—handful of walnuts
—½ cup dry granola (not so bad now)
Laurette woke me up again this morning. I worry she’s going to fly away she’s so thin. She comes over all fresh and bright in tight clothes, but I can tell she’s exhausted. I bet she only gets a few hours of sleep a night. Skinny people are freakish like that.
Yesterday’s appearance by Christopher Campbell was one of two this week. If we make it past the first seven days, we’ll be seeing a lot of him. That’s the enticement. Since I paid for a Personal Power Hour, I’ll be seeing him sooner than that. I’m still a little starstruck and just plain nervous. What will I say to him?
So far, four out of the 50 people that started have left. Two were on my van coming in. Sandy from Phoenix left Wednesday morning. She was a sweet girl. Charlie from Houston left too. I liked him. Not bad-looking either. After the first workout and that awful “BBQ,” he told me he could never be a vegan because he loved Arby’s too much, talking about all those layers of thin meat and sweet sauce. He’s such a funny guy. Sad he’s gone.
—grilled asparagus, green beans, zucchini, portabella mushroom over rice noodles
—green salad with lemon juice and salt (yuck-o!)
—pearled basil couscous
—spinach soup with pine nuts
—granola cereal with milk (this I can do, even though it’s soy milk)
The tropical fruit reminded me of Hawaii. That was the best trip. Daddy’s last before he got too big to travel. I wish I could go back, just to that time with Momma and Daddy so happy. They kept saying thank you, thank you for the trip, and I admit: I was pretty proud to have paid for everything. My first real gift to them as an adult. I owe them everything. Oh, Daddy, I miss you.
They try to make this place like paradise, with the palm trees and pools and trendy decor, but it’s far from tropical. The only way this place is an island is the grassy-carpeted perimeter that fends off the ocean of thorny shrubs and hot sand in all directions. It amazes me how the desert doesn’t just creep all the way inside, but then I think maybe it has, because the mood here kills.
Tomorrow we Turn the Corner! and renew our Harmony Health Center Life Contracts. We also have our second Team Power Hour with Christopher. Maybe this time I’ll actually listen rather than stare at him.
—green salad, no dressing
—veggie burger on sprouted-wheat bun (nasty!)
—baked sweet potato fries (pretty good)
More exercise this afternoon. Forty minutes on the treadmill, followed by calisthenics. By the end of it, my feet hurt so bad I wanted to cry. Lisa from Pittsburgh—my neighbor across the hall—did. She just sat down and wailed. They had to come lift her up and walk her out. It was horrible.
—Japanese eggplant stir-fry
—vegetable spring roll in rice paper (GROSS!)
My butt is sore and I miss my own bed. Today was a cleanse. No food to write about other than a watermelon water, miso soup, carrot juice, celery juice, and enough herbal tea and water to fill the Gulf of Mexico. I thought I would be raging all day, but the smoothies helped. The mentors say if you drink enough water, you’ll feel full and won’t want to eat anyway. I don’t buy that.
Laurette says she only drinks water with lemon and a dash of salt on her cleanse days. Today she looked like she might pass out. Her skin was pale and her hands were shaking. I thought she might have been charged up on caffeine. She brought me a Before and After pic of CC. “You’re working on your After pic as we speak,” she said. She had just run four miles and wanted to be the first to congratulate me for making it through the first week.
I asked her why she was once heavy, and she said she didn’t take care of herself. She put her hands on her waist and waited for me to say something, maybe for me to agree with her. Later she came to say good night and told me to keep on going. She hugged me, and when she left, it felt like a wispy spirit had floated out of my room.
I woke up this morning to two awful things: a pounding headache and Stu, another mentor. He looks like the rest of the staff, in his blue Harmony Health polo shirt and track pants, but he’s pushy and his hair is way too spiky. He didn’t smile and his news was even worse: Laurette is no longer with HHC. Personal reasons. I’m your new mentor. He tapped his watch and left.
—berry medley w/ walnuts
—granola cereal w/ soy yogurt (yuck)
—green tea (it’s the closest thing to coffee I’ll get around here)
I ate alone at Nutrition Central worrying about Laurette. Maybe she was fired? Last year when they announced we were acquired by Fitzsimmons, they said the integration would be quick, and within a few months we’d know where we stood. I survived the first cuts, thank God. I was surprised. Senior managers are usually the first to go, senior marketing managers at that. Others weren’t as lucky. When clients called and asked for someone who was laid off, we were told to say they are no longer with the company. That was that.
