I wept throughout the show and as we left he did not understand. He did not and would never know. We walked past a billboard of his sculpted thighs on the way to the theater.
So after the play I rush home to change. I put on lipstick and perfume and a lingerie slip I still have from that first affair. It is cold but the only thing I put over it is my coat. I pack my backpack with flour and sugar and baking soda. My roommates. What are you doing? Distress and unbridled need that creates its own kind of energy. I bike from almost one end of the city to the other, my bare cunt under the slip barely covered by the coat.
When I arrive at your place I knock on the door. I don’t even know if I’ve called ahead and I know you have a girlfriend but you are alone as I knew in my soul you would be and as soon as you close the door behind you I am on my knees. I have never given a more urgent blow job in my life, I will die if you do not make me who I am. I must be on my knees. You must push against the back of my head and you must make me what I am. After you cum and I swallow, before we even speak to one another, I move to the kitchen.
I tell you. I need to bake you bread.
I bake. I do not have a recipe I am just pouring ingredients into a bowl. You fuck me half in the oven for a moment. Probably at my request. While I bake I am bent over counters and against bookshelves. My hands on the floor. I find honey in your otherwise bare cupboards and pour it into the batter. It is full of black ants but it doesn’t matter. I like the way they look drowned in something so sweet. Pretty and still and I want them inside of me too.
I am sure I cannot tell you what came out of the oven that night, but our affair begins and it is a great comfort for us both I believe to be ourselves. To be the products of the backgrounds we otherwise pretend we have outgrown. But it is also turmoil. Shame. Enabling our worst parts.
Your favorite film is, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? And we are so beaten. Together we can admit we are so beaten. The night you come home after seeing your father and you scream, not at me but at whatever made us this way — furious with hurting — and fall face forward flat on your mattress your feet hanging off the bed, blacked out from whiskey. I believe I unlace and remove your shoes for you. Check to see if you are breathing.
But, I am ahead of myself.
It is before I have moved into your attic. A night when I have come over to sit on your floor — you insist I can have a chair or the bed, but I tell you I much prefer the floor and it is true — and we watch films. Sometimes you will let me show you something but you have so much you want to share. We drink. This is when I begin drinking beer, and I am worried I say to you, I am worried I will be fat. Mostly I have been drinking wine or vodka. The first morning I wake up in my black dress on your bed and have had three whole beers and am not as ugly and bloated as I anticipated. And ever since, an important part of my person. A beer here in the afternoon to still the nerves. To feed, remembering you.
You encouraged my vain obsession with my weight. When I eventually became so thin you could not only feel but see the organ of my heart beating. Slowly. The bradycardia already inching. And in a way that made the first nurse who saw my nude chest audibly gasp so I squirmed with pleasure. You let me lean back, arched over your forearms — thick like a working man’s should be, you would say — and you would put your hand, half the size of my torso, just beneath my left breast and over the beating organ. Holding it. Because sometimes I was sure it would pulse its way out of my body and you didn’t want me to worry about losing it.
You’re the one who convinces me to leave my job. You could write, you say, if you had more time. I am going to school during the day and working at the aforementioned gym and also at Barnes and Nobles and Urban Outfitters. I have mostly stopped eating anything but jam in lettuce leafs, canned peas, the smoothies you makes me, beer. I lack the ability to sleep, as do you, without blacking out. So we sit in a lit room and tremble and share.
The night you are getting angry. Very angry and sharing memories from your childhood. I am backing away but I have backed away as far as I can and so now I am very calm because I have seen men agitated like this and I am very calm and I sit against the wall while you punch around my head. And there are holes in the drywall. Close to my jaw.
You were just angry, there’s nothing else to say about it.
When was the last time you felt safe, you asked me one night on your sofa. I am crying.
My grandmother I say. My grandmother always made me safe.
Why don’t you call her?
I call my grandmother and ask her if I can live with her for a while. I withdraw from all my classes. I take a train out West. These memories are not this essay. I become very thin, running thirteen miles a day through a canyon. Swimming for hours. Lifting weights while I compose in my head the next chapter of my novel. I do write the book you said I would write. It is about twin brothers, one is good, one is bad. Military exercises. Excrement. The bad twin incestuously obsessed with the good. The bad twin’s wife by the end the only survivor. One of my favorite scenes I’ve written, someone watching her swim laps in a pool. When I think back on it, it was quite fine.
