By Natalie Helberg
I looked at Andrew, pleading with him “Not here Andrew, come by the house in an hour, let me collect myself, please.” I looked over to the group of people now starting at us, my daughter, anger in her eyes, arms folded across her chest, tapping her foot, little sprays of tomato juice shooting onto Amelia’s red leather penny loafers, none of them noticing any of this, too intent on my humiliation as they were.
Andrew backed away, and looked at the assembly mocking me… “Okay Linda, yes, later, I’ll be by later… this isn’t a social call, it’s…” He hesitated … “It’s business…” He looked at Gabby … “Gabby?” I sputtered… everything with Gabby and her custody was settled … “Gabby? Okay… Gabby.” The crowd staring at us was finally too much for me. With my head held high I walked out of the grocery store, and not buying anything, I drove away.
I headed home, never to return to Mr. Gibbons grocery store, I never saw that sweet little man again, I heard he’d died a few years ago. He was kind to me no matter how large and obese I became. He never judged me but unfortunately he was just one kind soul in a world that seemed doomed to destroy me. I know that sounds melodramatic, in hindsight, I recognize my flaws in the situation that defined me, however, life hands out cruel punishments at times, whether you truly deserve them or not. At that point in my existence I felt cheated and lost… what little self-respect and peace I had was slowly fading away. I drove home slowly and parked in the garage, leaving the car doors and windows open to get rid of the awful smell that my canned tomato laden body was emitting. I grabbed the railings and pulled myself up the stairs, how the hell was I going to get rid of the tomato stains on my arms and face?
“Linda?” the constant knocking on my front door was interrupted by Andrew’s voice. I felt my stomach drop but not in the nervous, excited way it used too when he came calling… “Linda, this is ridiculous, let me in.” Andrew spoke in his professor’s voice, the one I learned long ago to associate with his growing impatience with those less intelligent than he…“Damn it, Linda, open the door!” I was having trouble letting him in. I had finally changed the locks when he married Barbara, the house was mine. I did not have to let him in but he still paid me alimony every month, and he paid it on time, I never had to worry about money as some divorced mom’s did. I suppose that was because underneath it all, Andrew was a kind and decent man. He wouldn’t let his child starve, or even his ex-wife… although I could probably use a few less meals…
I lumbered over to the front door and unlocked the three dead bolts I installed out of fear of being alone with no way to protect Gabby. We lived in a virtually crime free, Midwestern town but you could never be too careful right? … “About damn time, I’ve been standing there for fifteen minutes, what the hell took you so long?” Andrew came striding into the front parlor , the one we refinished together when I was pregnant with Jacob, the same parlor I used to write short stories at and send out with the hopes of getting a book offer…
Andrew sat down in the old, rocking chair my grandmother had left me when she’d passed on. The same rocking chair I had rocked Jacob in long after he was old enough to sleep without my help. Jacob was special though, he never quite grew up at the same rate as the other kids and I suppose I didn’t want to let him. “Linda, sit down, please…” I sat down immediately. Andrew spoke with such gravity in his voice. He was usually so conciliatory to me; after all he’d left me for that bitch… to hear this doom in his voice was startling. I’d heard him angry, I’d heard him sad, defeated even but this finality in his voice told me that my typical method of evading him was not going to work right now.
For the most part I tried to ignore Andrew. I had loved him for much of my adult life, when he left I literally thought I would die. Of course my grief in the last years of our marriage was more than he could bear and the weight gain… but I had married with those words “till death do us part” engraved in my heart, I didn’t realize death in his mind wasn’t the physical kind when the body dies but rather a euphemism for what he believed was an end date on loving someone and putting up with them. ‘Enough Linda,’ I said to myself. The divorce was long over, he was remarried, Jonathon was at college, Gabby was getting ready to turn sixteen and drive soon… I took a deep breath and readied myself for Andrew’s “business.”
“Linda, as you know, Gabby has been unhappy here for some time.” My head shot up, what? I mean I knew she was embarrassed by my weight at times and she didn’t like me to pick her up from school with my handicap parking plates, nor did she want me to chaperone school events anymore, and she hadn’t had a girls sleep over in more than a year now…but unhappy… unhappy enough to tell Andrew about it? “Well…um… no Andrew, I didn’t realize she was unhappy…” why did I sound so lame when I spoke to him? My usually strong, level voice, took on a different tone when I talked to him. I become wishy-washy, whiny almost… “Oh for Christ’s sake Linda, stop acting like you don’t know what’s going on. Get a clue! Your daughter is a teenager; she doesn’t want a mother that can’t even go to the grocery store without causing a stink!” Oh god, he was cruel. I knew he had it in him, I’d seen it before, with his own mother but back then I thought he’d walked on water and she was a piranha trying to eat me alive. I welcomed his bitter tongue in the fight against her but now… him and my own daughter… fighting against me?