—spicy lentil soup
—date spread on whole-grain bread
—vegetarian enchiladas (with real cheese from a GOAT!—I’m not complaining though)
I’ve dropped eight pounds since I’ve been here. I’m super proud of that. Stu, however, calls them my “second chance” pounds. He gives me articles and charts and wants to see my journal. He’s trying to distract me so I don’t miss Laurette. At workouts and group talks, he says I’m doing a great job in front of everyone, but I can tell when a guy is pretending to be nice.
At lunch I asked him about Christopher Campbell, since my Power Hour is tomorrow. Stu called him “The Master.” Enjoy every minute, he said. He picked up his tray and caught up to Michelle and Robin, two cutesy mentors who I’m sure never had a chubby past.
—turkey sandwich on wheat bread (yes! some meat! and so delicious)
I can’t sleep. I’m worried about Laurette. I wish there was a way to talk to her. She’s the only person who seems real around here. I know I’m making progress, so I’m going to stick with it. Maybe Christopher’s the only other real person in here. Oh my God, I meet with him tomorrow! Maybe our private Power Hour will turn into a date, and over the table I’ll see those lonely eyes I saw in his Before pic, the ones that sucked me in on Day 1, just before he busted through his life-size picture and bounded on stage, the new and improved CC.
Last entry. This one’s for you, Laurette. Be strong, if you can.
I’m back in my room and it’s late. After lunch, I locked myself in and skipped dinner. I’m not hungry. Maybe that’s the point of meeting with The Master: he’ll make you so horribly sick you’ll never want to eat again.
Stu and Penny Colby—the program director of Harmony—knocked on my door and practically demanded they come in. I told them both to leave me the F alone, and I shouted through the door that this program’s a sham. I’m suing the place for negligence, I said. I’m packing my things and will be expecting a full refund.
I just packed my bathroom stuff and remembered some advice Barbara Reeves, the dietician at SMU, once gave me. She said, “Look at yourself every day and say: ‘Olivia, I love you, I’ve always loved you, and I will support everything you do.’” They’ve taught nothing of this sort at Harmony.
Before I go, lunch. My Power Hour.
I sat at a glass patio table set for two in a private garden behind the Nutrition Central building. The sky was bright blue and it wasn’t God-awful hot. I did some Power Breathing to calm my jitters, and over walked a young female staffer I’d never seen. She stood there waiting for me with a glass of water with lemon and a dash of salt.
“Isn’t it a beautiful day?” she said.
“Yes. Yes it is.” Behind her perfect skin and hair, I caught a flash of L.A.’s brown halo infiltrating the valley. When I landed two weeks ago, it looked like we were descending into a big dirty cough and I thought, no way, no how, would you ever see that in Dallas.
“Christopher will be with you shortly,” she said.
I sipped the cool lemony water and tried to think of nothing, but then he appeared. He didn’t walk toward me or from behind; he just stood there, out of nowhere. My throat tightened and I tugged at my HHC bracelet. I stood up to greet him and my knees wobbled.
The whites of his eyes and blue pupils sparkled. His teeth shined against his tan skin and short, glossy hair. I wanted to touch him to see if he was real.
“Olivia?” He gave me his hand. It overtook mine and he shook it once, then smiled his name. Christopher Campbell. He motioned for me to sit, but I froze and felt big and awkward.
“Pleased to meet you,” I said.
“Likewise. So tell me about yourself,” he said.
I had hardly given him the basics before he shifted right into the hard questions: How long have you been living as a large person? Have you always been overweight? Did a trauma or emotional incident cause you to gain weight? Were you modeling another person’s behavior; say, a family member’s?
He leaned in when he talked, and I felt him scanning me all over; like he was sizing me up, figuring how he was going to make me small. Then the food came. He grinned and seemed to forget the questions.
I started eating and kept quiet.
“Olivia, I want to congratulate you,” he said, “on your progress so far here at Harmony Health Center. I’m thrilled that you decided to meet with me today. That means you’re committed to change.” He flashed another smile.
I looked down into my chili and suddenly hated the food more than ever. I tried again to replace his plastic face with the one in the Before pic. I wanted the mystery man.
