First chapter of my memoir



Janice Barrett

Chapter 1

I told my sister Jackie, I was coming for a visit. How could I explain leaving home with my married life crammed into twist tie bags? The only way to endure the long drive to her house with my husband Bob was to take Lorazepam. The pill made me groggy, but was not strong enough to knock me out. I had to pretend to be asleep so I wouldn’t have to listen to him.

By the time and the traffic pattern, I could tell we were in Toronto. Bob tried a couple of times to talk to me, but I just breathed heavier. When his truck pulled up to the curb in front of Jackie’s house my body felt like it would crumble. And it wasn’t from the Lorazepam. It was because of my failure. I had to admit his rejection of me and say the words out loud that reeked of humiliation.

With his hand on the ignition key Bob said, “I still love you.”

My body trembled, but I wouldn’t allow the tears to come. “I always say, talk is cheap, show me. Thank you; you showed me.”

I looked at him and thought of our 39th wedding anniversary which was coming up soon. I picked up the single piece of paper, titled Asset Split, which had been left on the console between us. The last thing he had given me as we walked out of our home.

We went to the back of the truck together. He dropped down the tailgate and I hefted one of the many large green garbage bags filled with my clothes, shoes, and purses and dragged it into Jackie’s foyer.

Jackie met me with a hug that felt more like being cradled in her arms and I was grateful that she wouldn’t let go. The front door was open. Bob came back with another two bags and dumped them next to me. Jackie squeezed me tighter, our arms wrapped around each other.

I laughed. “I’m not a light traveller.”

Now the suitcases started coming in. Quietly Jackie’s foyer filled. She didn’t react to it, but only tucked my head closer to her shoulder shielding my eyes. It was every suitcase Bob and I owned.

I was shocked that Jackie didn’t question anything and had no reaction. As if she expected this.

“I might be here a little longer than a quick visit.” My laughter turned to tears.

I couldn’t make this into a joke. I was surprised; I am not a crier and should have been so much tougher than this. My sister squeezed me tighter, the paper crinkling between our bodies. I stopped crying almost immediately.

She was talking to me in soothing tones, reassuring I knew, but I didn’t know what she was saying. I only heard Bob’s expelled breath as he dumped another two bags; his feet as he plodded back out the door, his grunt when he lifted more bags up the front steps into the house. He pushed our cuddled bodies forward surrounding us in dark green punctuated by Samsonite’s colour trends over the years.

I kept my face buried wishing I could block out the noise. The paper so important gripped tighter in my fist, crushing against my chest. I knew Bob was tiring. I could hear him wheeze, hear him drag the bags, sliding them in front of us. Even though the foyer was wide, I knew he was running out of room. How many years would fit into a square foot? They don’t teach that in school. I could feel the heat from my heavy breaths. Like when you take your shirt and pull it over your nose. My hand was cramping from clutching the paper so tight. I couldn’t lift my face, couldn’t look at my sister and didn’t want to watch the growing field of baggage. I was my baggage; like you are what you eat. I took up the same squat space as each of my garbage bags, dumped just like them, another bag to clutter Jackie’s life.

He never spoke and no one spoke to him. It was a relief to hear the front door close. I lifted my head and wiped the sweat from my cheeks trying to smile. “It was the greatest love story ever.”

Jackie’s hands fell from my body. No longer in a cuddle, I looked down at the paper. The page so wrinkled. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to read it. I pressed the paper between my hands rubbing my finger over it trying to take the kinks out. Jackie watched. My deep sighs and tongue snapping made her aware of how exasperated I was. But she didn’t help me. Maybe I could use an iron. But the steam could blur the ink.

Jackie very gently took my arm guiding me into her living room, and sat me on the couch.

I put the page titled, Asset Split on her coffee table smoothing it out on the flat surface.

“I have to get a lawyer and he has to follow everything exactly the way it is written on this page. Bob told me if a lawyer refuses to do this, then I have to go to the next lawyer and the next until someone agrees to follow these twelve steps exactly the way he wrote them. Bob says, they can’t change anything.”

I wouldn’t tell her what else Bob said, because she would be mad at him. But Bob told me if I didn’t do this, it would get nasty. He wasn’t the violent type, at least not with me. So I didn’t fear for my physical safety. Bob was not one to start a fight but he would never back down from one and I could always rely on him to protect me. He was my white knight. I always thought of him like that, my hero.

But he was ruthless in business or so he told me. But I never saw that side of him. We laughed though when he got those tapes on How To Swim With The Sharks Without Getting Eaten. From what he had told me he was already a shark and no one at work was in his league. Few had his business sense and knew how to control situations and people. Bob could do it all. He had to spend most of his time putting out fires started by incompetent franchisees and co-workers. I wasn’t sure how he was going to make me sorry, but I knew he could. I had to do everything that paper said. It didn’t matter what anyone else said. I had to follow every number from one to twelve.

