First Day

by Jennifer Ellis

For my Dad. And the gypsies.

“Don’t forget to bring your jackets with you on the plane.  It might be cold when we land in Toronto.”

We didn’t want to go. My sister and I sat on our worn floral brown couch, silent and sullen. I scanned our living room and surveyed the aftermath from our last- night-in-California-party as my dad packed his carry on with our passports.

I furrowed my brow and sunk deeper into the couch hoping it would swallow me whole.

I hadn’t been on a plane since the summer of 1987. My sister and I went to Ft. Lauderdale to visit my grandparents; my mother’s parents. My mom was still alive. She was deteriorating from Multiple Sclerosis, and my dad was struggling to keep it together. They all thought it would be a good idea to ship us to Florida while he figured out how to make ends meet and take care of my mom’s medical bills. I never imagined that she would be dead just before Christmas 1989. On the way to the airport to leave for Florida, I’d puked all over my new pink and white tennis shoes, and all over the back seat of the powder blue interior Grandpa Arties rental car. Almost three years later, I could still taste the bitter taste of fear and bile, as we drove away from 510 Winchester Ave. on the way to LAX.

I somehow made it onto the plane without a repeat performance of the 1987 throw-up disaster. I looked out the window for virtually the whole flight. Until we crossed the border and started to descend. I turned to my dad in a panic.

“Daddy, where are the mountains?”

“There aren’t any mountains in Toronto, Jen, Canada has beautiful mountains in B.C., But no mountains in Ontario.”

I turned back to the window and stared down at the flat landscape. And I wondered how I could live without the familiar view and protection of the Verdugo hills.

We landed late afternoon. The line for customs stretched all the way back to the end of the room, and my patience from staring at the sterile orange tiled floor was running out. There was no escaping this room until the stone-faced guy sitting behind the partition studied your face and your passport, and asked when your last bowel movement was. Then and only and then you were allowed to officially ‘enter Canada.’  Once we reached the terminal from what felt like escaping the Iran hostage crisis, I asked my dad for some change to get a drink from the vending machine. It cost a dollar ten for a can of Coke that was about the size of a juice box. What a rip off! How dare these Canadians deny my oversized American thirst? I went into the duty-free to inspect the magazine rack. I picked up the latest Teen Beat. Finally, something familiar. As I admired the latest shot of New Kids on the Block from their Magic Summer tour splashed on the cover, I noticed something under the title: “Canada’s #1 Teen Magazine.” I was officially in the Twilight Zone; and there was no hope of escape. No matter how much my surroundings seemed familiar, it was clear I was no longer in Glendale. I wasn’t even in the United States, for Gods’ sake. I was in Canada. This weird place with small and expensive cans of Coke.

My Auntie Penny greeted my sister and my dad and I with a big smile and even bigger hugs.

“Oh my goodness, it’s so great to see you Jen!”

“Hi,” I said nervously as she squeezed me hello.

I had never met her and wasn’t sure about getting hugs from people I didn’t know. But I couldn’t help but feel a familiar warmth from her greeting, and that somewhat eased my new immigrant anxiety.

We got into a taxi and headed to Scarborough to Grandpa’s house. Our new home. The sky was covered in clusters of grey and white clouds as we headed down the freeway. Auntie Penny called it a highway. Highways were what you drove on heading into the dessert, I thought. I wanted to correct her and tell her that we were on a freeway. I decided to keep my mouth shut when I noticed that this freeway contrasted the chaos of L.A traffic, as we moved down the road without stopping even once. This was definitely not a freeway.

As we turned onto my grandpas’ street, I noticed that the trees had started to turn colour.  Grandpa George lived on a nice suburban street with big houses. No apartment complexes. The houses all had well-manicured, green lawns and perennials in the front gardens. I’d only seen something like that on Who’s the Boss?

As I got out of the car I was hit by an unfamiliar wind that seemed to permeate my sweater. I quickly followed Auntie Penny inside and dropped my luggage in the foyer. I was stunned. Grandpa’s house had stairs. I remember I’d always wanted to live in a house with a staircase. I always thought it would make me feel rich. I was trying not to show how impressed I was, but I couldn’t wait to brag about my new staircase to my friend Monica. Then a sinking feeling washed over me. Monica was thousands of miles away. Telling her wouldn’t be the same as showing her. I distracted myself from the reality of my new life by imagining that Tony and Angela lived around the corner.

Grandpa received us with warm greetings and his captivating British accent. He looked like the typical grandpa. Bald on the top, white hair on the sides of his head, often donning a driver’s cap and sporting grandpa sweaters. I think he had come to California twice to visit. He bought me a Pound Puppy-which I loved. He had lost his dear Olive, my Grandmother, the same year I had lost my mother. It was a hard time for our family. Grandpa wasn’t in good health. He seemed fine, but he had a pacemaker placed in his chest recently and was suffering from heart disease. I wanted to tell him I knew how he felt; that I’m sure I looked fine, but my heart was hurting, too.

That night, as my dad was setting the table for dinner, I opened the fridge to look for the milk, when I was put off by the strangest thing. At the bottom of the fridge were bags filled with a white milky substance. I was totally grossed out. I was convinced it was some kind of IV medication bag for grandpa. There’s no way that was the milk.

“Daddy, I can’t find the milk!” I shouted.

“I told you it’s on the bottom shelf,” he said.

I closed the fridge and stormed into the dining room as my Dad was setting the table.

“Daddy, all I see is bags of white stuff.”

“Yeah that’s the milk. It’s in the bags,” he said casually, as he laid out Grandma Olives’ china.

My universe imploded.

“What is wrong with this place?!” I fumed.  “How the hell am I going to drink milk from a bag?”

Daddy chuckled.

“You’ll get used to it.”

I felt like the Powers That Be were trying to trick me into believing I was still in the United States. People drove in cars, wore blue jeans, spoke English. First with the mini Coke cans and now my milk in bags?  What if I got kidnapped? No milk cartons on kitchen tables so people could see my missing chubby twelve-year-old face, while eating their cornflakes.

That night trying to fall asleep I felt like I had actually been kidnapped. I was in an unfamiliar bedroom, lying in a different bed, with a different blanket. I lay there feeling completely helpless. I turned my head into my first ever down filled pillow and cried. And cried some more. I wished I could cry enough tears to wash me away back to California, where I was sure I belonged.

Becky’s birthday, December 1990.

Going Home 

by Roger Ellis and Jennifer Ellis 

God, what a mess! It was 5:30 a.m. and I was scrambling to get ready to leave for the airport after what felt like about five minutes of sleep. The apartment was a disaster. The living room was littered with empty coke cans, half eaten slices of pizza, and half a pint of melted Bryers on the coffee table. I had let the girls have their friends over for a goodbye party. I’d grounded Becky to the apartment for the last 48 hours, to prevent her from running away with her boyfriend.  I was thankful that although Jen was unhappy about this move, at least I didn’t have to put her under house arrest. The kids were sitting on the couch, half asleep and miserable as we waited for Bob. Bob was my former co-worker, and he was going to be picking us up in about twenty minutes in the Snookies’ Cookies delivery van to take us to LAX. I must’ve put over over a hundred thousand miles on that thing. I gathered our passports, my drivers licence, and our birth certificates, and secured them in carry on.

“Don’t forget to bring your jackets with you on the plane,” I reminded the girls. “It might be cold when we land in Toronto.”

I looked down at our tickets. It seemed unreal. Three tickets: LA to Toronto. This was actually happening. I’m going back home. I didn’t really know if this was actually home. But this, where I stood; this wasn’t home anymore.

Bob helped us pile our suitcases into the van. My mind was consumed with a collage of worry. I thanked Bob, for getting us to the airport on time-one less stress for my weary mind, and the kids and I made our way to the plane. I made sure they were settled in their seats, and soon enough we were headed down the runway, and in the air. Well, there you go; just like that, we were gone. I had been living in L.A for fourteen years. I’d spent the last six of them watching Elyse slowly die from the ravages of Multiple Sclerosis. We spent the majority of those years waiting for, and riding on the bus to see her, because our car had been repossessed.  I closed my eyes and tried to meditate. If Elyse were here, she would tell me to meditate. I was really missing my wife.

“Daddy where are the mountains?” Jen nervously inquired as the plane flew over Toronto.

“There aren’t any mountains in Toronto, Jen,” I explained. “Canada has beautiful mountains in B.C., But no mountains in Ontario.”

She turned back to the to the window, looking deflated.

We landed safely in Toronto, and headed to customs. I was concerned about the litany of questions Canadian Immigration officials would ask me. I always felt like a criminal when dealing with officials because I used to look like Graham Nash when I toured with my band Edward Bear, and of course all musicians with long hair and beards were smuggling a few kilos on their way to and from gigs. The Man didn’t like us. And we didn’t like them.

The line was long as I expected, and the girls were tired and hungry. They kept asking when we would be out of the seemingly never-ending line up of people. We got out just before I thought Jen was going to crash through the barrier to look for a Snickers. I gave her some change for the vending machine as soon as we got through, so she wouldn’t have a nervous breakdown.

My next item on the worry list was what it would be like not only seeing my father, but living with him. We had a long history of not seeing eye to eye. He had developed heart disease and had been recently fitted with a pace maker. He needed someone to take care of him. And I needed a new start. I was trying to be hopeful.

As we waited for my sister Penny to pick us up, I enjoyed the crisp Canadian air in my lungs. It was literally a breath of fresh air compared to the stifling smog we were smothered in while living in L.A. Penny arrived with open arms, and we headed to my dad’s house. The carport was adorned with three flags. Canadian, American and the good old Union Jack for Britain. My entire family had immigrated from England. And here I was with my American kids, immigrating back to Canada. It was nice to see that my dad wanted us all to feel welcome. We walked inside 61 Bergen Road, and I hugged my old man. The kids sheepishly explored their new home with my sister, while my dad and I had good chat about the day’s events. Bob Rae had been elected that very day as premier of Ontario. Although my dad and I didn’t always share the same views, we could both agree that Ontario needed NDP party.

That evening as I was setting the table for dinner, Jen was demanding some answers about milk.

“Daddy,” she gasped. “All I see is bags of white stuff.”

“Yeah, that’s the milk. It’s in the bags.” I told her.

She looked like I had told her she had to drink her milk on Mars.

“What is wrong with this place?! she complained.  “How the hell am I going to drink milk from a bag?”

“You’ll get used to it,” I laughed.

There were so many new things for the kids to learn. The metric system alone was going to be traumatic enough. I also had so much I needed to do. The worry chaos was far from empty in my head. I had to get a job, quick. And I had to get the kids in school. I worried for my kids so much, it hurt. They were dealing with the loss of their friends, and all of their familiar places. They had to say goodbye to the mountains, Brand Park, and Marina Del Rey. The girls called it the beach with no waves. All of this after having to say goodbye to their mother. Yes, it was a new start, and although Elyse was with us in spirit, we carried her death with us. As I lay down that night I tried to calm the anxiety that was busy in my head. I couldn’t help but wonder, what would become of us all?  I thought, Jesus – how are we going to get ourselves whole again? Maybe I’ll know when I wake up.

Scenes From California

By Jennifer Ellis

IMG_4422 (1)


Glendale, 1984 – Maple Ave. 

Bring Me The Hawaiian

“Why is Daddy taking so long?”

Mommy and I were watching Family Ties, and Daddy had said he would be home before it started. It was already at the second commercial break, so I was getting impatient standing in front of our bay window, positioned between our beige curtains, my forehead pressed against the window pane.

“I’m sure he’ll be here soon, hon.”

I turned around and pushed out of the curtains and let them fall back behind me, arms out to the side like I was making a stage debut. The static created from the curtains made my hair cling to my forehead as I posed.

Mommy smiled with her big toothy grin. Her whole face would crinkle up when she smiled. Then she let out a throaty chuckle.

“Ah. You’re a real star, Jen. Now, can you grab my purse from the table?”

Mommy was set up in her special hospital bed that Grandma and Grandpa got for her.

I didn’t understand why she had to be in a bed and not on the couch. Daddy said it was because of the MS.

As I walked over to the kitchen table to get Mommy’s purse, I heard keys jingle outside the door. I stopped mid step.


Daddy walked through the door, holding a bag of groceries in his paint covered t-shirt.

His beard even had a few flecks of paint in it. His hands were spotted with it, too.

“Hi hon, let me get through here…”

“But Daddy, we were going to get my treat now.”

