Butter is a grease.
A fat, really, but a grease nonetheless.
I learned this the hard way: with a stain on my best work pants. The butter stain is just an indication that butter does, in fact, leave grease stains that don’t come out no matter how much soap or spray and wash you use.
Butter is the perfect picture of everything that is supposed to be wrong with our consumption habits. And that’s exactly why I’ve ignored scientific pleas to reduce butter consumption. I use it to sauté my zucchini and to roast my broccoli. I use it to juice up my steak and fluff my eggs. I slather it on my toast and dunk my seafood in it. But most importantly, I drown my popcorn in it.
Which is really how I reached this predicament in the first place.
See, after my four hundred and eighty-fifth straight bad day of work, I was defeated. I’d entered no less than a million entries into our data files. My fingers were sore. My eyes were burning. My coffee breath was atrocious. And my stomach was yelling at me. All I’d eaten was a Pop-Tart I found in my desk drawer as I worked through lunch, punching in number after number and filling out spreadsheet after spreadsheet.
Butter was on my mind.
Because on top of all things, butter was a cure. It may clog my arteries and stretch my waistline, but dolloped on a stack of pancakes, it had helped cure the worst of broken hearts and heal the deepest of wounds. It had been there on my popcorn when no one else was. And it was the most reliable presence in my life. Because it was always accessible, and I knew of all things, it could always make me feel better.
And I’m sure that if butter could speak, it would have told me happy birthday. Because no one remembered when I turned twenty-three.
Not my mom. Not my dad. Not my brother or my sister. Not any of my sort-of friends or the coworkers I’d already spent two birthdays with. Even my boyfriend fell asleep before the clock could hit midnight. My phone stayed silent. Only Subway texted me, reminding me that I could still get a six-inch sub for four ninety-nine.
At 12:03, I realized that Blink 182 was in fact, correct: No one likes you when you’re twenty-three.
“You just want one ticket though?”
I blinked, taking in a discreet breath. I let it out slowly, tucking a stray strand of my frizzy brown hair behind my ear and moved closer, knowing full well the guy standing behind the counter could hear me just fine.
“Just one ticket.”
He shifted his eyes, glancing at the large tub of popcorn sitting on the counter beside my large ICEE and cup of jalapeños.
“All right,” he said, drawing his words out slowly. “So for one ticket, and a large popcorn and large ICEE combo, it’ll be fourteen dollars.”
I pulled my wallet out of my purse, careful not to yank out the Sour Jacks I had stashed in there.
“Why is it only fourteen?”
“I mean you’re just one person…” he said, trailing off. “You can just go in.” He paused. “It’s okay, really.”
I fought the urge to roll my eyes. It wasn’t the first time someone had felt bad for me for going to the movies alone, or anywhere alone at that, but it was definitely the first time someone had ever done anything about it.
“Thanks,” I said. His shoulders fell as his mouth pulled into a grin.
“Yeah, no problem.”
I slipped the fourteen dollars into his hand and walked away.
Aside from the lone man sweeping up popcorn in the middle of the dark hallway, the theater was deserted. The fact that our building was only a mile down the road from the movie theater meant that after work, I could speed over to the theater, snag a ticket for a matinee showtime, and still make it back home before my boyfriend did. Everything else about my job sucked. I’d gotten a degree in marketing and advertising, thinking my gift for creating clever captions and catchphrases would get me places, like being the brains behind a national Coca Cola ad or something.
Instead, it’d given me the lamest branding. I was Patty from Sales. I work at Melan Meats and Treats, a company that had yet to really identify its consumer market. We sell low-priced, high-quality meats and ice cream treats, two products that are largely mismatched. I work closely alongside Dan from Sales, who always talks a smidge too loud, has the faint stench of socks that have been wrapped around sweaty feet for eleven hours, and who has garlicky, oniony pasta every single day for lunch. You can imagine the breath on that man.
Melan Meats and Treats was not where I wanted to be.
Patty from Sales was not who I wanted to be.
Patty from Sales was not the girl I thought I would be at twenty-three.
