A West Texas librarian makes fun of herself and the other people in her town, while writing about her reasons for wanting to lose weight.
“And she thought maybe that acorn would be all right.” From “Mae,” one of The Acorn Stories
January 20, 2001
Dear Fat Diary,
My nutritionist told me to write in you every day, until I can come to terms about why I’m not happy with my weight, and why I want to change. I’m supposed to call you my “love diary,” but I’m not trying to get rid of love; I’m trying to get rid of fat. We’ll talk about love later.
No, on second thought, we’ll talk about love now. I don’t have love because I have fat. If I didn’t weigh 260 pounds, I might be writing a love diary, and teenage girls would read it and swoon, while listening to the latest boybands and dreaming of that guy who sits in the second row of their American history class. Wait, that’s what I did at the University of Texas in Austin.
My name is Pamela Mae Willard, named after my Aunt Mae and my father, Samuel Carsons (yes, as in “Carsons Furniture, Acorn’s best-kept secret”). He wanted a Samuel Carsons, Jr. He had to settle with a Pamuel, which became Pamela, due to the mercy of the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost, and my passive-aggressive mom. She kept “accidentally” referring to my father as “Samueluel,” and when that bothered him, she said she “didn’t give a damnuel,” and when he wanted supper, she said he could fry some “Spamuel,” and if he wanted someone to keep him warm, he could “buy a cocker spaniel.” Even though she never actually said how much she hated the name “Pamuel,” the message came through clearly enough, and he eventually asked if Pamela Mae would be all right.
Pamela Mae sounded sufficiently dignified and Southern for a member of Acorn’s beloved Carsons family, so she consented, and soon began cooking meals that weren’t primarily composed of meat byproducts. Harmony soon returned to our home, and my parents adopted an unwanted newborn baby just over a year later, naming him Samuel, of course, but calling him “Sam.” If they were going to go through all of that just to call someone “Sam,” they probably could have named me Samantha! Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite in a position to impart my keen sense of logic at the time.
My parents were very happy with Sam, who would eventually join the Air Force. I taught Sunday school for a time and, after returning from college in Austin, managed the library.
Our childhood went by with very little trauma or disaster. Meteorites, tornadoes, and general flying debris never hit our house, unless you count acorns, pecans, and the occasional dust storm. Daddy wasn’t a drunk, though he always liked touring the wineries that keep popping up around West Texas. Mom didn’t have a secret past, unless it’s still Acorn’s best-kept secret, to use that tired catch phrase I mentioned before, the one Daddy’s store shares with most of Acorn’s local advertisers. And my adopted brother didn’t turn out to be a space alien, despite my early suspicions; in fact, he and I remain the best of friends. Regardless of how some people around here make it sound, the sky isn’t always falling in Acorn, at least not for our family. I had loving parents and a happy, well-rounded childhood.
“Well-rounded.” Bad word choice.
I grew taller fast during my early teens, so much so that my mom worried I might have some sort of thyroid disorder, and it seemed like I needed to eat a lot for my body to keep up with its own growth. But then I stopped growing. Upward, that is. Then I got fat, and I stayed fat. So here I am, writing in my fat diary. Worst of all, I’ll probably wind up writing about my joke of a short-lived marriage.
I’m supposed to examine key moments from any of my amazing thirty-something years, and find reasons to love myself, all the while congratulating myself for the conclusions I reach.
Do I get a lollipop for that?
January 21, 2001
Dear Fat Diary,
I attended Seventh Street Baptist Church for most of my life, like the rest of my family. In fact, I even taught Sunday school there sometimes. But I walked right out when they started promoting censorship and book burning, and I mean the term “book burning” literally! As a librarian, I just couldn’t calmly support that, dropping my tithe into the plate, to see my money used not for helping the sick or the poor but to pay for full-page newspaper advertisements that attacked any literary work with the slightest spark of imagination.
So I started going to the local Episcopalian church. It’s smaller, more intelligent, my friends Chandler Davis and Keith Colson go there, and the new minister is kind of cute. Hey, if you have to stare at someone that long every Sunday morning, he should look better than the sag-faced pastor of 7-Bap. Chandler and Keith are also pleasing to the eye, but I’m one of the few people in Acorn to notice that they’re also pleasing to each other’s eyes, if you know what I mean, so there was never hope for me with either of those two.
I probably would have just moved my letter to the Zionosphere Baptist Church, since I still consider myself a Baptist, but that congregation fell apart after all of those paternity tests came back positive. Sure, Pastor Jimmy Jacobs left his wild days behind when he got saved and went into the ministry, but everyone had trouble forgiving him when so many young members of the congregation—not to mention Acorn’s general population—started looking like him. He made the best move by accepting a calling to another state.