“Jesus…” he whispered under his breath.

Daddy, you promised!”

“Elyse, did you call the phone company today?”

“Yes, Rog. We’ll pay them when we pay them. Let them cut it off. Could use not hearing the thing ring next to my head all day…Rog, can you grab my purse. I need a lighter.”


“I’m just gonna finish this pack hon, give me a break please?”

The mood in the room changed. It wasn’t good, and I wanted to go.

Daddy put the bag of groceries down on the table and brought Mommy her purse.

He placed it beside her lap, and she sat up in her special bed, smiling at him. But not with teeth this time. And her eyes were watery.

Daddy leaned down to hug her, and she wrapped her pale skinny arms around his shoulders. She gripped so tightly it looked like she was hoping he would lift her up and out of that bed and onto her feet. Maybe she was wishing his hug would make her walk again, I thought.

She was in the bed most of the time. It had been so long since she walked. I thought it would be nice not having to walk, to have people get things for you. But I guess Mommy didn’t like it as much. I guess it must have been boring when there was nothing was on T.V.

Mommy unlocked her arms and wiped her eyes.

Daddy leaned back up and tucked his hands into his pockets, shaking around his change, and it looked like he was thinking about something important.

“Daddy, are we going now?”

Okay, Jen. Let me put away the milk and change my shirt.”


I bunched my fists and half jumped in excitement.

As Daddy put the milk away, I walked over to Mommy who was tapping her cigarette ash into her yellow ashtray. I leaned on her bedrails, smiling, so excited to go outside for a drive in the summer night air to get a donut with Daddy. Then my mood suddenly felt grey and my cheeks became warm, as I looked at her. Mommy looked back at me. “Aren’t you happy, Jen?  Daddy’s home now. He’s gonna take you to get your treat.”

“Yeah…I am.”

I could feel sadness wash over me. Mommy could see it too.

“Jen, honey what’s wrong?”

“I just wish you could come, too, some time. To get a donut with me and Daddy.”

Mommy’s eyes started to get watery again. I started to see that she felt sad being stuck in her special bed. I didn’t like this feeling at all. But I was feeling it. It felt like when our cat stood on my chest.

Her voice now softened. “Well…maybe some time soon, hon. Maybe sometime soon”

My tears started spill onto my cheeks. I felt embarrassed and quickly lifted up my t-shirt to wipe them away.

Mommy chuckled when I unintentionally flashed her. This helped the feeling in my chest, and the sadness started to lift.

“I can bring you home a donut, Mommy. What kind do you want?”

She took a drag of her cigarette, then exhaled looking into the distance, considering her choice.

“What kind are you getting, hon?”

“The Hawaiian. I always get the Hawaiian.”

“Okay, bring me the Hawaiian…”

Saturday Morning 

Glendale, 1984 – Elm. Avenue 

I didn’t remember falling asleep. But I knew Saturday was finally here.

“Is Daddy awake yet? What time is it?”

“I don’t know. Let’s go see…”

The light outside was grey, so I knew night time had just ended.

Becky dragged her Strawberry Shortcake blanket off her bed and over her shoulders and headed to the door. I sluggishly got off the bed and shuffled behind her.

“Ugh. Get off.”


“Get off my blanket!”


She yanked my blanket from underneath my foot.

We slowly pushed open Daddy’s door and knew from the motor of his snore that he was long from waking up. The orange-red digits on the alarm clock said 6:04 A.M. Daddy’s room was so dark. And it was small. It smelled like him. Worn leather, and keys and slight scent of Tide.

My stomach gurgled.

“I want cereal.”

Becky closed Daddy’s door.

“We don’t have cereal.”

“So, what’s for breakfast?”

“We have bagels. Grandma left them when she came to see Mommy.”

Becky dropped her blanket in front of the T.V. and headed to the kitchen to toast our bagels. I sat on the blanket and switched on our Zenith. Saturday morning was prime time.

“Fat Albert is on. What channel is the Smurfs on?”

“That’s not on until seven. Just leave it.”

“How long until seven?”

“Jen, we’re leaving for the beach at seven.”

The toasty aroma of the bagels started to move in from the kitchen as Becky scrapped what was left from the yellow Fleishman’s margarine tub. I went right up to the T.V. to see what would happen if I stared at it too long. Mommy always told me not to get too close to the T.V or I would need glasses. She wasn’t living with us anymore. Grandma and Daddy argued on the phone about who should be taking care of her. She was in a place near the Galleria now. It was a hospital that smelled like pee and was filled with old people. She wasn’t old. She had grey hair, but she wasn’t old.

I placed my forehead against the glass. I could see little lines of red green and blue, repeated over and over…How strange, I thought.


I fell back onto the floor.  “Why doesn’t Daddy ever buy us Poptarts? They have fruit filling.”

“You’re gonna fry your eye balls out.”

She passed me my bagel. Both halves soaked with melted margarine. I took a big bite and the margarine dripped down my chin.

“It’s not real fruit,” she said just before biting into her bagel.

“Well, what is it?”

“It’s crap. Is there any milk left?”


We hadn’t even heard him get up. He was wearing his clothes from yesterday. He smoothed out his black bushy beard as he headed to the kitchen. The yellow morning sun was starting to brighten up our less than apartment. I shoved the last buttery piece of my bagel into my mouth

“Daddy, after your tea, are we gonna go to the beach with no waves?”

“Gimmie a bite of your bagel, Beck.”


“Yes, Jen.”

Becky passed him half of her bagel. I smiled so big.

“Can we bring Mommy to the beach with no waves?”

Becky turned quickly to look at Dad for a response, as he chewed on his breakfast.

“Not today, Jen.”

“But, maybe one day when she’s better?”

“Yes, one day.”

The Smurfs end credits were rolling, and I was hot and itching to leave. It was almost summertime, so it didn’t take long for the Southern California heat to build and seep into our living room. I already had my metallic rainbow bathing suit on. The backs of my bare legs were starting to itch from the sweat that was building up between my flesh and our scratchy olive-green couch.

“Daddy, I wanna go.”

He was just out of the shower and had opened the bathroom door to let out the steam. I heard the spray of his deodorant and caught a whiff of his Right Guard musk. He stepped out of the bathroom and into the hallway, wearing a ratty brown towel around his waist. He was combing his thinning, damp hair.

“Jen, hold your horses.”

He turned back toward the bedroom to get dressed.

“No, you hold your horses.”

Becky was lying on the floor with her face in front of the fan and cackled at my weak rebuttal. Her voice sounded like a robot. The sound effect amused me. I hopped off the couch, eager to have a turn.

“Daaadddy, time to goooo…”

Becky rolled over, choking on her own laughter, her hair sticking to her sweaty pink forehead.

Daddy rushed back into the living room, tucking his Hawaiian style shirt into the jeans he woke up in. I called it his Beach Boy shirt. His big brown framed glasses slightly fogged up from the damp heat that was building in the apartment. The brown bath towel that he had used to dry off with was over his shoulder so he could bring it to the beach. I wondered why he would take a wet towel. Becky and I had cool beach towels. Daddy bought them for us at Target last weekend. Becky’s had the kind of bird on it from the Froot Loops commercials which I thought was a black parrot.  When we were in the store picking the towels we wanted, my sister was quick to correct me when I said I wanted the palm tree towel not the black parrot one.

“There’s no such thing as a black parrot, dummy. It’s a Toucan.”

“Yeah, isn’t the Fruit Loops bird a parrot?”

“Jen, his name is Toucan Sam. Not Parrot Sam…Dumb.”

My sister could be a bitch.


Glendale, 1988 – Winchester Ave. 

I was lying on our couch, starring at the T.V moaning in pain. Becky went downstairs to see if the Gomez’ had any children’s Tylenol.

The pain felt like it was a big sharp nail burrowing through my ear and into my brain. Tears filled my eyes, and snot started to run down my nose.  I was trying to focus on Mrs. Ropers Muumuu to distract myself. It wasn’t working, so I shifted my eyes to the glass of water Becky had left for me on the coffee table and watched the T.V through the glass. The condensation made the colours of Mrs. Ropers Muumuu seep into each other.

The front door opened and Becky, short of breath from walking up the two flights of the stairs to our apartment, lumbered in with a pill bottle in her hand.

“Ok, so Mrs. Gomez said to take two of these. And she said we could keep the bottle. I guess she feels bad for us. “

I reluctantly sat up and wiped my sweat soaked hair from the side of my face.

“I can’t swallow pills,” I croaked.

Becky sat next to me and unscrewed the cap. It took her a few tries because it was childproof. But Becky and I had cracked the code on childproof ever since our Mom had us using the stove when I was in the first grade.

“Jen, they’re chewables, dummy. Here.”

She handed me two little pink tablets.

“They look like sweet tarts.”

“They look like Rockets, actually. Eat them.”

“Which ones are Rockets?”

She rolled her eyes at me as she grabbed the remote off the coffee table, then slouched back on the couch and started flipping through the channels.

I hated our couch. It was second hand and second rate. Dark brown with yellow flowers. It was itchy, velvet and lumpy. I wanted a big cushy grey one like the kind you see in movies.

I reluctantly put one of the pills in my mouth and started to chew.


“Well, it is medicine, Jen. It’s not actually candy. Just eat it.”

I hastily ate the second chewable and took a big gulp of what was now my room-temperature water to wash the chalky taste away.

“When is Daddy coming home?”

Then we heard keys in the door.

Daddy pushed through the door, holding two brown paper bags full of groceries from Vons.

“Hi Beck, hi Jen…come help me put these away.”

Daddy walked over to our dining room/kitchen table and placed the bags down.

I mustered up the energy to get off the couch with Becky and walked over to the table, curious to see what he got from the store. Becky and Daddy started taking items out of the bags: eggs, brown bread, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Wheatabix. Boring.

“Jen’s sick, her ear hurts and she’s hot. Yadira’s Mom gave me this, so I gave her some.”

Becky handed Daddy the bottle of Children’s Tylenol.

“Ok, let’s see…

He put his hand on my forehead, as plopped onto our kitchen chair. The tear in the vinyl cushion scratched the backs of my legs.

“Hmm, pretty warm…how’s your ear now, Jen?”

“It hurts Daddy, I have to go to the hospital. It hurts so much.”

Daddy chuckled at my dramatics.

“Well, there’s a walk-in clinic up near the Vons that just opened. We can go there. Get your jacket. It’s a bit chilly.”

“Nooo Daddy, you get it, I can’t.”

“Becky, can you get Jen’s jacket please. Or put these away so we can get going.”

“Ok, but then I’ve gotta leave. I’m going over to Lulies.”

“That’s fine.”

Daddy closed the fridge after putting the last of the groceries away and shoved his hands in his pockets, searching for something. Then he went into his back pocket and took out his wallet and counted a few bills.


“Shit, what?”

“Jen, we’re gonna have to walk.”

“Daddy, nooooo!”

Tears started welling up, and Becky re-appeared with my favourite powder pink jacket. As she walked away and out the door, I was in full meltdown.

“I’m sorry, hun. I know. But we need to make sure there’s enough for your medicine, and then we can take a cab home, ok?”

“Daddy, it’s not fair. Call Kathy.”

“Jen, I can’t do that. Kathy was nice enough to pick me up from the grocery store. Now put on your jacket and put on your shoes.

It was clear his patience was running out. And I think he liked Kathy a little. He was always talking about her. She was his boss at Snookies Cookies, where he worked as a delivery driver. I wished that she would just give him the car he used for his deliveries. And pay him some more money. He was always working.

I reluctantly put on my jacket, and, soon enough, we were walking down Western Avenue as my ear throbbed in my head.

After what felt like a life time, we finally got to the walk-in clinic, and then another life time later we saw the doctor who shoved his ear checking tool into my screaming ear. He wrote a prescription and handed it to my Dad, saying how much medicine I should take and if it got worse, to come back.

“Ok, Jen, let’s go.”

“Can we take a cab home now, Daddy?” I pleaded as we left the exam room. “Why didn’t he give you any medicine?”

“Because we have to go and get it with this piece of paper from the pharmacy.”

There was a pharmacy next door, so I was grateful we didn’t have to walk again.

“The pharmacy we have to go to is back on Victory where the Circle K is, and I think they’re closing soon, so we need to hurry.”

“Hurry? Oh my god, Daddy, that’s gonna take us a million years. Why can’t we just go to CVS? It’s right there.”

“Jen, I know it hurts, CVS doesn’t take Medicare. We can take a cab from there.”