I was supposed to be Patty from Advertising or Patty the Writer or Patty the Creative Genius. Or even Patty, the Girl Who Put Melan Meats and Treats on the map. I was supposed to be someone with dreams. But now those dreams were somewhere lost in reality. I may have had decent health insurance, but my dream jobs had only rejected me.
In fact, during the brief moment I had to check my emails, I found that I’d received three different rejections: “Thank you for applying. We regret to inform you that at this time we have selected another candidate for ____ position.” I’d also received a rejection from an online journal I submitted my writing to: “We hate that we have to be so impersonal, but at this time we’ve decided not to…” blah, blah, blah. I sighed, thinking about it, clutching the ICEE in my hand. I had overfilled it—purposefully—and it was dripping over the domed lid. A bright red drop snaked down my hand. It stopped at the stack of bracelets on my wrist.
Gabriel, my boyfriend, always wondered how I could “wear so much shit on my wrist,” even though he is the one who buys me new bracelets to replace old ones. Now, I wished I could tell him that this was why. To stop melted ICEE from reaching my yellow, bell-sleeved shirt.
I entered the theater. As expected, it was empty. I wasn’t watching the blockbuster hit of the week. When I went to the movies alone, I liked watching all the things Gabe would hate. All the movies that are too chick-flicky. All the “weird” movies that come from film festivals. Essentially any movie that looked too boring to him. Usually, those were the movies that only had few people watching them at a time. This movie was one of them.
I sat dead center, propping my feet up on the railing and setting my popcorn on my lap. I shoveled a handful into my mouth as the previews for other movies started rolling. That was one other reason that I was eternally grateful for Gabe. He had already seen me eat popcorn and still loved me despite it. There is just no delicate way to eat popcorn. Eating a kernel at a time is just agonizing, and the only other option is to stuff handfuls in. I crunched noisily. When every fluffed kernel was in my mouth, I could feel the layer of butter that was left on my lips. That’s how I knew I’d put enough.
My shoulders sagged in relief. The movie theater was my happy place. Here with my own tub of popcorn and no one around to watch me inhale it all alone—and get my free refill—I felt better. For two hours, I got to become emotionally invested in the life of a girl who found love with her childhood friend after years of being apart. I knew how it would end, but still, it made me happy that for two hours, I could forget about the fact that absolutely no one had told me happy birthday and that my day had been the same usual shit it was everyday. People told me life would really start in high school. When that sucked, they told me life would start in college, but when that was nearly as bad as high school, people said my life would start after graduation. So far, I was still waiting for it to start.
I complained about it all the time, and Gabriel always reminded me that at least I had finished my degree, and at least I have a job. But everyone is well aware of the silver lining. It’s just that no one wants to look at it.
I turned to butter for comfort. It was the soul of comfort food.
Just as I was stuffing the next round of kernels in my mouth, my phone slipped out of my back pocket and clattered onto the floor, landing with a loud smack. My gasp sent a kernel flying to the back of my throat, and I choked.
I moved the popcorn aside to make a grab for my phone. When I did, the tub moved. The mountain of popcorn tipped over into my lap. I groaned and leapt up, brushing the popcorn off my lap. I didn’t even care about my phone anymore. It was my birthday, and I’d chosen a cute outfit today, expecting to be in photos.
I’d worn yellow, which made my skin look tanner and my eyes look brighter. I’d paired it with my favorite blue work pants that were not only stretchy enough to fit with the fluctuation of my weight, but snug enough to make my butt look lifted. I brushed the popcorn off the leather seat and plopped back down.
Not even the universe likes you when you’re twenty-three.
The movie was predictable as I expected. The girl and the guy wound up together, but nothing goes that perfectly, so the guy died tragically in the last twenty minutes. I cried.
Actually, I sobbed.
My mascara was ruined. It streaked down my cheeks that were red from crying so hard. When I walked out of the movie, I made a beeline for the restroom.