His uncle, Coach Jacobs, still attends 7-Bap, and he’s usually the one who encourages its backward “crusades.” I really think that church would be much better off without him, especially considering some of the good work they still do, when he allows it. By the way, I want to state for the record that Coach Jacobs has no first name. I checked.
Mayor Nick Williams (who is stylishly handsome, if you’re into pretentious fifty-somethings) couldn’t understand why I would leave 7-Bap for a church that didn’t endorse his reelection campaign, which obviously meant that they were the enemy of all that’s good. Most of my relatives said I was losing my faith; one of the few kin to spare me that grief was my cousin Aragon Carsons-Friedman, who is one of the ten people who attend Acorn’s Holy Chastity Catholic Church (the others being her husband, her daughter, an altar boy, the priest, and the choir). But I didn’t care what anyone thought. I needed a church where I felt real, and where I didn’t feel like I was supporting something I shouldn’t support.
January 22, 2001
Dear Fat Diary:
I’m not sure when I realized that I didn’t need a husband or even a lover to make me happy. It was probably as soon as I divorced my husband, but I think it really just sank in a few months ago, while I was training a new employee at the Megan Carsons Library, where I’m head librarian. Considering that Megan Carsons was my grandmother, and that there aren’t many librarians in the Acorn area, it wasn’t a hard job for me to get, but it’s certainly one I love.
I mentioned some of the censorship that goes on in Acorn. Sometimes, it affects the library, and we’ll get people trying to ban books like Tom Sawyer, Common Sons, or even Lord of the Rings, but most Acornians are supportive of us, even if they never come in. The censors eventually got too busy protesting Keith’s art gallery, which is what made me become friends with him. Still, they backed off on that after the gallery’s re-opening led to grants and awards that helped Acorn get featured in a certain monthly magazine with “Texas” in its title that used to act like we don’t even exist. Go figure.
With our location across the street from campus, we double as Acorn’s public library and as Acorn College’s library. The building itself, a moderately ornate, two-story mansion, served as the home of my grandparents for many years, before they donated it for its current purpose and moved into a smaller home. Many of the books on our shelves came from their collection, and Grandma Megan (known to most other people as “Old Lady Carsons”) even wrote one of the books: An Acorn History. Aragon talks about writing a more up-to-date chronicle and calling it The Acorn Stories, but I doubt anyone outside Acorn would buy it, if anyone bought it at all.
So it was the fall of the year 2000, which I still can’t say without thinking of space ships, world peace, painless exercise, and all the other stuff we expected by the year 2000. Thanks to Acorn College’s student worker program, I received a sparkly new freshman every year whose paycheck came from somewhere else—I never really understood where, but why ask?
Tiffani Basil, a bleach factory with high heels and overly snug clothing, bounced my way fresh out of Acorn High. A little too fresh.
“So, what do you like to do?” I asked her, during our first day working together. We were standing behind the checkout counter, and, like most fall semesters, I knew not to expect many students until the day before midterms started. The only people in were housewives feeding their romance novel cravings, Ian Aristotle making a beeline to the science fiction shelves for the latest Babylon 5 novel, and Lynn Williams (the mayor’s gray-haired and red-eyed wife) perusing our stock of self-help books before abandoning herself to the latest posthumously published Schafly Shlockel novel.
“I like mostly like movies.” The extra “like” wasn’t like a typo on my part, but like how Tiffani like talks.
“Really? What have you seen recently?”
“I like saw that Brad Pitt movie, Meet Joe Black. It was like three hours long! I think it was so long because everyone talked real slow.” She punctuated her conclusion by jolting her long head backwards and staring into space.
Forcing myself not to scream, I quickly changed the subject. “I noticed on your application that you’re married. How long?”
“How long what?”
“How long have you been married?”
“We were married five months. We just got divorced, but we were still married when I filled out my application for you.”
“I’m sorry,” I offered, trying not to think about the fact that my marriage only lasted five weeks, and that I wasn’t sorry at all when it ended.
“It’s okay. I’m like so over him! He thought he was all that because he was manager of the last Piggly Wiggly around here, but it closed down and he wasn’t manager of nothing. He’s a bag boy at the super center now, but I don’t go in there. It’s like a magnet for stupid people. My new man is more sensitive than my husband was. He’s a theater major, anndduh…he has a part-time job at the flower shop!”
I stifled the stereotypes that flooded my mind, and I mentally kicked myself for thinking those stereotypes. “He sounds nice!”
She indicated exclamation with some sort of cheerleader motion of her right hand. “Oh, you wouldn’t believe how nice! But we’re not real serious. If he wants to buy me stuff, that’s great, but I need to be my own woman now, and I don’t need any help raising my kids.”
“Kids?” I said the word too loud for decorum, especially in a library. One of the housewives, spending way too long reading the back cover of a love story she would soon check out for the fifth time, looked up and cocked her roller-covered head.