I pouted and let out a sigh of dread as I followed him through the clinic doors.

My ear was on fire, numb from pain as we finally reached the pharmacy in the circle K plaza.

We sat outside the pharmacist’s office in cold green plastic chairs. Daddy was using his “feel my finger” technique to try and distract me from the pain. I think it was something he and Mommy picked up from Scientology. The way it worked was Daddy would move his finger to different parts of your body, with a gentle touch, asking: “feel my finger.” It always helped, even if it was just a little.

“Ah Ellis, Jennifer?”

My medicine was ready. Daddy went up to get it. I followed along, eager to take it and get home, in the backseat of a cab this time.

“So, that will be $16.98 please.”

“Medicare isn’t covering it?”

“Only seventy five percent for this one, sir.”

“Shit…ok hang on.”

He started counting the bills from his wallet and reached in his pocket and pulled out a couple of loose coins. He turned to look at me and let out a heavy sigh.

“Ok, Jen. The medication is more than I thought it was gonna be.”

“So, what do you mean. You don’t have enough?”

“I do, Jesus, just barely. But we can’t take a cab.”



“Daddy, no I’m not walking again.”

“Ok, Jen well it’s either we get your medicine, or we take a cab. I’m sorry we can’t do both.”

He looked like he had aged about 20 years in the last two hours. I started to realize that I may have not been the only one in pain.

I collapsed on the floor crossed legged and started to sob.

Daddy passed the money to the pharmacist, as he gently stroked my head trying to make it all better.









Grade 8




POSIE, a tall and heavy teenage girl is standing in her bathroom looking unimpressed. She turns from one side to another. She tucks her shirt in and out of her pants; turns side to side and fiddles with her hair. She looks disappointed.


Why do I look like Mrs. Tritakis?


(mimicking Mrs. Tritakis in a Greek accent)

Posie,  reference books are for photo copy only. And no potato chips inside here.


She stares at the mirror with her arms folded and with a scowl on her face. He eyes widen.


(still mimicking Mrs. Tritakis) And you always making the crumbs.


Posie walks into her bedroom and throws her blazer on the floor.She plops on her bed and starts writing in her diary.


Well, it looks like I will be going to grad as Mrs. Tritakis. Why can’t they make dresses for me that don’t look like I borrowed it from my 79-year-old Grandma?

Posies Dad ROGER, a gentle mannered man with a salt and pepper beard and glasses, walks into her room and sits on the edge of her bed.


Oh good! You’re writing. Keep it up.

Posie looks up from her diary looking at Roger rolls her eyes and smirks, then continues to write in her diary.

Roger reaches into his pocket and takes out a five dollar  bill.


Here. So you can get yourself that lipstick.

Posie looks up again at him. She takes the bill and chuckles.


Thanks for the big bucks, Daddy.

Roger sighs, gets up and heads for her bedroom door. He gets to the door way, turns around and looks at her.


Well Posie, it’s the best I can do for now. I can get you a whole colour wheel of lip sticks as soon as Grandpa’s estate closes.

Posie nods her head and looks reflectively at the tattered five-dollar bill.

POSIE (in a softer voice trying to holdback emotion)

Grandpa didn’t even have an estate. He just had had house.


That’s just a fancy word business people use hon.

Posie shrugs rolls her eyes as Roger starts to leave her room. He turns around suddenly leans on the door frame and sighs.


And Posie, you don’t need lipstick, okay? Your Mom never wore lipstick and she was beautiful. And you know, you look just like your mother.

Posie flashes an awkward smile and gets back to her diary as Roger leaves and closes the door.


Goodnight, hon.

Posie smiles sweetly at Roger and gets back to her journal.


Well, I’m sure Mommy wore a dress to her grad, and I’m sure she looked amazing. I will never look amazing.

Posie closes her journal and lies on her side. She is staring at a Mariah Carey poster on her wall, and then over to the windowsill to a picture of her mother when she was in her teens-a slender beautiful light haired girl. Tears start to well up in her eyes. She rolls over onto her back and rests her hands on her stomach; then squeezes it. Posie gets up and walks out of the room.


Posie is sitting on the couch watching TV in the dark. She is eating Doritos out of the bag and drinking Pepsi out of a two litre bottle in between hand fulls of chips.



Posie and her best friend SHELLEY are eating lunch in the yard day of graduation. Shelley has beautiful light blue eyes, chubby cheeks and teenage acne. They are both eating fries and gravy from take out boxes and watching the boys play soccer. Posie has her eye on JEFF, her crush. Jeff has rosy cheeks and hair like Leonardo DiCaprio, circa Growing Pains.


So, Ryans mom is going to their cottage for the weekend. We’re all gonna go there after the dance. I think he can get beer, maybe even some coolers. You’ve gotta come.

Posie takes another bite of her fries and gravy. Shelley opens her can of coke; eyes wide and jaw dropped




Um, ya! It’s gonna be so fun. And oh my God Jeff got has to come.

Shelley puts down her can of coke. She sighs, then lies back onto the grass looking up at the sky.


My Mom is not going to let me go to Ryans if his Mom isn’t home.

Posie gives Shelley an annoyed look. She closes up her fry box and lies down next to her. They both look up at the sky in silence, contemplating.



Shelley, you just don’t tell her man. Just say you’re gonna hang out at Ryans house after the dance.

The soccer ball rolls over to Posie and it bumps her thigh. She sits up and grabs the ball. Jeff is running over to get the ball, sweaty and panting. Posie smiles and tosses the ball to Jeff and he catches it.


Thanks Posie!

POSIE (smiling wide and goofily)

No problem!

Posie turns and looks at Shelley with her jaw dropped. Her eyes rolls back in her head and she places her hand on her chest and fakes passing out, letting out a dreamy sigh.

Some of them are looking back at Posie and Shelley. Shelley sees that they are laughing and blowing up their cheeks and using their arms mimicking being a fat person. Shelley curls her lips, slants her eyes and slightly shakes her head disgusted with this display…Posie sits up suddenly.


Ooh! I forgot, I have a flakey!

Shelley looks at Posie with an concerned look.

Posie eagerly takes a Flakey out of her backpack, tears it open and takes a bite. She’s giving Shelley an inquisitive look.





Posie looks across the field for Jeff and the boys but they’ve walked out of site. Her shoulders drop slightly with disappointment. Shelley gets up and starts to pack up her lunch trash as Posie is lost in her flakey, staring across the field.


Posie, she’s gonna want to call his Mom. She doesn’t know Ryan.


Just tell Mommy Dearest that you’re staying at my house. I mean you totally can. My Dad doesn’t care. And well, my Mom is dead so you’re set!

Posie closes her eyes and laughs heartily. She starts to get up and drops the rest of her Flakey.



Shelley looks at Posie with a look of empathy.


Posie is wearing her grad outfit sitting on the toilet seat, as her sister BECKY is helping her curl her hair.


Posie, who the hell is Mrs. Tritakis?


Ugh, never mind. How is it looking?


Almost done, hang on.

Becky carefully wraps a lock of Posies hair around the  curling iron barrel.

Posie is looking up at her in anticipation.

Becky lets go of the curl. She tilts her head to the side examining the job she’s done on her sisters hair.


Ok, thats good.

Posie stand up and they both face the mirror. Posie sighs heavily and and looks unimpressed as usual.


Ok, so I don’t look like Mrs. Tritakis.

Becky smiles and puts her hand on Posies shoulders looking proud of the work she just did.


I look like a Rabbi.

Becky drops her hand off of Posies shoulders and scowls at her.

They are still looking in the mirror, Becky tilts her head to the right re-examining Posies hair and nods slightly, confirming Posies comment.


Jeff and the boys are in the parking lot behind the school.

They are all dressed in semi formal wear for grad night. A few of them are smoking cigarettes. Jeff opens a bottle of Mountain Dew and chugs half of it. Then he takes out half an empty bottle of vodka from his coat pocket and pours it into the half empty bottle of Mountain Dew.

CHRIS pulls out a pack of Dunhill cigarettes from his coat pocket. He stands out like a sore thumb, wearing a white suit with a blue silk shirt and white tie. He has a face full of freckles and his two front teeth are oversized; like a rabbit. He pulls out a cigarette, lights it up and takes a draw.


Ha, good man Jeffery, good man.

Jeff smirks and shrugs. Then he takes a swig from the bottle, coughing after he swallowed it. He wipes his mouth.


Ah, my old man was passed out…he’ll just think he drank it when he wakes up in the middle of the night going for a second round.

The boys chuckle.

Jeff swigs from the bottle again, trying not to grimace, he passes it DIMITRI.

Dimitri takes the bottle and cautiously brings it to his mouth, and takes a small sip.

He turns away from the boys and spits out the mixture onto the ground. All of the boys start laughing and Jeff, smiling empathetically, pats Dimitri on the back. Dimitri passes the bottle back to one of the boys i the group.  Chris is trying not to laugh; he is almost breathless.



The laughing settles down. Chris pulls out what looks like to be another cigarette from the pack. He then holds it up to show the boys with a proud toothy grin that he’s holding a joint.


Premium herb, boys.

Some of the boys smile, some drop their jaws in surprise.

Some of them laugh nervously as Chris lights up the joint and takes a hit with ease. It’s obvious he’s done this before.


Man, you think the chicks will be wearing slutty dresses?


Yes!/They better!/Aw man, totally./Fuckin’right, guy.

Chris passes the joint to Jeff, who takes it reluctantly.


Hey Jeff man, you think Posie will be wearing a slutty dress? Maybe she borrowed a tent from Canadian Tire.

All of the boys laugh. Jeff is coughing violently after taking a hit of the joint. Chris puts his arm around his shoulder.


(trying not to laugh in hysterics)

Hey man, maybe you can bang her after the dance. Then you can tell us all what it’s like to fuck a whale.

The boys laugh hysterically and gleefully pass the bottle and the joint around. The libations have loosened them up. Jeff, looking embarrassed and annoyed grabs the bottle from Chris.


Whatever man. Not my fault she’s in love with me. We’re just friends. And besides…

He takes a hearty swig from the bottle, finishing it off.


Jeff motions his head upward with a nod, looking across the parking lot as he swallows the mixture

..she’s friends with Mary.

All the boys look over.


MARY, a typically pretty girl, is waving good bye to her parents as they drive off. She is wearing a white satin dress that looks like a slip.

MONTAGE (Poison by Bel Biv Devo starts playing) – The boys are staring at Mary in awe.

Mary is smiling and walking in slow motion towards the school, hair, and boobs bouncing.

Chris’ slicks his hair back and nods at Mary and grins widely as he takes a drag from a cigarette.

Dimitri is fidgeting with his tie.

Jeff has his arms crossed taking it all in as a big smile spreads across his face. He raises one of his arms and waves at Mary. Mary coyly smiles and waves back.


The boys nod in agreement, insinuating rationale for Jeff maintaining a friendship with Posie.

DIMITRI Dimitri is glazed with a light sheen of sweat; tie loosened


Slutty dress.



(smiling) Yeah.


Shelley and Posie are in the gym drinking cans of orange C Plus and the dance is in full swing. Posie reaches into her purse and pulls out a tube of lipstick.


Thanks for letting me borrow it. Saved me five bucks!

Posie and Shelley cheers in solidarity.


Ok good. So can I borrow a few bucks then? Just so I can get home from your place tomorrow? My Mom wont give me anymore money because my dress was kinda expensive.

Shelley steps back and grabs the skirt of her light pink dress and flings it from side to side in delight.


Ya, thats cool. I’m gonna be rich soon. Well, I think. My Grandpa has an estate.

Shelley looks at Posie confused.


But, your grandpa lived in a house across the street from me.


Well no you see its…

Mary walks up to Shelley an Posie looking excited.


Mary Campbell. She’s ok- for a hot girl. Big boobs, flat stomach. She slept over this one time, and I was staring at her when she was sleeping. Not like lesbo staring at her though.

I was just wishing I could find that skull that Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage found in that movie Vice Versa and trap her in a room.


You guys! Who should I dance with to the next slow song? Kostas and Jeff asked me to dance with them next. I mean, they’re both cute. But Kostas wears cologne. And honestly, Jeff kinda smells like weed and boozy Mountain Dew.

Posie and Shelley look at each other as Mary re-applies her pink lipstick looking in her mint green Cover Girl compact. Posie looks over by the DJ booth and she can see Jeff checking out Mary. She purses her lips an sighs heavily. Shelly awkwardly opens up a single serving bag of Lays from the refreshment table and slowly puts a chip in her mouth. Mary smacks the compact closed.


