a work of fiction.. mostly

“Think of this like a controlled wild fire. Now there’s room for growth, where there wasn’t before.”

The alarm hadn’t gone off, so had it not been for the close quarters and thin walls of our family home, none of us would probably be here today. That’s not to say our survival was some sort of miracle. It wasn’t. It was just something that happened. The days come and go, a mysterious fire eats up our furniture and family pictures but not our flesh. It happens. So it goes.

Another piece of evidence that this was not a big deal and on par with the random nature of every day life was the casualty of us standing together on the yellow lawn, yawning while the flames reached higher, then sank down again. My dad blinked, but otherwise didn’t move. His pupils red, yellow, blue, then yellow again. My sister shivered, inched toward the fire for warmth.

“Think of this like a controlled wild fire. Now there’s room for growth, where there wasn’t before.”

Anyway, it wasn’t until I was twenty-two that I would actually see my first controlled wild fire. Deep in the mountains, centuries away from my childhood home. A helicopter passed overhead and I turned my face toward the sun, closing my eyes and disappearing back to that yellow lawn, my face hot from the heat of the flames.

When I returned to the world, I toed through the ash while waves of memories bounced on my tongue. My jaw goes slack and dust dances around the air of my breath. My skins already a shade closer to grey than before, given the soot. I imagine myself as something that could be eaten alive as easily and peacefully by the flames as wood, as a home. For months, I’d been saying “my brain feels like it’s on fire” because it did. Given that I spent more time living inside my own brain than anywhere else, I couldn’t help but feel like another home was burning. Imagine: you’re curled up in an armchair, maybe you’re reading a book that reminds you of your childhood and you don’t even glance up as the flames lick away at the structures of your home like a melting Popsicle. Maybe the ceiling falls, turn the page. It’s going to be a long week. A piece of lumber fell onto my bed, now I’ve got to sleep on the floor.

And I’m considering the idea that maybe this fire wasn’t an accident. Have I been burning everything I’ve ever known to make room for new growth? The idea is calming. As if, maybe now I’m an empty field charred but still alive. With time, the growth will become evident. I will bud from the smoldering ground.

A

my ghost only eats 800 calories a day

She’s casually thumbing through the notifications on her phone behind me, suspended a couple inches off the ground, subtly bobbing up and down the way ghosts do. She yawns without taking her eyes off the screen. This is the worst part. My ghost, whom I spend the busiest parts of my week trying to fight, doesn’t know I exist. I’ve never met my ghost. Yet, her presence is overwhelming and colossal.

I am. heavy. It’s hot and I’m carrying Sunday on my back like an unwanted passenger. I can feel the sun moving across the sky in my chest. These aren’t important details, I just want you to know.

My ghost lingers just over my shoulder, just like you’d imagine in a cartoon. She’s tall with fair skin and a constellation of freckles scattered across her cheeks. Through short snippets, little previews of her, I know that she has a soft, charming voice laden with childlike innocence. She’s casually thumbing through the notifications on her phone behind me, suspended a couple inches off the ground, subtly bobbing up and down the way ghosts do. She yawns without taking her eyes off the screen. This is the worst part. My ghost, whom I spend the busiest parts of my week trying to fight, doesn’t know I exist. I’ve never met my ghost. Yet, her presence is overwhelming and colossal.

The dryer is broken (it’s been broken for months) so I’m hanging my wet clothes across a rope in the yard by the water, hypnotized by the the fabric swaying in the breeze. I want the scene to be more picturesque, as if I’m graceful with slender legs and as if my clothes look soft to the touch. They don’t. They look scratchy and faded like a sales bin at Goodwill. That goes for me as well, I suppose. More unimportant details.

I think maybe I hear my ghost sigh and it shakes me from my trance. She does this a lot, like she’s bored. I don’t blame her. She’s stuck here, encased in my jealousy and obsessive thoughts. I’m dying for another quick snapshot of her life, so that for a brief moment my ghost can become solid, walk around, dip her chin to her chest and giggle the way she does. I wonder if maybe my ghost is a cat person or if she just possesses the general qualities of a feline.

“Look, maybe I’m just upset because I used to be you.”

I say this experimentally, like I’m trying it out on my tongue to test the validity of it. “I’m trying to keep hold of who I am, but it’s like trying to hold on to a live fish. I’m going to drop it soon. I’m going to hit the ground.”

