Wonder When You’ll Miss Me

BOOK: Wonder When You’ll Miss Me
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Wonder When You'll Miss Me

A Novel

Amanda Davis

For my parents,
Jim and Francie Davis

And I was yet aware that this was only a moment, that the world waited outside, as hungry as a tiger, and that trouble stretched above us, longer than the sky.

—James Baldwin

Contents

One

AT school I was careful not to look like I…

Two

AFTER I swallowed all those pills, I woke in Gleryton…

Three

TONY walked fast and I skipped along to keep up.

Four

I CALLED Clark's restaurant and was told to report for…

Five

AT school on Monday I passed Tony Giobambera and Number…

Six

SHE led me to him, to where he smoked on…

Seven

A crazy hippie lady with lots of wild gray hair…

Eight

I woke to the fat girl shaking me. Sun in…

Nine

WE finally found the Fartlesworth Circus set up in an…

Ten

I BARELY slept, tossing and turning until well after I…

Eleven

I WAS up bright and early, the world full of…

Twelve

BY 9 A.M. we were standing by Bluebell. The fat…

Thirteen

IN the morning I hiked through mud and made my…

Fourteen

BY the time we reached the fairgrounds in Shreveport it…

Fifteen

AND then days turned into weeks, which gathered into months,…

Sixteen

I FOUND Charlie midmorning. Actually, he found me. I'd shoveled…

Seventeen

SUMMER came. The crowds were bigger, the nut was good,…

Eighteen

THE next two weeks zipped by. Wilma and I were…

A
T
school I was careful not to look like I watched everything, but I did. The fat girl fell into step beside me. She had a handful of gumdrops and sugar on her chin.

“There are all kinds of anger,” she said. “Some kinds are just more useful than others.”

A locker slammed behind us. I tried not to speak too loudly, because no one except me saw her. “I'm not angry,” I whispered.

“Saying you're not angry is one kind,” she said. “Not very useful at all, though.”

I ignored her and brushed hair out of my eyes. There were days when she was a comfort and days when she was a nightmare. I had yet to determine what kind of day this would be.

We made our way outside. The fat girl had stringy brown hair and wore a blue blouse that was spotted and stained. She sucked on a Fudgsicle as though the autumn day was blissful and warm, but I was freezing. We pressed ourselves against the courtyard wall to watch the crowd file by. When I turned my head she followed my gaze and patted my shoulder.

“Don't get your hopes up, Faith,” she said. “Sweetie, I'm telling you, that is never going to work out.”

She was talking about Tony Giobambera, who had dark curly hair all over his body and smiled with his mouth but not with his eyes; who walked slowly, like a man with a secret.

I said, “You never know.”

She said, “Actually, I do know.” Then she sucked off a big piece of chocolate.

Tony Giobambera settled on his rock and lit a cigarette. I followed the fat girl to a place where we could watch him. He smoked like the cigarette was an extension of his ropey arm and rough hand. When he leaned back and blew a stream into the sky, I watched the pout of his lips, the black curl that fell over one eye. Then Tony Giobambera smiled in our direction and I wanted to disappear.

“Nothing like a little attention to send you over the edge,” the fat girl said.

“What would
you
do?” I said. “I mean I don't think you'd do anything different.”

“I'd think about getting even,” she said. “I'd think about making something happen.”

Instead I found a better place on the grass where I could see him but pretend to stare off into space, thinking about more important things than how much I would give up just to have Tony Giobambera run his finger along my cheek and my throat again.

 

It was after what I did, the long summer after I'd shed myself completely and was prepared to come back to school like a whole new person, only inside it was still me. It was at an end-of-the-summer party a week before school started. I'd walked there from my house and the Carolina night was humid and heavy. I sang softly to myself, thinking of how different I looked, of what it would be like to walk into a party in normal-person clothes bought from a normal store.

I smoothed the front of my new sleeveless green blouse. I could hear the party behind the big white door. I took a deep breath and rang the bell, but nothing happened.

I leaned over a little and through the windows I saw people draped over couches and moving in the dark. I rang the bell again, then tried the door. It was open.

Inside, Led Zeppelin blasted from the stereo. A guy and a girl curled up together in the corner of the foyer. In the living room, people stood in clumps along the wall or splayed themselves over couches and chairs. The house rang with noise. I walked down a hallway. I put my hands in my pockets, then took them out again.

In the kitchen I found a beer but didn't open it. The smell of pot drifted
up the stairs from the basement. A few muscled guys and a pale, fragile-looking girl sat around the kitchen table flipping quarters into a glass. They slurred their words, laughing loudly and hitting each other in the back of the head when a quarter missed the cup.
Drink, drink, drink!
they chanted. The girl smoked a cigarette with a glazed smile. One guy glanced up at me, but looked away quickly. I blushed anyway.

