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My first melon fast began in response to being stalked by Tinley, with whom I had just ended things. I didn’t plan to split up with him so abruptly; in fact, I had struggled with how to break free of this frightening man twenty years my senior, whose mere sleeping presence made me shake in bed next to him with a carnal attraction that stemmed from deep unease.

“Will we still be together in May?” he asked, sultry and southern over the phone. It was February, and the thought of enduring his God complex another few months just for a mercurial vacation to Las Vegas was unbearable. So I said no. And after the first hour of him calling and screaming into my answering machine, I left the house for some clean, desert air.

I had moved to Tucson from New York City to become a graduate student and a new person. I was certain my friendships with eccentric and complicated people were behind me, along with everything unhealthy. Since arriving I had quit smoking and drinking alcohol, coffee and anything sugary, quit eating meat, cheese, and baked goods. I quit going out at night and instead woke up early to practice yoga before riding my used bicycle to campus. At first I was fulfilled by the lack of everything; the hot, dry landscape filled with craggy mountains and pointy foliage. But it wasn’t long before my thirst for the eccentric and complicated grew again with each quiet day, which is how I ended up with Tinley.

I chose the melon as my single fasting fruit based on advice from the plaid-shirted fellow who worked at the Food Conspiracy, the local food Co-op where one could live on a diet of things picked, sprouted, or dried. The anxiety from the breakup sent me in pursuit of dark chocolate, but I ended up being seduced by the luscious honeydew, honest and heavy in my hands. A good one could sustain a body and brain for at least three days, said the plaid-shirted fellow, who unlike Tinley harbored no force behind his persuasion. Tinley had tried to be a good boyfriend, but in the end, his drunken rages and personality shifts made for a freaky communication style. In the kooky quiet of the Co-op I posed in consideration, wishing I could just sit in a basket and join the non-genetically modified produce. A melon fast, I decided, was the next best thing. I was drawn to the idea of creating real physiological emptiness, a healthy vacuum that would absorb the prickly hollow already within me. I returned the plaid-shirted fellow’s approving smile, and plopped three honeydews into a canvas bag. Lopsidedly, I bicycled home.

DAY 1: My eyes saw but ignored the answering machine’s blinking red light. With a carving knife from Target, I procured a dinner of four banana- sized slices of honeydew. The first two went down quickly. Four minutes later I was done. Now what? The red light blinked furiously. I cared just enough to press play.

Beep. I fucking love you and would do anything for you. I love your weird gypsy face and your huge tits and your disappointing ass. I’d wipe your ass for you even if you were in a wheelchair, EVEN IF YOU WERE IN A WHEELCHAIR, bitch.

Beep. I’m sorry, baby. I just lost it. I thank God I even had a chance with you. The Buddha and Mohammed must have known I deserved you, Jesus knows I deserve you and if you open your heart you’ll come back to me, I know you will. I’m the only one who loves you as much as I do. You don’t even love yourself as much as I do. You’re not capable of loving yourself as much as I do.

Beep. Pick up the GODDAMN PHONE.

Calmly, I called a woman from my graduate program, someone also from the Northeast looking to thrive demon-free. She had started AA to stop drinking wine alone at night, but not for her habit of saving up five days’ worth of Ativan for the weekend. Someone I could relate to; someone eccentric and complicated.

I told her about the fast, not the guy.

“I want to do it, too,” she said when I told her about the promised endorphin high. Our chitchat drifted from melon size to rattlesnake and hairy spider size, but not ever the enormity of Tinley’s fury. I didn’t want her to think I was an idiot. Everyone in the program knew this guy—he was statuesque with impressive musculature and unbelievably good looks. He had worked as a runway model in Italy and his Aryan features were impossible to miss. So were his intense, insistent speech patterns and tendencies to compare himself to Jesus. But because his madness was about equal to his intellect, academia had given him the chance that the rest of the world had not.

Our small talk ended with words like lutein and indoles, the green fruit phytochemicals responsible for strong teeth and good vision. My friend hung up believing honeydew was a super drug. I fell asleep hoping to awaken with saber tooth canines and X-ray vision.

Instead, I suffered a fitful night of dreams that I was being watched.

DAY 2: At dawn, I dove into a quarter of a honeydew and a bitter cup of twig tea, grateful to be awake and in the company of fruit alone. The sun poured into my little adobe living room and illuminated its emptiness. A queasiness had begun to ebb and flow through me, like there had been a chemical spill. Juicists would say impurities in my organs were flushing out into my blood. With no digestive process to occupy my body, detoxification had begun.

The phone rang.

“This sucks,” my friend said. “I feel sick. I’m going to the mall to get candy.”

I told her I was sticking with the plan. I didn’t tell her why for fear of sounding too earnest. For me, the fast’s appeal exceeded that of a cleanse or a dare. It provided a chance to make a change and hold on, despite extreme circumstances, for the promise on the other side. It was a walk through fire. It was a transformation.

