“I’m not obese,” Alexandra told her mother, Noemi, who was loudly blowing her nose and simultaneously signaling for a waiter nearby. 

Noemi had invited Alexandra out to lunch only to trap her into being the only audience member to a spiel describing the latest of her spiritual courses—Ancestral Burdens. Noemi had traveled to Colombia for it and been taught by a widowed woman who had received some sort of spiritual certification from a made-up institution somewhere on the web. For the past half an hour, Alexandra had endured a convolutedly nonsensical explanation about why her mother’s three divorces were a result of her having been born in March. She then transitioned the conversation to address Alexandra, telling her that because they were mother and daughter with birthdays exactly three months apart, they were doubles in some cosmic way—their fates were irrevocably meant to mirror each other. 

Noemi threw the abused napkin onto her unfinished plate and wiped her hands. “Obesity is not a state, it’s a mentality—it’s my fault. I’m the reason you can’t seem to lose weight, Alexandita. It’s because ever since you were a child I cursed you. Your weight is the universe’s expression of the weight of my secret. I never told you. Oh, I’m sorry! I was terrified you’d judge me for it, but I’m ready now. You’re not the only one who’s suffered because of this either. This secret is the reason I’m obese too, the reason I’ve been dieting my whole life yet can never lose weight—it’s why you can’t lose weight and why my mother died a fat woman. It’s generational. Don’t look at me that way—I’m fat and you’re fat, I’m single, you’re single—don’t you see? There’s no denying this. It’s a pattern, it’s repeating, and the only way to—” 

Alexandra scooted her chair back, letting the sound echo through the restaurant. There was a brief hush from some conversations around them. Her mother’s words reminded her of a podcast she’d been listening to called “Unlikely Diets,” where the host—a woman with a thin, blonde voice—had been talking about the subconscious side of dieting and the way that stressors could creep into a person’s mind and stand as a barrier between them and their dieting goals. She’d never tell her mother this, however. Instead, she pulled out a bill from her wallet and threw it on the table before looking at her and saying, “I’m not fat, I’m pregnant.” 

That had been Tuesday. It was now Saturday morning and Alexandra hadn’t spoken to her mom since. 

She was currently washing dishes alone in her apartment. She had chosen this apartment when she’d moved to New York a couple of months ago because, though a tiny studio, it had floor-to-ceiling windows that spanned almost every wall. They were so big that she rarely had to turn the lights on. Even at night, the lights from the city around her illuminated the apartment just enough. She’d recently listened to another podcast, this one all about how to get ahold of one’s sleep pattern to optimize rest at night, that stressed the importance of avoiding artificial lighting at night. So, she had taken to wandering her apartment in the dark rather than turning on the lights when she was getting ready for bed.

Her cell phone rang. 

Through all the glass in her apartment, she’d been keeping an eye on the setting sun as she hurriedly scrubbed the pans before her. The thought of leaving them overnight made her nauseous. So, she let the call go to voicemail. She finished and dried her hands just as the last rays of sun left her apartment. In the dark, she found her phone but hesitated before checking who the missed call had been from. 

If somebody really needed her, they would find a way to contact her. She told herself this and put her phone on Do Not Disturb mode. She put on her PJs in the dark and went to bed, proud of her self-restraint—the same podcast about sleep had also encouraged its listeners to keep their dopamine in check. Be the boss of your own chemical releases. 

The next morning, she was awakened early by the overabundance of light that quickly filled the room, so bright it made her white sheets glow. Go to sleep with the sun and wake up with it. 

Inspired by her self-control from that previous night, she decided to leave her phone on Do Not Disturb for the next few days, taking the opportunity to do that dopamine cleanse she’d watched a forty-five-minute YouTube video on. She didn’t have a job yet, and she thought the cleanse would conveniently also serve to punish her mother a little longer for calling her obese—she was used to her mother making comments about her weight, but the O-word had been too much. She deserved a bit of the silent treatment. 