I think you should dance with Kostas. I mean, he’s tall…


Jeffs tall.


He’s wearing a real silk shirt.


Jeff’s wearing a silk shirt.


Well, I heard from Rachel that when they were dating last year she used to give him hand jobs. And he’s got a  really big dick. And pecks.

Mary drops her lipstick. Shelley covers her mouth laughing trying not to spit out her chips and nudges Posie on her shoulder.


(shaking her head and rolling her eyes)

You’re gross.

Vanessa Williams’ Saved the Best for Last comes on. Mary turns around abruptly. She makes a bee line for Kostas.

SHELLEY (laughing)

You did that on purpose you bitch.

Posie shrugs her shoulders and takes a chip from Shelley’s bag of Lays. Jeff walks over to Posie and Shelley. Posie is about to grab another chip but she stops as soon as she sees Jeff approaching.


Hey Shelley, hey Posie.


Hey Jeff. Great suit!

Jeff looks down at his dull white silk shirt and faded black tie. He blushes a little stumbling a bit from the libations he had earlier.


(chuckling) Thanks!


Whats up? Want a C Plus? A Coke? Chips?


Actually, the boys and I were thinking of ditching this lamo dance and go down to Pizza Hut.

Posie looks at Shelley with an excited and surprised expression.


Oh cool! Well ya lets g-


(interrupting Posie)

I just wanted to see if you had a few bucks I could borrow.

Posie feverishly fumbles through her purse. Shelley gives Jeff a look of disdain as she slightly catches his eye. He looks uncomfortable, as if Shelley could tell he was taking advantage of Posie’s feelings for him. He starts fidgeting with his hands in his pocket.

Jeff brushes his hands through his hair.

JEFF ( COTND)  Hey Posie, uh hey it’s cool..

Posie holds up her five dollar bill earnestly.



Jeff slowly smiles. He takes the five and puts it into his pocket.


Cool! Thanks Posie. Really. Really, thanks.

Jeff leans in and gives her a hug. Posie is so surprised she forgets to hug him back right away. She then embraces him tightly and closes her eyes and smile. Shelley stares at them; her eyes are bugging out of her head.


Is this happening? Like, really is it?

He doesn’t smell like weed andMountain Dew. Mmmmm he smells like cinnamon hearts and baby sweat.


Oh my god, like any time. So, are we walking or taking the bus?

Jeff looks down at his shoes for a moment. Then he looks up and smiles and Posie. He brushes his hair back with his hand and looks around the gym nervously.



Posie looks at Shelley searching for excitement in her face, but Shelley’s arms are folded and she is clearly pissed off. Posie quickly turns away from her and back to Jeff waiting for his response.


Yeah, we’re probably just gonna walk…but…I


Okay, its not too far. We’ll meet you at the front doors in like, five minutes?

Jeff looks behind his shoulder and sees Chris, Dimitri and the other boys impatiently waiting and motioning their hands to hurry up.

JEFF (awkwardly)

Mmmmm. Yeah, alright. See you in five.



Jeff rushes off towards the boys. They mess up his hair an shove him around playfully as they leave the gym.

POSIE      (CONT’D) (to Shelley)

Ok, how are you not totally freaking out? Jeff invited us to go have Pizza! With  all              the guys!


Um, hello Posie, what about lending me that five bucks so I can get home from your house tomorrow? And like what about the party at Ryans? I told my Mom I was staying at your house! Where the hell am I supposed to go? What am I supposed to tell my Mom?

Posie rolls her eyes at Shelley and fumbles through her purse again. She pulls out a ten dollar bill.


Dude, I’ve got it covered. My Dad gave this to me after the ceremony as part my grad gift. I mean I’ll get more this summer from that estate thing of my Grandpas. But anyway, this will cover us, so lets go!


Posie, hat planet are you on? He didn’t even invite you. He didn’t invite us. He just wanted to get money from you. He knows you like him y’know. I mean, it’s so obvious. You stare at him enough all bloody day. And all of the boys make fun of you. You’re just asking for it.

Posies’ jaw drops. She squints at Shelley in disbelief of the words that just came out of her mouth.


Shelley, just go home to your stupid Mom, ok?

Posie storms away and tosses her almost empty can of C Plus into a garbage can, but she misses so it bounces off the rim and hits the floor. Some of it splashes up onto Shelley’s dress. The D.J puts on What About Your Friends by TLC.

Shelley is fuming mad. She grabs a napkin from the refreshment table and dabs her dress. She crosses her arms and looks around the room, frustrated. She then looks regretful and sad in the direction Posie walked away, who is now out of sight. She starts for the door of the gymnasium.


Posie is standing outside of the front doors of the school.

She adjusts her hair and then she starts frantically looking in her purse for the lipstick she borrowed from Shelley, wanting to reapply it for her pizza date.


Shit. I gave it back to her. Ugh.

A few kids enter and exit the doors; and Posie smiles and waves. She is looking around for Jeff and the boys but she sees no sign of them.


Oh my god. I can not believe I am going out for pizza with beautiful Jeff. Shelley is just totally jealous. I mean, he hugged me and everything. And everyone could see…there’s no way he would’ve just done that to…

Posie hears a door open to right of the school. Laughter erupts from multiple male voices. Posie furrows her brow as she steps into the parking lot to get a better look. She sees Chris, Jeff and the other boys running towards the street.


Come on man, hurry up! We’ve gotta ditch her fat ass-she’ll eat all the pizza!

Posie drops her purse on the ground. Her face turns a crimson red.


Now would be a good time to die.

…to be continued

Candy for Cigarettes

by Jennifer Ellis

Candy Cigs Pic

I met Lisa in grade nine. She was a model. She was literally the West Indian Niki Taylor (shout out to all my fellow YM and Seventeen mag readers!).  I was smitten with her extraordinary beauty and over all coolness. Lisa was a little dramatic; she was always telling me stories about her sexual escapades with guys and her modeling career. She was the Kelly to my Brenda. She was my coolest new friend. Until one day in gym class when she wasn’t.

A few us of were practicing our volleyball serves, and talking about having a perfect body and how unfair it is that food makes us fat. I started talking about why I was fat, blaming it on inheriting it from my uncle Dick and the fact that my Dad raised us on McDonalds and Dominos.

“I’d rather have cancer than be fat,” Lisa said casually as she served the ball to Mary.

Mary’s eyes widened as she shot me a horrified look.

My face suddenly felt hot and my heart dropped into my gut-which monstrous size was apparently making Lisa wish for cancer.

Everyone just awkwardly laughed and “I know right-ed” her in fear that disagreeing would probably make them look fat.

“Ugh. This totally blows. I wanna go out for a smoke,” Lisa whined as she pulled her long thick black hair into a ponytail.

I was seething. I wanted to yank her by her perfect pony tail tell her to go and fuck herself and that I hope she gets lung cancer and dies. But I didn’t want to risk losing the skinny bitch as my friend to maintain my cool kid status. I rationalized that because she was a model, and being thin was kind of like, hello, a job requirement, it was just her way of saying “Sorry man, that totally sucks.” Yeah, I’m sure she didn’t mean “I’d rather die from a terminal illness than shop at Cotton Ginny Plus with your fat ass.”

When a thin, pretty, popular girl wanted to be friends with me, it made me feel hot and thin by osmosis.  At the very least it made me feel like I was protected when we would walk down the halls together.  Like a skinny friend bully repellant. But, now it was feeling like I was sleeping with the enemy (oh my God I LOVE that move!? Straighten up those cans Julia! P.S Now that I’m an adult, I totally know people like her psycho husband who would make me want to jump off a boat an onto a bus headed to Iowa)

So, yeah, I said nothing. And I didn’t say anything for the rest of the year. We still hung out, but I secretly hated her and hated myself more for not standing up for myself.

I don’t remember seeing much of her the next year. I guess that’s how it is though. Maybe she was starting to think she would become fat by osmosis. I figured since she revealed that she’d prefer chemo over stretch marks, hanging out with me might be a liability. On some level, I don’t blame her. It seemed like the logical thought process considering the bullshit ideology we’re fed since the day we get our first Barbie doll. I spent most of my twenties and thirties chasing that phony plastic bitch. I’ve been trying ever since then to not be the girl they look at when someone makes a comment like being terminally ill is better than being fat.

In 2001 I was 23 years old and 330 pounds. Other than the number on the scale, a few moments pushed me to really find an exit plan to get out of the fat girl club. It wasn’t a club that was fun, or exclusive or that gave you discounts on Baskin n Robbins or Little Caesars. It was more like a jail that you were held in, located in the town square of your life for all to point and laugh at. I was sick of it. The tipping point for me was when I saw a picture of myself from a night out where I thought I looked pretty good. I had a shitty fake tan that I had clearly hastily slathered on and I was wearing a white top and a pleather jacket. I looked like a biker butch who’d just rolled around in the dirt.  Around that time, I was getting a physical and the Doctor told me if I don’t lose weight now it would be much harder to do when I was older. Great. This gets harder? Soon after that I went to see a sweet little Chinese lady at my community health centre named Annie and she gave me a paper pamphlet that listed all the foods I could eat and how many servings I could have from each food group. I just followed it. God knows how, but I did. And it worked. Eighteen months later I was 160 pounds.

It was like I was a visitor in my body. I had spent the last year and half eating crispy minis, a pot of coffee a day and trough full of salad with fat free Italian dressing topped with flavourless chicken breast. I counted each calorie in each stick of gum and in each packet of sweetener. Seemed like the logical thing to do to get skinny. I carried my calorie dictionary and a notepad around with me like an ESL student would with an English dictionary. I was learning how to translate the food world armed with my calorie dictionary! My bible. And I was ready to spread the gospel.

Soon enough, my sister and some of my friends all joined me in our revolution. We were breaking out of the caged fat girl club and plus sizes and into the Stitches and Sirens discount warehouses. It was glorious.

We hit the bars each weekend; I drank vodka sodas liberally because in my mind those calories don’t count, because vodka was like water, wasn’t it? I would pre-game with a half mickey of Smirnoff as I did my make up. I would pour the rest of the mickey into an empty water bottle known as the traveler (some people call it a roadie. No. Dude, roadies are the skanky looking dudes who set up the stages for bands) and drink it on the way to My Apartment or Crocodile Rock– our two favourite bars a.k.a places where you could get $2.00 drinks and an STD on the dance floor. We were smart.

I was high on attention. And nicotine. I had also traded 12-inch subs for cigarettes. I would only smoke on the weekends when I drank. I figured I was thin now and I didn’t smoke that much. And maybe I subliminally kept hearing Lisa’s words reassuring me. Everyone I knew smoked. But I was the only one who had yellow fingers on Sunday nights from binge smoking. I brushed it off. I was one of the thinnest chicks among my friends and after a while my head was huge, literally, and figuratively-my body was starting to slowly resemble a lolly pop. My inflated head was filled with the notion that this was my new life: being the skinny girl and getting attention from men. That was my job, my only M.O-stay thin and find a boyfriend. Weeeeeell, I did find boys. They were very friendly. And that of course meant they liked me right? And that would mean they totally wanted to be my boyfriend, right? Like I said, I was smart.

By the summer of 2002 I was a full-blown attention addict and had an obvious eating disorder. However, I couldn’t see then that dipping carrots in ketchup wasn’t a just a new flavour creation like Lays Chipotle Ranch. All I cared about was getting to the weekend to refuel my addiction with lapping men and free drinks all night. Drinks that never caused any weight gain; which was always many, many drinks. Maybe it was because for the whole weekend I’d eat two meals. Which consisted of a bag of Quaker Crispy Minis and cans of forty-nine cent green beans with tuna.

Finding a boyfriend wasn’t really working out. I had been seeing Jamie – the guy who was my “first.” He was a babe. He was also an alcoholic and former drug addict, who laughed at me in disbelief when I told him I was virgin after that first time. So, the smart thing to do of course was to keep seeing him because he was so cute. And well, he kept calling.

Jamie faded away soon after I started college that fall. I was going to be the tall hot skinny bitch in my class for the first time. I had left the fat girl club behind and anyone who knew me to be its flagship member. I was ready to be handed the hot girl crown and start my new life. I was finally going to grow up and be thin and happy and successful; writing concert reviews for the Toronto Star and live in a loft overlooking the city- with my gorgeous journalist boyfriend that I would meet in the newsroom.