I wandered downstairs to the basement, where I recognized a few people from last year's English class. They sat in a circle around a reedy guy with long blond hair and a red bong, hanging on every word he had to say. He told a complicated story, something involving a car and the police, but I couldn't follow it. Every so often one of the girls shook her head. “Fuck,” she said, and ran her tongue over her braces. “Holy fuck.”

I went back upstairs and walked from room to room waiting for someone to notice the new me, but no one seemed to. Disappointment pushed me outside. I tripped my way down wooden stairs, away from the bright lights of the house toward the small latticed huddle of a gazebo. Inside there was a bench and I sat, slapping away mosquitoes, with a tightness in my chest that made me want to scream. How could everything change so much and stay exactly the same?

I'd lost forty-eight pounds and my skin had mostly cleared up. I'd missed a whole semester of school and disappeared for seven months. It seemed like no one had even noticed I was gone.

I pulled my knees to my chest and picked at the vines that climbed the trellis overhead, ripping off leaves and stripping them down to their veins. I was wondering how I would possibly survive the whole next year, when Andrea Dutton came stumbling out of the trees. Her clothes were all twisted and covered in pine needles. A minute later, out stepped Tony Giobambera, zipping up his pants and smiling. He caught up to her and threw his arm around her shoulders and they stumbled in my direction.

Andrea Dutton stopped when she saw me and swayed back and forth. Her blond hair had a flat place with a leaf in it and her mascara was smeared in black gashes across her cheeks. She leaned over to peer at me, then straightened up and gave a wheezy little laugh.

“You used to be that really fat chick,” she said, her words thick and sloppy. My face burned but I didn't say anything.

Tony Giobambera rolled his eyes. “Andrea, you're a real sweetheart, huh?”

“Shut up, you pig. You don't even recognize her.”

“Yeah I do,” he said slowly. “You're Faith something, right?” He
reached out with one strong hand and traced the outline of my cheek. “You look great,” he said, and winked. “Really.”

Andrea's eyes were dim. She pointed a finger at me, swaying again. “I heard about what you did.”

I pressed against the grid of the gazebo and concentrated on the sounds of crickets, on the dull hum of the party, on the smell of Tony Giobambera, all smoky and male.

Andrea yanked him by the arm so that he lurched towards her. “Let's go.”

Tony looked at me, smiled, and all the tightness in me dissolved into warmth. Then he threw his arm around Andrea's shoulders again, and led her away from the gazebo and up the hill towards everyone else.

I'd been holding my breath. When I exhaled the world seemed to settle. It was quieter, the sounds of the party distant and dull. I stayed there until my limbs were stiff and ached from not moving. Still I felt the thin line of his touch.

 

In school the fat girl sat behind me in every class.

In American history she sat in Andrea Dutton's old seat because three weeks earlier, right after the party, Andrea Dutton had flipped her car and ended up in the hospital in a coma and everybody said what a tragedy it was.

In math I sat behind Missy Groski. In English it was Jenny Sims. In art, we could sit wherever we wanted, which meant I ended up with the other kids no one wanted to be near: ashy, asthmatic Bobby Thomson, Lester Fine, who was anything but, and Marny Fergus, whose nose never stopped running. The fat girl stood nearby.

“Nice,” she said sometimes when I drew something that pleased her. Mostly she whispered about everybody else.

“Simon has a tiny prick,” she said. “Elizabeth Martin stuffs her bra. Billy Gustav draws like he's blind.”

Art was the only subject I seemed to absorb, the only place I didn't feel myself falling. With most of my homework I turned to the appropriate page and willed myself to become curious, but the words blurred and then puddled, running in rivulets off the paper and onto the floor, leaving behind a damp drained page of nothing.

It all sounded wrong. Instructions I read or heard, things my teachers went over on the board, all of it played at the wrong speed in my head so it sounded jumbled and scratchy. Nothing made sense. In math the
numbers dipped and swayed like flirtatious birds, landing within reach then taking off again so I couldn't follow even the simplest line of thought.

It was like I'd left something behind at Berrybrook besides the forty-eight pounds and seven months I'd lost. Some invisible part of my brain forgotten on a shelf somewhere, some key ingredient to navigating the world abandoned in that stupid Tudor building on that stupid green hill. I didn't even know how to look for what was gone, how to recognize it if I found it. How to ask for help.

“They're all morons,” the fat girl said about my classmates. She was enormous and rubbery, impossible to ignore. “Losers. You're better than every one of them.”