“I have two kids, but I live with my parents now, so I don’t need any help. I’m a independent woman! My little sisters are both pregnant, though, so we need more income while I’m in college, planning for a career with some big company, maybe Enron or K-Mart.”
While helping Ian check out his TV/paperback tie-in and noticing for the billionth time how he and Lynn Williams always appeared at the same places at the same time, I bit my tongue over a myriad of “don’t go there” thoughts. Still, after Ian left, I couldn’t help but voice one of those thoughts. “I take it the Acorn School District still uses the abstinence-only, no-discussion sex education program that’s so popular in West Texas.”
“Yeah,” said Tiffani, chewing her bubble gum and tugging at the lacy bra strap that peaked out of her red sweater’s V-neck collar. “Why fix what ain’t broke?”
“And speaking of the Dewey Decimal System,” I swiftly and breathlessly replied, before I could get myself into trouble.
“The what?” Tiffani scrunched her makeup-caked face. “I’m not good at math.”
“Math? Oh. Decimals. Never mind. I was just joking anyway. The library catalog is completely computerized.”
“Now I’m good at computers! I can sit at one all day, and not even know there’s a world going on around me.”
“Hm!” I replied, ambiguously. But even as I contemplated the possible ramifications of letting such a vacuous individual become second-in-command of Acorn’s intellectual epicenter, I came to the important conclusion I mentioned earlier. If Tiffani could survive without a man, I certainly could. Only I wouldn’t be such a glutton for melodrama as to move back in with my parents. I mean, I love them, and they’ve always been there for me, but I don’t think we could deal with each other as adults on a 24/7 basis. It sounds too much like a TV sitcom that would
be turned down by everyone but CBS and then wind up on UPN.
I haven’t always been so independent or so outspoken as the person writing this diary. In fact, I only recently graduated from uniformity and timidity, via certain strange and/or wonderful experiences. I’ll describe some of those in the entries that follow.
January 23, 2001
Dear Fat Diary:
Here is the tale of the last time I ever saw Mr. or Mrs. Mayor Williams. It’s a sordid tale, but you’ll recover quickly.
Every Tuesday afternoon at 3, about twenty women between the ages of 50 and 80 congregate in the library’s meeting room, which is actually a big table in the middle of the magazine and microfiche room. Of course, they all talk rather loudly, since some of them can barely hear, and since most of them are used to living with people who either can’t hear or don’t listen. So at least the noisy old hens are cut off a little bit from the rest of the library.
Still, I often find myself walking past the group, known as PAW. That stands for Polite Acorn Women, though it sounds like something about pets; in fact, animal lovers sometimes show up, and I have to remind them that cats, dogs, and assorted reptiles aren’t allowed in the library, unless they’re in a book. Then there was that horrible incident with a ground squirrel and the collected works of Edgar Allen Poe, but we won’t get into that.
One day, as I walked past the PAW meeting, I tried not to think about the fact that the congregation of big white hair and big blue hair made it look like a cotton candy machine exploded in the middle of the table. I also tried not to think about the fact that PAW supported Mayor Williams’s election all three times, or that they pushed him into supporting censorship in Acorn. I support everyone’s freedom of speech (even when they espouse bigoted views), but I was a little suspicious about the fact that Keith Colson’s original art gallery burned down right about that time.
Of course, I found it difficult not to think about those things when I saw the mayor in attendance, and saw one of the women stand up and introduce him, after a lengthy struggle with her stroller. “It is my delight to introduce to all of you a very special person and a pillar of our community.”
I wondered which of the women didn’t remember meeting him countless other times, considering that no one new ever joined PAW and that its numbers were slowly declining from attrition. Acorn’s newer old people are so much more hip, or they’re just swinging their hips in aerobic dance sessions. But Sadie Aristotle introduced him anyway, and I thought about the fact that I had just seen her grandson, dropping off his quickly devoured Babylon 5 book with Tiffani, who said she hadn’t read Babylon 1-4, but that “Mr. Davis, my like English teacher in high school, made us read The Great Gatsby, and I thought it was like about a magician or something, but there were like all these people like—” I quickly escaped that conversation, and found myself walking among blue and white clouds.
“As you all know,” said the mayor, being someone who frequently informed people what they think, what they know, how they feel, and so forth, “the element of immorality continues to seep into our fine community, and we must stomp it out. Stomp it out! Stomp it out of our libraries!”
His eyes darted about before meeting mine; my eyes looked for a large book that I could throw at him, without damaging the book. No, that would be wrong, I told myself, hurting an innocent book.
His exercise in parallel structure continued. “Stomp it out of our schools! Stomp it out of our bookstores!”