It didn’t quite go that way. I ended up just being the loudmouth older chick that didn’t really fit in her oddly thin body.

Guys didn’t really pay attention to me. I wasn’t stared at for being fat or made fun of. I was just looked over. I was 25. But my classmates were about 19 and had firm bouncy skin and luxurious shiny hair, where as I looked like too much skin that was haphazardly thrown on a bag of bones with a few strands of dull curly hair. So, hot.

That didn’t stop me though. I was relentless. I obsessively budgeted each dollar I made at my part time job at Rogers video to buy the same groceries each week. And I would meal prep each Sunday and shove salads and tuna sandwiches on 45 calorie bread slices in my bar fridge for the whole week. I had to make sure I stuck to my diet. There was no room for the “I have no time” or “I’m too tired” excuse in my life, even if it meant that I would be eating soggy tuna sandwiches. I was thin, and I needed to stay thin. Without that designation nothing else really mattered.

I could only hold on for so long; and my grand plan started to crumble beneath my feet. By mid summer 2003 I started my love affair with bingeing. I would go through the days eating tuna and salad. Then I would rendezvous at night with a bag of Sour Cream and Onion Ruffles and a pint of Haagen Daz Caramel Cone Explosion.

One day I went on a forbidden food tour. I couldn’t sleep at all the night before, so as soon as the sun came up I decided that I wanted McDonalds to start my day-but a McGriddle and a hash brown wasn’t enough. Soon enough I was on the train heading downtown to figure out what would be my next indulgence. I found myself back at McDonalds for cheeseburgers and a hot fudge sundae, followed by Tim Hortons donuts and an Iced Cap for to wash it all down. I somehow found my way home despite my sugar and fat fog. I was literally like one of the walkers from The Walking Dead. If I heard a food wrapper crackling somewhere; hide your children. Carl? Where’s Carl?! I figured I would just round out the day with a pepperoni pizza and a pint of Ben and Jerrys Cookie Dough.

Looking back, I’m surprised I didn’t have a stroke from the sugar and fat assault I ordered on my confused body.

My bingeing caught up with me of course. The Korean lady at my local corner store pointed it out to me on the first day back to classes.

“Oh, you having baby?” she smiled as she rang in my Diet Coke and Three Musketeers.

I could feel my face sting from the shame.

“Ha, ha!” I laughed. “I’m not.” I said with a forced smile. I quickly grabbed my snacks and practically tripped on the pumpkin display as I fled the scene; running away from my humiliation.

I was 230 pounds. My visitor pass was about to expire. It was like I was on a temporary visa in my own body. I was being deported back to the fat girl club.

In the winter of 2016 I decided that I wanted to get on the list to get this surgery. I was in and out of the fat girl club and now pushing 300 lbs after so many failed attempts of torturing my body with more obsessive calorie counting. I did the Dr. Bernstein diet that made me pass out on the way to working in his office (yes, I worked for my hero at the time), Dr. Poon and his diet who told me I didn’t need to eat vegetables, and would I please buy his book. And Weight Watchers who hawked their fake foods at their over priced meetings that had me just as manic when I was counting each calorie, to Ketogenic when I totally overate butter fried cheese and nuts and couldn’t shit for a week. None of this bullshit worked. It worked for about twenty pounds and then I would be making secret trips across the street for a box of fries and a cheeseburger. I would always anxiously wait in the restaurant looking over my shoulder like the I was a junkie meeting with my dealer and the cops were on my tail. I’d snatch the brown paper bag of forbidden fried carbs and scurry back into my apartment and eat in shameful peace.

I was also 38, not 23 like I had been when I first reached this weight. I’ve develop gall stones and, sciatica, and knee problems on both legs – all problems that can be partially or completely related to my ballooning weight.

I’m not going to sit here and say that the only reason I wanted to have this surgery was because I wanted to feel better physically– because hello-I’m a human being, living on the planet we live on that can be shitty, so that would be a lie. So, yes people like Lisa had something to do with this decision.  I did, after all have my organs re-arranged to not be fat. Of course, I want to feel better about how I look. I want to look more conventional, and fit into clothes that I like. I hate that being thinner has anything to do with that; and I wish I could rewire my brain to leave that kind of thinking behind. I’m so inspired and envious of women like Virgie Tovar, Tess Holiday, Whitney Waythore and countless other awesome fat chicks who are giving a big EFF YOU! to the world when it comes to body acceptance (shout out to #effyourbeautystandards!).  It’s because of women like them that I don’t feel completely repulsed by my double chin and baby arms. There is a new hope for the next generation. They are body image Jedis!

In September 2017, just under a year from my first orientation and about half a dozen screening tests/appointments, I got a call from my surgeon’s office asking me if I wanted to fill a cancellation spot and have my surgery that coming Monday. It was Tuesday. A life changing surgery that I was expecting to have in late November was being offered to me in six days. It was like being asked to meet Joe McIntyre in the pajamas I’ve been in for 3 days with unwashed hair. Um, yeah I’m not ready and I’m FREAKING out but lets do this!

They wheeled me in to the OR and I was all

“Wow this is totally like Greys Anatomy, can I select my resident to be Dr. Avery and McSteamy with a side of McDreamy please for my attendings? And can Dr. Avery be assigned to be my nurse/live in caregiver until I reach my goal weight?”

This was before the drugs. They moved me onto the surgical table and then I was given the fun stuff to get me to sleep.

I woke up feeling like someone was standing on my stomach.

“Help me, please help me” I moaned to the nurse. This is what almost dying feels like, I’m sure of it, I thought.

The nurse asked me what my pain levels were.

“Pick a number between 1 and 10 that describes your pain,”  she asked me.

I had my intestines rerouted and my stomach blown up like a balloon-it’s a ten thousand sister. Give me more dilaudid dammit!

I really don’t even remember going from recovery to my patient room. All I know was that I felt like shit and Dr. Avery was no where to be seen.  Soon enough my sweet my fiancé Mike was there to hold my hand and look terrified and helpless as the pain meds wore off every hour. My sweet darling Michael. Thank you for holding my hand when I cried and screamed in pain yelling regrets of eating myself into this hospital bed. I appreciate you being the stable one in our relationship. Jackson Averys’ got nothing on you baby.

Eating for the first few weeks was spent trying to figure out how to manage my fat brain and small stomach. Pretty much that even though you realize you can’t put a hippopotamus in a baby carriage, fat brain keeps trying to squeeze it in. This is still something I’m figuring out. Fat brain is a powerful bitch. She’s been in charge for a long time. She’s starting to know her role though. She gets up and stomps her feet every day but I’m learning how to put that bitch in her place.

So here we are and now its January 11, 2018. I’m 276 pounds. I’ve lost about 60 pounds in about four months. My wedding is in 10 months.  It’s looking like I will return to my previous weight loss glory by my wedding day this coming October, or pretty close to. It feels better to be lighter on my feet. It’s nice to fit into my smaller clothes. But it’s not the same experience I felt when I lost the first time around. Back then Lisa was in my peripheral on repeat wishing for cancer over obesity. Because that’s all you have when you’re a self-absorbed asshole. We were all assholes in our teens and twenties. Looking hot, at all costs, that was the priority, that was the job. That’s all we really needed to feel good about ourselves. Getting a return on your investment was getting picked up by the hot guys at the bar and getting cut eye from all the girls who envied you. I’m reflecting deep into my memories though, and I know that wasn’t always the only recipe for a fun night. When I was over 300 pounds, I feel like I always had fun when I went out. Why else would I keep going out otherwise?  I danced my big fat ass off, drank Mikes Hard Lemonade and had a great time with my friends. I never had any positive male attention from my peers, so I didn’t expect it at bar.

One time this “hot chick” that went to my high school was at this local dive we used to go to called Tommy Cooks and she said to me as we were dancing, “I just love how you can still have fun, regardless of y’know?”

The “y’know” being “big and fat.”

I looked at her with a furrowed brow, taking in what this presumptuous bitch just said to me.

“Uhhh yeah…why wouldn’t I? Fuck what anyone thinks right?” I said as a half smile formed on my face.

Inside I was furious with anger and embarrassed by my embarrassment because of her flippant comment. Her confirmation bias was showing so badly, I should’ve just kicked her in the crotch and kept on dancing to Beanie Man.

So, ok yeah, when I was 160 pounds I was “hot.” I had guys telling me I looked like Nicole Kidman as they bought me drinks hoping I would somehow get drunk enough to think I was out with my husband Tom Cruise. (Were they still together then? Oh gorgeous, couch jumping crazy Scientologist Tom.)  I thought back then that being “thin” or even average, came along with a certificate in self confidence.


All that BS about your true self being so much deeper is sadly true. But it’s not that sad, is it? Thank GOD! You need a lot more going for you than that when you’re a grown up.  For the last seventeen years plus it’s been my main goal to shed unwanted pounds. I had my insides re-arranged because I couldn’t do it myself anymore after years of dieting and poor nutrition. I traded Snickers and Nerds for Diet Coke and Vodka- throw in a pack of Du Maurier over the weekend and I was pretty much echoing Lisa’s “I’d rather have cancer” statement. Today at almost 40 years old, spending about 37 of them either grabbing for the candy or running away from it, I know now that Lisa can have her cancer. I’ll take the Snickers.


by Jennifer Ellis








It was summer time so it was still light outside. Becky and I were lying on a bed that had two box springs and two mattresses.  We were supposed to be going to sleep.  But all we could do is laugh and pretend that we were the princess and the pea.  We were excited. The next morning was our first day of summer camp.

My Dad dropped us off that first morning.  Camp was held in our school’s auditorium slash cafeteria. It smelled like construction paper and tater tots. I loved it. The lunch tables were all folded up and put up against the wall except for three that created a C shape facing the stage. There was a half circle of chairs set up right in the middle. As Becky and I walked over to the chairs I scanned all the faces of the kids sitting in their chairs and goofing around on the stage. I didn’t know anyone, and I was the biggest kid there as usual. I was just glad my older sister was with me so I didn’t have to worry about making new friends. I had a hard time last year starting first grade. I spent my first recess at this big scary school leaning up against a bungalow in the playground, wishing my sister would come and save me. I made some friends. But it wasn’t easy when you’re the fattest and tallest kid in class. I was a target for bullies, but I learned how to dodge them enough to make it out alive my first year. Just barley.

I looked forward to coming home after school to watch TV. It was 1984 and Los Angeles was hosting the summer Olympics. My mom loved watching the Olympics. We would sit in front of the TV while she lay in her hospital bed that was set up in our living room and we watched divers and swimmers and my favourite – the female gymnasts like Mary-Lou Retton tumble and twist around and rep the good ol’ USA.

My mom would order unpasteurized dairy products from this store called Alta Dena Dairy. She would get these delicious ice cream sandwiches that my sister and I would devour pretty much the minute the milkman dropped them off.  One day we came home from school to see a package sitting in front of the door labeled ‘Alta Dena Dairy’ and figured we would just bring it inside. We tried opening the door but it was locked. We knocked and there was no answer. You’d think we would be worried that my mother, bedridden from MS could be in distress. But all we wanted to do was rip into those ice cream sandwiches. And we did. We ate them all as we sat there on the ramp my Dad had made for my mom’s wheelchair.

My Dad’s tan coloured Dodge Dart pulled into the driveway and we could see my mom was with him. He helped my mom into the wheelchair and they noticed our sticky fingers and chocolate sandwich cookie faces. And of course, there was the undeniable collection of wrappers strewn all over the ramp.

“You guys were supposed to go to Heather’s house. What have you been doing all this time? Did you eat all of these ice cream bars?”

“We didn’t know that’s where we were supposed to go!” Becky whined.

“There was a note on the door! Your mom’s physio appointment got rescheduled from the morning to the afternoon,” my Dad yelled.

My Dad was searching for the note on the door, then looked on the ground looking confused. Then he picked up the box from Alta Dena and found the note that was supposed to be on the door.

“Shit it must’ve fallen off. Jesus girls you still shouldn’t have eaten all of that ice cream. That was to last the week. You’re going to be sick from eating so much.” my Dad grumbled.

“Rog, it would’ve gone bad. Give them a break. They’ve been out here for almost 3 hours,” my Mom chimed in.

“Yeah, still. This place is expensive Elyse. We can’t be ordering this stuff if no one’s home to pick it up. It’s all ruined now.” my Dad moaned on.