Instead, I close my eyes, turn my face towards the sky, and let the setting sun dance specks across the inside of my eyelids. My ghost doesn’t look, she doesn’t know I’m here, but maybe she feels the sun set in her stomach the same way that I do. Maybe she swallows it down her throat to pitch the world into darkness. Maybe the stars reflect her eyes and not the other way around.

 

 

My eyes fly open, I spin around on my heels. Like I’m going to catch my ghost this time. THis time. THIS time is THE time that I get better. If I can just wrap my arms around her translucent form, arms to her side, trapped in my intense love and need. I’d whisper apologies to her, for reasons I don’t entirely understand. “I’m so sorry for this. I’m so sorry I’ve made you this way.” Truth be told, she never asked to be my ghost.

She isn’t there, of course, as is the nature of my ghost. Always lingering just over my shoulder, but never quite in my line of vision. Bored. So I don’t embrace her and I definitely don’t apologize. I just stare at the yellowing grass, feeling the emptiness of the recently filled space, until a towel from the clothes line smacks me in the face. I grab it, tugging it from the line, and fling it right into the lake. My stomach tingles, but otherwise I feel nothing. I repeat the process with every single article of clothing hanging on the clothes line until the lake is decorated with my wardrobe. Old, two dollar t-shirts and shorts that don’t quite fit. The collage of clothing lingers for a while on the surface of the waves, slowly slowly transforming three shades darker as the fabric drinks in the water.

Maybe I can create, maybe I can do. My ghost sighs, doubtful.

water

A

 

 

 

something that needs nothing

We end up leaving the restaurant without ordering, this moment of raw very real pain sitting between my dad and I but being entirely unsure how to hold it because food didn’t work. Our usual plan of action had failed. I replay this moment in my head all the time. My dad beating his fists against his knees, before collapsing in on himself, only a single desperate gasp of pain escaping his lips. “Let’s go.” We couldn’t even swallow the complimentary soup. Our throats closed up, maybe swollen with pain and fear.

After my dad moved to Hawaii when I was 17, he stopped eating regularly and he lost an alarming amount of weight. When I went to visit, he bought me my first ukulele and said, “I didn’t eat for days to afford this.” This was the first time it occurred to me that a persons relationship with food wasn’t just about enjoyment and survival, but control. If we rewind in the way, way back machine and visit when I was still a child, I was told to understand that good food was a way of feeling good. I don’t mean good as in healthy for you, I mean good as in I’m from the midwest it’s good for your soul but not your gut or literally any other part of you. Side note, I’ve been to family reunions where an appetizer was literally balls of raw meat. I didn’t know at the time that my dad was learning just like I was. Learning his place in the world and what that means. He hadn’t been taught those things and he was just a child himself, a parade of the blind leading the blind who eat only foods that feel good in the moment. Momentary satisfaction is the mantra. Steak, sushi, mashed potatoes LOADED with all the things that explain why people back home are just a little slower than people here on the west coast. It became apart of my core structure as a person: good food could cure anything. So, this was how my relationship with food became directly tied to my mental wellness.

I’m 23 and I’m shaking because I haven’t eaten anything today, but I’ve drank six cups of coffee. I want my body to be something that needs nothing. I hate myself for needing anything. For needing food, for needing sleep, for needing rehabilitation. So I’m shaking and my car veers slightly closer toward oncoming traffic because I can’t keeps my eyes focused and I’m screaming, ‘this isn’t that hard for most people.’

“Eat. You’ll feel better.” But god what a pathetic machine I would be if I can’t even function without food and water. wait. Let’s analyze.

I’m 16 or maybe 15, it’s after dark on a fall weeknight in Chicago, and we’ve spent the day organizing a funeral for my stepbrother in a family I’m not really apart of. Not the first family I’ve been dragged into, but asked to sleep in the guest room of. During the funeral, everyone (including my dad) sat in the front family couch. You know the one? I sat in the back, away from the casket. I wasn’t broken enough by this tragedy to sit on that couch. Not like them. I spend the entire day devouring the store bought bite sized sandwiches and brownies that people bring to funerals because they don’t know how else to help. I won’t go to school tomorrow (not because of the situation, really, I just don’t go to school much anymore at this point) so my dad suggests we eat out.

“We should eat. We’ll feel better.”

“Yeah, okay.”

