This flesh, they tell me that it’s mine. They point to me and spell out those words, their mouths forming long O’s and wide A’s. This flesh, if I tug at it, if I carve into it, if I dispose of it, will never escape me. It will grow with me, grow on me and spore. If I choose not to love it, they will not take it away.
I am addicted to this body and it is addicted to me.
“Bulimia doesn’t work,” she says, shrugs, then reaches over to dip a fry in the cup of ketchup between us. She dunks it, pushing it down so it bends and curls, the excess swelling in the paper, bloating up, then covering the tips of her fingers. “It makes your face blow up like a goddamn balloon. Doesn’t make you look like you’ve lost any weight at all.” She lifts the fry and tosses it in her mouth, her tongue sticking out to catch it. Receiving it. “Just stop eating, then whenever you eat something, you just throw it up. Mix the two. Simple as that.”
“That’s safe,” I say, lifting my head off the table. I pull the ends of my sweater over my hands and cup my chin in them. The fabric scratches against my skin.
She laughs. It’s sharp and lacking. “I’m still here though, aren’t I?” Tucking her hair behind her ear, she smiles down at the basket of food sitting between us. “I’m gonna run to the bathroom before we head out.”
I nod, squeezing a fry between my fingers until it flattens.
My body is composed of a thousand offhand glances.
He will look down at me through his wooden frames perched on the bridge of his nose and smile. He will undress me, then forget he touched me, forget that he plucked open my stitches delicately enough for me to not notice, enough to let my clothes fall away. He will tell me that my body isn’t important. It isn’t me. It isn’t fully me. He will throw a tired line about my personality, then pretend that my body, my face, my physical self, isn’t even in front of him. He will act as if my naked body never crossed his mind. He will then redden at this thought as his eyes sweep over me one more time. He will think I won’t notice. He will profess that when he slowed his pace, turned, and watched me pluck a book off the shelf, that he was inevitably drawn to me. He will emphasize this point until I understand. He is a liar.
My body holds a fading light.
“What will happen if I let him inside?” I lean forward, touch my finger to the screen and trace her jaw. It’s nearly midnight, and the television is on low, the picture flickering and buzzing unnecessarily to remind me that it’s there. The characters on screen move into one another, morphing, their bodies blending into furniture seamlessly.
“Probably nothing,” she says after a beat. “Well, actually…” She pauses, and puts her finger in her mouth, chewing on her nail until it bleeds. “I guess it doesn’t matter, right? I wouldn’t be nervous about it.” She slouches against her computer chair, the movement fragmented through her camera. Her voice cuts out.
“Hey, I didn’t catch that,” I say, moving closer to the camera. I think maybe I can touch her.
She shakes her head. “I’ll be here though just in case. Just relax.”
I feel my throat tightening around her words.
I give away my food at lunch and drink water to pass the time.
I step out of the shower and wrap a towel around my waist. Running my hands through my hair, I turn, surveying myself in the mirror. My face is framed in a vignette of condensation, red from the humidity, burned just below my right ear from temperature. I lean against the counter and write my name in cursive with my pinky across the surface. My roommate coughs from somewhere outside. I look over and notice the shadow of her feet through the slit in the door breaking up the light from the hallway. I suck in until my chest swells.
“I’ll be out in a minute.”
I look at myself again, study my features, twist, turn, and watch my body move in the mirror. As I watch it, it looks back at me, pulls itself inward, then releases. It flexes and relaxes, sucks in, and holds air, then leans forward and arches back. I stand up as straight as I can, my back erect, shoulders stiff and awkward as I drop the towel and spin on my heel. I glance down and tug at loose skin, I pull at the fat on my hips, then squeeze my stomach until it hardens and I can trace the outline of the muscles forming. I poke at my hips bones, then look up again at the mirror.
My roommate knocks on the door, hesitant and soft. “I just gotta grab something,” she says turning the knob until the wood aches against the frame and she pushes it open. She looks me over, brow furrowing, then gives a reluctant sad smile. “Did you gain weight or something? What are you doing?”
