My mother said it was foolishness on my part and I was lucky nothing bad happened. My sister Danni said he wasn’t good enough for me and would have broken my heart. What both of them really meant was: A guy like that? What would he be doing with a girl like you? Because he was way out of my league, for sure. As if they thought I couldn’t see that. I was fat, not stupid.
I saw him before we actually met; at least I thought I did. I work in the mall and was having lunch in the food court. He was standing nearby texting on his phone. My sister was across from me, yakking about her sometimes boyfriend. She was trying to wheedle information out of me about him. My sister can be relentless, so I gave in and told her what I knew she didn’t want to hear. She left unhappy.
The stranger talking on his phone could have heard our conversation—probably did, in retrospect—but it didn’t register with me because I was too busy admiring his derriere. It was quite nice. We met, formally, if you can call a mall food court formal, over French fries—my favorite thing. You would know that if you saw me. It was the next day and I was at my usual table. He just took one of my fries. No one does that, especially not a stranger, and I looked up to give him a piece of my mind. And then I saw who it was. He smiled. You don’t mind, do you he said, and it wasn’t really a question, and I really didn’t mind.
He sat down in front of me, introduced himself, shook my hand, and smiled some more. So I shoved the fries over and we shared. We even dipped in the same ketchup container. I wish I could tell you what we talked about, but honestly I was bedazzled. I know, what a silly word. But it’s true. I do remember that he talked, quite nicely, in fact, but I’m not really clear about what. Maybe I was in shock.
He was too well put together to be homeless or ‘down on his luck’ as my parents predicted that night at supper. He had nice clothes, clean and pressed. He wore expensive shoes—polished—and he smelled good, I told them. He was clean shaven, too, in spite of the current trend to look like you have five day’s growth of facial hair all the time. He asked me questions—I remember that. As if I might have a fascinating story to tell about my boring, ordinary life.
It was true that my imagination knew no bounds for things the thin me would do, adventures I would have, the places I would see. In the real world though, come fall semester, the actual me would be a freshman at the community college. That would allow me to live at home and save money. After two years I would go off to the university where I would do amazing things and make my parents proud. Because I was smart; that much was clear.
My mother said not smart enough to stay away from strangers, apparently.
I had top scores in almost everything that mattered, and the only reason I didn’t get “most likely to succeed” was because the girl who did get that was smart and pretty and thin. She will succeed, but not how she thinks.
Oh, and another thing I have going for me, or against me, whichever way I’m looking at it at the time, is prescience. Let me explain. I’m not exactly a psychic, but I can see events in someone’s future. I know their fate, if you prefer. For example, I could see that most-likely-to-succeed girl pregnant with her third child living with the scant money provided sporadically by her ex-husband, the star quarterback who would blow his knee out and become a so-so car salesman. I thought about warning her, but considering the way she looked through me, the way they all did—I just didn’t. Besides, that would be breaking the rules.
So, why didn’t I use that foresight to see what was coming with that gorgeous guy joining me for lunch every day? Yes, that’s right; he was there the next day and the next. And the next. Then he asked me on a date. Blew my mind. Me? You’re kidding, right? Why would you want to go out with me?
I like you, he said. I like talking to you. You’re genuine; you don’t act coy or put on airs or try to play hard to get or engage in flirty games.
It was true. I didn’t do any of those things. I wouldn’t even know how. I just thought I was lucky to have a real conversation with such a beautiful person for an hour a day who seemed to enjoy my company and be interested in what I had to say. He didn’t appear to see the fat me at all. He laughed at my witty observations, he groaned in pain when I told him some of my most embarrassing moments, and he believed me when I told him about my special ability. Of course, I now believe he already knew.
As for me, maybe I was trying to impress him or to find some way to avoid his sudden departure from my mundane days, but I told him on that first day. I’d never told anyone before. My family were the only ones who knew about it, and they saw my special skill as a curse, whereas he saw it as a gift. He said I should be proud of my ability, that it was amazing.
He would point to someone and ask me if I could read their fate and often I could, at least a small piece of it, but sometimes I couldn’t. It can’t be forced and some people are unreadable. He even asked me if I could see what my own fate would be. My family never asked me that before, as if my life really didn’t matter much. I told him I could, up to a point. For instance, I saw some kind of illness within a few years, but I couldn’t tell if it would kill me or not.
It was why I flat out quit trying to control my weight. You could say it was just an excuse to eat whatever I wanted. But I’d been on every diet invented, and if I was going to die before I was twenty years old, what was the point in trying to get skinny? That would be so ironic, I said, to be thin and then get sick. I’d never said that out loud either. He seemed to understand. At least he didn’t try to find fault with my thinking.
So we went on the date. We walked on the arcade, and he talked to me just like I imagine he would talk to a beautiful girl. That’s when he told me about the offer he had gotten, one that could be the key to a fabulous future, to become a part of something that might be a huge success. He was excited about it, but he just didn’t know if he should do it. It was a big risk.
You know where this is headed, don’t you? I did too. I knew then that I was being used, or that my ability was—same thing. But you know what? I didn’t care.
For one week I got to feel normal. He never wavered in his willingness to listen to my stories, to ask great questions, even uncomfortable ones sometimes that made me think about my notions about myself and where they came from. He looked me in the eyes and shared intimate details about his life with me, even awkward ones. Did he make it all up? I don’t have that kind of power. I can’t tell. But, again, I don’t care.
First of all, I had fun. I forgot who I was. Or maybe I just saw myself differently. I saw that I might one day have an honest conversation with a man and not feel beholden to him for giving me the time of day. I saw that I might be able to be with someone—maybe even a handsome man—without being ashamed of myself. I was able to imagine one day being able to let go of my self-loathing.
He opened the door to that possibility for me, and I was grateful.
I told him what he wanted to know. Why not? It was what he needed to find out before he took the leap, and I saw where it would go, had seen it the first time he touched my hand, so why keep it to myself? He bought me a great lunch in a nice place. He held my hands across the table letting everyone see. He looked straight into my eyes and smiled at me and thanked me. He told me he hoped he would see me again. It didn’t matter if he was lying. As far as I was concerned, we were even.