“Bookstores?” The loud voice tripped by me. Well, actually, the person with the loud voice did the tripping, nearly falling onto the microfiche viewer before tripping her way to the foot of the PAW meeting. She straightened her expensive-looking blouse as she regained her footing.
“Lynn!” exclaimed the mayor, as if surprised that he might run into his wife sometimes. I rarely saw them together, so I guess that surprise made sense.
“Ladies,” she said, gesturing about at the blue-hairs, “my husband knows all about bookstores, especially every adult bookstore in Texas. That’s just one of the many places where he picks up gay men, just before coming back and lecturing everyone about immortality…ality…whatever!”
“Lynn!” exclaimed the mayor again, obviously not progressing in the amusing conversation. It certainly caught my attention. It also caught Ian’s, who walked in behind the obviously intoxicated Lynn Williams. But she didn’t seem to notice him, or her own loud raving. As head librarian, it was my job to stop her, but my love of drama won out, and I stood gawking, right beside Ian.
“What are you saying?” one of the women demanded of Lynn.
“I’m saying that my self-righteous joke of a husband is one of those whatdoyacallit ex-gays, and like the rest of the ex-gays, he keeps forgetting the ex part. Well, he’s gonna remember the ex part, because I’m filing for divorce, and he’ll be my ex-husband. I’m tired of seeing his car parked at the most em…embar…embarrassing places in West Texas!”
Nick gave a well-rehearsed answer: “I had to use the bathroom!”
“And the back seat, and a dirt trail, and all kinds a other places. You think no one knows! Wives know-uh! We aren’t as stoopdidid as you think.” The passion in her voice did little to clear up the slur from her drinking, a slur that aggrandized the more comfortable syllable stretching of a West Texas accent.
“That’s terrible!” one of the women exclaimed, scowling disapprovingly at Nick.
Ian covered his mouth, but obviously to keep from laughing, rather than out of shock. “This is the best thing since the SciFi Channel,” he whispered to me.
Lynn continued. There was no stopping her! “Do any of you know what it’s like being married to a closeted ho-mo-sectional…sexual…homosexual?”
Another old lady spoke up. “Well, I’m not sure if he’s you know, that way, but my Vinnie never misses The Laurence Welk Show…and he’s always shopping for antiques.”
“Worry!” Lynn told her.
Nick threw up his hands and approached his drunken, angry, shouting, extremely amusing wife. “This is insane! Lynn, you’re drunk again, and you’re probably hallucinating.”
“No, I was hallucinating when I saw a man who loved me and would be faithful to me, because that damn sure isn’t you!” With that, she stormed out, and Nick went tumbling after. Then the library grew quiet as…well…as a library should be. Even PAW paused, before noticing the time and wandering out.
Though most of them remained silent, I heard one of the women ask another, “What’s an adult bookstore? Is that like adult daycare?” The other waved her hand and shook her head, deciding not to respond.
Ian told me, “Well, that was bound to happen eventually.”
Obviously feeling awkward about seeing his grandmother walking by at the end of a sex-based conflict, Ian looked the other way for a few seconds. She seemed too shocked to notice him anyway, and almost ran into the exit door on her way out. Ian continued: “Yeah, we saw him a few times, while we were parked on the outside of town.” Realizing too late what he had just revealed about himself, he lifted his fingers away from his hips and shrugged.
“Well, I’m sure y’all were just talking about your favorite scifi books.”
“Okay. That works. But I don’t think Lynn and I will be…talking scifi…anymore. I’ve been wanting to end our…book club…for a long time. It’s just too weird a situation. Convenient. Fun. Hot!”
“Don’t get graphic,” I implored him.
“I’m sorry you got caught in the middle of a situation like that. You’ve always been so sweet.”
He smiled at the compliment, then said, “Look, I’m totally cool about the gay thing. I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but my Aunt Talia is a lesbian.”
“How did you know? The haircut? The pickup truck?”
“The Sapphic tastes in literature.”
Ian grinned. “We know way too much about our Acornian neighbors.” I nodded, and he continued his earlier thought. “Anyway, Aunt Talia’s been with the ladies’ basketball coach from Acorn College for longer than I’ve been alive, though everyone pretends not to notice, or forces themselves not to notice. And it isn’t like they’re the only gay couple around. I’ve seen how your buddies Keith and Chandler get all googley-eyed at each other when they’re sharing a sundae at my ice cream shop.”
“You’re right. We do know way too much about our Acornian neighbors. We both have the perfect cover for gathering Acorn intel. Though I don’t know what we’d do with it.”
“A sequel to your grandmother’s book?”
I rolled my eyes. “Talk to Aragon.” I quickly amended my response: “But don’t tell her anything you don’t want printed.”