“Andrew, I don’t know what you are talking about. I keep a clean house, I get her to the mall for the Hollister and Gap clothing she wants, when she needs new Converse All-Stars in neon orange, I get them, when her favorite meal is breakfast and she doesn’t have time in the morning for a real breakfast, I make it for dinner so she can enjoy it at her leisure. I get her to guitar practice and watch her perform in the school plays; I see that she has clean clothes and fresh pencils for math class… I am her mother. I see to her needs in every possible way and discipline her when she’s acting out of control. She is a teenage girl becoming a woman for Christ’s sake! What more am I supposed to do?” I was angry now, the squeaky voice was gone. My fury was high. I may be fat, okay technically morbidly obese but I still took care of my only daughter; the only child still talking to me after the divorce that I didn’t want.
Andrew backed down now, he spoke kinder this time, he took my hand in his; the first time he’d touched me in five years… “Look Linda, Gabby is just going through some things right now…,” “Things what things?” I interrupted him. He squeezed my hand; his eyes suddenly lost their wrath. “Linda, she wants to live with me and Barbara. She thinks the stress of worrying about you all the time and what you are going to do, is causing her grades to fall and her music playing to suffer.” I pulled my hand away…tears forming before I could speak “Wh—hhhaaa-tttt? Live with you and that WHORE?” I screamed the last word. Barbara had everything I’d once had except Andrew’s children, they were still mine… not hers, she couldn’t get Gabby…
Andrew stood up. “Linda, I’ve already had the papers drawn up. I saw my lawyer last week, your brother Jack; I mean your lawyer looked them over already… Jack feels…” I snatched the damn papers from him… “Pursuit to Custody, Vogt –vs. – Vogt, in the matter of Gabriella…” Could they really do this? Jack was my brother, he was supposed to defend me, not sneak behind my back with my ex-husband but the two of them always were better friends than me and Jack were. If only I’d had more money and didn’t need to rely on the handouts of family during my divorce. I was sweating profusely, my heart was beating furiously,“As of five o’clock post meridiem, on November 1st, Gabriella Rose Vogt will cease to live in the custody of Linda Ann Vogt, full custodial rights will transfer, both legally and physically to Andrew William Vogt…”
He was taking everything… “Don’t worry about money Linda; I’ll make sure you still have enough to get through. This is just temporary, look see, the end date is… Oh…That can’t be right, Jack must not have heard me right.” I looked over my papers and saw what Andrew was mumbling about. Not only had my daughter betrayed me but my brother had stipulated that unless Gabby, Andrew and I came to agreement, custody would remain with Andrew until Gabby graduates high school.
“Jesus Christ, what a bastard.” I spoke aloud. Andrew looked at me… “I’m sorry Linda…” he spoke softly. “No you’re not Andrew, please, please, just leave, NOW!” I opened the door, my fat body heaving with uncontrollable sobbing; the flesh around my middle shaking as I hung onto the door for support in standing. Andrew tried to grab my arm… I pulled it away. “Just GO! Now. Leave!” As he left I slammed the door on his back, the sound taking away the thud of my fat ass hitting the ground as I crumbled in despair. “The mother fucker… Jesus Christ… Damn it…” I cried… as if anybody could even hear me… I had no recourse, Jack was a bastard in the courtroom and he hated fat people… Was it possible to lose everything because your body no longer looked how people thought it should?
“Fuck them!” I muttered to myself. I stood up, I grabbed the phone… “Pizza Momma, how can we help you?” I spoke hungrily into the phone “2 large pizzas, sausage, bacon, fresh garlic, mushroom and extra cheese please, an order of mozzarella sticks and a 2 liter of Pepsi, delivery.” If I was going to be fat and lonely than I was going to enjoy myself, Damn it all to hell… “Okay, Vogt, right, that will be $45.78; we’ll be there in an hour.” “Thank you” I mumbled and went to find the fifty dollar bill my father had given me last week with the stipulation that I not spend it on Gabby. “Linda, enjoy yourself, take yourself to the mall, get your nails done or something.”… Little did my father realize that I no longer had any reason to get my nails done and I certainly wouldn’t be going to the mall any time soon… but I was going to enjoy myself! I settled down to wait for my pizzas…