“I just had a big dinner.” I reach for the towel wrapped around my ankles and throw it over myself like a cape.
I hate the feeling of fabric clinging to my skin.
“I just don’t care about my body anymore; you know?” She slips into a pair of slacks, sucking in her stomach to slide the button into a thin loop of fabric. “So, I love fast-food. Like, so what?” She falls back into the couch, the pressure causing the cushion underneath me to stiffen.
I lean against one of the stained pillows, and lets out an exaggerated sigh that turns into a cough. Phlegm catches in my throat. I look down at my watch, now very aware of the weight of the cigarette pack in my back pocket.
“Maybe I’ll run tomorrow. Or not. I don’t know,” she says. “When are we going out?”
I’m tired of smoking cigarettes for dinner.
“I just don’t remember the last time I cared this much, you know?” I avoid her eyes and look back down at the menu, feeling rather confined to Soups & Salads. My stomach growls.
“It’s probably because you were raped,” she says. “After I dropped out of school, I worked out like crazy for three months. Ended up dropping twenty pounds.” She flips through the menu, then lifts her head, attempting to flag down the waiter.
“I just want to be healthier.” I’m reading ingredients in terms of calories again. “I’m not starving myself though.”
She hums in response. “You might as well be.”
Those wounds will not break open when I scratch at them. They will burn white hot, fueled by the accumulation of what I will not think about anymore.
I fell in love with my shower after he left. I sat, my legs folded, tucked into myself, my arms holding them tightly against my chest until they ached. Water would collect in the fold of skin between my stomach and hips. Every few minutes, I would release my legs and let the pool of water cascade down my thighs, then pull my legs back in to collect again. I sat there until the water ran cold, until I didn’t notice it, until my hands and feet felt permanently ridged from excess. When I could not burn off his memory, I laid under the rain until I fell asleep.
This body is his.
“I’m thinking about wearing this dress, it’s not too tight, is it?”
“Of course not, but how about this skirt?”
“If you want, but would it be ridiculous to wear this?”
“Is it too big on the side?”
“Is this too much?”
“No, but is this?”
On Saturday’s I run until I see stars.
He pulls me towards him and hooks his fingers through the belt loops of my jeans. He leans farther forward, the bed creaking as he shifts closer, resting his head against my stomach. Everything about him is cold, and I shrink backwards, my body now covered in goosebumps. “I like that you take care of yourself for me,” he says. I make a face, then look up. My hair falls down behind me, dry and smelling vaguely of cleaning products with a hint of grapefruit and something else I can’t figure out. It tickles my back.
My insides feel empty. This threshold holding me in aches and burns. There are carvings etched into my bones, drawings white and raised on my skin. I stare at the ceiling and count the tiles. First across, then diagonally. There’s a water stain. It’s yellow and dotted with mold.
“Are you listening to me?” He tugs at my jeans, rocking me on my heels.
As it turns out, the act of someone dragging their eyes down the length of your body, is something you can actually feel.
“Aren’t you hot?” I ask, tugging at the sleeves of his flannel. He brushes me away as we start up the next hill. Sweat drips down my back.
“Sure, but it’s okay.” He pushes his sunglasses up to rest on the bridge of his nose, then adjusts his his shirt, pulling the fabric away from his chest.
“You should wear a t-shirt next time,” I say. I pull my backpack up off my shoulders, allowing a moment for darkened sweat stains to breathe.
“I’m not really a fan of showing any skin.”
“It’s so hot though. Don’t you get hot?”
I run until each encounter fades into a throbbing bruise.
“I like how small you are.”
“Thanks, I don’t eat.”
He laughs and offers me a cigarette.
I sit in a room full of people until I can feel my skin wrapped around me move. It feels lighter here. I feel lighter here.
I wish in that moment, that moment where everything looks one step away, but feels two steps closer and hotter against my skin, that I could step outside myself, that you could unzip and let it fall away.
My body is mine, it’s mine, it’s mine, it’s mine. ♦