“Anyway,” he said again, almost assertively. Ian, though quite handsome and still boyishly charming in his early thirties, suffered from a small frame and a lack of ambition. He only became manager of the Ice Cream Dream because the owner/manager retired, and Ian was the only person who had lasted more than two months as assistant manager, after being the only person to last more than three weeks as a cook/cashier. “An-y-way, I’m cool about the whole gay thing, but not when they play house with some straight person while going out at night, finding random same-sex sexiness, and doing all kinds of risky…risking.” He shook his hands about toward the end of his sentence as his articulation began to fail him, but I fully agreed with his point.
“You’re right. Who wants a marriage like that?”
Emboldened, Ian added, “That would be even worse than your marriage!” Then he lowered his head, letting his adorable black bangs drape over his face. (I’ve read a lot of books, and I’ve noticed that bangs have a tendency to drape constantly, which makes you want to put bangs up in your window. But, okay, it isn’t like anyone is going to read this.) “Sorry,” he sheepishly added.
I laughed at his apology and his comment. “Don’t be. My marriage was from the depths of Hell! Tyler Willard is the most egotistical, misinformed, cruel, idiotic weed of a man I’ve ever met!”
“He wasn’t very nice on the school bus either. So what happened to Tyler?”
“The last I heard, he’s still somewhere in West Texas, writing editorials for a local newspaper.”
“God help us!”
January 24, 2001
Dear Fat Diary:
So, as you can guess from my last entry, Ian and I later started dating, while the mayor and his wife suddenly but separately skipped town. As it turned out, even Tiffani couldn’t stick around much longer. A few weeks after the mayor’s geriatric outing, I was approaching the check-out counter one day when she was trying to figure out how much change to give our young town doctor, Bolt Briggs, who had returned an overdue copy of Leaves of Grass. Her head kept bobbing up and down, like an oil derrick.
“Let’s see,” she said, “first we need to minus this by 46 cents, no, 47 cents.”
Bolt laughed that annoying machine-gun laugh of his. “It’s all right there, Jennifer, y’all can keep the change.”
“Jennifer?!” she practically screamed, dropping pennies, nickels, and dimes off the counter. “Jennifer is, like, my sister’s name! Do I look like a Jennifer to you?!”
He tilted his head to one side then the other. “Well, yeah. I’m sorry, I really thought you were Jennifer. I treat you both, and the other one.”
“Jerafani! Her name isn’t ‘The Other One.’ It’s ‘Jerafani.’ My parents liked our names, but couldn’t come up with anything for a third daughter, so they just put together our names. I am like so sick of people bringing that up! Who names their daughter something like that?” Tiffani cringed, her mascara practically flaking off her eyes, and the bows practically popping off her super-bleached hair. “I don’t need this,” she stated, to no one in particular.
“Don’t need what?” I asked, in case maybe she was talking to me. I never found out. She left even more abruptly than the mayor.
I soon learned that she had a history of breakdowns, and had spent some time in a hospital, after one of her sorority sisters introduced her to vodka enemas. Don’t ask. I later learned that Tiffani was also upset because her boyfriend had left town with the mayor. Don’t tell. Tiffani decided to be a stay-at-home mom, while staying at her mom’s home. Worse yet, a week after Tif’s tiff, I learned that government cutbacks were about to phase out the student worker position anyway.
I wound up hiring Ian’s older sister to help out, and I found myself spending more and more time with the Aristotle clan. As her unlikely but suitably literary family name suggests, she’s much smarter than Tiffani, or even Ian for that matter, and has had several papers about the beatnik poets published. She wrote one paper about a famous beatnik poem with 320 lines of mad ravings, all beginning with the word “because.” She titled her paper “No One Asked Why.”
I liked her already!
January 25, 2001
Dear Fat Diary:
Okay, I’ve put it off long enough. It’s time to talk about my ex-husband, how we met, and how everything went quickly downhill from there.
I was at 7-Bap one morning, several years ago, when this little beanpole of a man with frizzy, bad-part-about-West-Texas hair sat down beside me. I had seen him before, at church and around town. You really couldn’t miss him. In fact, I had recently seen him dating someone who was shaped amazingly like me, and who had frequently checked out library books before she moved off to California, but I couldn’t remember her name.
As it turns out, this young man went from lonely woman to lonely woman, letting them pay his rent and buy his supper. Well, I wasn’t falling for that. I wasn’t going to let someone like that string me along.
I just married him.
He asked me out right away, while glaring at the passing offering plate full of wadded-up cash, and he seemed really nice. Then, obviously having no life or job, he kept asking me out, and hanging around the library, looking for books on government conspiracies, the New Age movement, the end of the world, and whatnot. My dear cousin Aragon warned me that he was bad news, but I thought he was hilarious. Bear in mind that he rarely meant to be funny, but he was so inarticulate, while desperately trying to convince everyone of his profound intellect, that comedy just poured forth from his lips. He would say things like “That guy always wears that suit sometimes,” or “I’m not going to sit here and stand for this!” It was like dating Archie Bunker! (In hindsight, I wonder why anyone would want to date Archie Bunker.)
