By Evie Peck
When I was about 29, my best friend from high school, Tia, set me up on a date with Bradley, a guy from her husband’s work. Tia was obsessed (as only a best friend can be) with the fact that I wasn’t close to finding a husband and starting a family. She had a one year old son and she was very happy with her new family. “What are you going to do when you are older and single and want to have kids?” she asked… like she was some kind of fortune teller or something.
We decided we would double date. We all met at a Bandara; Tia and her husband, with a sleeping child in a car seat carrier and me with my best game face and Bradley.
So Bradley arrived. He was a short, curly haired blonde, in a tight, black, short sleeved, nylon t-shirt that accentuated his biceps. “Hey,” he smiled at me. He and Tia’s husband shook hands. “I didn’t know you had a kid,” he said, pointing to my sleeping one year old godson. I realized then he didn’t know Tia’s husband very well. It was a nice summer night and it was still light outside at 7pm.
We all followed the hostess into the dark, atmospheric dining room. Bradley and I walked behind, slowly. “I had a lot of shrimp last night,” he said to me. Good opening line.
“Oh, wow,” I said. “I love shrimp!”
“No, I don’t think you understand,” he said, “I ate a LOT of shrimp.”
“OK,” I said, “I get it, because shrimp is delicious.”
“No. But I ate A LOT of shrimp.”
“It’s OK. It’s good protein.”
“No, no, no,” he said, dismissing my efforts to be agreeable, “I ate… SO MUCH shrimp. I mean SO MUCH!”
“OK,” I said.
We approached the table. “So I probably won’t eat much tonight,” he said, “because of all the shrimp.”
“Right,” I said softly. Was there any way this guy could turn things around and become someone I wanted to hang out with, let alone, love?
The waiter came over and Bradley informed the rest of the party that he wasn’t going to order because he’d eaten so much shrimp last night. I sat quietly.
“Get something,” Tia said, trying to be encouraging.
“OK,” Bradley relented, picking up the menu. “Come back to me.”
We all ordered and I wondered if Bradley really didn’t want to eat because he felt sick from the shrimp or if he thought he’d eaten too many calories. Like maybe they were fried shrimp?
“I’ll have a side of mashed potatoes,” Bradley announced, happy with himself.
Butter, cream, potatoes…. that’s how you make mashed potatoes. Bam. this guy had food issues.
The conversation flowed as I noticed Bradley eyeing the table bread. He played with the cloth napkin in the breadbasket.
“Where do you live? Do you live alone?” Bradley asked me.
“I am living at home with my dad, right now,” I said.
“Evie’s mom died 3 years ago,” Tia told Bradley.
“Oh wow,” Bradley said, “You’re so lucky. I hate my mom.”
We were all silent. That could have been the moment I got up and left. Was he joking? When he started ranting about his awful mother, we had our answer.
Then Bradley thought of something really important he needed to share with the whole table. “I used to be really fat.” He ate his mashed potatoes with delight.
Muscle flexing, tight shirts, food issues, mirrored elevators, a side of mashed potatoes, too much shrimp… made sense.
“Wanna know how I lost all my weight?” he asked.
We did. I was guessing there’d be a story of exercise and eating right, but I was wrong.
“Besides being fat, I also used to have this really bad under bite.” Bradley pointed to his now well aligned jaw. “Most of my teen years I begged my mom for jaw correction surgery, but she was too cheap to get it for me.” Bradley’s disdain for his mother was sharp and unapologetic, “But when I was 19, she took me to a medical facility at the Army base near our house. She got some kind of deal, letting medical students do the operation. After the surgery, it got infected and I had to go back. Turns out they’d left a surgical sponge in my sinus cavity! My fucking mother. And they had to shoot this blue Windex-like stuff up my nose. It was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced.”
I ate my BBQ chicken salad, horrified and also riveted.
“My jaw was wired shut for about 2 months and I had to eat everything in liquid form, out of a straw so I lost a ton of weight.” Bradley was so proud.
We Oooed and Awwed.
But his story wasn’t over.
“About five years later, I was over at my girlfriend’s parents house for dinner and as I opened my mouth to take a bite of food, my jaw unhinged and my chin dropped to my chest. I looked like I was giving a blow job to Godzilla.”
Bradley wiped the remnants of the mashed potatoes, out of the dish with his finger and sucked it with a smack.