When I finish the book and sometimes can sleep through the night and have had my fill of Sundance and Bryce Canyon and Zion, I decide I will come back to Philadelphia and take a class again. I will only take one class with a professor I have taken before, who I trust, who has never approached me wanting more as many others have. You say, so you don’t have to work. Why don’t you live in my attic? I won’t charge you rent.
There are more nights like the holes in the drywall. I remember broken glass. Besides the ants in the honey there were other small indignities that we, two people who liked to soak in our decrepitness, encountered. There was the time I was cooking in your kitchen — borscht, we had just finished rereading Jitterbug Perfume and I was on a beet diet — when your girlfriend, who had broken up with you, came to collect her belongings. My mind was so foggy with hunger I don't remember everything. I stood near you. A ways off. She looked at me. She, a rich woman with wide hips over six foot. I am maybe a third of either of you. She does not acknowledge or speak to me but turns red in the cheeks and spits, if not literally, in spirit.
___. She is tiny.
You tell me, maybe it would be a good idea to take a walk.
I walk around the block. Too tired and too stupid to have any thoughts at all. When I return I see your girlfriend has thrown something through your window, or perhaps just pushed your air conditioning unit out onto the street. Glass everywhere. And something in this memory seems false, the timeline or the events. But also it is a memory that is there, that I believe is grounded in truth. I remember plastic covering the window.
I perhaps do not even comment on it but fall asleep, either in your bed or mine. Regardless of the place I think you would hold me while I would sleep often. You tell me I am beautiful and you will make sure I am safe. You worry you say, it seems you have the weight of the world. I argue I have only the smallest things. Everything is so small.
There was always beer in the fridge.
The first day I moved in my mother helped me drive over the things I’d been storing in her home while I lived with my grandmother. She is irritated by the task. Seeing the house she asked immediately. Why don’t you just marry him? This was something she asked of every boyfriend I’d had since sixth grade. Maybe earlier. It would have been a great relief to my mother, who hated having children, for them to be taken care of by something else. This ___. He owns a house. So I can wash my hands of this, why don’t you just marry him? I did not answer her.
You were working, still at the juice bar, when I moved in. You had bought me some of my favorite things though, waiting for me. Stouts. IPAs. Belgian Triples.
The room in the attic was my first real space. It was big and I found a free table to set up as a desk. You gave me bookshelves. I had a mattress and lamps. My own bathroom. Your home had three floors and a back patio. When you came back from work that day I was moved into your house and sitting on the porch in short shorts drinking and painting a nude. A four foot canvas filled with a beautiful obese woman. She hangs behind me in the pictures I will take to document my weight loss. ___, ___. ___. The numbers my favorite, cemented in my memory but I will not give them what they want. I will not allow myself the pleasure of writing them here.
I wanted more and smaller, and my heart would not let me see the number I most desired.
During this period I would write. You would encourage me to write.
We would sit in our respective rooms, you watching films or playing video games. Me. Writing. Writing writing writing writing. I would rush down the stairs to read aloud to you a poem.
You took care of me sometimes. But, I believe I was too ill then for you to fuck. Just bones and everything hurt.
I would listen to you fuck other women in the room beneath me. Like a wraith creeping up and down the stairs for a cold beer, the warmth of the only other room in the house, the two bodies inside. I did not want the women to see me. Skeletal and a color wrong for flesh.
Otherwise, just writing. Poems and novels and incomprehensible trash. One night an old friend who has an internship in NYC visits me. We all go to a club. You fuck her after and I listen to that too. But you never say you will kick me out. You still listen to my poems when I stand in your doorway and recite them to you. Your big hands still hold my arms and face after the nightmares. When I am institutionalized you still allow me to keep my things in your attic.
Two months after leaving, after I am sedated with drugs and bloated with force feeding, I move my things out again. You are not there. I throw away the painting. There is never any resolution. How would I ever contact you to ask where we went? What was me? I don’t even remember your full name.
Sam Heaps is an emerging writer with work published in a few small journals including Entropy, & Of Other Things and Collected. She holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she was the recipient of a New Artist's Society Full Scholarship and a nominee for the James Raymond Nelson Fellowship. Heaps currently works as a Master Lecturer at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.