And he had an odd sort of charm to him, not to mention the fact that he could be as clever when he wasn’t trying to be clever as he was funny when he wasn’t trying to be funny. Sometimes, he would make a little remark that struck me as somewhat racist, sexist, or homophobic, but you hear stuff like that a lot in a small town, and you try to forgive people their stupidity.
I forgave too much of it.
Aragon saw where it was going. I was a lonely, desperate, twenty-something virgin. A loser magnet!
“If you get married, get a prenuptial agreement,” she insisted, as we sipped green tea together in the dining room of her first home. With the overkill of oak furniture and Southwest décor, it looked much like the dining room in the mansion where she now lives. Billy Friedman, her beautiful boyfriend (and now husband) with the perfect body (and now still-perfect body) wandered through and smiled at me. I hated her for finding someone so…so…so would not be with me. But that isn’t really true . I’ve always loved Aragon for her boldness and bluntness, and I wanted to be just like her, even if I couldn’t find a boyfriend who looked like he should rip off his shirt and start saving screaming little girls from sharks, tidal waves, and misguided crushes.
“Air, I’m not getting one of those. It’s like a promise to divorce.”
She blew on her tea, its steam curling around her pretty, lightly made-up face. “No one calls me ‘Air’ anymore. I don’t do nicknames.”
“And I don’t do prenuts! I mean, I don’t do prenups!”
We both laughed at my blunder, before Aragon warned, “You’re already starting to talk like him! It’s the dumbing down of Acorn’s intellectual leader! Do we really need that? Goodbye, Ernest Hemingway, hello, tractor pulls! Goodbye, Alice Walker, hello, mud wrestling!”
“Goodbye, Aragon, hello, time to go back to work.” I walked around the table and hugged her neck, careful not to mess up the intricate workings of her latest pull-up hairstyle.
“I love you,” she reminded me.
“Someone needs to.” I picked up an odd, misshapen piece of crystal from an antique sewing table, near the open doorway to the living room. Tiny, multi-colored buttons surrounded the object’s jagged, multi-angled surface. “What’s this doohicky?”
Aragon pushed herself around, her face vibrant with the opportunity of sarcasm, something she loved as much as I did but rarely kept to herself. “Did you just use the word ‘doohicky’? You are getting dumb, Ms. Librarian.”
“Okay!” I set the doohicky down.
“You know, if you killed someone with a doohicky, that would be doohickular homicide.”
“Let’s find out if you’re right,” I said, reaching for it again, then shaking it about in a threatening motion.
“It’s a universal remote control, for the ceiling fans, the stereo, the TV, the lights. It was designed to not stand out, not be noticed.”
“It didn’t work.”
“And it doesn’t work.” As I set it down again, Aragon grew serious. “Sweetie, Billy thinks Tyler could be abusive. Billy does a lot of research on domestic violence, you know, because of his father.”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed the books he reads on the subject. Tell Billy not to be a hero. Your boyfriend worries about people too much, just like you.”
Aragon nodded in agreement, but then she said, “I’ll have my lawyer write a draft for you.”
“We have the same lawyer.”
As I started to walk through the doorway, she added, “Well, I was really going to write it myself, just to be safe.”
“I know you were. You’re my cousin, not my big sister. Love you!” I slipped on out.
Of course, she wrote it, and I told Tyler that I wouldn’t marry him unless he signed it. Not because Aragon pushed me into it, but because I knew deep down that she was right. My insistence made Tyler mad, and he shouted something about “feminaligations,” which I know isn’t a word, but that never stopped Tyler. I guess it wasn’t too much worse than “doohicky.” He relented, after reading me a passage from one of his conspiracy tracts, and telling me “You remember that!” I don’t remember a word of it, or what it was about. I just wanted him to sign the prenup.
Just five weeks after our wedding (and the New Mexico honeymoon that my parents paid for), I started insisting that he get a job and keep it. He’d been through five since we’d met, including three that I’d helped him get, and one that Billy helped him get. I told him to be more responsible, and not to drink so much, or use such spiteful language about people who were different from him. Then he up and slugged me. I don’t mean a slap; I mean hockey player style. And that bony little fist hurt a lot more than what I would have expected.
Billy happened to be the deputy back then (now the sheriff, with the still-perfect body), and he virtually assaulted Tyler when he found out what happened. I had to agree to drop any charges against Tyler to keep Tyler from filing charges against Billy. I had my prenup. I really didn’t care.
