All is Fair in Love and War
Azalia focused on her breathing. In. Out. In. Out. She focused on gently rocking baby Lohan in her arms. She had no idea why, but it was imperative that the baby didn't cry. She cried, though silently. Did Mac and Kaliaa make it? She hoped against hope that they did. Would Lohan be able to see them again? He was too young to be an orphan. The sky was heavy and dripping with a torrent of explosives.
She was crammed in the basement of a small yet sturdy church along with six of her neighbours. Netha, the old woman whose presence she was glad for. Allie and Juneka, twins that were two years younger than her. Dio and Eren, who were in love and who she shared her house with. Sami who flirted with her and she could never tell whether the other teenaged girl was serious or not. She could almost hear the war raging around them. For some reason there was abject silence around her. But people were clutching each others' hands, leaning against each other, crying into each other's shoulders. She held Lohan in her arms. She had been looking after the infant boy while his parents were out in the fields. He was teething, meaning that he was especially fussy. But now he had went still with terror. That was good. Even if they did survive this bombing, it was almost certain that this was the last holdout before the entire fucking town fell. And she knew the rules of war.
Hours and hours passed. Lohan was asleep for a lot of it. Thank the gods. But he woke up hungry and fussy and crying like all eight-month-olds who missed their parents and were hungry would be. Azalia literally did not have any food. Nobody did. She gave him her finger to suck on and kept rocking him and prayed that he'd feel some sense of comfort but she knew what the boy needed and she knew she was an abjectly powerless poor young peasant girl and if she walked out of this church right now she'd just be delivering the boy to enemy soldiers.
Eventually she couldn't ignore the child's hunger any longer. As much as getting bombed or shot would kill the kid, starving would also kill the kid. Loud crying that drew attention to their hiding spot would get literally everyone captured including Lohi.
"Aunt Netha can you take Lohan? I need to get some food." Her voice was hushed as she spoke to the old woman beside her.
"Sure. Good luck. Stay safe." The tired old woman gently took baby Lohi from her and Azalia slowly arose and quietly walked towards the heavy metal door.
"Be careful," someone whispered to her but she didn't know who.
The day has melted into twilight when she stepped out. She started in the shadows of bombed-out rubble. Not that it provided much cover. All the buildings in their farming town were barely taller than her anyways and now they were mostly dust. For the past four years people had crammed themselves into the increasingly dwindling living space like the story of the little pigs. She loved the small, simple one-room huts she shared with her family and neighbours. But that was back when they were six to a hut now it was frequently fifteen. And her family was gone. She stayed near the few still-standing walls and near broken trees. Off in the distance soldiers were concentrated, she could tell by how laser fire lit the darkness with an eerie yellow.
She found a tree that was full of soft, sweet jili fruits. Thank the gods. Ignoring her own fatigue she hoisted herself onto the higher branches. She had no basket to put them in, Fuck. She was really unprepared. She slipped off her shirt, ignoring the cold of the night, and tied it into a sort of bag.
After she had filled the worn threads of her shirt she climbed out of the tree, careful to not spill anything. She walked quickly back to the church, ready to collapse the moment she got there.
And really she should have been more careful. It was, it was cloudy, it was moonless, it was starless when the unnatural glow of a laser bolt zipped dangerously close to her, briefly illuminating her terrified slight figure. She stood there frozen before she ran off into the cover of a pile of rubble.
"Hey! What's a young lady like you doing in a war zone like this?" Azalia couldn't breathe. The words were kind but the tone was seeped with haughtiness, with predatoriness. What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck?
The tall, hulking form of a man dressed in a uniform strode up to her, backing her into the brokenness around her.
"Please let me go. I have a baby." Her voice was shaking. He charged up his blaster, so that the barrel was lit with a soft glowing light, too dark for the fighters in the distance to see. It glowed pale against her olive skin, dim against his camouflage. She hated all the soldiers equally regardless of what side they were on. She hated this whole war and the governments in their palaces that started it. But she could see that this guy was an enemy soldier. And that made things worse for her right now.
"And who's the lucky father of this baby?" He staked a step closer, leaned in until she was lying against the sharp prices of clay. She shook her head, terrified.
