We weren't sure what the cross-street to the bakery was, so we just walked down 9th Avenue, eyes scanning, looking for the turquoise-blue frame of the shop's window. We were talking about--I don't know. Work, probably. Maybe a boy, maybe trading tales of college exploits. We didn't know each other well. She was my first friend in New York. She was round and soft and beautiful in a way that's not appreciated in this city, all hips and thighs and breasts and undulation, loose-fleshed. She's one of those women who can be overweight and you can't imagine her any other way; to take away her flesh would be to take away the quiet ripple that awed those who were paying attention. The first time I hugged her I wanted to gasp because her skin felt so soft under my hands, buttery. It could be her secret weapon, if she so chose: Nobody could resist having that skin next to them.
She invited me along: To friends' parties, to movies, to hang with her college buddies, two cute boys. She took me along to a friend's birthday party at a downtown bar, explaining on the way down there that she was slightly intimidated by this friend, Jenny, because Jenny was her "cool friend--the one who's always doing cool stuff, who knows people." I couldn't tell her that she was my cool friend--that she remained my cool friend even after I had made others. Not because she would have snubbed me, but because she would have thought I was saying something nice to make her feel better. She knew her worth but didn't know others knew it too. That was one of the things I liked about her.
But anyway. We were walking down the street on a cupcake hunt. A man and his daughter fell into step behind her. The daughter looked like she was maybe in second grade. She was talking in singsong about going to see her mother later that day and how she was going to get a cookie. The father said, "No cookies. You'll get fat, fat, fat!"
The words hit me like a steel pole through my chest. Amy grabbed my arm and pulled me into the overhang of a hardware store. We stayed there together and breathed for a moment, huffing our quiet fury, each of us ashamed. For his behavior, for him having a daughter. For the girl and what she had heard; for what she had heard before and would hear again. For us and our cupcakes. For hating him, and for the reminder he gave us, that we were getting fat.
I don't remember if we went on and got the cupcakes. It would be poetic one way or the other, wouldn’t it? If we got the cupcakes and toasted each other and our beauty? Or if we didn't, quietly letting the father of another control us? But I don't remember. We both gained a lot of weight that year. We probably did get the cupcakes.
That was February of 2000. It is July of 2009. I just ate a cupcake, delivered to me from the hipster/Italian place down the street, alongside a mortadella sandwich. As I licked the last bits of mocha frosting from my fingertips, I heard the voice of a father--not mine--say, "You'll get fat, fat, fat!" Words never die; words never die.