I just want to be skinny,” Nicole says, chewing off damn near half of her finger. “Just really, really skinny,” she repeats, silver nail polish flaking into her mouth. I pull her frail hands away from her mouth and drag her back to bed. She wraps her chopstick legs against my waist, nuzzling her head against my chest.
“You are really, really skinny,” I say. “You’re so skinny that if you got any skinnier, you would poof, disappear.” I plant a kiss on her forehead.
“I want to be like Adriana Lima-skinny,” she says, not listening. “No. Like Nicole Richie-skinny. Except not in that picture where she’s running on the beach because that was, like, unattractively skinny,” she goes on. “Like I want to be really thin, but still kind of healthy looking, you know?” I shake my head no. I don’t know.
It’s Christmas morning, and all Nicole wants to do is to lose five pounds. It’s Christmas morning, and all she’s asked for are Ex-Lax and diet pills. And all I can think about is shoving a sandwich into her mouth and making love into the New Year. I throw her over my shoulder and walk toward the kitchen. She is exactly like a child in the way she kicks and screams and pounds her feather light fists into my back. Her hair feels brittle against my skin, and it pains me to think about how thick and silky it used to be when she used to let me comb it at night, before clumps of it started clogging the shower drain.
The other day at CVS, I actually thought about getting Nicole some Ex-Lax. I asked a salesperson where it was and took a stroll down aisle five. I checked the prices between different brands and ended up putting the generic into my basket. I even mused over whether or not they had gift-wrap. But when I got to paying, I was reminded of the same deadpan expression on Nicole’s face every time I’ve tried a joke on her in the past six months, and so I decided against it.
“Actually I’m feeling much better now,” I said to the girl at the register, awkwardly avoiding eye contact. She didn’t say anything for a second, and perhaps she was confused, but suddenly, she let out a snort and began laughing hard, grasping the counter for support with one hand and banging the scanner against it with the other. Then I did something I haven’t seen Nicole do in a very long time. I began to laugh, too. I began to laugh at myself.
I stood at the counter for God knows how long watching this girl laugh at me, all the while laughing at myself in the not-so-funny situation that both of us happened to find so hysterical, and I noticed how the girl, who at first struck me as ordinary looking, began to look prettier as her eyes watered and nose crinkled, her white teeth shining in the fluorescent light.
“Your change?” she said.
“I change?” I replied, stupidly.
“Your change,” she laughed, wiping drool from the side of her mouth. She handed me several dollars and some cents in a fluid motion, which I stuffed into the donation box for Appalachian orphans, I guess out of a show of chivalry. By then, she was already helping the next customer, but even still, I walked out the revolving door without taking my eyes off her once.
Except now I’m not looking at her anymore. Now I am looking at Nicole. Now I am looking at Nicole nibble at the boiled egg white I have prepared for her, which is okay to eat because it only has 17 calories, most of which is protein. I pour her some black coffee, which she loves because it has only five calories per cup and dehydrates your body so you look like you’re thinner. She has it at least five times a day.
We are having dinner with her parents tonight like we have every Christmas since we were 17. There was once a thrill in dressing up and play-pretend back when we were both underage and wine flowed freely at the dinner table, but now I am not so sure why I do it anymore. I suppose part of me wants to believe things haven’t changed since then: I am not working 70 hours a week as a junior attorney at a firm where no one knows my name, and Nicole is not interning at Cosmopolitan magazine where she is being brainwashed by anorexic monkeys, and the both of us still like to hold hands under the table.
“So are you ready for your present?” Nicole says, with her paper-thin arms around my waist from behind. I can see the blue of her veins branching along her underarms to her wrists, and with every drop of self-control left in me, I do not take her arms into my hands and I do not break them. I close my eyes and cradle her limbs with my own and wish hard that when I turn around she will be smiling up at me. She will be smiling because she loves me and because by loving me, she sees how much I love her and she will love herself. I turn around and open my eyes. She is not smiling. She is looking at me imploringly, with that frustrating, incessant half-frown, searching for acceptance. She runs off to get my gift although I am not ready. How can I be ready for my Christmas present if I am not even ready for the present moment?
Chewing on runny eggs that taste differently now that I know they are 180 calories apiece, I recall talking with Nicole once about whether or not we really love each other or whether we are just together out of habit. “Does it really matter?” she asked, pulling me into her then-tangible thighs. Reflecting upon this I realize that the saddest part about the whole ordeal is even if I still just wanted to have sex for the next seven days straight, it would be inconceivable. Nicole’s legs have ceased to arouse me. As of lately, little about her besides the obvious pleasure of her orifices turns me on. I’ve tried the herbal supplements. I’ve tried Viagra. I won’t even try to deny it; I take magazines with pictures of real women with real breasts and real thighs into the bathroom for a couple of minutes before returning to bed. I am 26 going on 60. I am a whipped boyfriend on the road to impotence and an unhappy marriage. I am a man who has prematurely dedicated his life to holding together the pieces of a girl’s self-image with a thin glue of familiarity and old dreams. Nicole returns with a big box wrapped in cellophane, decorated with ribbon. I wonder how nice it would be if it was actually something I wanted, like an iPhone or my libido back. But I shouldn’t get my hopes up.