But I didn't want to be better than anyone. I just wanted to be me. And, yes, I wanted to show up, to be noticed. But inside some of me still wanted desperately to disappear. Of course that's what had gotten me to Berrybrook in the first place: trying to disappear.

 

I did it on a clear day, just before Christmas. I had thought about it constantly and planned a little, but when it came right down to it, I didn't wake up that morning with an idea of what would happen or when I would know. I just knew. The light inside me had flickered and gone out.

I took lots of pills, beautiful pills of all colors. I had saved them for months beforehand, scouring medicine cabinets anywhere I went to add to the stash hidden deep in my closet. After a while I didn't even bother reading labels. What mattered to me was the way they looked together, like colored pebbles, and the slippery way they felt when I reached deep in the jar and let them run through my fingers. I saved up. I waited for just the right moment to swallow so much possibility.

And it came.

I didn't dress up for it. I just took that jar from its hiding place and brought it into bed with me. I had a huge glass of water and I dumped some of the pills into it and swished them around. Others I dry-swallowed one at a time, small and large, white and colored. They made me gag, made my eyes tear, but I washed them down with my cloudy water, more and more and more. I remember the jar nearly half empty. I remember the world oozing and swelling. I remember feeling hopeful.

 

I first met the fat girl in the bathroom of a movie theater on the day I heard about Andrea Dutton's car accident. It was the Sunday before school started, four days after the party. I was by myself and two girls I didn't recognize were teasing their hair and talking when I walked in. One girl said to the other, “Did you hear about Andrea Dutton?”

“No,” the other girl said. “What?”

“Coma,” the first girl said. “Flipped her car and shit. Can you believe it?”

“Jeez,” said the second girl, then paused to light a cigarette. “And she was so popular.”

By now I was safely in a far stall, but I could smell the smoke. “Who
was
that?” I heard. Maybe she pointed.

“I dunno. Why? You recognize her?”

“I swear that's the fat girl from Homecoming.”

“Oh please. I'm so sure.”

The old weight settled on my chest. After a few minutes they both left. I stayed in the safety of my stall and tried not to cry. But when I finally pushed open the door to leave, my eyes were red and puffy. I splashed cold water on my face.

“Don't worry about them,” someone said from another stall. “Losers. Sheep. Clones. They'll both die in a terrible perming accident, you watch.”

I smiled—I couldn't help it—and hiccuped.

The second stall door opened and a girl walked out holding an ice cream sandwich. She was enormous, her face almost squeezed shut with excess flesh, her eyes slits, her cheeks gigantic half-melons. Her fingers were huge and thick.

“Hi,” she said. “You must be the Fat Girl from Homecoming.”

“Yeah,” I said, “but not anymore.”

“Bullshit, honey,” she said. “Once a fat girl, always a fat girl.”

Then she took my arm and led me out of the bathroom.

 

I did outpatient therapy. I took the number 4 bus downtown twice a week to see Dr. Fern Hester, who I was supposed to call Fern, and tell how much better everything had become since I'd lost all that weight and decided to live.

Her office was in the Gleryton Hospital Annex, a plain brown building surrounded by shrubs. It was an institutional room with weird homey touches—overstuffed chairs and framed prints and porcelain lamps—
meant to offset the linoleum floor and fluorescent lighting. Fern always sat with her hands clasped lightly and her ankles crossed. Her hair was the color of dirt, and cut in a thin, off-center pageboy. She had big square glasses, which she inched back up her nose by squenching her face together.

I liked her but I didn't trust her, or any of it: the spilling of secrets like so much spoiled milk. I felt that if I whispered any of it, the flow would be unstoppable, bottomless white liquid curdling as it came out, endlessly replenishing itself. And so I choked it all back.

I never told her about the fat girl.

I never talked about Homecoming.

Three weeks earlier, I'd told her, “This girl at school is in a coma.” Fern had nodded, concern distorting her face. “And everyone says she was totally drinking and stuff. I didn't really know her.”

I shifted in my chair and watched Fern. Her glasses were greasy in the light. They reflected me, brown hair hanging limp, pimple near my nose. Lone figure against a bare rose-papered wall.

Andrea Dutton's absence had torn a gaping hole in the fabric of our school, of the town, even. I pictured her lying in a hospital bed, her blond hair cascading along a pillow, her pale skin smooth and pearly, her lips open just enough for a tube to pass through. Her room must be lined in flowers, I thought, with her parents holding a vigil by her side. There could be no doubt that people wanted her back.

BOOK: Wonder When You’ll Miss Me
4.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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