Poached, The Rock tells the waitress. No potatoes, extra bacon.
“You ready, hon?” She swivels in my direction but doesn’t look up from her pad.
I remember eating pancakes, says The Rock. Good for you. I like that you aren’t letting your husband’s negative talk hit a nerve.
I sip my coffee and don’t say anything about the fact that Paul has, indeed, been single-mindedly devoted to my weight lately. It started around Christmas, with the Peloton I didn’t ask for.
“What if I don’t want this?” I’d asked, and he shot back with, “This is a marriage. There are two of us here, Allie. Soon to be three.” Like he’d been waiting to say that, like he’d practiced it in the mirror.
The Rock nods. His eyes tell me that he knows that Paul offered to order Preggo-Paleo meals, that he introduced me to a colleague at his January work happy hour who led a CrossFit class just for pregnant women.
“For soon-to-be moms just like you, who don’t want to let themselves go!” this man said, smiling warmly and placing a hand on my shoulder.
“Allie wants to be a hot mom,” Paul said, squeezing my other shoulder.
“You’re a lucky woman to have a husband who’s so invested in his wife’s health,” the man said.
Allie? The Rock’s forehead wrinkles in concern. I didn’t mean to offend you. Your husband is trash, but it’s not my place to judge.
I eat my pancakes without a word, fast. Shovel them in bite after bite. This is a psychotic break or something. At a diner.
It’s okay, I’m okay. I’ll call my dad.
“I’ll come get you, baby,” he’ll say. “I’m so glad you called. We’ll start with Lithium. Not those newer meds, the ones they make in a lab. Lithium’s still the gold standard, honey.”
And Paul will probably say, “Lithium will make you gain weight. Remember when you tried Zoloft? What if I do Whole30 with you? This could be brain fog from all the bread you eat.”
“We can’t try again if you’re on meds,” Paul will say. “Don’t you want a baby?”
The Rock’s voice is soft, also a dad’s voice. But that hot dad’s voice he always uses in his movies. Even when he’s supposed to be tough, he’s this gentle, sexy dad guy and he’s sitting across from me in a diner and what the actual-
Want some of my eggs?
“I’m having breakfast with The Rock,” I say. “I should call my dad.”
You should call me Dwayne. But don’t call your dad.
I take The Rock’s fork and begin eating his eggs. My eyes sting. I don’t want to be crazy.
It’s okay, you’re okay, The Rock says.
I shove an entire egg in my mouth.
Allie, you know why I’m here.
I finish his eggs and now I’m stuffed. I remember all of a sudden that I ate breakfast already, before Paul even woke up. Before we talked, before he told me what his mom said, and what his sister said, and I told him I didn’t want to try again. Not yet, anyways. “Everything is always such a big deal to you. It’s just too much!” he yelled, his face bright red, but he might have been trying not to cry, too. Then he stormed out before I could say anything.
Then I called in sick to work and smoked a bowl and went back to bed.
This is probably that new weed. Okay.
The Rock pushes the empty plate to the side and pats the table. Allie, let’s make a plan.
“More coffee, please!” I call to the waitress at the counter and she gives me a thumbs up.
“Why are you in Ohio?” I ask as we pull on to 71 South. The minivan is packed, stuffed, with four suitcases and a glider in the back. The two bucket seats and third row bench are gone and the massive, new-mom rocking chair fills the van.
Is it weird to bring the glider, The Rock asked, but by then he’d taken out the seats and bench, picked up the heavy rocking chair so easily and slid it in the back. This is your thing, though. You want the glider, we’ll bring the glider.
“Please, what is this? Why are you here?”
You’re worth coming to Ohio for, says The Rock. I shake my head.
Want to read that email to me? he asks. I shake my head again. Come on. I earned it. I’m driving your van and it’s already killing my back. Look at me.
He’s hunched over, enormous and squashed even with the driver’s seat pushed all the way back. He’s so wide his arm brushes my left shoulder.
“You didn’t have to drive,” I say, though it’s nice to have someone else drive.
He raises an eyebrow at me.
“I just emailed him that I needed a break.”
I don’t answer.
You must have said more than that.
I smile out the window. “I told him I was sorry.”
Sorry for what?
“Sorry for leaving with another man.”
Allie, that’s amazing. The Rock slaps the steering wheel appreciatively.
“Thanks for driving,” I say.
Twenty nuggets is a lot of nuggets, The Rock says, and it hits me: The Rock is just another man. Big and cute and really nice. But just another man.
“Please tell me all of your thoughts about my eating habits,” I say and pop another nugget in my mouth. “This is protein, right? Should I balance it out with carbs?” I shove in a handful of fries and chew loudly, take a long sip of my Coke. I consider getting a milkshake. I consider ordering 20 more nuggets and making The Rock watch me eat every last one.
“Don’t.” I stand up, scoop my food into the bag and move to the table behind us.