He said, “Let me tell you a story, Olivia. A few years ago, I was a top performer at my job. I traveled; had fancy dinners, cocktails; belonged to airline clubs; had disposable income, an expense account, you name it. I rubbed elbows with the bosses, pleased clients—all the good stuff they say will make you a star. But while I was doing all those so-called good things, I wasn’t taking care of myself. I was trying to be the best, and rewarded myself only with decadence. I started distancing myself from my family and friends, and I even avoided romantic relationships. You probably know exactly what I was going through, don’t you, Olivia?”
I wanted a hug from my Daddy right then. Just one more.
“A stomach ulcer landed me in the hospital. The doctors said my LDL cholesterol was 242 and my blood pressure was 159 over 95. Do you know what that means, Olivia?”
Of course I knew. Daddy ticked around like that for a long time. When his bomb went off, just four months ago, there was no way to turn it back.
“The docs said, at the rate I was going, I better start planning for an early funeral. Olivia, at 36 years old, I was over 200 pounds and my body age was 47!”
I had heard this same speech before. Late one night, on Christopher’s hour-long infomercial, he pointed at me and said: “Make the commitment to yourself!”
Christopher slammed the table with both hands. The ceramic plates and silverware clanged on the glass top. “Then I woke up,” he said. “I got out of the hospital, stopped eating junk, and lowered my portion sizes. I started walking and began to sweat away all the poison. That was when I started walking the path to health. And that’s the path you’re on right now, Olivia.”
All I could muster was a weak smile. “Are you happier now?” I asked.
He grinned and leaned closer. I felt the hard sell coming on. “May I show you something?” he said.
He stood and untucked his polo shirt and lifted it up. His stomach was firm, but crisscrossed with long lines and deep staple marks. He looked down at his mutilated abdominals and repeated my question. “Am I happier now? Look at me. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life!”
When our company’s salesmen would come in for their QBRs, they always had these sharp suits and ties, with tanned carved faces, like they just got back from vacation. They only talked to the girls in reception, or some of the girls on my team, like Melinda and Georgia. They’d take them out to drinks after work and never invite me. Me. The boss.
The inside of my chest caved, felt like it was rolling in on itself. I felt that when Daddy died, and more recently when I thought about Laurette. Something bad had happened. I knew it.
And so I asked him: “What happened to Laurette?”
Christopher sat back and tapped the table. The red and gold HHC bracelet, like the one on my wrist, looked wrong on his, like he had just put it on right before we met.
“It’s not good,” he said. “She’s let her disorder take over.”
I looked down at the chili in front of me and tried not to gag. I stood. My knees buckled.
“What happened?” I said. “Is she—?”
“Almost,” he said. “Please sit.”
“You’re sick,” I said. “You people are sick.”
“It’s a disease, Olivia. Just like overeating. You have a disease too. But you’re on the path,” he said.
I’ve never been a violent person. Never punched or slapped anyone. The most I did was probably in middle school when I shoved a girl named Circe into a locker. It was right after choir, and Mrs. Harmon had just given me the solo for the Christmas program. I was practically flying with joy. Then I bumped into Circe and she called me Wide Load in front of all of her stupid friends. All that happiness twisted up, and something jumped inside me, like a little angel-devil. When Circe’s back hit the yellow metal door, her friends giggled. Circe turned bright red. I could have ripped down a wall that day.
I grabbed the bowl of chili and threw it at CC. It hit his lap and the red goop plopped up onto his chin and blue polo. The bowl bounced and hit the bricks and busted into three sharp pieces.
Christopher wiped his face with the white cloth napkin. He locked in on me, and I saw them—those sad, lonely eyes. He put the napkin down, and I thought for a second: Maybe he was still somewhere inside there. Then he said, “Nice going, Olivia.”
I pictured him stuck there forever, always trying to keep his teeth white and his shirt clean, trying to forget his Before picture. But it didn’t matter if he was fat or fit, he’d always be the same person, all the way down to the bone.
I yanked the HHC bracelet off my wrist and tossed it on the table, and somehow felt lighter than ever. I think I know now exactly how to keep that feeling going. It doesn’t have a taste or a shape, and I don’t have to pay for it or ask someone to say it for me. Not now, not ever.
Taylor García's fiction has appeared in Writer's Digest, and will appear in the forthcoming edition of Pearl Magazine. He is also a contributor of personal essays at the Good Men Project. He is a graduate of Pacific University Oregon's Masters in Writing program. He lives in Southern California with his family.