“Better be careful with all that drinking. You’re gonna put on weight and I know how you hate to exercise,” he cautioned. He wasn’t actually concerned, of course. He was goading her–that was one of his favorite pastimes. For it certainly wasn’t fucking her. Maybe she would be thinner if she didn’t have to beg for sex like some sort of incel. It’s one of the most functional forms of exercise, after all. In addition to his withholding, his “fat” remarks were part and parcel of his natural knack for gaslighting, though, in this case, she had never been more afraid of the notion that, for once, he wasn’t fucking with her mind. Was telling the truth about her mutating body shape.
She started to grow so paranoid that she did, indeed, stop drinking. Her one great joy in life. She also restricted her diet to the sole vegetables of kale and zucchini, seltzer water being her only sanctuary for finding a taste with “pizzazz” (albeit a hard-won taste for seltzer isn’t that pervasive in San Fran). By the end of three months, she had categorically lost weight. Yet Franco would not give her credit where credit was due, insisting, “I really don’t see a difference. You might as well go back to making bolognese for both of us.”
She was heartbroken over the comment. All of her diligence and discipline seemingly down the drain without receiving Franco’s stamp of approval. She really thought she had made progress, that she would be deemed so patently thin that even Franco couldn’t deny it to her. And why did she have to let him get into her head so much anyway? Why was his opinion so important to her? It was only later in life, long after they had parted ways, that she realized: it was because his verbal abuse–his unbridled contempt for her–served as a means to fortify and reiterate the tape she had been playing in her head since preadolescence. The one that, on a loop, affirmed that she was a piece of shit, was worthy of nothing–least of all a non-toxic relationship. It didn’t ameliorate the preadolescent tape when, one day after school, while sitting at her father’s computer, she had managed to catch the attention of the most popular girl on the then end all, be all of chat mediums, MSN Messenger, who summarily dubbed her a “shit talkin’ fatty.”
She was a cipher, but a rotund one, which must have made her stick out long enough to be noticed by Franco. She had been walking down Stockton Street when he spotted her, undoubtedly radiating an aura of insecurity. It must have been like blood in the water to a shark. He was standing outside of Original Joe’s smoking a cigarette, cursing his fate of having to be a waiter there, when the sight of Ana stirred something within him. Here was this girl so obviously begging to be loved in any way someone would give it to her that he knew she was his for the (molding and manipulation) taking.
So it was that he introduced himself by “accidentally” tossing his cigarette at her to stub it out on the sidewalk as he conveniently looked away from her direction. The tip of it struck her on the shin and she cried out in shock more than pain. Franco turned back to see what happened, feigning total innocence as he rushed to her side to apologize.
“I’m so sorry. That’s never happened to me in all my years as a smoker.”
She arched her brow in curiosity. “How many years is that?”
“Shit. Maybe fifteen. Been doing it since I was fourteen.”
She shrugged. “Then I guess your karma for my burn is a quicker death. Though I don’t know if that’s really a punishment.”
He smiled. “You’re a bit dark, aren’t you?”
“Me? I’m as white as they come.”
“Then I guess I can see why you’re in North Beach.”
Ana could tell he was flirting, even if there was a tinge of causticness to it. Thanks to all those 40s screwball comedies, she could learn to interpret vitriol as repartee. Even when perhaps she shouldn’t have. Still, Franco seemed amicable enough and she decided to accept his invitation for coffee after his shift was over at the nearby Caffe Greco.
Once he used his Italo-Americano charm to break down some of her barriers, it was clear this was going to be more than just a caffeinated rendezvous. Over time, Ana found herself letting Franco move in with her, into the apartment she had been renting in the Mission since her USF years. After majoring in French, she parlayed her way into a high-level translating job at the French-American Chamber of Commerce, whose aim was to “engage and foster the French-American business community” in the Bay Area.
Of course she encountered many potential “eligible” men (as though any of them could be called as such when all blokes were endlessly closed for emotional business) in this role. But, the problem was: most of them tended to be French. There was something about Franco’s visceral Italian roots that spoke to Ana in a way that none of the revolving door of Frogs did. So she tended to take his crudeness and brusqueness as a natural sign of “charisma” that others she typically encountered lacked.
She had to tell herself that more and more as he continually transformed into some insensitive deadbeat that might be played by John Turturro circa the Do the Right Thing era. For instance, he quit his job (though he was actually fired) at Original Joe’s, citing the excuse that they were treating him like a slave. Funny, she thought, for these days she felt the same of how he was treating her. Setting right in the moment she entered the door from an already mentally taxing day. Making incessant and inane demands usually pertaining to, “Where’s my/what’s for dinner?” As though he genuinely thought they were living in Naples and this was an acceptable dynamic to expect between male and female in the twenty-first century.
No wonder she was putting on weight. She had to drink more to cope with the stress of being with him. And with the unwanted burden of latently comprehending that some part of her must get off on the torment. On enduring comments like, “Did–did you even taste your food?” in referencing her eating with the same voracious pace as a pig. It didn’t do much to assuage her already rampant self-consciousness. Yet she withstood it, tried to be better–so good that he couldn’t ignore it. But oh how he could, and did. Reducing her weight reduction to being nonexistent.
So she, in turn, decided he must be right, ignoring the compliments and praise of others she encountered and choosing to give up on the futile “exercise” of dieting. Returning to eating and drinking simply as though she still had the metabolism of an eighteen-year-old. In the end, she really did get fat. Not the kind that Franco had previously only put into her head, but legitimately so. She became invisible, an ironic fact that happens to so many fat people that no one wants to look at because it’s too grotesque.
Franco himself was no longer even getting enjoyment out of mocking her. It was too easy and it seemed he had already pushed the limits of how much he could toy with her mental, therefore physical state. That’s why, when she returned from work one day, he had flagitiously absconded, leaving only a vial of speed on the table with a note next to it that read, in his harsh chicken scratch, “Diet pills.” Strange, she realized, for didn’t Italians have a saying that went something like, “Food is love”? The byproduct of that being, “To be fat is to be despised.”
He had set the dichotomous trap for her in so many ways, and she willfully allowed her flabby flesh to get caught.