It’s none of my business how many nuggets you eat. I’m sorry, The Rock says, and his sad eyes are supposed to melt my icy heart, and they almost do. I almost apologize. But I didn’t leave Paul to honeymoon outside of Columbus with a movie star who also, like my husband, thinks I should be watching my macros.
“Listen to me, Rock.”
“Fine, Dwayne. Listen. To. Me.”
“I know I’m fat. I know how much I eat. I don’t need you or Paul or anyone else to tell me what I already know. Is that clear?”
The Rock looks so remorseful that all of a sudden, I’m tired. I’m tired and also I’m going to throw up because twenty nuggets is a lot of nuggets, so I run to the bathroom.
“That was too much,” I tell him once we’re back in the van. “I’m sorry.”
Don’t ever apologize for being too much, says The Rock, which makes me start crying. I can feel it building into something bigger, something bad, but he just pulls onto the main drag and we drive through this suburb of Columbus, back towards the highway, while I cry and wipe my nose on my sleeve. All of a sudden I remember my cousin Nicky lives somewhere in Columbus. I haven’t talked to Nicky since my wedding almost seven years ago.
“What are we doing here, Rock? Have you ever even been to Ohio?” I ask, and The Rock grins gently, comfortingly. How does he do that?
Yeah, there was this one girl a long time ago, he says and wiggles his eyebrows. I laugh-sob because The Rock is turning out to be a huge dork, and it’s really…comforting.
But I’m a married man, he says, so hey. He winks. Such a dork.
“I forgot you were married,” I say, my crying easing up. I can feel about a thousand more cries in me and it’s too exhausting to even think about. I wipe my face with my wet sleeve. “Don’t you have a kid, too?”
I have three kids. Two with my wife, and one with my ex.
“Wow, that’s a lot of kids. Are they so cute? Do you love being a dad?”
We don’t have to do this, Allie.
“What’s your wife like?”
The Rock puts a hand on my shoulder like he’s about to drop some knowledge. His face is so huge. Everything about him is so huge. But I will 100% slap him if he squeezes my shoulder in sympathy right now, like that piece of shit CrossFit motherfucker.
He squeezes my shoulder. I open my mouth to scream.
She’s so kind, he says.
I close my mouth.
It took me a long time to trust how kind she was, he says. I knew she was beautiful. I knew she was who I wanted to be with. But it took a long, long time to trust that kindness.
Has anyone ever been that kind to you? So kind that you can’t even believe it? That you almost leave because it just can’t be true? Because you can’t trust it?
I start to cry again.
“How many hours do you spend in the gym every day?” I ask, finally calm. It took almost the whole way to Cincinnati, but it’s okay, I’m okay.
Six to eight, The Rock says. That’s probably a red flag for you, huh?
“That’s your job, though,” I say, but I don’t sound convincing because yeah, it’s a red flag.
I probably have some unexplored issues related to identity and unconditional love, The Rock says.
“Huh,” I say. “Well, it’s not my place to judge.”
Thanks, he says. You know, we have more in common than you think. I’ve always been hungry, too. And once you’ve ever been hungry, really hungry, then you’ll never, ever be full, you know?
I have no idea how to respond to this. Is The Rock comparing me being fat to him working out a lot?
Allie, you’re not fat.
“What? No, don’t do that. People think that’s better, but it’s worse.” I grab my left thigh with both hands and squeeze. “Look at me. You don’t know how I used to punch myself over and over, hoping it would break up the fat inside and it’d leak out and get absorbed by my bloodstream. I read that somewhere. I had knuckle bruises all up and down the front and back and insides of my legs.”
Allie, says The Rock. Then stops.
“Know how old I was then?”
The Rock doesn’t say anything.
The Rock looks depressed. I always do this.
“I liked your Jumanji movies. Those were good,” I say.
Everything I say is wrong, says The Rock.
Now I’m depressed, too.
“This is stupid. This is a mistake,” I say.
We just started and you’re ready to give up? It’s been less than a day! Don’t you want to do this?
“What is this?” I ask.
This is you reclaiming your life.
“That’s so stupid, Jesus.”
It’s not stupid at all!
“I’m running away, Rock.”
Allie, it’s Dwayne. Or at least The Rock. Don’t call me Rock.
I roll my eyes.
Choosing to leave isn’t the same as running away, he says.
“You know, you’re not my therapist,” I tell The Rock, who nods like a therapist. “You’re a movie star.”
I’m also your friend. The Rock chuckles at my glare.
He’s used to disarming women, which is annoying and I’m not in the mood at all, despite being slightly disarmed.
“You aren’t qualified to navigate my past with me, Dwayne.”
Thank you for calling me Dwayne, The Rock says. That’s a great first step.
“Oh my god,” I say and turn away, open the window, and stick my head out like a dog. The wind immediately burns my eyes, which I keep open as long as I can. I hear The Rock saying something, but I don’t try to make it out. I keep my face in the wind for a long time, my hair flapping around my nose and mouth, my ears ringing.