“Alright, alright. Give it a rest. Let’s go inside. You know I will just call them and tell them their fakakta driver knows not to leave it on the door step. I will get it replaced.” my Mom said as my Dad started wheeling her up the ramp.

My Dad let out a guffaw as he rolled my mom into the living room.

“Yes, this I do know hon, I know.” he laughed.

He leaned down and gave her a kiss on her cheek and she smiled.

My mom reached into her pocket book and took out two one dollar bills.

“Hey why don’t you run to the corner store? I’d like an ice cream sandwich too ya know. Get Daddy one too.“ she said looking at Becky.

“Ok Mommy.” Becky said.

Becky took the money as I went to turn on the TV.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Mommy said.

“Fraggle Rock is coming on,” I replied timidly.

“Get your shoes on and go with your sister,” my mom demanded.

“But Mommy!” I howled.

“Jen. I don’t want to hear it, now.” she demanded.

I furrowed my brow and growled. Then I slouched, walked to the door, put on my jellies and met Becky outside.

She was about to get on our bike. My bike had been stolen and my parents couldn’t afford to replace it, so they told Becky to give me a turn on the bike alternating blocks.

“You guys are walking. No bike this time”

“But why?!” Becky whined as I flung my arms to the side in defeat.

“Because it’s good for you. Now get off and get going. It’s going to be dark soon.” she said as my Dad helped her into bed.

I realized when I was older that she wanted us to walk because we had pigged out. My mom never ever made us feel like we were fat kids. But she always found sneaky ways of getting us off the couch and feeding us healthy food we hated.

“Mommy is gymnastics on TV still?” I asked as I was heading out the door.

“Yes, honey it just started. Get going so you can catch Mary Lou when you get home, “ she said as she flipped through the TV Guide.

The next morning we were excited to get to camp.  Our camp counselors were taking us to the park with a wading pool.  On the way to summer camp my Dad told us that he would take us to the beach on Saturday.

“Daddy can we go to the beach with no waves?” Becky asked.

“Yeah! Yeah! I love the beach with no waves! It’s even better than the wading pool!” I enthusiastically agreed.

He pulled up to the school and we hopped out of the car.

“OK girls it’s a deal then. Have a great day!” my Dad said chuckling.

We ran up to the cafeteria doors where our day camp was held. Becky flung the door open.

“Sorry we’re late.” Becky apologized to our counselors Lisa and Connie as we joined morning circle.

“That’s OK girls, go ahead and pull up a chair,” Connie assured.

“So guys, it’s coming to the end of the week. How’re you liking summer camp so far?”

“I like the Lego. And the chocolate milk at lunch.” said this kid Joseph, aka my dream man.

He was a lot smaller than I was but we were the same age. He was a total babe with gorgeous blue eyes and light brown hair that would sometimes fall in his eyes.

“I like the arts and crafts table and playing Chinese jump rope. And I also like chocolate milk,” I said smiling at Joseph, hoping he would start to fall in love with me because of our shared love of chocolate milk.

It was all true. Except surprisingly I wasn’t a fan of the chocolate milk. It was all chalky when your straw got to the bottom of the carton. So, I usually stuck to my tried and true white gold – good old two percent.

Joseph wasn’t paying attention to my adoring smile. He was going through his new package of Garbage Pail Kids.

“Jospeh, put them away please,” Lisa said sternly.

He begrudgingly put them away and folded his arms clearly displeased.

“So guys, did everyone bring their swim suits for our outing to the wading pool today?” Connie asked enthusiastically.

We all excitedly cheered yes in unison.

“Awesome!” Lisa and Connie praised.

Lisa was really pretty. She had gorgeous tanned skin, shiny black curly hair and always smelled like baby oil. I would fantasize about looking like Lisa when I grew up. My sister told me I would never look like Lisa when I grew up unless I turned Mexican. I told her to shut up.

After snack we were all going to get changed and head over to the park.

Becky and I headed out to the playground to play hop scotch with our friends Paula and Heather.

“Hey, I like your jean skirt Paula,” I said as she hopped on the chalked line-drawn pink squares.

“Thanks, my mom took me shopping last week.” she said.

“Yeah, my mom took me shopping last week too. I wanted to get a jean skirt too. But we couldn’t find any. I got these cute jellies though, ” I boasted.

My sister gave me a confused and glaring look. For two reasons, I suppose. My mom didn’t take me shopping last week. And even if she wanted to, she couldn’t. Her MS had her bound to her bed, or a wheelchair.

“Why couldn’t you find a skirt? You can find them anywhere, I got mine at Miller’s Outpost.” questioned Paula.

“Oh ok, I’ll tell my mom to take me there this weekend,” I said quickly.

Paula nodded her head and shrugged after she finished her hop scotch round and skipped over to the water fountain.

“Why are you making things up Jen? Mommy didn’t take you shopping, you know she couldn’t do that. Daddy did. And the reason we couldn’t find you a jean skirt is because there wasn’t any that fit you.” Becky interrogated.

I stared at Becky looking embarrassed as I’d hoped she would just play along. Like when we would walk around Toys R Us saying loud enough for anyone in ear shot to hear “Oh yeah and we have that Barbie, oh and yeah, we have Connect Four, and the blonde corn silk Cabbage Patch kid.” We did this because by saying it out-loud made it feel a little true. I guess that’s what I was trying to do then. I wanted my mom to be able to take me shopping. And I wanted to fit into a jean skirt.

“So, who cares.” I responded in a whisper.

Soon enough we were on our way to the wading pool. I was wearing a multicolored checkered bathing suit and my favourite a pair of acid wash stretchy denim shorts.

The park with the wading pool was close by so we all walked over. This kid Joshua said he had cigarettes. He pulled out a small carton with Popeye’s face on the cover and pulled out a white stick that looked like a piece of candy.

“See,” he said with a goofy smile on his face.

“Good one Josh.” Becky said sarcastically rolling her eyes.

“Can I have one?” I asked.

“Sure.” Josh said handing me a stick.

I shoved the candy stick into my mouth – which ended up being gum, as I moved to one side of the sidewalk to make room for two ladies and a toddler.

They were speaking Spanish and said the word Gordita while laughing and looking right at me.

A few of the Mexican kids laughed and looked at me, saying the word again.

I didn’t understand what it meant, or why the hell they were looking at me laughing as they said it. I had a nervous feeling that it wasn’t a nice word. I was hoping it meant gorgeous, or they thought I looked like someone beautiful named Gordita. So, I asked Lisa what it meant.

We were approaching the park and I ran up to her.

“Lisa, what does Gordita mean?” I asked with urgency.

She furrowed her brow and smiled.

“It means fat girl.” she said chuckling without hesitation.

My face started to burn and my stomach sank to my feet.

Her face changed, now looking sympathetic.

“Honey where did you hear this word?” Did someone say this to you?” she asked with concern.

“Oh no, I just heard it on T.V. I was just wondering.” I said timidly, and then ran away before she could question me further.

I went to find Becky as my nose started to sting and tears filled my eyes.

She was laying her towel on the ground near the wading pool.

“Someone called me Gordita,” I said trying not to cry.

“So, what does that mean?” she asked as she tied up her hair.

“It means fat girl.” I said then looked at the ground.

“Jen, who cares? Just ignore those stupid jerks.” she said without hesitation.

“It was a grownup who said it first!” I shouted as my voice cracked.  “A Mexican lady and her stupid friend said it when we were walking to the park and then laughed at me. Then Suzanna and Lupe started laughing and saying it too,” I said as tears ran down my face and snot ran out of my nose.

My sister looked at me empathetic ally. She was chubby, too. But I guess she was normal chubby. I was tall and well, fat. She blended in more when I was the obvious Gordita of the group.

“You know what, fuck them,” she said with contempt.

Most first and third graders didn’t even know such vulgarities let alone say them. Becky and I were lucky enough to have met the neighbourhood trouble maker, Faez – a little Iranian kid who seemed to pick up all of the key words of the English language, like fuck, shit and asshole. He schooled us on all of these cool swears to say when our parents weren’t in earshot.

“Yeah, fuck them,” I said confidently as I glanced over at the bitches who joined in the Gordita laughter.

I threw my towel on the ground, took off my shorts and my jellies and headed to the wading pool with Becky.

It was pretty hot outside by now.  Becky waded over to Paula, and I decided to stay put and submerge myself in the cool water by laying on my back, closing my eyes and letting myself sink down passed my ears.

As I was enjoying the cool comfort of the water I heard a muffled voice say my name. I sat up and opened my eyes. It was Joseph. He was holding an orange ball and was soaking wet. He was wearing these cool blue and white surfer shorts and his blue eyes sparkled against the reflection of the pool. So, after Lionel Ritchie’s Hello stopped playing in my head I registered what he was saying.

“You want to play catch?” I asked.

“Duh yeah that’s what I said.” he laughed.

“OK!” I agreed, with a little too much desperation.

I stood up and Joseph ran to other end of the pool.  He threw the ball my way. I dived for it but missed it and almost smoked a two-year-old in water wings.

I didn’t even say sorry. I was fearing he would start to cry and I would get kicked out of the pool. So I scooped up the ball and quickly moved away.

“C’mon throw it already!” yelled Joseph.

I hurled the ball Joseph’s way. He caught it with ease and prepped to throw it back.

I kept an eagle eye on it and was able to catch it with a quick hug.

“Good catch!” he cheered.

I was convinced that he was falling in love with me. We played for a little while until our counselors called us over for lunch.

We all sat on the grass on our towels and were given a bagged lunch. The counselors pulled out a carton of milk for each of us from a big cooler they wheeled over in a wagon. Then we each got our bagged lunch. It was the good ol’ days, so our sandwiches were PB and J on white, paired with a package of either Doritos, Lays or Ruffles. Oh, and an apple that no one ever ate.

I was sitting with Becky and Paula. Joseph was sitting right across from me with his friend Gabriel and Dustin. Those little name calling bitches were also sitting on that side of the circle.

“Jeez Jen, stare much.” Paula said as she munched on her Doritos.

“I’m not staring,” I responded quickly turning away and sipped my milk.

“Hey why are they laughing so much over there? Joseph doesn’t look happy.” Paula said.

I looked over and saw Gabriel talking with the two name callers and then they looked at me. And laughed. Gabriel then said something to Joseph and I could hear him say shut up. Then he got up and threw out the rest of his lunch.

He wouldn’t play with me for the rest of the afternoon. I didn’t understand. Did they teach him that word? He knows I’m fat. Now he knows I’m fat in Spanish.

“They were making fun of him saying ‘Gordita loves Joseph’.” Paula told me on the way home. She spoke Spanish so she did some covert ops and found out.

I was embarrassed for the first time like no other. Joseph ignored me when we got back to camp. I spent the rest of the afternoon painting colouring book pages with Crayola water colours while Becky played Chinese jump rope with Paula and the other kids. I was painting a picture of a little girl building sandcastles on the beach. I wished I could just jump into the page and take her place. I wanted to look like a normal little girl and wear a bathing suit without being called fat girl in another language. I wanted Joseph to be my friend again and not be embarrassed knowing that the Gordita likes him.

I didn’t talk much that night at home. The housekeeper who would come and cook and clean and take care of Mommy made cabbage rolls for dinner. I barely ate them even though they tasted pretty good. I didn’t understand what I was feeling. I felt like crying and screaming and throwing up all at once.

“Jen, are you all done?” my Dad asked looking at me surprised.

“Yeah I’m done. Is there anything for dessert?” I asked.

“Jen, you barely ate dinner. No dessert if you don’t eat dinner.” he said.

“But I had some of it Daddy. I just want a Popsicle.” I whined my voice almost cracking.

“Alright, just one.” he empathized.

My Dad was always an easy sell.  I was tall enough to reach the freezer so I opened the door and reached it.

“I want one too. A red one.” Becky said.

“There’s only one red one left and I want it. I was here first.” I complained.

“Ugh OK Jen you always get what you want. Get me an orange one.” she conceded.

“OK, here.” I said passing her a Popsicle.

Becky and I ate our Popsicle and watched Webster with my mom. I looked at this kid who was ten years old but the height of a five year old, and thought, “Jeez I’d rather be small”. I figured if you’re a girl its OK to be small. Being tall. Being fat. A Gordita. That’s what makes your crush ignore you if he finds out you like him.

