Marcus was 100 pounds too heavy for me to ever fall in love with. Thankfully, he stopped messaging me about all his dirty desires after he began fucking his friend Haley up against a recycling bin in the Taco Bell parking lot. He was an exhibitionist and Haley was easy. She didn’t mind the clunkiness of his body slamming up against her at 2 AM.
I was invited along for their weekly escapades, and I always accepted their invitations. Plans with other people felt unsafe. I didn’t know what would happen to me at a mall, or inside a restaurant. Being a person in the world felt brand new to me, even though I had been alive for more than a while.
I tolerated Marcus and Haley because I knew their drill. Marcus would pick me up with drugs coursing through his system. He would talk about historical events and jelly bean flavors and the professor who he almost ran away with, but who had left him for a philosopher by the name of Benjamin. Haley would sit in the front seat, flipping through the radio stations neurotically and twirling her hair around and around her pointer finger and thumb. She would look in the rearview mirror occasionally, making eye contact with me, and then would proceed to laugh and then I would too. Like, how funny is it we’re here, how funny is it that we chose this of all things. It always smelled rotten with them, and the conversations were average at best, but every night felt the same as the one before, and I didn’t think there was much else I deserved.
Since I came along for the car rides, it also meant I was along for their sex. I would sit in the van and eat all of the soft corn tacos I could and wait to see the soft beige glow of their bodies stumble back towards me. I enjoyed how animalistic it was between them. Marcus and Haley underneath the moon-- pale, flabby, and unaware of everything that was around them. Watching them felt like observing wild animals in nature; not to mention, I was happy that someone was fat and getting fucked. There hadn’t been enough evidence in my life that you could be both saggy and wanted.
After they finished, we would drive around and find fields to stand in. I started noticing how closely Haley paid attention to me. I would speak about my daily life, and she would listen. She especially liked hearing about the way Barbara at work peeled her eggs and the bus driver who wore gloves and sometimes sang when he was having a schizophrenic episode.
Tell it again, she would say almost breathlessly.
It didn't take long to realize Haley didn’t like Marcus’s presence all that much. She often rolled her eyes at his commentary and would message me after they had dropped me off at my apartment things like wish you were here. She liked to say the types of things you say to make people purposely feel warm inside. She would see you becoming brighter and take the credit and you wouldn’t mind because it wasn’t yours and it wasn’t not yours.
One night, she grabbed my hand in the car even though to do so she had to wrap her arm around the front seat in a way that must have created tension in her shoulders. She held onto my three fingers for an entire Strokes album until I was dropped off at my front door.
Soon after that night, it was just the two of us. I don’t know how it happened, but I blinked one day, and Marcus was gone.
On our first night in the field alone, Haley told me about her roommate who had recently started showing signs of psychosis. I don't want to hear someone talk to God all the time, Haley sighed. She said people like my bus driver gave her hope, but her roommate was someone who would eventually commit suicide, and she couldn’t be near that sort of energy without thinking of the dark stuff too. It swallows me in, she said, looking up at the sky in an attempt of looking hopeless.
The fireflies were loud that night so I was feeling hypnotized. I suddenly heard my voice sputtering, why don't you just stay with me? I quickly covered my mouth with my hand, as if I could put the words back inside. Ok, Haley nodded. She looked down at the blades of grass she had weaved together and put it in my palm, pressing it in.
The very next morning, all of Haley’s belongings were tossed into piles around my room. Everything she touched, sat on, or lay in looked like it was hers and was no longer my own. We made pie for dinner and lay in my bed early. Her leg touched mine underneath the sheets of my bed and I felt my skin crawl. I leaned in a little closer.
That August, Haley decided to start working at the strip club. She told me she had only ever made money from her body. She was much braver than me, but I was debatably more beautiful, not that it mattered much because Haley believed her body was worth money and I didn’t– so I worked in a coffee shop and I kept my clothes on. Men could look at me for free, sometimes for a $1 tip if I was lucky. I told myself that my choice in career made me more dignified than her, but I can see now, I was just waiting until I was permitted to sell myself. I believed there would come a day when I would believe I was worth looking at, but I never had adequate evidence, so I smelled like hazelnuts and ham and accepted what I was convinced life wanted from me.