I consider climbing out the van window, jumping, even as we fly down the highway at 74 miles per hour, exactly 9 miles over the speed limit. So the cops don’t pull us over and ask to take selfies with him, The Rock explained when we started.
I pull my head back inside, lean back with my eyes closed.
Was it something I said, he asks?
I get a text from my husband shortly after we cross the Kentucky state line.
Sorry about earlier. If you’re at the store, can you get bananas and frozen chicken breasts?
No Problem. I write back.
Who’s that? asks The Rock when I giggle.
Anything else you need? I text.
Is that Paul? asks the Rock. Did he get your email?
“Yes, he wants me to pick up bananas and chicken breasts. I don’t think he got my email.”
Maybe peanut butter powder, if they have it? Thanks, babe.
Right, I text.
Did you tell him to eat shit? asks The Rock.
“Yeah, I did.”
Let me see. You didn’t, did you?
Eat shit, I type, then delete it.
“I almost did.”
How about ‘I need some space. I won’t be home for a few days,’ says The Rock. And then maybe Wednesday you can tell him to eat shit?
Eat shit, I type and send it because The Rock’s not the boss of me.
Eat shit, Paul. I’m not at the store. We’re done. We’re over. I’m not coming home, I type.
What did you just do? asks The Rock. You’re kind of green.
I unclick my seatbelt and crawl back between the two front seats, sliding between the glider and the stacked suitcases. Why did I pack so much? Why do we even have a minivan? Who buys a car like this before they know if they’ll have an actual, real-life baby?
I hate this car. I never even wanted it.
I hate this fucking glider. I unlatch the back door, holding on to the handle above the window, the wind back but louder, pushing and pulling at me, howling through the car.
Allie, what are you doing??
I shove the glider, inch by inch, dragging it and finally kicking it as The Rock yells from the front seat about how there isn’t space to pull off the road here and Allie-oh shit-Allie-what-
The truck behind us honks, the man waving frantically, then he swerves into the lane next to us, passing us, still honking.
I push one last time and the glider somersaults out the back, bouncing into the now empty road and rolling, tumbling, then coming to a stop along the center line.
“Close the back!” I yell. The back door beeps and begins to close.
I search under the suitcases and there it is—the blue emergency bag. There’s a small metal safety hammer under the band-aids. I bring it with me back up to the front, crawling past The Rock into my seat. I click back in and hold it up.
Jesus, Allie. Jesus. The Rock is freaking out.
I put my phone down on the dashboard above the glove compartment, right as it buzzes. Paul’s written back. What he says will forever be a mystery, though, as a rush of something fills me. Is it relief? Is it mania? Is it grief? I don’t think it’s grief.
I smash the little hammer down, the cracking sound of the screen only mildly satisfying.
The Rock does not sound like a sexy dad or a therapist anymore. The Rock is completely losing his shit, just like I am. I wonder if he’ll run the van off the road.
I smash the hammer down again, this time harder, crumpling the phone, glass pieces flying. Better, better. I do it again, then again. Then I roll down the window and throw the whole mess out onto the side of the road. I roll the window back up and toss the hammer behind my seat. The Rock stares at me now. Silent. His knuckles white as they grip the steering wheel. I have a tiny cut on the tip of my middle finger, but that’s it. I’m basically unscathed.
“Listen,” I tell The Rock as we hit the Louisville city limits. “I’m sorry. That was too much.”
Sure, it’s okay, we’re okay, he says.
“Maybe I should drive from here,” I say.
He exhales and carefully pulls the van over to the side of the highway.
Good, I’m beat, he says.
We swap places. He buckles in and all of a sudden I notice his skin is a little gray. The bags under his eyes are pronounced, much puffier than they were this morning at breakfast.
“You don’t look so good,” I tell The Rock. He rubs his eyes like a little kid, then leans his forehead against the window.
You actually look pretty great, he says. Then he closes his eyes.
I pull back onto the road and try to decide how to tell my dad about all of this. About The Rock, about Paul, who he’s only met twice, once at the wedding.
Would it be weird to ask my dad if we could crash for a while? Me and The Rock, just hanging out and making plans? Starting over?
I follow the van’s GPS. Exit 17, then left. Left again at the first light, then the third right at the traffic circle. Keep going past the horse farm.
“We’re getting close,” I say, but The Rock doesn’t answer, just snores lightly.
Sharp left after the horseshoe turn, then a right immediately after the road turns to gravel. There hasn’t been a street sign there in at least ten years. I remember this now. It feels like yesterday. Four houses past the one-lane bridge.
I pull up at the little white farmhouse and turn off the car. My dad’s rooster crows, always backwards, always in the afternoons. Somewhere there’s an old black lab stirring from her nap in the sun, getting ready to run down the driveway and bark hello. Molly knows it’s me no matter how long I’m gone.
“We’re here.” I get out of the car. “We made it.”
Hannah Grieco is a writer and editor in Washington, DC. Find her online at www.hgrieco.com and on Twitter @writesloud.