We walk in the door minutes before closing but it’s fine, it’s fine. We know the owner, but she doesn’t want to take sake shots with my dad like she sometimes does. It’s a week night. She’s tired. I don’t know how to explain what happens after this but I do know I think about it a lot. Snapshots of my dad pounding his fists against his legs, his face a deep blood red because he doesn’t know how to separate vulnerability from anger. My stepbrother had shot himself with one of my dads guns. My dad feels responsible but he doesn’t know if it’s nobler to voice this or not. He wonders if everyone blames him, doesn’t believe that no one does.

We end up leaving the restaurant without ordering, this moment of raw very real pain sitting between my dad and I but being entirely unsure how to hold it because food didn’t work. Our usual plan of action had failed. I replay this moment in my head all the time. My dad beating his fists against his knees, before collapsing in on himself, only a single desperate gasp of pain escaping his lips. “Let’s go.” We couldn’t even swallow the complimentary soup. Our throats closed up, maybe swollen with pain and fear. Sometimes when I’m in quiet cars late at night, I’m brought back to this moment. It’s Chicago in late fall, so it’s cold and my dads truck doesn’t have heat so we can actually watch how uneven our breathing is. More evidence right in front of us that things are not okay, bu we say nothing. I try to focus on the part of the road illuminated by the headlights and not the parts of my dads face that I can see in the light of the radio box. It’s on but it’s turned all the way down. I want to be something that needs nothing.

I’m 23 and I’m shaking because I haven’t eaten today, but I’ve drank six cups of coffee. I want my body to be something that needs nothing. I hate myself for needing anything. But my needs sit inside me like a garden begging for hydration and I’m terrified that if I don’t water them soon, they’re going to die.

A

lobster
August 25th, 2015.

 

some soup-er thoughts ha ha

The love-hate relationship with food mirrors the love-hate relationship with myself and I’m trying so hard but sometimes I just need to do the things that calm me down like eat the skinny soup and how can I explain that to someone who doesn’t know that soup isn’t just soup?

Yesterday we went to the store to buy soup. Well, soup among other things. Us being me and my university friend C, a good friend, a funny friend, a male friend.

And so there we are, tired and hungry and a bit strung out on each other’s company, staring at the soup aisle.

I like vegetarian. I like low-sodium, fat-free, no-msg. Vegetable and noodle. Maybe Just Vegetable. Like my lunch that day, Just Beets.

So I go for good ol’ vegetable noodle and then C says something about getting something with more than 60 calories per serving so we don’t get hungry and I go silent and he suggests lentil and I already have lentil soup at home but its for sure the low-calorie kind and so I guess we get southwest veg and we are buying bug spray now but I am still in the soup aisle thinking about that tiny moment over and over – because when in my entire life have I ever picked something because it has more calories?

And for three days we’ve already been traveling together and this has been building – he wants more food, he suggests bagels, he thinks we didn’t eat more than we burned, but somehow he says that like it’s a bad thing – and all of a sudden I’m so sad.

I’m so sad because when I came back from abroad and had been in the hospital and couldn’t eat I weighed ten less pounds than now and I could feel my hip bones in a different way and I felt confident in my body and my mom gave me the fit bit and it counts calories and that one pair of shorts fit again and that feels so good and when I couldn’t figure out how to smile in april at least I could burn more than I ate and we aren’t exercising like I’m used to and we aren’t eating like I’m used to and the control is out of my hands so I’m out of control and —–

It’s also about how the lady on the trail talked to him even though this is my biggest passion and how people have never just assumed I’m competent and when I do funny eating things other women don’t comment and its about being underestimated or just not estimated at all. And its not him, he’s one of the best at correcting himself and deferring but it’s the culture, it’s the society, it’s the trap I’m born into. What would it be like to have never felt too big in your own body? How would it feel to always believe I could laugh loudly in this house and sit on the couch and talk to the roommates and play videos on speaker in the kitchen? To not feel like a burden or a nuisance or someone taking up too much goddamn space?

And im trying really hard, im doing the counseling thing and being nice to myself and meditating and writing and trying to talk about it more and dealing with the past and finally opening up a little bit and whatever – and I don’t want to worry anyone but I don’t want to have to defend my choices anymore either when I’m just doing the best I can

The love-hate relationship with food mirrors the love-hate relationship with myself and I’m trying so hard but sometimes I just need to do the things that calm me down like eat the skinny soup and how can I explain that to someone who doesn’t know that soup isn’t just soup? and I’ll be okay, I’ll be okay, don’t worry about me I do eat enough i dont think my name belongs on the long list of friends with eating disorders, I don’t think so, I don’t think so

-h