It started innocently enough. As an attempt at getting into the “cultural spirit” of things. And at the beleaguered encouragement of her “best friend,” Gilda, a 35-year-old six years her senior who had met Frida in Belgium while they were both participating in the ERASMUS program for teachers, Frida could hardly resist the barrage of gaufres, frites et chocolat chaud–what Gilda not so laughingly called le régime alimentaire des champions. And to look at her physique, you could tell that she genuinely believed in these culinary convictions. That to know a true zeal for food was to let it be all-consuming by consuming it all. In effect, she had the quintessential Dutch woman’s build–that is to say, stocky. The kind of person you could easily mount to climb up an edifice. And that is, at times, just what Frida wanted to do in order to escape the abominable influence of Gilda. The trouble was, she was starting to weigh too much to even be able to do that. For by day five of their reunion trip together in Brussels, Frida’s gait had transformed into one of a lumbering, lethargic toad.
She couldn’t even imagine how much worse for the wear her body would have been if she hadn’t turned down the waffles and fries purchases Gilda made at breakfast as well. And that was the other issue: Gilda would always buy for two without asking, leaving Frida beholden to the swallowing of the materials so as not to swallow up Gilda’s bank account in vain. When she would start to feel sick toward the end of her umpteenth ice cream-doused waffle or mayonnaise-coated fry or insane-in-richness hot chocolate, Frida would demand while on the verge of barfing, “Why are you making me do this?” Gilda would tsk and reply, “Frida, I can’t make you do anything. Why can’t you just admit you have a healthy appetite like me?” But Frida did not have a healthy appetite like Gilda. What she had was no backbone. No emotional wherewithal to “go it alone.” Gilda was, after all, her only friend. Life could get very isolating, admittedly, when you were a teacher, absorbed by the tasks of constantly reading, correcting, critiquing and grading. And Gilda could at least empathize with her dichotomously monotonous occupation and lust for adventure. Except Gilda didn’t really want adventure. She merely wanted to go on these trips for the sake of being able to say that she had gone somewhere new. The “cachet” of it all, as it were. It was truly abominable to Frida the more she realized it, the true nature of Gilda as she would accompany her on these journeys. But this latest one to Brussels was by far the worst. You would think she had never been here before–that she had to soak up every gastronomical aspect to make the most of her “maiden voyage.” But they had already lived here two years ago. They had gotten their literal fill.
And as Frida took a rare respite from Gilda as she waddled down Koningsstraat near Botanique to try her best to walk off some of all that Belgian beer Gilda had practically forced down her gullet while they sat idly at A La Mort Subite, she contemplated heading to the airport wordlessly. Cutting bait with six more days left in their stay here together (they were planning to go to Antwerp together as a brief pause from la vie Bruxelles). How lovely it would be to just escape and never speak to Gilda ever again. It can be that way sometimes with female friendships. Often feeling more like a form of prison than camaraderie. And in every prison dynamic, there must be the jailer and the jailed–Frida so obviously being the latter.
Becoming short of breath, Frida paused at the corner of the botanical garden to catch her breath. She couldn’t go on like this. She was beginning to empathize with a fucking American. The thing about putting on weight, however, is that it starts to feel like an irrevocable death sentence–for it’s so easy to do. You figure, well, I’m already this fat, might as well continue down the path of self-destruction. It’s a bit like credit card debt that way, weight gain. And, in truth, she really only did have herself to blame. She could have said no to Gilda anytime. Made it a point of putting her foot down and refusing to ingest her poison just because she had paid for it. Just because she wanted to kill herself in company with an unwilling companion. Yet the thing about Gilda was that she hadn’t been like this when Frida first met her. She was never thin, but she was at least…formed. As opposed to doughy. But then, something that so often destroys women both emotionally and physically occurred: her heart was broken. By an Italian man, naturally. She should have known things would end badly. Especially since the only time Italian men make lifelong concessions to another nationality are when the woman is French or American. Simply is the way of the world. Gilda was doomed as a Dutch girl. All rosy-cheeked, pale and plump looking even when in “good shape.” Davide abandoned her after three months of what Gilda presumed would be ongoing and interminable passion. And all he gave her as an excuse was: “Our time has run its course.” While some might have admired his candor, Gilda could only see him as a coward and a mongrel dog. How could he have played with her affections so callously? Taking what he wanted and then leaving?
Frida, no stranger to pain herself as a Spanish woman, tried her best to console Gilda in the aftermath, bringing her an ample supply of whiskey each night while she bawled her eyes out and made Frida serve as her mental punching bag–taking out the rage she felt toward Davide on Frida by snapping at her for the slightest “fault,” like not bringing any snacks with the alcohol or saying the “wrong thing” when comforting her about being better off alone. The truth was, of course, that a woman like Gilda is never better off alone. Becomes more miserable and insufferable without a significant other to turn to as a means to hide from herself. Her own lack of “specialness.” A lack that is all the more augmented when she is proven to be perpetually single–undesirable. As though the universe wants to corroborate all her theories of inadequacy so that she can truly relish and delight in it like a mosquito in blood. Overeating is a part of that delight. What was Frida’s reasoning then, for being weighed down in all ways by this person? Did she, perhaps, recognize something of herself in Gilda? She would never be able to fully surmise, for, at that very moment, she was seized upon by cardiac arrest. The excess had done her in. Maybe gaufres, frites et chocolat chaud was only the diet of champions if you were, like Gilda, champion enough to survive their ceaseless digestion on a regular basis.