by Marcy Dermansky
A few years ago, when I was still a teenager, I was on a reality TV show. I did not enjoy it. I did not like having my life on camera. It made me crazy nervous. I found that I wanted to eat all the time. The camera was always there when I didn’t want it. I would find myself on national TV eating chocolate eclairs, chocolate smeared on my face. The producer of the show, now a Presidential candidate, asked me to go on a diet, and not long after, I was asked to leave.
Or, I was fired.
I did something really crazy after that. I went to college. My family was shocked. My family told me not to waste my time. That I would never make more money than I did on reality TV. There was nothing better than money. I was engaged to a rapper then, and it was true, he really and truly bought me the bling. He was big on diamonds. Diamond earrings. Diamond rings. A diamond studded belt. I knew better. There were African men enslaved in mines, working underground for some shiny rocks.
My fiancée didn’t like my telling him that. “Shit, baby,” he said. “I am buying you jewelry. You complaining?”
I was complaining.
The college that I went to, by the way, was Harvard.
I think they might have accepted me because I was on a reality show. There are a lot of celebrities at Harvard. And Rory Gilmore, from the TV show, didn’t go there, she went to Yale, and so maybe they were still trying to make up for that fact. I hung out with a Kennedy girl, or she was related to the Kennedys but had a different last name, but she seemed to think she was pretty important. I had this other friend, a girl who been abducted when she was ten and kept prisoner for a couple of years. She had big headlines for a long time. I took a women’s studies classes with her. There was an actress on my hall who had won an Academy Award in my English lit class, but she was a snob. She didn’t hang out with the other celebrities, pretended not to know me.
Harvard was easy compared to reality TV. I lived on campus, I went to my classes. I read books. I took notes. I wrote papers. I wrote them myself, too. They weren’t great, I wasn’t like a star student, but they were good enough. I had spellcheck on my computer. Grammar, too. My family, still doing their thing on reality TV, was stunned to learn that I had a brain. I had ideas and opinions. Honestly, I didn’t know that when I was on TV. I thought I was tits and ass. The producer, now a Presidential candidate, he is actually a Presidential candidate, like fuck, I could not believe that shit, once said that he like my big juicy ass. He wanted to squeeze it like a grapefruit.
Those were his words.
What I am is saying, I guess, is that I had my life together. College. I lived a quiet life. My rapper fiancé had driven me to campus in his SUV, but we didn’t last through the month. I found on online that he had started dating another reality star. She was my cousin, actually.
I woke up to the paparazzi outside my dorm. I had an abortion scheduled for later that afternoon. My first thought was: How did they know? Why did they care?
I wasn’t famous anymore. The baby daddy wasn’t famous either. Sure my professor was married but that hadn’t mattered, at least not to me. But when I told him about the baby, I knew it was over. It had only been a couple of times. It was not like I wanted to keep it, but I thought he should know. I thought he would be kind.
There they were, the photographers, snapping pictures. Some of the students started taking pictures of me with their cell phones. Just because. I noticed this. I remembered their faces.
“Why are you here?” I asked the paparazzi, holding up my hand to block the glare from the morning light. I had forgotten my sunglasses. Why had I gone out? My appointment wasn’t for hours. Coffee. A latte, maybe. Maybe, I hoped, these guys, they didn’t even want me. Maybe they wanted the actress with the Academy Award.
“The Presidential candidate called you a fat piglet,” a photographer yelled. “What’s your comment? How does that make you feel?”
It was like I had been slapped.
“He did?” I said. “Really.”
I was a little hormonal. It didn’t take much to make me cry. I blinked away tears. I felt fat that morning, bloated. Awful. Praying that I wouldn’t throw up.
“He said that?” I repeated, my voice small. “Recently?”
It had been a while ago, turns out, this fat piglet comment, back when I was on the show, somehow unearthed. Recently, he had been caught on tape saying much worse things about other women. Now the media was digging up whatever they could. Beauty contestants he had groped. Stuff like that. I didn’t read the news. I felt like what did it have to do with me? I was reading Chaucer.
I looked out at the crowd of photographers, blocking my path. Maybe it wasn’t an actual crowd. Just a handful of them, but that was enough. I wasn’t dressed to have my picture taken. I was wearing leggings and a Harvard sweatshirt. I could taste throw up in my mouth.
I had forgotten what it was like, cameras following my every move. I avoided it. I had stopped talking to my family, because my family meant cameras. Our last Thanksgiving together had been televised. Page Six had remarked that I had had seconds on stuffing.
“Can you please go?” I said.
And then I noticed Tony. Tony was okay. He had always had a crush on me, which seemed wrong since he was like ten years older than me. But when I left Los Angeles and moved to Cambridge, he moved too. He started taking classes at Boston College. He wasn’t old, really, compared to my married professor.
