There have been so many great moments on this trip to California but this one was more complex than most. My daughter flew down from college to join me for a couple days and we set off on foot to explore the previously-mentioned exclusive town of my birth. After a mile or two of hoofing it around town, we were ready for refreshment so I took her to a little coffee shop I’d discovered, replete with red velvet couches, original artworks, free wi-fi and incidentally, coffee and elaborate pastries.
I had previously resisted the European-style bank of mouthwatering concoctions. Today, though, feeling that happy feeling like when she was little and we were out having a major treat, I said, “Pick anything.”
“What’s this?” She asked the barista, pointing to a mounded dome with squiggles on top, big and exotic as half an ostrich’s egg made out of glossy chocolate. The girl, aggressively thin, makeup thick as Elvira, shrugged.
“I’ll take the Neapolitan,” I said, never much of a food adventurer. T. was still debating over the chocolate orb.
“I want to know what’s inside.”
“It’s a torte. Chocolate mousse with raspberry, a dark chocolate shell and a crust of hazelnuts.” This from a different barista, down by the coffees. She sounded annoyed, probably with having to answer a customer for Elvira, whose customer service left room for improvement.
“Sounds yummy. I’ll take it.”
“It will make you fat.” Only Elvira said it more like, “Eet will make yoooo fet.”
“Then it will be worth it.”
My daughter’s response rapped out confidently.
I cringed, rendered mute and skulking by the obvious fact that I’d already had a few too many chocolate tortes over the years and didn’t merit a warning anymore. We collected our sixteen-dollar treat and withdrew to a red velvet couch, but all the fun had evaporated for me.
Later that evening I was still bothered by the whole interaction.
“Why would she say that to you? Like she was trying to give you a complex!” I’ve tried her whole life to protect her from getting a complex about food and weight, and to have some barista randomly inject her with It will make you fat enraged me.
“I just couldn’t believe she said it at all. It was surreal. Why would anybody say something like that in a pastry shop?”
We ended up having an important conversation: about beauty, and power, and womens’ judgment about each other and their bodies. T. contended that hair was as important as body weight in signaling sexuality and attractiveness, and that her experiments with hair had rendered a similar result to what I’d discovered.
Being forty and chubby made you invisible.
So did being shaved bald.
So did disabilities, and age, and pushing a cart with your worldly belongings in it.
In the end, to have had such a conversation, to have thoroughly explored this dark, troubling and sad subject with my daughter brought us together much more than sharing a pastry. I’m more aware than ever that we need to allow each person their unique humanity without judgement.
I’m not yet ready to be thankful to Elvira but I think I might be someday because I’ll always remember that conversation with my girl, a conversation in which we both grew.
“It will make you fat.”
Truer words were never spoken.