The bathroom stunk. It was the kind of stink that was too gross to touch anything. It had likely seeped into the cracks of the wall and the woven paper towels. I used my thumbs to scrub at the black on my cheeks, which only made my cheeks more red.
Keeping my head ducked, I stalked out of the theater.
In my car, I pulled the mirror down. When I looked down, that’s when I saw it: a giant butter stain on my pants, flowered on my upper thigh.
I groaned again. I was done with my day.
I drove home fast. I have this irrational fear that anything can happen in seconds, like it was seconds that determined whether the butter decided to leave a permanent stain or not, meaning there were seconds determining whether my life was over or not.
See, it wasn’t just a butter stain.
It wasn’t just a grease stain.
When I looked at the blooming stain, I saw all my rejection emails blinking at me in my inbox. I remembered the million other people without butter stains on their best pants. Those people were getting their dream jobs. I thought that maybe my writing wasn’t good enough after all, the impersonal rejection notices stamped onto my favorite pants ever. Looking down at my pants, tears blurring my vision, I saw that I had failed. The day that everyone forgot my birthday was marked on my pants, for now, and forever.
It was a grease stain I’d never get rid of, like Dan from Sales. It would never move. I’d be Patty from Sales, overworked and underappreciated in a job I don’t even like forever. I would never be removed. Never be shrunken. Sure, I was growing. But only physically. I was getting fat, my writing sucked, and I would never leave Melan Meats and Treats.
I was butter.
I was stuck.
For the butter. For me. For the main character in the movie, because how could life hand her the love of her life and then strip him away?
I ran up the steps to my second-floor apartment faster than I ever have, racing across the wooden floors without carrying about the thunder I was making for my downstairs neighbor. Fat tears fell on my pants as I whipped them off and doused them with OxiClean. I could hear the shouts of the OxiClean man in my ear, promising that this stain would be off in one wash.
I cried more.
“Patty?” Gabe’s heavy footsteps sounded on the stairs as he clomped his boots on the wooden floor. “I’m home?” He called.
I gasped for breath, but struggled to catch it, instead heaving a blubber cough.
It was the absolute worst of worst cries I had ever had. I didn’t like to cry in front of people, even Gabe. He had seen me tear up at movies and the times my period had knocked my brain so out of whack that I cried when I couldn’t decide what I wanted for dinner. I just didn’t like to cry about problems.
His footsteps quickened. He appeared at the landing and his dark eyebrows flew up at me at the sight of me sitting in my underwear next to the washing machine, where I’d been sitting for two wash cycles. The pants were damp and tossed in the corner. My small pooch of fat was resting at the base of my waistline, spilling ever so slightly out of the lacy band of my underwear.
I had even worn good underwear. Dressing up in my best clothes meant I also put on my best jewelry and taking my favorite headband as an emergency hair tamer. I had done it all right, but everything had gone completely wrong.
At this point, I wasn’t crying about the movie anymore. I was crying for everything. The butter was a giant, darkened stain on my favorite pants, stamping this bad day into my personal history book. Butter was just supposed to be everything that was wrong with good food, but it was also everything that was wrong with me.
“Patty, what’s wrong?” His voice was soft, not his usual tone that dripped sarcasm.
Gabe dropped his backpack on the floor and proceeded to drop himself next to me. His fingernails were dirty, and he reeked of sweat. His arms were lined with grease, his blonde arm hairs black instead of golden. But that was Gabe. His socks were putrid, and he was always dirty, but I loved him for it.
Except today. Today, his presence only made me sob harder, a reminder that my favorite person had forgotten my birthday too. His brown eyes were hard on mine. I squeezed mine shut, waiting for the tears to stop.
“Patty…” he started off again.
“Everything sucks!” I blubbered. I sat back against the wall, squeezing my knees to my chest, hoping to hide my exposed rolls of doughy flesh.
He waited a beat as I struggled to control my loud hiccups.
“Is something going on with us?” He asked.