I lay in my bed staring at the ceiling while Becky softly snored. I was hungry. I slowly got up and opened the door to see if I could see the light of the TV. It was off. That meant that everyone was in bed. I slowly tip-toed down the hall to the kitchen. I gingerly opened the fridge and scanned the shelves for something to soothe my growling tummy. I took out the jug of milk and quietly pulled up a chair to get the cereal from the top of the fridge. I grabbed a bowl and a spoon, and poured myself a hearty bowl of Kix. I sat at the table in the dark and ate. Before I knew it I’d finished the bowl. So I poured myself another bowl.  After devouring that second bowl I reached for the box and started to pour. Then I stopped myself realizing that this would be my third bowl. I was full, in my tummy. But I still felt hungry somewhere. Empty. So I continued to pour. And I ate the third bowl. I ate until the bowl was empty and my tummy was bloated with cereal and milk. But the emptiness, the part of me that needed feeding was still hollow.

“Daddy there’s no more cereal. And barely any milk. Can you make me some French toast?” Becky whined the next morning.

I was sitting on the couch watching Saturday morning cartoons, as my mom read the TV Guide puffing on a Salem. My heart sunk with shame. Why couldn’t I just watch The Littles in peace without the previous evening’s indiscretions infringing on my Saturday morning lineup? My Dad was stringing his guitar at the dining room table.

“What? There is no way your cereal is gone. I just bought it three days ago.” my Dad said sounding annoyed and walked to the kitchen.

“I didn’t eat it all!” Becky whined again. “It was probably Jen.”

My Dad yelled my name.


When he extended the vowel, and upped the intonation with the ‘e’ in my name I knew he was pissed.

“Yeah?” I meekly replied.

“Jen did you eat the cereal?” my mom asked me calmly.

“I didn’t eat my dinner last night,” I said meekly. “I got up later and had cereal. I was really hungry.”

“Rog, come and talk to your daughter,” my Mom called out.

My Dad came over and sat on the couch.

“Jen, you can’t do that. We have to make food last. Money doesn’t grow on trees. And it’s not good for you to eat all of that at once. Jesus it’s not good for anybody.” he said sounding concerned.

“Ok, Daddy. I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean to. I think I was sleep eating,” I said trying to get creative with an excuse.

“Sleep eating?” my Dad chuckled.

“Oh yeah, that is possible. I saw it on Donahue. This girl would sit in front of the fridge and just eat everything she saw. It was a sight. Maybe we need to get her some hypnosis? She needs to get clear. That’s what she needs. I’ll call Helen,” my Mom declared.

“Jen, do you want French toast?” my Dad asked.

“Yes Daddy, please!” I exclaimed.

“You’re welcome hon,” he kissed my forehead and headed to the kitchen.

After breakfast, we packed a picnic and we all got ready to go to the beach. My mom had to stay back because it was hard for her to be anywhere but in her bed or a wheelchair. But her friend Helen was going to come over to visit and probably talk about my cereal pig out and how L. Ron Hubbard was going to make me skinny.

My parents were Scientologists. This is before the Tom Cruise couch jumping Brooke Shields feuding days. They believed anything that was wrong with you could be healed with getting clear. I was too young to practice their methods but I tagged along with my sister occasionally when she went to some of their kid’s courses. I remember flipping through this work book and seeing an illustration of a little kid holding a gun at some people on the side walk. I suppose it had something to do with morality now that I think about it, but back then I thought they were going to force us to shoot strangers on the street or rob banks or something so I stopped tagging along.

The beach with no waves, better known as Marina Del Rey, was our favourite place to beach. We would usually stop off at Vons to pick up a bag of sour cream and cheddar Ruffles and a six pack of Coke. This one time we bought the special edition tall cans. Because 500 milliliters of caramel coloured carbonated sugar is what you need for a day at shore.

Becky won the battle for the front seat and we headed out to the beach. Tears for Fears Shout was playing on Power 106 as we headed down the road.  I always knew when we were close to the beach when I could smell the salty air and Hawaiian Tropic.

Soon enough we were laying down our blanket and I was blowing up my beach ball. I pulled off my shorts, suit already on and ran towards the water.

“Jen, wait for your sister!” my Dad shouted.

Becky soon followed me into the marina and we played games like, How Long Can You Hold Your Breath Under Water? I always lost. I preferred playing the dead man’s float. It was a nice and easy lazy game.

After about an hour Becky and I headed out of the water to build sandcastles.

When I was walking out of the water I heard laughter I looked over to my left and saw a bunch of kids around my age. They were building sand castles and eating snow cones. I didn’t know why they were laughing so hard, but it made me feel something strange and unfamiliar. I realize now it was the feeling of insecurity. I was convinced they were laughing at me.

I went over to sit on the blanket with my Dad. My Dad, a fair skinned Englishman would put on sunscreen and then drape his head, arms and legs with towels. He said he didn’t want to get a sunburn.  So, he was totally OK being the towel man.

Looking back now I don’t understand why he didn’t just buy an umbrella? We were poor but Jesus we could’ve gotten one at Pic N Save or K-Mart.

“Jen aren’t you going to come and build sandcastles?” my sister came up and asked.

I pulled out a super-sized Coke and cracked it open.

“I’m thirsty.” I impatiently replied and chugged on the can.

“Can I have a sip?” she asked.

“No, get your own!” I barked.

“Jen, come on!” she pleaded.

My Dad put down his book and stepped in.

“Jen, Jesus Christ you’ve got enough Coke there for the entire beach. Now give your sister a sip.”

I furrowed my brow and handed it to Becky.

Then I looked over at the snow cone eating laughing kids. I was transfixed. They were all normal. Some of the girls had those bathing suits with the cut out in the tummy and the back. I don’t think any of them had to shop at Sears Pretty Plus section.

“Why are you staring at those kids Jen?”

I didn’t respond.

“Um hello?” she said.

I was lost in envy starting at the long limbs and taught tummies.

“Jen! Wake up.” my Dad shouted.

“What are you staring at?” he asked.

“Nothing.” I whined.

Becky looked over at the group of kids.

“Jen, they weren’t laughing at you.” she said confidently sipping on my Coke.

“Shut up, I didn’t say anything!” I yelled and grabbed back the can.

“Well, I’m just saying just because those ladies and those kids did doesn’t mean every time someone laughs, it’s at you.” she said as she sat on the blanket.

“Daddy can you pass me the chips?” I asked my Dad.

My Dad passed me the bag. I tore it open and got lost in the crunchy salty goodness.

“Jen, ladies were laughing at you?” he asked concerned.

I sipped on my Coke. And decided to confide in my Dad.

“When we were walking to the park. The one with the wading pool. These ladies called me Gordita when they were walking by me and then they started laughing. Then these two Mexican girls said it again, and were laughing at me too.” I explained.

“What’s a Gordita?” my Dad asked looking confused.

“It means fat girl.” Becky chimed in as she grabbed a handful of Ruffles.

“Oh Jen, I’m sorry,” my Dad said as he rubbed my back. “Listen. We are all different in some way. It’s best to just ignore people who think it’s funny to be different.”

“I just want to be skinny like everyone else.” I said as my nose began to sting.

“I’m not skinny!” Becky said chuckling and digging for more chips.

“Jen, do you know there are a lot of famous women who are not “skinny?” my Dad said.

“Like who?” I asked curiously.

“Like Mamma Cass from the Mammas and The Pappas, like Aretha Franklin and Nell Carter. These are all incredibly famous singers. And they are big women.” he said confidently.

My Dad smiled at me and nodded assuring me it was true.

I looked at Becky looking for confirmation. She nodded at me then cracked her own can of Coke.

“Well I like to sing,” I with a sense of hope as I reached for the bag of Ruffles.

“Yes, I know you do. Keep singing. And just ignore the assholes.” my Dad encouraged.

“Daddy, that’s a bad word!” I said laughing.

“Well don’t repeat it, but it’s true.” he said.

“Yeah, total assholes.” Becky said in agreement.

“Becky, what did I just say?!” my Dad scolded.

Becky was laughing, and soon enough so was I. We spent the next while building sandcastles and sand tunnels where we would dig and dig into the sand from opposite sides until our fingers touched.

On our way home as usual we stopped at Arby’s drive through for dinner. I’m not sure when it became acceptable to start eating like a truck driver but it seemed to be a family norm. Especially with my Dad. My mom couldn’t cook anymore but she always encouraged my Dad to make healthy food for us. Back then I guess that was spaghetti and meatloaf. My Dad wasn’t exactly Chef Boyardee so we often ate take out. Tonight’s meal would be a beef and cheddar sandwich with a Jamocha shake and curly fries. We would always finish our dinner in the car so there was never any evidence when we got home. We also swung by Yoshinoya to get my mom a beef bowl so she was usually wrapped up eating her teriyaki and watching That’s Incredible.

On Monday at camp the counselors told us we were going to put on a musical. Rock of Young Ages was the name of the musical. We would just be dressing up dancing and lip-syncing to a record of a musical called Rock of Young Ages. It sounded pretty rad. We all could try out for a dancing part or a singing part, or we could just help with make-up and hair, and cutting and making instruments out of cardboard. I wanted to try out for a singing part. I wanted to be a singer and put on big concerts. This would be my chance. Yeah, I know I wouldn’t be actually “singing” and there was about a total of twenty people at camp. Plus, I was a lip syncing pro.  If you saw me lip syncing Madonna’s Lucky Star you’d be convinced that it was my magical voice. This would be good practice to act like my idol. I was sure I would get a record deal someday and get that canopy bed I always wanted. My parents did always tell me I had a great singing voice. I would always sing around the house. Especially Tomorrow, or Maybe from my favourite movie, Annie. Whenever Becky and I would act like little assholes my mom would say she was going to send us to live with Ms. Hannigan and the orphans. My mom somewhat resembled Carol Burnette so I believed her thinking that maybe they were related, and I might have to spend my childhood making bathtub gin.

It was my turn to audition my best lip-sync in front of Lisa and Connie.

“Hit it!” I said confidently as Connie put the needle on the record.

I gave it all I got. I’d been listening to the soundtrack all week and so I knew every nuance of the song. I danced and swayed on that stage as if I was a contestant on Star Search. If I was a contestant I would for sure be returning the next week.

I closed my audition sweaty with my heart racing and a triumphant bow.

“Great job Jen!” Lisa and Connie cheered.

“Did I get the part?” I asked eagerly.

“We will tell everyone at the end of the day.” they assured.

“Ok, thanks!” I said as I jumped off the stage.

My stomach sank.  Then I had to go to the bathroom.

At the end of the day the counselors gathered us all outside and announced who would be getting singing and dancing parts. The rest of the class would be helping with props and production.

They were about to announce the lead singer role. Paula had auditioned too. She was really pretty. Thin. And pretty. And had a cool jean skirt.

“Jen. Hello, Jen?” Becky said loudly.

“What?” I snapped out of my fog.

“Didn’t you hear Lisa? You got the part you nerd.” she said laughing.

“Oh my god! I did? Oh my God! This is so rad!” I shrieked.

Joseph and Paula got parts as my back up band.

I was the star!

And Joseph the total babe was my guitar player! After thanking Connie and Lisa, Becky and I headed home. We had to walk today because my Dad had to work late. The housekeeper left us a yummy spaghetti and meatball dinner. She always made really good food. My Dad would’ve just opened a jar of Prego. We ate our dinner with Mommy and watched The Love Boat. She was so proud that I got the part of lead singer in the musical, and that she would tell my Dad when he got home that his daughter was following in his footsteps.

We rehearsed for a grueling three days. The sets and hand-made cardboard guitars were finally ready and by that Friday afternoon it was show time. My Dad was working and couldn’t make it, and my Mom of course wasn’t able to be there because again MS kept her in bed.  I was disappointed that they wouldn’t be there to see my rock and roll debut. But my Dad said he would take us to Bob’s Big Boy for dinner to celebrate.

The teachers brought in all kinds of make-up and hair products for us to use for stage make-up. I got the full star treatment. Blush, eye shadow, lip stick and mousse. I felt so grown up. I wore my favourite pink outfit. Baby pink shorts and a pink and white layered tank top. I was convinced that pink was my colour. When I was about four years old I found my mom’s Revlon make-up book and I was in awe with all the pretty colours. She did a colour test and my season was summer, and my best colour was pink. That worked out well, because well, I was like most other girls in the eighties – I loved pink. I even loved that pink bubble-gum simulated flavour medicine I used to have to take when I got sick. I was dedicated. And a little gross.

It was time to hit the stage. I didn’t see many grown-ups in the audience. Mostly just the kids that helped with the sets and props and our counselors. I didn’t feel so bad that my parents weren’t there. Becky was in the front row ready to cheer me on. Or laugh at me.

