Let Me Eat Butter
Excerpt of an essay from Open Trench
“No matter how you try to sell it, no one at five feet, nine inches looks good at one-hundred and eighty-seven pounds.”
Janice is a cruel bitch. She always had an eating disorder. How dare she say that to me? Even if it is true?
“I just got back from France. What can I say? The butter did it to me. People think it’s the bread or the pastries. They don’t help, of course, but mostly, I have to say, it’s the butter. And Janice, I need more of that butter right now.”
Janice suggests we go up to The French Laundry this weekend. Touted as the best restaurant in the world, it is almost impossible to get a reservation. However, she knows the lover of the sommelier. She could get us in. I tell her to forget it. I am moving back to France permanently. I shut the door to the office because I know she’s going to hit the ceiling.
Janice shrieks, “You must be crazy! You aren’t moving to France. You’re a writer. You write in English. All that French will scramble your mind.”
I tell her that that may very well be true, however, the butter is calling me and I must go.
“Oh come on. You’re trying to sabotage your career. You’re just getting somewhere. Don’t you think you should wait at least until your book is published? Don’t you think you should stay in The New World at least until you read the reviews?”
“No. I need more butter.”
“Oh, you are so ridiculous. Clearly this is about something else. What’s going on?”
“Nothing at all,” I serenely state, “I came back to this country and wonderful as it is, the butter just doesn’t live up to my standards. I have to go where the good butter is. And Janice, the good butter is in France. I’m packing up my life. I’m inquiring about a teaching position at the University of Paris. If I can’t get a job teaching, I’ll just have to make sure my book is a huge success.”
“But how will you do that? You can’t promote it in France. Besides, you’ll be all greasy with all that butter. Plus, you’ll be so fat, no one will want to buy your book.”
She might have a point. However, I’ve thought a lot about this.
“Janice, listen, the reason I’m so chubsy right now is because when I was in France I imagined I would never get another chance to eat butter like that again. Every time I sat down to eat, no matter where I went- from Antibes to Uzés to Paris, no matter how they served it, when it got to my mouth, that butter was the best, most creamy, most delicately sweet and natural thing I’d ever tasted. I had to eat as much of it as possible. I gained twelve pounds. I think eleven of them can be attributed to that dreamy creamy stuff. It’s true. But don’t you think Janice, I mean, don’t you think that if I had the butter available to me every day for the rest of my life that I would learn restraint while still getting my pearly American chompers on that amazing dairy product? Don’t you think I could have my butter and eat it too? Don’t you think the examined life filled with limitless, delicious French butter is better than the unexamined life filled with the yellow cubes of dread we are served in this country?”
Just then, Harlene walks into the room. She is hungover, her eyes rimmed with a purple pulsing displeasure. Harlene has the voice of a cello bowed with sandpaper.
“Man, they said you got fat, but I didn’t realize how much. What’s going on with you?”
“I ate a lot of butter in France.”
Harlene squawks, “Don’t say butter.”
“I just can’t think about food right now.”
Janice vocally jumps on Harlene. “He says he’s moving back to France. He says he wants to live in the land of good butter.”
Harlene chokes back a little vomit. “Don’t say butter.”
Janice winces. “You okay?”
Harlene catches her breath after her mini vomit swallow. “Yeah. Yeah. I’m fine. I learned that trick from my dog.”
Janice goes on. “I think he’s running away from his career. I think he’s sabotaging it just like he sabotaged his collection of poetry.”
“No one buys poetry! It sabotaged itself,” I say in prose as my stomach starts to grumble.
Harlene takes my chin in her hand and with the look in her eyes of once being the valedictorian of Vassar who never lived up to her potential and had been beaten down with the disappointment such fate brings, she fog horned, “What are you running away from, really?”
“Nothing at all.”
Harlene takes my opened bottle of water and swigs three good gulps. “Oh come on. Janice got you this nice easy gig until your book comes out.”
“And I’ve thanked Janice many times. Thank you again, Janice. And it’s not so easy.” Janice sucks in her gut. Whenever she feels uncomfortable, she pulls her stomach in, and stretches her spine. This makes her feel even thinner than she is. And this thinness gives her a sense of safety. She imagines she is still twenty-six.
Harlene sees Janice is thinning out and barks, “Breathe, Janice. We won’t let him go.”
I look at Janice, “I’m going Janice.” Janice exhales.
Harlene commands, “Okay you gloomy bastard. This is about men. You were so depressed before you went on your trip. That, what’s his name? He broke up with you because you were too needy or too compulsive or both?”
“He did break up with me because I wanted more affection. But, I mean, it’s a cold world. I never got the affection I wanted. So I want affection. No big deal. It’s not why I’m moving.”
Janice jumps in, “It’s because of your mother, isn’t it? She went crazy again and you don’t want to deal with your feelings of guilt over not visiting her in the state run asylum.”
“No, that’s not it, though I don’t want to visit her in the state run asylum, this is true. And I do feel a bit guilty about it. But she’s never in the asylum for longer than a couple days. She checks herself in, so she can check herself out. Besides, you know she’s a liar. Who knows if she really is in the asylum.”
Harlene’s eyes well up. “At least you have a mother.”
“But, Harlene, you have one too.”
“She’s dead to me. DEAD TO ME! I buried her five years ago when she didn’t come to my wedding.”
I comfort, “She showed up for the divorce.”
“Of course. She only loves me when I’m miserable. God forbid I should be happy. She can’t take it.”
Janice says, “Look, we’ll talk about this tonight at dinner. Rocco is having a terrible birthday week.”
Harlene splats, “Just terrible.”
Janice harps, “You couldn’t leave Rocco behind. He’s so depressed. His chocolate flower business failed and he can’t find a boyfriend either.”
Harlene has a new eruption of vomit. Bigger this time. She chokes it back. “Dog really is man’s best friend.”
“You’re not moving to France. Butter or no butter.” Janice puts her foot down.
Harlene croaks, “Over our dead bodies. Which could be any time soon what with the cancer we’ll surely get from working here. But please, at least stay until we’re in remission.”