I drank three glasses of water. I swallowed two teaspoons of honey—the one non-melon food permitted—and sat outside under my orange trees. For years I had longed for something other than the concrete, crowded, New York life. Now here I was, queasily watching hummingbirds flit and listening to geckos chirp. In this moment of peace and nausea was when the note shoved behind my screen door caught my eye.

You’re beautiful when you’re sleeping I read in scribbled script.

The fear that stabbed me—knowing my dreams of being watched were real—burned in my gut and drove me off the porch. I jumped on my bike. Scared geckos scrambled into dirt holes. Where could I hide? The graduate student office– a warren full of singularly focused, intelligent humans– was the obvious haven. The more bodies around me the more insulated I, and the consequences of my poor judgment, would be.

But on my desk Tinley had already left my belongings: a t-shirt I slept in, three thongs, some K-Y jelly, a portable chess set I had bought him for Christmas, the corresponding card, and a brochure for a rafting trip in Big Bend, Texas.

This was going to be our spring break. Thanks for fucking up our future screamed the script.

A handful of Rhetoric and Composition majors, some of whom I knew, others whom certainly knew me because I was dating the foxy crazy guy, looked to be busy. I tried to chat them up, improvising a conversation about unreliability in ethos-based arguments. But as I encountered snubs and cold shoulders, I knew my unpopular position wasn’t the culprit. Tinley had gotten to everyone first. I felt like a pariah, a weirdo, and damaged goods instead of the smart, independent and adventurous person I had started out being. I was pissed. And worse, I was hungry.

But I swallowed my woes and continued on my bourgeois high road, empty stomach growling. I wrote my reply.

I’m sorry this is hard for you. Harassment won’t work, I’m afraid. We’re just not meant to be.

I rode down the mountain to his house, note in hand.

Now, conventional wisdom advises steering clear of someone undergoing a potentially violent episode. This I know. But Tinley had never been exactly violent with me. There was the time he left me in the woods in Colorado, without the map or much experience maneuvering on the cross-country skis he talked me into wearing. I actually enjoyed the two hours it took me to find my way back to the lodge, didn’t mind navigating through low temperatures and a blinding snowstorm alone, because I knew I was safer in the vast pine forest than with him when he was angry. But since then I’d come to see his rage as unsustainable, like a desert blaze. I reminded myself of how often his quick temper smoldered and blew away in the wind, perhaps because he was pushing fifty or because I had stopped offering fuel to stoke the flames. Either way, by now he’d probably be on the other side of his mania. I believed my even-tempered note would bring sobering finality.

But the scene in his front yard gave me pause. The giant cross that had hung creepily over his bed was now stabbed into the sand as if marking a grave. The front door was open and Mariachi music blasted from inside. A few Budweiser cans littered the doorstep. I didn’t see him anywhere, but half expected him to pop out from behind the Bougainvillea, shirtless and hot from heartbreak. I taped the note to the cross and pedaled away as fast as I could.

Everything through the lenses of hunger and terror looked different, now. My reply: bait. My home: a trap. I rode on until the sun reclined behind the mountains, as if in a chaise lounge. The sky shifted through all shades of cotton candy before the clouds speared their way into the night. I have not admitted to anyone, until now, that I cycled away feeling somewhat entitled to this crazy experience, almost proud of this horrible mistake of character. Everyone, I heard once at a cocktail party, has one lunatic in their past. I used this reasoning to erase any lingering shame. My error was just a bit of dust on this endless landscape, wasn’t it? It would blow away with a strong wind like everything else left unfastened in the sand.

Later at home I guzzled water, ate four spoonfuls of honeydew and passed out, exhausted from my choices.

DAY 3: The phone woke me, but I didn’t get it in time. I braced myself for a screaming voicemail. It was my AA friend, eating her way through a second bag of Swedish fish on her way back from the mall, and I could barely understand her. I didn’t call back. I wanted to, but was too weak. I sipped twig tea in bed and started to doze off again, when I heard a scratching sound outside my door.

It was no coyote.

I recognized the joyous Indian music—my favorite, I had told Tinley one night in bed—but the treble-heavy boom box reduced the chanting to howling. I parted the curtain to see a can of Bud on my windowsill. A navy blue camping chair had been set on my porch. In it with his back to my window sat Tinley in his plaid pajama bottoms, no shirt. He held a cup, which I knew was to catch his spit. He chewed tobacco when he was upset.

“Now I know you can hear me, darlin’. I know you’re there and I know from your note you are willing to admit, even just if it’s a teeny tiny bit, that there’s still a chance for us. I know we have a chance, baby. And if you just come out and talk to me we can work it out. I’ll just sit here until you come out on this porch.”