Alexandra went out and bought a couple of books and ingredients to prepare the dishes she’d downloaded from her Instagram page. She also ordered some Magnesium-Glycinate because she’d heard it was supposed to naturally shut off your brain at night. Ever since the fight with her mother, she’d noticed it had been taking her longer to fall asleep at night. This made her angrier at Noemi. 

Three days passed and Alexandra successfully left her phone untouched in a corner of the kitchen counter. Her apartment had become a yellow hub of self-improvement—that is, till late afternoon on the third day when somebody knocked on her door. 

She thought it strange. Though she had a couple of people she knew in the city, none were close enough to drop by unannounced. 

It could only be her mother. 

She breathed in and out and prepared herself to forgive and forget before slowly making her way away from her coffee and book. When she opened the door, she was met with the three-inch lens through which peered the teary eyes of Señora Roberta, her mother’s next-door neighbor and only real friend. 

Señora Roberta, sneaking a look inside the apartment and the youthful, rested face of Alexandra, wasted no time in scolding her for having missed her own mother’s funeral. “I know you’re pregnant—don’t worry! Noemi told me. I know everything. I know these first few weeks can be tough, but I really wish you could’ve gone and said just a few words. You know your mother didn’t have very many friends,” and with that, she embraced the stunned Alexandra.

She was speechless, almost annoyed. Her brain seemed to have evaporated into a cloud of white. She didn’t know what to process first—the news of her mother, or the fact that she had told people Alexandra was pregnant. 

She decided to tackle the easiest of the two, not wanting to face the other. “She told you I was pregnant?” 

“She was so excited and she kept telling me she had found something new to live for—and she was so motivated she got the gym membership that same afternoon. Said she wanted to get fit, to live long for that baby. But I’m sure you’ve heard all that. Oh, Alexita! I thought you were just fat, but I see the baby bulge.” She continued crying as she spoke, drying her tears on Alexandra. She dropped her hands to Alexandra’s stomach and she flinched back, a black feeling shooting up her spine. Her legs felt weak. 

“Noemi will live on through that child.” These were Señora Roberta’s last words before excusing herself, leaving Alexandra holding onto the door frame. 

The apartment behind her suddenly felt cold and solitudinous. Her hands gravitated toward a belly that drooped past her frame, and a terrible feeling of guilt brought tears to her eyes. 

She ran back into the blue of her apartment and found her phone. She turned it on and a flourish of calls, texts, and all sorts of notifications flooded her blurring vision. Every cousin and aunt had called or texted, her old boss had sent his condolences. Even her ex-boyfriend whom she hadn’t talked to in over a year had texted her to ask how she was holding up. Her reading setup, where she’d been blissfully sitting for the past three days, seemed ugly and gray. She let herself fall to the floor and she stayed there as the sun set all around her and bathed her apartment with darkness. 

Her mother had died at the gym, a truly tragic event. She had tripped and been ejected off of some equipment and hit her head on a pole on the way down. The sound echoed hollowly over the hum of machines, but had been drowned out by the noise-cancellation headphones worn by everybody in her proximity. Nobody heard her. 

Throughout the next month, she grieved her mother. She focused on setting all her things in order and busied herself with the maintenance of her mother’s apartment and belongings. Three weeks later, after a long day of running errands and with the looming reality that she had to find a job soon, she walked into a surprise baby shower that Señora Roberta had organized in Alexandra’s apartment. In all the flurry of activity and grief, Alexandra had forgotten to tell the world she wasn’t actually pregnant. As she smiled and opened presents, she thought about how she knew she hadn’t really forgotten to tell people about the fakeness of the pregnancy. She was simply ashamed. She stood up and said a short speech about how her mother would’ve loved this baby more than she could even begin to describe. They cut the cake but, rubbing her stomach, Alexandra refused to eat any. 

For many days after she thought about the last conversation with her mother.

She couldn’t stop thinking about that secret. The desire to know gnawed at her. She thought back to “Unlikely Diets” and wondered if the skinny-voiced host would ever make a podcast on the relationship between secrets and dieting. 

She probably would.

Photo Source

Do you enjoy reading the Nass?

Please consider donating a small amount to help support independent journalism at Princeton and whitelist our site.