My perspective was always shifting.
Maybe it’s college that can do that to you.
“Can you tell me what is going on?” I asked Tony.
He showed me the headline on his iPhone.
It was true.
The presidential candidate had called me a fat piglet.
“What do you think, Tara, sweetheart,” the journalists asked me, cameras in my face. “Do you have any comment?
“I think I feel nauseous,” I said.
They didn’t know it was the truth.
They were waiting for me to say something real.
Wasn’t it enough that I had been fired from the show?
I stared at the article page on Tony’s phone. It felt like had to respond. I went to Harvard. I had to say something smart. The presidential candidate called me a fat piglet. That, I knew, was not what I wanted to be. And, shit. He was the pig. He had come into my bedroom more than once while I was getting dressed and somehow thought that was okay. “Those clothes you are putting on,” he had said. “I paid for them.”
That wasn’t even true. The designers sent them for free so that I would wear them on TV.
“He isn’t fit to be president,” I said.
That was my comment. What else was there to say?
“He is an actual pig,” I added.
I could not help myself.
For about twenty minutes, I was a news story once again, and maybe it was lucky, none of the online sites printed the picture of me in my sweats. The picture that got run everywhere was an old one; I was wearing a gold bustier and black leather pants. The diamond belt. Rings. Spiky boots. Gold glitter on my face. I had gone to an award show that night. It made sense to me that no one recognizes me on campus.
Honestly, I look fucking great in this picture.
A little bit like a creature from outer space. But also great.
He called me piglet.
A fat piglet.
That wasn’t nice.
It came back to me, how humiliating it had been. Having the producer, now the presidential candidate, frequently wandering into my room and watching me dress. There was that one time he had grabbed my breast and asked me if he could suck it. I had told him no, but I was also scared. I thought I could just say yes. It was nothing I hadn’t done before, there had been my uncle when I was ten, but then my more famous sister burst into the room. “Step back,” she said, and that was it.
I never told anyone.
My sister loved being on TV; she is on another reality show now. I don’t envy her for a second. She eats whatever she wants, but she also throws up everything she eats. No one would ever call her a piglet. If anything, she is much too skinny.
I can’t believe I fell for my professor. It might have been his life that I fell for. I ran into him by chance one time off campus. I was going for a run. He was walking his dog. He had a Labrador retriever named Lucy. He invited me into this house for some water. I was out of breath. I had only just started running again. My professor had a daughter named Annabel. He showed me pictures. She played lacrosse. She went to prep school. She had bangs, she had braces. Maybe I wanted to be Annabel. Or have him be my father, have Lucy be my dog. I was even sort of flattered that my professor wanted to have sex with me, out of all of the girls in college.
I still had to go to the clinic. I went back inside to throw up, wash my face, brush my teeth. When I went back down, I figured the paparazzi would be gone.
Only Tony was still there. My stalker, I guess, except that he was nice.
“What are you doing here?” I asked him.
“I was worried about you,” he said. “You look a little green. You don’t look so good.”
I shrugged. It was already a bad day. I wasn’t going to miss my Chaucer seminar to have my abortion but I didn’t want to be pregnant and so I took the first appointment I could get. I didn’t want to have a baby with a professor who now ignored me. I did not want to be called fat piglet by a presidential candidate and have my name in the news either. It had a long time since I had had a day this bad.
“I feel a little sad,” I said. “How are you? How is school?”
“I got a 4.0 in my sociology class,” Tony said. “And I am taking photography this semester. It is so rad. I love college.”
“You are already a photographer,” I said, laughing suddenly. Tony laughed, too.
“It’s so old school,” he said. “I am using an actual camera. With film and shit. Developing prints in a dark room.”
“That is great,” I told him.
I knew how he felt. Maye it was why I was reading Middle English. I wondered if I should ask him to go the clinic with me.
“I love you, baby,” Tony said.
I had always thought that he loved me. It wasn’t like a big leap. But part of me wondered if he had forgotten my name. If that was why he had called me Baby. I wanted to ask him, but I didn’t.
“You want to walk with me?” I said. “For a little while?”
I didn’t tell Tony that I was pregnant. I didn’t ask him to go to the clinic with me. The thing was, I didn’t trust him. He could take me the abortion clinic, take my picture and then sell it. I had not been completely forgotten.
Tony and I walked through campus together. It was a gorgeous day: the fall foliage, the old brick buildings. Like a movie set. This was my life now. We got to the edge of campus and then we were done, forever.
“Bye, Tony,” I said. I watched him go.
Before my abortion, I went into the post office. It was like fate. Fat piglet, my ass. I registered to vote. It was the last day. I had made it just in time.