Like so many other people, Tyler soon faded out of Acorn, which makes you wonder why our population is always exactly 21,001. Maybe no one wants to repaint the city limits sign. But, then, new people fade in just as quickly. I was just glad Ian never left, and that he eventually gave up on the mayor’s wife. Unlike Tyler, Ian was intentionally and successfully witty and insightful, even if his life thus far had suggested he shared Tyler’s lack of ambition. At least he’d kept the same job for several years! That was something: a little star by his name.
And he is cute, unlike Tyler. Not the perfect body, but you can only find one of those per small town, and Aragon had already found Billy, and don’t start thinking that I’m fixated on him. He’s just nice to look at, like his Army/fireman hunk of a brother (another person who faded away from Acorn, though he visits now and then), and like my boyband posters. I’m just glad Ian never expected me to take those posters down.
January 26, 2001
Dear Fat Diary
For our first date, Ian took me to the Cow Palace, my all-time favorite restaurant. Sad, isn’t it? But it wasn’t like Acorn has any of those fancy restaurants like in New York City. Don’t get me wrong. We have restaurants on every corner, but they’re all owned by people with names like “Bubba” or “Chuck.”
I hadn’t been to the Cow Palace in a couple of weeks. As always, they had hired a new waitress during my brief absence. This one was a rather young-looking and slightly pregnant-looking little girl with puffy lips, and with “Jennifer” written on her slanted nametag.
“Aren’t you the librarian?” Jennifer asked me, when she finally wandered vacantly over to our table.
“Could I puh-lease get some coffee?” the rotund man at the next table demanded, his tone overstating his impatience.
I suddenly realized, as if for the first time, that I was hardly one of the few overweight Acornians. Out of the forty or so people at the Palace (it was a Friday night, so they were crowded), at least half of them looked like they could barely fit their bulk between the nailed-down benches and the nailed-down tables. (Everything is nailed down in the Cow Palace, because of some sort of teen ritual that apparently involves taking items from places that have “cow” in their title.) Some of the kids looked like they weighed even more than the adults.
Jennifer also looked a bit “big-boned,” as my parents euphemistically called me, even if you don’t include the teen pregnancy. She also looked vaguely familiar. After she returned from nervously pouring Mr. Grumpy some more coffee, she came back to our table. But then the cell phone in her apron pocket started ringing, rather shrilly.
“Hey,” she said into the phone, obviously forgetting us. “No, you did NOT. No, you did NOT! No! That is just too funny! I would have been like so out of there!”
“Excuse me,” Ian said, with forced politeness. As sweet as he is, even he couldn’t believe our waitress would stand over us, talking on her cell phone.
She pulled the phone slightly away from her multi-pierced left ear. Though her only earring had somehow found its way through her right eyebrow, the many holes in both of her elongated ears made her look like she had walked through a dart-board championship at the wrong moment. “Uh, hello, this is like a private conversation. I’m like talking on the phone. See,” she waved it at him, “tel-e-phone.” Returning to her conversation, she said, “I have to call you back. The manager’s looking at me. He’s kinda hot, too. Maybe he’ll ask me out, if I get good comments on my customer cards.” Seeming to forget about her own rudeness and Ian’s objection, she asked me again, “Aren’t you the librarian?”
“Yes,” I replied, trying to match her face and nametag to a library card. “You don’t have an overdue library book, do you?” I don’t know why I asked her that—maybe because people avoid me when they have overdue books, and I always know it’s the reason for their fear. Well, that and the sheer terror that I might suggest they read something, anything, please! Still, I’d already been replaced once by her cell phone, and I certainly didn’t want a waitress who avoided me completely, as she had obviously avoided the super-chunky coffee freak. I mean, he was super-chunky, not the coffee; that would be gross.
She somehow managed to pull her face into her skull, while rolling her florescent green eyes back and forth. I suspect the former act involved some sort of circus background, while the latter involved colored contact lenses that a teen salesclerk said “look like totally real on you, Jennifer.” After pouring coffee into our already supplied cups, without seeing if we wanted coffee, Jennifer asked, “Do I look like I have an overdue library book?”
“Not really,” I replied, as pleasantly as possible.
“My sister, Tiffani, worked for you, and it was like total mental turmoil for her!”
I glanced at Ian, whose adorable face couldn’t hide his amusement at our bizarre exchange, then I looked back to our florescent-eyed waitress with the multi-selection earring racks for ears. “I think tying her shoes was like total mental turmoil for your sister,” I blurted, my words somehow bypassing the “don’t say that out loud” filter that had kept me safe all my life.
Ian burst into animated laughter (not Woody Woodpecker animated, but wild gesturing animated—then again, Woody Woodpecker wasn’t far off on how he started laughing). He knocked over his coffee in the process, but Jennifer started sobbing and ran out the door. The nicely groomed teenage manager, always close by for such emergencies, strolled over to our table and asked us to leave.
