After I killed my father, he taught me that honesty is optional. But, of course, I’d always known that. This was why I loathed being naked—my choices were stripped away.
It was the first day of Staff Training, forty-eight hours before I would meet Eden Bellham, and I was naked among strangers. Well, naked enough. We all whispered, “I feel so naked!” and giggled, awaiting commiseration, because who wants to be the Most Naked Person, to let her body blab her secrets? We stood in bathing suits and flip-flops. We were goose bumps sheathed in towels. We were vulnerable knees, scars with stories, fading bruises, February flesh. We were yellow-tinged toenails, awkward tattoos, scratched mosquito bites, suspicious moles. We were shamefully unshaven. We were birthmarks meant for lovers.
We were eyes stealing glances. We were eyes pretending not to steal glances.
Lewis was calling my name.
We were gathered in the politely dim student lounge, which Lewis called the canteen. I separated from the group that was clustered around a bar with no stools, no bottles, no bartender, and walked to the middle of the lounge, where Lewis stood with the nurse, an obese woman with silver hair who had told us to call her Nurse, whose shiny beige leggings carried her cellulite like tight sacks of oatmeal. Nurse was holding a noose of tape measure around the nutritionist’s neck.
As I approached, Lewis watched me watch him. The picture of him on the Camp Carolina website, a head and shoulders shot, had depicted a much thinner man. In fact, his face was relatively thin—saggy at the neck, but narrow; clean-shaven; punctuated by wire-rimmed glasses and a gray helmet of hair with a widow’s peak so perfect, his forehead was shaped like the top of a heart. It was the middle of his body that betrayed him, like the hoop inside a clown suit.
“Gray Lachmann.” He swept an arm across his body and bowed. “Gray from New York City.”
“Such a sad name,” Nurse said, clucking her tongue. She shook her head and her chins flapped. “Come here, honey.”
For an alarming moment, I looked at her outstretched arms and thought that she wanted to hug me, to ease the ache of my lackluster name. But then she let the tape measure unfurl from her hand. “Let’s see what you add up to.”
Nurse wrapped the tape measure around each of my arms, my waist, my hips. She whispered, “These leggings give me a wedgie.” She scribbled something on a clipboard.
I let my towel fall to the floor, stepped out of my flip-fl ops, and stood against a wall. My bathing suit was a brown one-piece, as discreet as a loin cloth. I tried to remember more naked moments, but even the night I’d lost my virginity, I’d been wearing a sweatshirt and also had been spectacularly drunk.
No, this was the moment. This was it. No one had ever been more naked than this.
“I grew up in New York,” Lewis said, aiming his camera at me. I smiled into the flash. “In my heart, I’ll always be a New Yorker.” I envisioned him running to catch a taxi, his balloon belly bouncing, his silver whistle knocking against his chest. “I used to eat at Luigi’s. In the Theater District? Back when I was a binge eater.” Lewis chuckled. “They have eggplant parm as big as your head. It’s worth going.” He motioned for me to step on the scale at his feet. “Just for the eggplant. It falls over the edges of the plate . . . How tall are you?”
I watched him punch numbers into a handheld device attached to the scale by a long wire. “You’re hardly fat at all,” he diagnosed, and for some reason, I remembered my father stealing fries from my plate, poking them into his mouth, saying, “You and your mother with your French fry aversions. Look what you make me do.” Then to whoever else was in earshot: “And they wonder why I’m fat, these women.”
“Are you going to commit to the diet?” Lewis asked.
I knelt to grab my towel. When I stood, I laughed. “I’m afraid of commitment.” My laughter rang false, pinging off the walls like a pinball. I thought of my boyfriend, Mikey, saying, “Leave funny to me, Gray.”
“Are you going to—” Lewis scrunched his brow, as if trying to remember something he’d read. “Are you going to surrender to my program?”
I could have answered him honestly: I didn’t fancy myself the surrendering kind. I recoiled to think of abandoning control, of being caught under the arms and dragged someplace to rest.
But the problem with the truth was that inside it lay another truth, and inside that another truth, like those wooden Russian nesting dolls. So instead I asked, “The diet the kids are doing?” I pulled my towel tight around my chest, letting my stomach muscles relax just a bit. I said cheerfully, “Everyone has to start somewhere.”
In the past year, I had grown dependent on platitudes: That’s neither here nor there. Qué será será. People always agreed. They sighed and nodded their heads and said, “That’s for damn sure.” If there was one thing they knew how to spot, it was wisdom.
“That’s what I always say.” Lewis rubbed his belly sagely. “Everyone has to start somewhere.”