I felt like electricity was going through my body. I was high. Well, I really didn’t know what high was, but I can tell you now that that’s what it felt like. Like I was on the dopest contraband you could find. I felt like a real rock star. I lip-synced my last line and heard the applause. Joseph, Paula and I took a bow and all high-fived with a spirited “Whoo-hoo”! I was on top of the world.

All weekend I drove my family nuts singing and dancing to Rock of Young Ages. I was still flying high from my debut. Becky tried tackling me and suffocating me with a pillow because I was annoying the shit out of her. Then I did it to her. We eventually turned this pillow suffocating thing into a game to see who could last the longest until my Dad caught us and yelled at us for making ‘trying to kill each other’ a game.

Monday morning at camp all the kids were excited because the counselors posted pictures to the bulletin board of our performance. I saw the picture of Joseph Paula and I onstage. I was mortified. I looked huge. Like three times bigger than Joseph and Paula. I looked like they let the bodyguard for the band take the stage. It was the first time I really saw myself compared to other kids. I really was a Gordita. Nothing else.

“Don’t we look so cool Jen?!” said Paula as she walked up behind me with Joseph.

I turned around and had tears in my eyes.

“What’s wrong Jen?” Joseph asked.

“I hate this picture.” I said trying not to let my voice crack.

“Why? We look so rad!” exclaimed Paula.

“I look like a giant pink balloon.” I grumbled.

“No you don’t, you look like a Rockstar! We all look like Rockstars! We should really start a band.” Joseph said, breaking into some air guitar.

I blushed immediately. My crush told me I looked like a Rockstar.  This was about as good as life could get. Even better than Disneyland and unlimited churros.

“Really?” I smiled.

“Totally!” he confirmed.

Beep-beep! A car pulled up to the gate.

“K dudes, my mom’s here. Rock on!” he said as he waved goodbye.

“Bye Joseph!” I squealed as he ran to his moms’ car.

“Oooooh I think he looooves you Jen!” Paula said hooking onto my arm as we walked over to pick up our back packs.

“Shhhh!” I said giggling.

I allowed myself to think that maybe he did.

I asked Lisa if I could take the picture home to show my Dad and promised to bring it back. I was thrilled when she said she had a copy I could keep. She pulled it out of an envelope just as my Dad honked his horn.

“Thanks Lisa!” I said as I snatched the picture.

I ran to the car as fast as I could.

“Daddy! Daddy! Look at this picture from my concert!” as I approached his window.

“Oh wow! You look great Jen! Just great.” he praised.

Becky and I climbed into the backseat of the car.

“I’m gonna start a band with my friends. Just like Mamma Cat.”

“You mean Mamma Cass?” he corrected.

“Sure, that lady.” I said as I rolled down my window.

Becky snort laughed at my fumble.

“Sounds great. I’ll be in the front row.” Daddy said proudly.

I sat back on the brown vinyl seats enjoying the late afternoon cool air as we drove away. I started to day-dream about going on tour and marrying Joseph. And then my Dad pulled into the McDonald’s drive through and said we’d be picking up dinner.

Life was pretty good.



My First Time with River

Date: October 1987 Age: Nine Place: Glendale, California Love of my life: River Phoenix

I heard it first. But I was sure I was dreaming. I fell asleep on the couch that night because I begged Daddy to let me stay up to watch River on Johnny Carson. I wasn’t going to miss seeing Chris Chambers on T.V. It sounded like an enormous boulder was rolling down the Verdugo Mountains barreling towards our building. Then I felt it. My eyes popped open. My presumed dream was now turning into a real-life nightmare. It felt like the vibrating bed my sister Becky and I once sat on when Daddy took us to San Diego for the night on our trip to Sea World. We lived right next to the Golden State Freeway so I thought for a moment that maybe it was one of those big transport trucks careening off of the highway headed towards our apartment. Well, I guess this is how I die. Thanks, River you total fucking babe.

I sat up, screaming.

“Daddy!!” I wailed as he and my sister ran towards the front door.

“Jen, come to the door-now!” Daddy yelled as he opened the door as he braced himself in the door frame, clinging onto my sister.

But I was frozen; anchored to the couch in fear as I heard the four-litre glass jug of apple juice, completely full, tossing back and forth on the shelf in the fridge. The earth was shaking it. It was alive.

“Jen!” my sister screamed red-faced and teary. “Get up!”

Without a word, I threw off the blankets and ran to join them in the door way. Becky and I buried our faces into Daddy’s chest in tearful hysterics. This must’ve been how the empress felt in The Never Ending Story as she was waiting for her new name. Damnit Bastian, where the hell was my new name?!

And then it was over. The silence was almost deafening now.

Becky and Daddy’s faces looked grey in the pale light of dawn. I felt grey inside. And I wanted to throw up.

“Daddy, is it the end of the world?” I asked, still in disbelief.

“No Jen, that was an earthquake. It happens all the time. We’re lucky that we didn’t get hurt,” Daddy assured. “It’s over now. It’s going to be ok.”

He kissed me on my forehead, went into the kitchen, turned on the radio and started to make breakfast. Becky sat on the couch and started watching cartoons. I sat on the couch and joined her as Daddy made eggs. I didn’t understand how to feel. I didn’t want eggs and I didn’t want to watch cartoons. But I didn’t want to think about the earthquake. I wanted to go back to gushing over River Phoenix on Carson and eating Doritos on the couch. But I couldn’t get the sound out of my ears. I ate my eggs and swallowed them feverishly with Roman Meal toast slathered with Country Crock, and a hearty helping of anxiety.

It was Saturday. We had to go to The Eagle Rock Plaza to pick up vacuum bags so Daddy could vacuum the rug before our grandparents arrived that evening from Florida for a visit. Yes, vacuuming let’s do that. We only just almost died, but let’s make sure our carpet is free of potato chip and cereal crumbs for grandma and grandpa.

How could people still fly on airplanes and vacuum rugs when the whole world was just shaking? This was just lunacy to me. There should be news reporters swarming around everywhere and riots in the streets. The world was just shaking, why aren’t people breaking windows and stealing VCRS?

On the way to the car my anxiety caught up to me and brought along its friend nausea. I threw up in the bushes next to our front door.

“Great,” Becky squawked. “Now Grandma and Grandpa will have to walk past your pile of egg barf as they come in the front door.

“Shut up” I barked. “You don’t even care! You just turned on The Care Bears like it never happened!”

“So what, you watched too!” she snapped. “It was just a stupid earthquake Jen. Like Daddy said, it happens all the time. So, who cares!”

“Girls, enough.” Daddy intervened calmly. “Lets go.”

As we walked towards the car I thought to tell Daddy that I needed to go back inside to get something to drink. My throat was burning sour after getting sick. Then I remembered the apple juice. I hadn’t looked in the fridge since the night before the end of the world started. I was clearly in crisis mode. I wondered if the jug had toppled over? Daddy didn’t say anything about it. I will never forget the sound of it rocking back and forth in the fridge like a beast trying to get out of its cage. I was trying to wrap my head around the fact that the earth made it all happen. I was also trying to talk myself out of the possibility that earthquakes were supernatural. I couldn’t stop thinking that they were an invisible entity that would only strike when you were safe in your bed, snuffing out your life as Julio who lived upstairs in apartment four came crashing down on my Raggedy-Ann comforter screaming “Holy shit!” After that visual I decided it was time to get a hold of myself. I asked Daddy to stop at The Circle K so I could get a Cherry Coke. Surely the cool caramel coloured sweetness would set me straight.

For the next few years I slept on the couch most nights. That way I could be closer to the doorway in case another quake hit. It didn’t matter who was on Carson; my memories of rattling apple juice jugs kept me on the couch until Leno took over.

They Like Me! They Really Like Me!

A couple of weeks ago my dear friend and fantastic writer Ann Y.K Choi ( if you haven’t read her book Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety – get with it! Do yourself a favour and pick up a copy!) suggested I submit some of my writing to Blank Spaces Magazine – a super cool Canadian Literary mag. 

The last time I had my work published I was listening to the Black Eyed Peas and in a refakeinship with a guy named Jamie. (more about refakenships in a later post – I’m pretty sure I can write a full length book on the refakenship so get ready for a self help guide on how to indentify a refakenship and how to not cry yourself to sleep) 

So, I figured I’d give it a shot. And thought if I get rejected I’d have to consider getting my barista liscence. (another possible blog post: Rejection: Never Learning How to Deal with It) 

Turns out, they like me! Well, at least my writing, ha! Check out my story First Day featured on the Blank Spaces blog. 

OMG, maybe this time next week I’ll be on Live with Kelly? 

Video Didn’t Kill This Radio Star

Last night Mike and I had a party. It was a time, quite a time indeed. It was special for me in particular to see how many friendships I’ve made that have lasted throughout the years as a result of slingin VHS and DVDs. 

Literally everyone that attended last night was a friend and former coworker, or a friend I stumbled upon as a result of my video store friendships that I made fourteen years ago. I was 24, and it was my first job working for the man. I was starting my first year of college, and and I’d just moved into my very first apartment. I was embarking on all of these firsts, all while living in my newly minted 160 pound body for the first time. I was starting a new life. It was all so new, and so incredibly exciting, and nauseatingly terrifying. 

Evan told me today that I keep us all together, us – these now grown up video store kids. I must say, having you all in my life for as much or as little as I see you, please know that you changed my life. You gave me laughs, lessons and experiences that helped shape who I am today and how I see the world. I want to thank you for trekking on the GO Train, sitting in traffic, schlepping from the west and from the east, and springing for Uber surge just to enjoy an evening with me, even if I’m no longer a Danforth dweller. Here’s to us. 

Shopping with Grandma 

Grandma Laura, wherever  you are, thank you for always loving me. I know we didn’t always see eye to eye; but I was one of your biggest fans. I will never forget singing and dancing with you when I was six years old as we cleaned up around the house, and how you would put my hair behind my ears so gently with your lovely painted fingernails. 

Until we meet again, at that greasy spoon up in the sky..Jen, xo

GRANDMA​“Jen honey, I found some things for you to try on. Open the door.” 

JEN ​​“These are old people clothes.”

GRANDMA​“They are lovely clothes and they will fit you nicely.”

JEN​​“I want a jean skirt Grandma. I saw them when we walked into the ​​​store. They’re with all the other cool clothes. An acid wash one. Acid ​​wash is in Grandma.”

GRANDMA​“Jen, that skirt is not for you. Now, give these a try and I’ll be right ​​​outside the door.”


JEN​​“I can’t zip up these pants, Grandma. And they’re too short.”

GRANDMA​ “These are a women’s size twelve and you can’t zip them up? Are ​​​you just fooling with me because you want that fakakta denim skirt?”

JEN​​“They’re too tight and too short Grandma. I don’t understand what ​​​size twelve means.”

GRANDMA​ “It means that you’ve had too many ice cream sandwiches this ​​​summer laying around the house watching television. You’d better ​​​hope they have a larger size.”

JEN​​“That’s NOT TRUE!”

GRANDMA​ “Don’t you raise your voice to me young lady; people can hear you”.

JEN ​​You’re SO mean.”

GRANDMA ​“I’m so mean? Why, because I’m here buying you beautiful new ​​​clothes for back to school? What an awful Grandma I am! Here, the ​​​attendant brought you a larger size. Open the door.”


“I don’t understand why I can’t try on the jean skirt.”

GRANDMA​“Jen, try these on. These will fit.”




GRANDMA​“Do you want to go to House of Pancakes for dinner? Daddy is at ​​​work and Becky is staying at her friend’s house. So, it will just be ​​​Grandpa and you and I for dinner.”

JEN​​“Yeah, ok…These pants fit. Can we go now?”

GRANDMA​“Good, now apologise to your Grandma for being so rude.”

JEN​​“Sorry Grandma, I’m sorry I eat too much and I’m not normal. I just ​​​wanted to get a jean skirt.”

GRANDMA​“Wipe off your sour puss. If you behave yourself maybe I can ask ​​​Grandpa to take us to Sears tomorrow. They just might have one in ​​​the Pretty Plus section.”

JEN​​“Thanks, Grandma. Do you have any gum?”

GRANDMA​“Let me check my pocket book. Here.”

JEN​​“Oooh, Freedent. I like Freedent. Thanks, Grandma.”

GRANDMA “You’re welcome, sweetheart.”