My first response was to pretend I didn’t see him. I covered myself with the blankets. But in the dark my stomach growled and the Indian chanting floated in the window along with his babble, a terrible symphony.

Through the locked screen door I screamed, “Please leave.”

“I’m not leaving ‘til we work this out.”

“If you don’t leave I’m calling 911.”

He laughed. “Honey, this isn’t New York. You don’t call 911 on someone who loves you.”

And this is when the horror of the situation struck me. No amount of melon would make him disappear. I was kindling for his fire, and I both loved and hated my dry, flammable power. I called 911 from my kitchen, crouched between my stove and my sink. I army crawled to lock each window and door, then back between the stove and sink. I waited behind the pipes where scorpions lived.

A full 20 minutes later I called the police again.

“Where are you?” I said to the dispatcher. “I could be dead by now.”

The howling music and babbling Tinley droned on like voices from two opposing Gods. And then: another voice and a knock at the door. A stern-faced man in blue held Tinley by the shoulder, who wore mirrored sunglasses and a dirty smile.

“Tinley tells me you locked him out of the house. You’re having a domestic dispute?”

“That is not correct,” I said, “he doesn’t live here.”

“Oh sweetie,” Tinley chuckled and shook his head. “This happens all the time, officer.”

I gasped and protested and swore like a Bronx resident than this did not by any means happen all the time.

The officer looked bored. “Now Tinley, I bet she’d talk to you if you went home and showered and got dressed, sobered up and looked more presentable. Wouldn’t you now?” The man in blue persuaded me to answer. I longed to be in conversation with the Co-op fellow, quiet and plaid and virtuous about his diet. I must have answered the question sufficiently, because soon I stood alone in my living room with nothing but a heavy head and an almost imperceptible sense of my body. At the time I remember thinking I had adopted what seemed like the quality of a melon: sweet, passive, a little bit oblivious.

When Tinley returned clean with slicked-back hair, he asked quietly through my screen if he could collect his things. The music and the camping chair were gone. Though he left carrying books and a desk stool without another word, I spent the duration of my fast imagining the reconciliation that might happen next, which was a whole other high in and of itself.

This story isn’t really about fruit. It’s about risks you take just because you can, even though and maybe because they aren’t good for you. It’s also about substituting all your guilty pleasures with healthy alternatives, as if changing really is that easy: ginger chews for cigarettes; desert for city; melon for mayhem.

Transformation is slow and often un-thrilling. Sometimes, memories of what you left behind float by enticingly; the bad choices, the chaos, whatever almost killed you. They provoke a funny kind of nostalgia. Ask any addict.

The bellhop had one eye. He didn’t wear a patch. So I just gazed at the scar.

As if he had a little of Oedipus in him, he looked at me sadly. “Right this way, sir,” he said. “You’ve been waiting.”

“Not very long though,” I said, gazing past him into the Sahara Hotel Sports Book. There were several rows of tables and chairs, and a wall full of TVs. A few days before, a group of Algerian nationals had gathered. They hooted at the television in unison, taunting as if Landon Donovan would never score a goal. Now the Sports Book was nearly empty. Except for one Asian man. His head nodded toward his chest as if he just went ahead and died there.

“Right this way,” said the bellhop. His uniform was golden. It shined against his deep black skin. His hair was slightly receded. He looked like he’d been working the casino for so long that he might have known Elvis, who himself stood in ghostly iconic history in a nearby black-and-white photo that hung poster sized behind the front hotel desk.

The bellhop followed me into the elevator.

“Sorry to trouble you,” I said.

He fumbled with some keys as I punched the nineteenth floor.

“Ain’t no trouble,” he said. “We’re just short staffed is all. I can’t do everything. So some people just gonna have to wait.”

“I hear you,” I said.

The elevator felt old. The building sighed, sagged. The smoky casino had carried itself into these steel walls. When the elevator stopped, my twenty-eight-dollar room was only a few steps away.

Down the hall was a set of rooms where a minor league baseball team was visiting Sin City. Their organization must have struck a deal for cheap rooms. It was just a straight shot down Las Vegas Boulevard to the Las Vegas 51s homefield. There, a parking lot held a ghost town of washed up casino signs. Golden Nugget, Moulin Rouge and Stardust all lay in rust and decay with piles of others. Unlit bulbs in the thousands rimmed the dozens of signs, evidence that history’s lights wink and go out in the bleak asphalt desert.

The bellhop and I walked to my door—right around the first bend from the elevator. I pulled out my plastic room key. I’d taken it down to the lobby once already and got it replaced. But the latest key didn’t work either. “Here,” I said, swiping the key, only to hear a beep and a buzz and see a red light flash. “Just temperamental, maybe.”

“That ain’t no good,” said the bellhop.