After two weeks at the strip club, Haley had bought herself braces and a huge tattoo of her late father’s side profile on her abdomen. Haley loved both additions to her body, but they made her much less desirable to the outside world. She sometimes came home with a thin stack and blamed it on all the teenagers with webcams in their bedrooms. I would nod my head because it felt important to me that she felt as though was always right.
Some nights, I would visit her at work just to direct men to her, telling them she gave the best lap dances. They rarely listened to my advice because there were always much more attractive girls at the club, and I wasn’t all that convincing. I wanted her all to myself, and I didn't want her at all.
In September, I took her home for the Jewish holidays and we had sex in my mother’s shower. Everything felt much too intense for me to hold in my own body. She came after I pressed her up against me. She sounded like a mechanical little bird in my ear.
When we left to head back home, we drove the whole way back to Utah, so preoccupied with playing In Love for all of 5 seconds.
Playing In Love with Haley looked like her playfully chasing me around the house with a knife, and then two minutes later crying into my chest saying she needed me and I was also not close to being enough for all she was. It was her cooking me dinner every night before work and telling me she would marry me because it’s more exciting to marry someone you don’t really love. It was lying on a bench at night on top of one another. It was both dirty and hazy and my blood pressure was through the roof in a way that made me feel like I was flying.
The truth was I had no idea how to both know her and be myself. Haley knew this and I knew it. I stopped calling anyone back. I never rode my bike and I barely spoke. It was the summer of not praying to anything and making beer popsicles and fully believing I was every way but the way I was--that it was possible for me to become something else.
Thankfully, it only took one Monday for everything to get knocked over the way it was supposed to. I woke up to Haley looking down at me telling me she was off to go get an abortion.
Actually, she said, I took the day off to kill the baby that is growing inside of me.
She came back later that afternoon after I was back from work and I acted normal, which was cruel and I knew it. She knew I knew it too, which made me the terrible one. Haley sat at the kitchen table waiting for me to ask about the father of her unborn child but I thought I didn't care to know. I was grossed out by the fact that she let a man touch her. Marcus had felt different, like a part man-animal– there had been something monkey with him. I knew her sleeping with someone else was a way to try to provoke me, to see if I needed her. Would I leave? I could feel her waiting for me to yell or ask a question but all I could do was stare blankly, so I lay down for a while and watched it end.
By the end of the week, I came home from the shops with dinner for us and all the evidence that Haley had ever existed was a hunk of old pumpernickel on the counter and a rumpled quilt she had sewn for me as a thank you for letting her sleep in my bed all summer. I dropped it off at Goodwill that night because it smelled like her hands. It didn’t make me sad to smell her, just hollow.
She wrote me one letter that December to notify me she had moved to Omaha to strip and to find her high school boyfriend who she swore was The One. He had inherited a plumbing company and had bizarrely strange teeth, all pointy and ridged. She was saving up to get him Invisalign.
She sent me a picture of her newly straightened teeth. Her fixed mouth looked so cruel and ugly to me.
My spiritually inclined friend suggested I go to a shaman after a few nights of not sleeping well due to the fact that I couldn’t stop dreaming of her old mouth eating chocolate ice cream. In the dream, she was looking at me as she spun her tongue around. The shaman gave me some beads to sleep with, and before I knew it, she was gone.
In the spring, I started hanging out with Marcus again. He had come to visit me at the library. I had recently gotten a job working in the DVD section. I was starting to become the person I thought had been previously swallowed up. Haley had given Marcus herpes and he was pretty angry about it. We started to drive around together late at night, this time just the two of us. Marcus wasn't doing drugs anymore so now he was all adorable. He laughed at everything I thought was funny. I felt close to being in love with him, but I decided to become his roommate instead.
Our apartment had very high ceilings and looked over a butcher shop. We would eat our morning toast and watch as the chickens and pigs were shuffled into the store to be purchased and eaten. We both decided to become vegetarians after a couple of weeks because the smell of animal carcasses and the image of skinned cows was hard to forget every time we made hamburgers for dinner. Marcus lost all his fat from our new diet of soy chicken nuggets, and I gained a rounder stomach from all the estrogen.
We both fell in love a few months later with people who Haley would have hated. I thought about responding to her old letter to notify her of how we had moved on without her and a picture of me Doing Well, but sending a letter would have shown her how affected I had been by her mouth and her weird little body and by the sound of her again, and I couldn’t bear the thought of her seeing any more of me than she already had.