“No, it’s just everything.” I waited for him to ask what, but knowing that Gabe didn’t really know how to deal with a crying girlfriend, I went on. “It’s like, why did I get this stupid degree in advertising if all I was going to do is tap numbers onto a spreadsheet all day? I thought I was a good writer. I thought I was creative. No one wants me. No one wants my writing. My job sucks. I suck. I suck at my job.” I had yet to take a breath, and when I did, it only unleashed another round of sobs.
Gabe waited for me to breathe normally.
I took slow, shaky breaths, still unable to stop the tears from falling. “I got butter on my favorite pants. I’m a fat slob who will never get a job anywhere else. I will live and die at Melan Meats and Fucking Treats and get ugly. And then you won’t even want me because I’ll be a boring desk robot who never fulfilled her dreams.” My hands were gesturing wildly, and I was aware of how crazy I sounded, but I didn’t care.
When I finished, I wiped one my chubby hands across my face streaking the back of fingers with makeup. I couldn’t imagine what I looked like. The thought only made me want to cry more. I chewed my lip.
A real smile. His lips pulled into his signature lopsided smile, revealing his front teeth that were slightly too big in comparison to the rest of his teeth. He chuckled, pulling off his cap and running his fingers through his coffee colored hair. It stayed standing up.
“It’s not funny.”
He sobered, taking one of my relatively clean hands in his grimy ones.
“I know it’s not,” he said. “But Patty, these problems—”
I whipped my hand away from his and finished his statement for him. “—are not real problems. I get it, Gabe.”
I moved to stand up, trying to do so strategically so that he did not catch a glimpse of the body he had seen before. I just didn’t want him to see it then.
He took my hand, pulling me back down.
“They’re not real. But, they’re real to you, and I get it. But Patty, get real.” He tugged on my hand. I looked away. “You do not suck at everything. You might be stuck in sales for now, but it’s a good job. It’s a good job for now. You’ll get somewhere else soon. You’re young; you have plenty of time. We all know your writing is great, so you just have to wait for something to happen. You’re doing all the right things.”
He stopped there. He looked off at the washing machine. I was waiting for him to address the rest of it. Gabe didn’t believe in dishing out compliments just because I fished for them, but I still waited for them anyway.
“And you know I love you the way you are. You’re not fat or ugly. And working in sales doesn’t make you fat or ugly, or what was it? A buttery slob?”
“I didn’t say that, but now I know I’m a buttery slob,” I muttered. I knew it was a stretch, but twisting Gabe’s words was a talent of mine.
He rolled his eyes, ignoring me.
“I’ll buy you new pants, okay? But you’re not anything you said you were. And even if you still think it,” he paused, choosing his words, “just know that I loved Patty then, and I’ll love future Patty. And I love all the Pattys in between.”
I took my shot then, releasing the floodgates again, letting a few salty tears slip down my still damp cheeks.
“If you loved me so much, then why did you forget my birthday?” I sobbed.
He drew his head back, blinking a few times, finally realizing that today was, in fact, his girlfriend’s twenty-third birthday.
I held up a hand. “It’s fine. It doesn’t even matter now.” I choked out another sob.
“Patty, it’s Thursday.”
“I know, and it was supposed to be a good Thursday,” I said. I was whining at this point. “Tomorrow is Friday. I was supposed to look pretty and have a good day, but I worked on spreadsheets all day. And no one talked to me, Gabe. Plus, I got rejected like fifty times, and I went to the movies all alone and the guy felt bad for me, and then I ruined my favorite pants.”
I would have rattled on more, but Gabe put his dirty hands on my cheeks and pressed gently. I stopped talking.
“Patty, it’s Thursday.”
“I know,” I squeaked and pulled his hands from my face.
He smiled, shaking his head. “Patty, your birthday is tomorrow.”
Laura Gonzalez lived most of her life in Edinburg, TX and has been a self-proclaimed writer since she was writing about mermaids at age 6. Today, she holds both her bachelor’s and master’s degree from UTRGV. She usually writes when she’s supposed to be doing something else and is working on novels that she eventually hopes to publish. When she’s not writing, she’s probably reading or at the movies. She also thinks she’s kind of funny and can be found on twitter at @iammlauraa .