I tried not to look at the scar where his eye had been. But who can help staring into mystery? My eyes shifted. I saw a man who had suffered. Behind him I imagined the real Oedipus. He stood down the yellow hall with black holes for eyes. He looked for his mother but could only fumble past two prostitutes scarred with tattoos, suffering all Jesus-like themselves as they disappeared into a room.

“I got a master key,” said the bellhop. He pulled out a metal card shaped like my plastic room key. He swiped it and the red light flashed. “Isn’t that something,” he said swiping his master key again.

I saw beads of sweat on his dark brow. He leaned forward, shook the boxy keylock device attached to the door.

“You’ll get it,” I said.

They oughtta replace some of these,” he grunted.

I’d taken a walk. McDonalds across Sahara Avenue stood next to a black-painted abandoned casino. Another casino wrapped in glitter and Big Mac big screens was really a second McDonalds around the corner on the Strip. Giant cranes stood near that. They hung over tall buildings with shiny grey-blue windows that reflected a decayed urban sky, where even dusty smog seemed to break apart and drift to the earth. It fell from above those of us who walked beneath all the scaffolding on porn-covered sidewalks with nothing more ahead of us than promises of helicopter rides, girls in pits dealing cards at the Riviera and Peppermill pancakes.

My feet hurt from all the walking. The dollar-menu burger had long drifted its way through my gut to more hunger pangs. I just wanted to sleep. I wanted to get inside my room and gaze out the window down at the streets, where the sleek monorail station was a soft whoosh, and the tower where Latoya Jackson lived in a high room upon infinite desert comfort stood over it all.

“I gotta get maintenance,” the bellhop said.

Pancakes weren’t sounding so bad. And the Caravan Cafe was just an elevator ride and a quick walk past rows of empty slot machines anyway. “I’ll get something to eat,” I said.

“It’ll be fixed by the time you return.”

“Ain’t no thing,” I said.

“You just don’t know about these machines.”

“Not your fault,” I added as I imagined both of his eyes gone just then. Behind him I saw Oedipus laughing. I saw the casino; his mother; the city mother. His lover. She was a big glittering sagging bitch with her finger wagging for a few more rings.

As I headed back to the elevator I imagined him in his golden uniform ascend through the floors and sail over the casino, across her glittering eyes and neon breasts.

*NOTE: This piece was written entirely on an iPhone.

They call it the Big I, the huge, drawling loop of loops of freeways that lies on the outskirts of Albuquerque. It has eight main bridges and 47 smaller bridges, shaded a soft orangey-pink and aquamarine, rising up out of the sparse, desolate ground. It flows, a strange marriage between American highway culture and the desert; the colouring of it sits against the blue sky so perfectly that it just seems… right. Like remembering something you’ve seen in a dream but forgot until you saw it again.

Nearly one thousand miles from home, it was just us and the two Norwegians in their blue pick-up. We took a road out of Santa Rosa that headed away from the red-banded hills near town and into the Chihuahua Desert. I felt a sense of wonder and satisfaction as the truck flew down the highway on what seemed an adventure never before undertaken—deeper into the New Mexican desert than anyone could ever venture. Not even Coronado’s tears could penetrate this place. Far away we drove to a moonscape, a desertscape, under a red glow of sun and blue wisp of desert day.

Eric had been to the airstrip before. He was hiding memories. Tragic and sad-looking, he sat behind the wheel with his sandy hair flipping happily in the wind. But then he was suddenly joyous as he yelled through the back window at us in the cab: “Jordan?!”

“What?”

“Do you love airplanes?”

“Yeah.”

“Wanna go to an airport?”

“Yeah!” Jordan looked at me, his six-year-old eyes as wide as the desert. “Dad, wanna go to an airport?”

“Sure, Jordy. Sounds fun. Let’s do it.”

Eric’s father, Olaf smiled. He stuck his arms straight out and puckered his lips. Strings of hair on his balding head flopped as Autumn, Jordan and I laughed each time he tilted side to side, leaned out the window and waved his arms. “Zoooom!” he yelled.

Autumn and I sat close to each other. We’d gone days without showering, our car dead in the desert in a town miles away. She put her dirty hand on mine and I smiled as her long brown hair flipped in the wind.

Soon we pulled onto a dirt road which took us to the tiny Santa Rosa airport. From there we could see a few buildings—converted mobile homes at best, little tin shacks. We parked and Jordan ran onto the asphalt airstrip. He didn’t seem to look for any planes. He waved his arms and stared at the ground. Then he went hopping and looked into the air like he was about to take off into the clear sky. He ran at full speed—which for him was scooting at best.

I jumped out of the truck too and ran after him, shouting, “Here I come! We’re gonna dive bomb this place!”

“Let’s take off and land, dad,” he yelled. And we did. We both went buzzing like airplanes. We ran side-by-side and waved at Autumn. She walked with Eric along the side of the sad cracked strip. They both looked magical there—her towering over him the way she did me. The sun hit their golden bodies with beautiful beams of light.