[…continued from previous post.]
I began my summer of staying home to lose weight by immediately leaving home again. I had been invited to accompany a new college friend to Atlantic City for four or five days. Amy was a graduating senior whom I’d always secretly admired but never before gotten to know, as we had neither friends nor academic interests in common. We came together during her last semester on the basis of a shared reluctance to go home on weekends.
She was tall, slender, and classy looking: long shiny dark hair, long shapely legs, and a soft, well-rounded bosom of movie star proportions. She was also an astonishingly good classical violinist and, equally impressive to me, owned thirty-five cashmere sweaters (some formerly her mother’s), which she didn’t save for special occasions but wore every day, in rotation, with jeans.
Amy was now suffering through the end of what she declared was the most profound love affair she would ever have in all her life. He was a genius, she said quietly. He was also married, unhappily of course, and could not leave his wife, a Catholic. Although he had many times led beautiful Amy gently (ever so gently) to the brink of consummation over the course of their two years together, professor and student in erotic endeavor as well as in her musical studies, he had steadfastly declined to rob her of her technical virginity; it would be both unfair to her and an act of infidelity to his wife.
He wanted to preserve her purity because he loved her. (“And he does, I know he does,” she whispered, her cheeks pink with recollected passion.) The most he would permit, during their clandestine after-hours meetings in his office, was for her to express her desire by gratifying his, on her knees on a small oriental rug with which he had thoughtfully decorated his office for that purpose.
Now she was graduating and wouldn’t see him again. How was she going to survive, back with her parents in their Upper East Side apartment facing the park? They didn’t know about this life-altering relationship and wouldn’t understand if they did. She simply couldn’t leave campus those last few weekends while there was a chance he might be able to plead some unfinished work in the office (he composed as well as taught) and call her on the dormitory phone Saturday or Sunday afternoon to meet him there.
I listened with shining eyes. Why was I not the heroine of such a heartbreaking drama? Well, I knew why. Who could possibly love my plump cheeks, round chin, round stomach and thighs? But hearing about a love like that was second best to suffering it myself. I eagerly accepted her invitation to come with her on the four- or five-day Atlantic City trip after her graduation. She needed to get away, she said, before the many dreary and loveless years of living at home. [How, she asked rhetorically, could she ever love again, after Him?] I too needed some time away to shrink my stomach in preparation for spending the whole summer with my hypercritical mother, who had occasionally begun asking the heavens what would become of me after college. What better place and company for that than the seaside in June with lovely heartbroken Amy?
“You won’t meet anyone in Atlantic City,” said my mother. Did she mean no eligible man would cross my path, or no man would be interested? Meeting men was absolutely not the purpose of this trip, I declared. We were just going to get some sun while Amy recovered from an unhappy love affair. No, I couldn’t answer any more questions because the man was married and rather famous in musical circles.
We went by bus. As we emerged from the Atlantic City terminal, it began to rain. We’d rented a small furnished room, bath down the hall, on the second floor of a rooming house near the Boardwalk – the idea being we wouldn’t be in the room much so why spend money to stay somewhere fancy? Fancy it wasn’t: two single beds, one bedstand with lamp, a single bureau, a shallow closet and a sink. We unpacked and peered out the window behind the headboards. The rain was now a downpour.
“Good thing we brought books and umbrellas,” said Amy. “We can go sit in a nice hotel lobby and read.” I had no better ideas. After a modest lunch at the nearest cafeteria on Pacific Avenue, we put up our wet umbrellas and fought the winds coming from the Boardwalk to reach a hotel. In deep lobby chairs we read all afternoon. Early dinner in the same hotel. Then up with the umbrellas again to struggle back to the rooming house. I finished my book in bed.
It continued to pour for four more days. No beach. No healthful walks on the Boardwalk. I didn’t regret the loss of beach; I had no bathing suit that fit and had brought only shorts and a few short-sleeve shirts left over from high school summers in case we were going to do a lot of lying around on the sand getting tan. But I had counted on the walks, to begin burning up the multiple thousands of excess calories I must have deposited on my person since the last time I had been, briefly, at what I considered a desirable weight.
Instead, we had to read on our beds for as long as we could after coming back from breakfast in the coffee shop around the corner — our wet umbrellas propped open on the floor to dry – before venturing out for a repeat of the first day’s activities. Amy didn’t mind. She enjoyed observing hotel guests from the depths of a comfortable fauteuil in each hotel lobby we visited, and even began to develop a preference in lobbies, based on some perceived distinction between the clientele on view. She said it helped take her mind off Him.
Not having a Him on my mind, I soon lost interest in gazing at wet strangers hurrying into hotels and began to resent having spent what little cash I had on such a vapid travel experience. I suggested finding a movie. Atlantic City couldn’t be without movie theaters. Amy thought movies inappropriate in light of her grief and asked me to be more understanding. I grew increasingly hungry. I had been eating very little at our meals in hopes of maybe losing a pound or two even without the walks. The unfamiliar abdominal emptiness, coupled with so much sitting and listening to her now tiresome ruminations about what He might be doing at any particular moment, was tempered only by the growing certitude my stomach was shrinking.
On the fifth day, the sun came out. Amy pulled on her bathing suit, in which she looked gorgeous. I buttoned my shorts, with effort. And off we went – to the beach, to the beach! — bearing towels, baby oil and sunglasses. We had about six hours before having to slip old cotton dresses over the beachwear, collect our bags from the rooming house and catch the bus back to New York. It was enough to achieve what we’d allegedly come for.
“Mmmm, you got a nice tan,” said my mother as I unlocked the door that evening. “And it looks as if you lost a pound or two. You want to eat something?”
I began at once to work at losing more.
[To be continued….]