Jackie sat next to me, afraid to ask questions and me more afraid of the answers. I had to tell her. She was waiting. There was nothing for her to say. She wanted to know what happened. There was so much to tell, to admit, to confess. The dryness of my throat must have been apparent to my sister or maybe she wanted to give me more time, but she got up to get me a glass of water.

It was cliché to say where do I begin, but that was what I wanted to say. I wanted to sound together and intelligent. Jackie set the glass down on the coffee table. A few drops of water rolled from the lip of the glass down to circle the bottom. Picking up the glass, I ran the bottom of it on my pant leg and wiped the table with my sleeve so there wouldn’t be a white mark left on the wood. Environmentally, we are told to leave a small foot print; I didn’t want to traipse all over her life, but I had nowhere to go and couldn’t care for myself. I looked over at the garbage bags feeling like those big round mounds of forgotten life: sagging, plopping, and spreading their girth, useless.

“I left Bob. But he pushed me out. I didn’t want to stay. He doesn’t want me anymore. I am ill. The doctor says I’m not, but I know I am. Bob believes the doctor; he didn’t have my back.”

Jackie’s sigh was loud. “Slow down. I don’t know where you’re going with this. You’re ill? Take your time. There’s no need to rush. Now start from the beginning. When did you first notice you weren’t feeling well?”

I fingered the edge of my sweater touching my wrist bone, brushing against the smoothness of my titanium watch band.

“It wasn’t so much not feeling well as just not being right. But I know it started at the Curling Club at our banquet.     Jackie leaned in closer her eyes squinting in concentration.

“Okay, I’m not getting it. Tell me exactly what happened at the Curling Club to make you sick.”

“It started when I was getting ready to go there. I lost twenty-six pounds and was going to wear this outfit that fit perfectly fine in the morning when I tried it on, but when I put it on later that day the zipper was seven inches away from closing.”

“Jan, I don’t understand what this has to do with anything.”

I shifted uncomfortably in my chair. Her life so tidy. Little vignettes displaying ceramic, china, watercolours proclaiming her empty nest status. Me invading, the bull in her china cabinet.

“I don’t know either, but I just know everything about me is changing.”

I took a sip of water. I wasn’t telling it right. It was so confusing; so much to explain. I could hear Bob’s voice mocking in that superior tone he had with me when I got excited trying to tell a story and things came out all jumbly like this and he would scowl and say my sentences were like verbal diarrhea. I didn’t want it to be that way. I had to make sense of it all.

“So you were bloated. It happens all the time.” Jackie said.

“No it wasn’t that. It’s more than that. It’s been going on for months. I measure myself before dinner and then fifteen minutes after dinner and I measure seven to eight inches bigger. That means I go up about four dress sizes in fifteen minutes. Who does that?”

I can’t do this again. Starting from the beginning. Convince her, a new doctor. I know I’m fat, I’m huge, but it’s not fat, it’s something else. I’m not making excuses for being fat. I’m not crazy. Even though they say I am. I’m not. I can’t go back to the mental ward again.

“Let’s forget about the Curling Club for now. You said you’re sick. What’s wrong?

“I feel like I’m going to collapse all the time and like I’m 90 years old. I’m just dragging my body around. I couldn’t even take care of the house anymore. I don’t want to end up in a nursing home. I have no strength. I can barely walk, but they say there’s nothing wrong with me. There has to be something wrong with me; something to fix.”

When I sat forward on the couch, to take another sip, Jackie tucked a pillow behind my back. “I had no idea you’d been going through all this. Why didn’t you call me?”

“I didn’t want to upset you with it. There was nothing you could do. Besides I was just too far away.”

“All the times I talked to you and you didn’t tell me.” Jackie noticed the glass shaking in my hand and took it from me.

I looked down at my lap, wanting to cup my hands, play with my fingers but could see neither hand nor lap, as they were obscured by my huge bloated belly. It’s girth spreading my legs, the weight so heavy on my thighs, pushing my arms from their sides. No comfort, fingers restless, gouging, fingernails tearing at my thumb, ripping skin, cutting cuticle.

Jackie cupped my hand, flattening out my fingers. “It’s all right.”

She kept her hand on mine for a while before reaching for the blanket on the back of the couch and pulling it down over me, tucking me in.

“We don’t have to go over all this. Why don’t we leave it for now and just relax and enjoy ourselves. I’ll turn a movie on and we can veg out.”


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