Catch Me When I Fall

Written Excerpt

From “Holy Earth” in Catch Me When I Fall

 

When no one is looking, I snack in the pantry closet.  Thirty-five calories in each square of chocolate, according to the nutrition facts on the package.  The teal bridesmaid dress I have to wear next month will need alterations, but I snap off another piece.

Jen, Peter’s fiancé, asked me to help with the wedding program.  Says she want to get to know me.  I haven’t agreed yet.  Since I was a kid I’ve assumed anyone romantically interested in my brother must be defective.  He’s four years older than me and studies graduate-level environmental science at the University of Alberta.  When he tells people this, he emphasizes “graduate,” and carefully pronounces every syllable of “environmental,” in case it’s a new word for his listener.  In case the listener is retarded.

After the wedding they’re going to live in married-student housing.  Peter will write his thesis and keep publishing his on-line zine, Holy Earth! It’s a Christian anti-consumerism zine, kind of like Adbusters, only less well-written—and more pious and self-important, since the authors feel they have God’s stamp of approval. A few weeks ago, I heard Mom talking on the phone to my aunt. “I just hope Jen finishes her degree before she gets pregnant.”  Jen is studying nursing.  “At least one of them will have a job,” Mom said.

Peter is home this week, trying to get the wedding plans in place.  Mom and Peter still aren’t talking.  At mealtimes, the silence festers like swamp gas.  I gobble my food and take quick, furtive breaths between bites.  Mom avoids even looking at Peter.  Dad picks at his food before he disappears outside for a cigarette.

***

I gave in and typed up all the materials Peter and Jen want in the program.  Sixteen pages.  Multiple hymns and Scripture and the Prayer of St. Francis and a poem entitled “Together We Care for the Earth.”  A month ago, we all would have overlooked what Mom calls “Peter’s quirks.”  Mom would have laughed with me, maybe teased Peter about the note he wants on the back: “We are glorifying God by using recycled paper in the program.  Please join us for fair trade organic coffee after the ceremony.”  But that was before the fight.

The guest list started it all.

“I don’t see your Oma’s name on here,” Mom said.  It was Sunday and we were having coffee after church. “Nor your Auntie Trena and Uncle Jan.  They’ll want to fly out for the wedding.”  Auntie Trena is my mom’s sister, who lives in St. Catharines, Ontario.  Oma moved in with her and Uncle Jan after Opa died three years ago.

“That’s the reason they’re not on the guest list,” Peter said.  “They would fly here.”  Mom looked confused.  I shoved a lemon square in my mouth and took some deep breaths through my nose.   “Fossil fuels,” Peter explained.  “I’m inviting a couple of guests from other provinces, but they’re riding their bikes.  My roommate Ron is going to make the wedding a stop on his sea-to-sea trip.”

Mom processes stuff pretty fast.  I barely had time to fortify myself with another large square.  “My mother is seventy-three years old,” Mom shrieked. .  “Your Tante Trena weighs two hundred pounds.  She hasn’t been on a bike since she was eight!”

“I know.” Peter was using his patient voice.  “That’s why I’m not inviting them.  But I’ll send them an announcement if you want.”

Verdomme!” Dad’s Dutch is pretty much limited to swear words.  He still thinks we haven’t figured them out; therefore he’s not setting a bad example when he uses them.  Mom glowered at him, then rubbed her forehead with her plump fists.

“You can’t be serious, Peter.  Your own grandmother!”

“You think I want my wedding contributing to the mess our environment’s in?  I’m doing what’s right.  You’re going to have to accept this.”

***

I hate conflict.  When I was little, I sought out safe and silent places, like the back corner of my closet, or the top of the VanderHey’s silo near our barn.  I snuck cookies from the kitchen cupboard, and savoured them in private.  When I was about eleven, I read that even if you were in a completely soundproofed room, you would still hear noise: the high tinny drone of your own nervous system.  This made sense; in fact, I hypothesized that maybe my nervous system hummed a bit louder than other people’s, that it generated a faint and irritating mosquito-whine.  That’s why I felt so much anxiety, I thought, and why I ate a lot—I needed the distraction.

My eating patterns have made me heavy, and every now and then, I try a diet.  Until the fight, I was on one.  I started it at Christmas, when Peter announced their engagement and Jen asked me to be a bridesmaid.  I don’t like family events, and the thought of the wedding—all those relatives and their nosy questions—frightened me.  “Still living at home, Erin?  No boyfriend yet?  Any plans to go to university?  Not still working at that greenhouse?”  If I were slim, I thought, I could get through it.

I tried a diet I saw advertised on the Internet.  I spent a lot of money on this powder that was supposed to numb your appetite.  You stirred one packet into a glass of water and drank the grayish mixture fifteen minutes before each meal.

When that failed, I found an article in an O Magazine that advised overweight people to substitute positive self-talk for food, to “celebrate successes” and “take nothing for granted.”  I tried it.  Every day, at work, in the truck on the way home, even in my bed at night, I listed my accomplishments.  Seedlings successfully transplanted.  Rows of plants watered.  Genial interactions with customers.  I recalled kindnesses received.  Warm smiles.  The occasional compliment.  I fingered them all like Smarties.  And it worked.  As I lost weight, I could imagine myself at Gull Lake this summer in a bikini, my straight blonde hair loose, my body tanned.  Maybe someone would want to date me.  Maybe I would quit my job and go to college, get a certificate in hospitality or interior decorating.

Now, I’ve gained back the nine pounds I lost, and more.  I avoid looking at the teal bridesmaid dress.  And at myself.

***

Mom has been harassing me.  Mom is pretty for a middle-aged, big-boned woman, but when she’s upset, she pulls her lips into her mouth, and her eyes narrow and her puffy face turns red.  All you see is furrowed eyebrows and blotchy folds of skin. “Talk to him, Erin.  Maybe he’ll listen to you”…