Someone To Love
“That’s cool,” he says. He seems like he’s about to say something else, but he looks over my shoulder. I whip around to see Zach and his entourage walking toward us.
Cristina. Felicity, her best friend. Thin. Tan. Fashionable.
“Do you need us to bring anything Friday?” Felicity asks. “My parents bought a case of St. Germain. It’s delicious with champagne.”
“You lovely ladies just bring yourselves,” Jackson says. “Zach and I will take care of the rest. And don’t worry, we’ll make sure the girly drinks are there.”
My feet feel heavy. My purse feels like it’s hiding an entire system of gravity and slings toward the floor. I barely catch it. The girls are laughing at something Zach says.
It’s like they’re all talking in slow motion.
So charming. So at ease with themselves.
I can’t outwardly hate them. They haven’t actually done anything mean to me other than to be.
But they don’t have to weigh every single piece of food they put in their tiny bodies like I do. They don’t have to count ounces and measure milliliters. Their brains don’t constantly tell them that they’re ugly and fat and should give up on their diets because they’re never going to meet their goals anyway. They probably drink to have fun with their friends. Not to numb the hunger long enough to fall asleep.
Jackson turns away from me to talk to Zach.
I don’t even register on his radar.
There goes my stomach again. It feels full. Gorged. I wish I hadn’t eaten at all this morning. I’ll be bloated for the pictures.
Then I really start to feel it. The invisibility. The cloak. Like an atmosphere, it surrounds the real me. The fullness is totally noticeable now. My stomach is bursting. My brain burns with shame. I’m fat. Everybody can see how huge I am right now. From my cheeks to my fingers. My waist. My hips. My thighs.
I just want to be perfect. I want to be worth noticing.
Is that too much to ask?
I ate half a grapefruit for breakfast.
I drank two cups of green tea.
Took two pulls of the vodka hidden in my closet.
Just to take off the edge.
I feel every pound I weigh, and every ounce, like my life, is too much. Even though I already threw up at the end of class, I feel like I have to get it all out again. I excuse myself and run back to the bathroom and start heaving in the empty stall.
Something has to come out.
t w o (#u1995046c-ced6-510f-bc7e-f1466276fb70)
“Creativity takes courage.”
“Can anyone figure out the origin of this painting?” Ms. Day asks, fluffing her afro with one hand. Her gold hoop earrings glint under the light of the projector.
My mind wanders from the class, thinking about how the photo I took the last period turned out. The photographer took the picture before I was ready, and I’m almost certain I had a deer-in-the-headlights kind of look, but they only take one shot before they shuffle you off and move on to the next person in line.
“Look at the subject,” Ms. Day adds, patiently waiting for the class to respond.
The painting on the screen behind her shows a young woman wearing a pale pink dress being pushed on a swing above an admiring young man. The two figures aren’t touching each other, but the artist painted their movements so dynamically that they seem like they’re about to leap across the painting to embrace each other. A lush garden surrounds the lovers. Every leaf and flower has been painted with an incredible amount of detail and attention to light and shadow.
A girl at the front—Emma—raises her hand.
“The fashion definitely looks English or French,” she says.
Ms. Day nods. She’s not giving any hints.
I have her for two classes. AP art history and studio art. She’s the only teacher I feel like I can actually talk to honestly about my future goals. Not because I like her subject the most—though that’s true—but because she never mentions my parents. Or my brothers. Not that they would have ever dreamed of taking an art class.
“I’d say French,” Emma’s friend sitting next to her adds. “Even though she’s wearing stockings, the way her legs are exposed is too scandalous to be English.”
“Forget her legs.” Nate, a boy who sits in the back, snickers. “He’s looking up her dress. Bet he’s totally going to get him some.”
“Our very own connoisseur of the romantic arts speaks,” Ms. Day says. “Tell us more, Casanova!” The other boys snicker, but Nate’s too embarrassed to say anything else. I love how salty she can be with her students. She’s my favorite teacher.
Ms. Day turns away from the painting and gives him some serious side-eye. She puts her hands on her hips and sighs. “It is French. French Rococo, to be exact. The painting’s official name is The Swing. It was painted right before the Revolution by an artist named Jean-Honore Fragonard. The painting was commissioned by the notorious French libertine Baron de St. Julien as a portrait of his mistress. That’s all I’ll say for now. What do you think this painting is about? What’s the context?”
The class is silent again. “History is important to understanding art,” Ms. Day continues, asking us for our analysis of the piece before she gives us her interpretation. “But becoming a truly great artist means keeping your soul trained on the future. What will someone hundreds of years from now think or feel when they view your painting? What speaks across time and culture? Think about what truly moves you as a viewer.”
Emma raises her hand again. “It’s kinda playful.”
“That’s right.” Ms. Day paces across the front of the room. “Many of the painting’s critics called it frivolous. Why do you think they might have used that word?”
“Well,” I say, leaning forward in my seat to see the painting better. “It’s not like the subject is an important religious or historical person or event or anything. And the painting’s focal point is clearly her pink dress.”
“You think there’s more to the painting than that...” Ms. Day walks up the aisle and pauses by my desk, gesturing toward the painting. “Don’t you, Olivia?”
“She always has something to say,” Nate groans.
I ignore him. This is pretty much the only class in which I feel in my element.
“That playfulness that Emma mentioned? I think she’s right. I also think the painting is about seduction. Except the moment doesn’t seem so planned out. It’s like their desire is spontaneous.” I wonder whether someone will ever feel that way about me. Why do so many things have to come together perfectly for people to fall in love?
“The French would call that joie de vivre,” Ms. Day adds. “That translates to a cheerful enjoyment of life. An exultation of the spirit. Of the soul. Everything one does becomes filled with joy. Conversation. Work. Play. Eating.”
I wish I could feel joy when I eat. The only thing I feel is dread.
“Why do you think the painting is about seduction?” Ms. Day asks.
“Besides the fact that the man on the ground is pretty much looking up her dress?” I pause for a moment. The boys in the back laugh. “They know they’re being provocative. She’s letting her shoe fly off her foot like she’s Cinderella. He’s her Prince Charming. They’re gazing directly into each other’s eyes. Maybe they’re in love.”
“Or lust,” Ms. Day says. The class murmurs like they’re scandalized.