“Fine,” I told him, as we got up. “And there’s still another Basil girl, if you need a replacement.”
That was my first date with Ian. It was kind of fun.
January 27, 2001
Dear Fat Diary:
Most of what you’ve been reading dealt with a few months ago, or even further back. It’s time to catch up, because I’m not going to keep writing this diary forever. I won’t keep saying “because” when no one asked “why.”
Nick Williams became a popular evangelist who claims to “cure” homosexuals of their sexual orientation; Tiffani’s ex-boyfriend is always at his side, for some reason, and I’m sure “always” isn’t an overstatement.
I read in the paper last month that my ex-husband, Tyler Willard, had been arrested for trying to bomb a feminist bookstore; unfortunately for him, the web site where he found the bomb ingredients was a prank site created by bored former users of Napster. He called in the bomb threat from his house, oblivious to Caller I.D., and later confessed everything to the police, before they told him that it just shot a bunch of pretty sparkles around the building, causing numerous passersby to come in, see what’s going on, and shop there for the first time.
The library continues to thrive, and I’ve actually seen a boost in checkouts, thanks to Harry Potter mania and Becky Blake mania. Lynn Williams wrote a book (which is already out, thanks to the wonders of Print-On-Demand publishing), exposing her now ex-husband as a not-so-ex-gay. Nick Williams quickly managed to prove her affair with Ian, and to convince his followers that Satan sent Lynn to lead him astray. She was emasculating and overbearing, apparently, which supposedly caused him to have anonymous sex with men he met at truck stops, gay bars, and adult bookstores, though he always just went to those places to use the bathroom. Amen, or not.
Ian has turned Ice Cream Dream into a big success, and now there are plans for a franchise, with locations in several Texas towns: Aqua Dulce, Ben Franklin, Bigfoot, Cut and Shoot, Gun Barrel City, Happy, Plfugerville, Tarzan, and maybe even Uncertain. The potential investors in Utopia, Texas, said it just wasn’t right for them—like they’re so perfect!
January 28, 2001
Dear Fat Diary:
It’s my birthday! I don’t have time for you! Ian’s taking me out, and he’s made plans for a big dinner. I hope that means “nice,” rather than literally big. I’ve actually lost thirty pounds since starting with my nutrionist, and I’d like to not gain it all back in one night, even if it is a special night.
January 29, 2001
Dear Fat Diary:
Ian asked me to marry him last night, and I’m going to say “yes” soon. Just as well keep him guessing for a while. I’ve quit worrying that all men might turn into Tyler Willard (that’s even less likely than Tyler Willard turning into a man). Ian can live without Lynn Williams and a life of extramarital sneaking about. Ian and I could even live without each other, or anyone else. But why should we?
Now, if it turns out that he’s unfaithful, a jerk, a loser, or abusive, he’ll probably be my last husband, and I’ll become Emily Dickinson, living with my books and my relatives. I left “gay” out of the list of things he shouldn’t turn out to be, because I don’t see that as something bad, but I think it would be somewhat problematic if my husband turned out to be gay. It certainly didn’t lead to the ideal marriage that Mr. and Mrs. Mayor Williams tried to project.
Honestly, though, I really think Ian has turned out pretty good, and I’m glad I caught him before anyone else realized that, or any other lonely, desperate housewives in sham marriages wandered into the Ice Cream Dream looking for love—which apparently isn’t a totally unlikely scenario. Ian is sweet and good-looking. I also enjoy the fact that he knows books and the library almost as well as I do, even if his literary tastes generally lean more to Piers Anthony than to Shakespeare.
I’ve decided to wear white to the wedding. The only man I’ve ever been with is Tyler, and he was so pathetic in bed that it’s easy not to count him. I’m still waiting to find out what making love with a real man actually feels like. Besides, our marriage started and ended so quickly that most people never noticed it.
Will I keep trying to lose weight? Probably, but not for Ian. He accepts me as I am, and he’s also just glad I don’t have any skeletons (or husbands) in my closet. So it isn’t for Ian, or anyone else but me.
I want to take better care of Pam.
Will I keep going with this fat diary? No. As I said, my real problem was that I didn’t have love, and writing about the past few months has helped me realize that I am very much in love with Ian. Even more shocking, he’s also in love with me! He doesn’t hang around me because my parents are rich, or because I can let him keep The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy an extra week (well, maybe a little bit of the latter). He hangs around me because we have fun together and like being a part of each other’s lives.
I’m getting the love and companionship I needed from Ian. Anything else I needed, I’m learning to get from myself, which is what I should have started doing a long time ago. Maybe that’s what this writing project has been all about: bringing me to a place where I love myself. Some people still won’t accept me, but that’s really not my problem.
My name is Pamela Mae Willard, and I’m fat. Get over it already. I have.