"Gloria's Verdict" by Kate Huffman
It screams at her. Her body. Constantly screams.
Pills help, but she knows those will kill her eventually. Doesn’t always stop her.
He’s snoring. Why shouldn’t he be? She buries any urge to wake him and tries to breathe through a “pain release mediation.”
It’s garbage. Getting up means sharp electricity through every nerve ending, but she does it. Worse than the pain is her mood. Her spirits plummet because it’s her fault and her fault alone, this pain. And because she knows she’s going to the gym today despite this pain. She’s an addict. She can’t not.
In the living room now, she grabs a book off a shelf without looking to see what it is. She asks a question: Will I die this year?
She opens the book and points her finger at random. “At least we know who it is, can see who you are now, Gloria.” She reads the sentence over and over, determined to make sense of it. Does this mean they will see who I am after I’m dead? They’ll know who I am? So that’s a yes?
She loves this game, bibliomancy. It’s supposed to be played with a Bible, but she plays it with classics. She checks the book – Losing Battles by Eudora Welty. She always gets good answers from this one. She even calls the book “Gloria” because the character Gloria features so heavily in its answer.
Will it be within the next six months? She flips the pages and shoves in her finger for the answer, but then, he’s there, standing in the doorway. His shoulders droop.
“I’m fine, please go back to sleep.” She doesn’t move her finger. She’s dying to know Gloria’s answer but doesn’t want to look rude.
His shoulders somehow manage to sink even further down. “Do you want me to sleep out here? Do you want the bed to yourself?”
“No, you’re fine, please.”
His chest bounces with shallow breathing. She stands, but not before sneaking a peak at the sentence. ”’Still out floating on a boat, still the same scoundrel.’” Ugh. That’s a definite no. She’ll be floating through life, scoundrelling away. Gloria just didn’t point out that her boat is severely damaged and all scoundrelish behavior is against herself and herself alone.
She slams the book shut. “Don’t be upset, I’ll be fine.”
But he saw her wince when she stood. It’s bad tonight. And he knows it. When he squeezes the bridge of his nose, he’s about to say something heartfelt. As if he’s mustering the courage to be emotionally vulnerable.
She stops him before he has a chance by pulling his hand from his face and leading him back to bed. He’s new enough in her life not to be bored by her chronic pain. In time, he’ll get used to it, then gradually sick of it. Then he’ll go. He’ll hate himself, but he’ll go. And she won’t blame him. It’s no fun to be around someone constantly in pain.
As she walks him back to the bedroom, she feels her thighs jiggle. Her hips scream - scream -with each step, but she feels her thighs jiggle and she knows she’ll do squats all day.
She gets that she has body dysmorphia. She knows this intellectually. She knows further that societal body standards are garbage anyway. So logically, she can look at her lifestyle and label it STUPID. But, at a deeper level, her cells tell her she is RIGHT - her legs are definitely a problem. She feels it down to a cellular level. It’s an even deeper truth than the pain.
Sometimes she wonders if she’d have less hip pain if she knew how to swivel her hips. She has the manliest walk. Her hips stay perfectly level. She developed this walk at age 14, not at all consciously, but she learned that the more her hips swivel, the more the thighs jiggle – a feeling akin to death. She was descending into deep anorexia, and her thought patterns were solidifying without intention.
Her disorder created all kinds of highly masculine mannerisms. She walks with her legs wide apart – so that she never feels her thighs touch, a feeling that triggers dire panic. She’s completely unladylike. Spread eagle, like a dude making room for his junk. But if her legs are together, a constant buzzing of you fucking fatty drowns out whatever social or work interaction she’s attempting.
There’s also a fear of exuding any sexuality when you hate your body so much. If you find yourself disgusting, the last thing you want is for anyone to be looking at you with sexual interest. For years, whenever the clothes were coming off with a man, a chorus of, “Holy shit, I am about to LET THIS GUY DOWN!” played on repeat in her mind.
She knows better than that now. She’s still self-conscious about her body when clothes come off, but she accepts that her partner is not seeing what she feels. He’s seeing what he wants to see.
This is happening now. As she tucks him into bed, he pulls her close. The movements hurt, but she wants it. It’ll stop hurting as it goes – natural pain relievers are released when aroused. Some evolutionary trick to encourage a body to keep going. Procreate, damn you! the cells insist.
Afterwards the pain is worse.
He snores again. She takes the pills.
There isn’t enough left here to kill me, is there.
Not that she is suicidal. Content to just entertain suicidal thoughts. She loves the game she plays when crossing the bridge over the interstate on foot. Tracking one car on the busy freeway below her until it collides with her body – were her body on the same level as the car. It’s a phenomenal feeling. Watching the car glide towards her and then – boom –imaginary impact, ending it all. Erasing it all. What peace. What bliss. No more nerve endings screaming like a goddamn coven of banshees.
She watches the bedroom get brighter with the sunrise, signaling the reality of a day to get through. In the nighttime, sometimes one can pretend the day won’t come. That one might die before it arrives. But that’s not happening today. Gloria said not this year.
When he stirs in a few hours, she’ll roll over to appear like she’s been sleeping. Must communicate a sense of normalcy.
But for now she remains corpse-like. Flat on her back, listening with her nerving endings, as her body screams at her.
© 2017 Kate Huffman
About Kate: Kate Huffman is a Los Angeles-based writer and actor whose most recent work is her award-winning solo show, I'M TOO FAT FOR THIS SHOW, which she is currently touring nationally and internationally. Her work has earned her an Encore Producers' Award, an LA Weekly Theatre Award, a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle nomination, a Soaring Solo nomination, and Playhouse West Film Festival Award for Best Screenplay Short Film. She takes a lot of prescription pills, but her heart's in the right place. For more: KateHuffman.com.