"What, did he die? Did one of our guys kill him? I suppose I should thank that comrade for making you available." What the fuck? If she wasn't two moments away from literally getting raped she would've laughed at this idiot soldier. She didn't have a dead husband or a living husband or even a boyfriend. She had her friends' child who she loved as her own. But that was the thing. Zohan was getting weaker by the moment and his survival was more important than anything that happened to her. This man might for all intents and purposes kidnap her. And then how would she deliver the much-needed food? She needed to think. The man was straddling her hips but making no attempt to get any of her clothes off, instead hovering his weapon on different parts of her body, idly looking over each piece of skin he illuminated. She was panicking more than she ever had, desperately digging with her hands through the rubble for any sort of weapon at all.
"You're by far the most beautiful woman I have ever laid my eyes on.
Though I suppose you're not quite a woman yet. And I found you which means I get you by the way. I can't believe my luck. You're going to like it in Zirunika you honestly are. There are buildings that soar to the sky and shine in the sun. There are marble monuments to our glory. Bright gardens. It's beautiful there much more beautiful than in these backwoods villages. I'd be taking you away from this squalor and drabness."
"Sir just let me go." She squirmed under his roving hands.
"You're too pretty. Prettier than anyone I've seen. Prettier than anything I've seen. I'm never letting you go. I'm taking you to civilization with me." His words were heavy and thick and pressed down on her throat and chest.
Finally her hands clutched around a shard of clay pottery. It was easily sharp enough to tear through flesh. But so much of the soldier was covered in thick fabric. Through the haze of horror, worry, and disgust a plan pulled itself together.
Striking quickly, she brought the shard up to the skin of her neck and started pressing down, hard enough to draw blood. It was a risky move. But it worked. He stopped, looked at her in... maybe it was confusion?
"I promise to come back to you. But first I have to drop this stuff off. Do not follow me. Or else I will kill myself. And then where would you get your perfect little war prize? Let me drop this off and then I swear I'll be back."
"Stop this madness."
"Take me to your beautiful civilization just let me do this one last thing as a free person."
"You'll come back?" There was something almost childish in his words.
"Fine." He got off her. And everything inside her screamed at her to run. But she knew better. She has to sell the lie. She's been poor for long enough to know the value of lying to power. But now it was more important than ever that she succeeded at deception. She walked calmly into the night.
"— wait." She turned back, just as he latched a thin band of metal around the base of her neck. He pressed his thumb into it and, goddamn, she felt like she wanted to die right there. But she hid the feeling.
"This ensures you'll come back to me, and that you'll stay with me all the days after."
She walked through the active war zone back to the little church where she'd see her people for the last time. She was extra vigilant that nobody followed her. She didn't want to lead them to the rest of her people. Lohan was to young to be west away from his world, and honestly nobody deserves it. She felt like her entire soul was flaking apart. She felt like her humanity was being drained from her. The collar was smooth and left plenty of room but it felt like a barbed wire noose. She was used to terror. She was used to hunger. She was used to weariness that settled into every corner of her being. She was used to grief that was insurmountable. She was used to physical pain. She was used to cold, to sickness. She was used to mourning, she was used to constant anxiety. And it all hurt terribly and she hated all of it but at least she had her friends and neighbours to get her through it. But now this was goodbye. This was farewell. And she wouldn't even get to say it to everyone.
She silently descended into the basement of the church, and pulled herself in, She passed the fruits to Sami. And then collapsed in her arms crying. Sami held her and cried with her.
"I'm glad to have known you," Sami said softly.
Azalia stayed there for a while, in the embrace of her people. Holding baby Zohan, feeding him one last time. Telling him how much she loved him, how much she hoped he had a good life. She fell into the arms of Eren and Netha and Dio and Sami and Allie and Juneka. They told her how much they loved her. How glad they were to have known her. How kind she was. How strong she was. How interesting her thoughts were. How much she helped them and protected them through the horrors of the long war. How much they enjoyed raising her or playing with her before the war started. How much they would miss her. How they wouldn't forget her. How they would think of her and would hope things were at least a little bit kind for her. She told them how much she loved them too.
Hours passed. The fighting died hadn't down around them. It wasn't safe to leave yet. But Azalia knew that she had to. With tears in her eyes she hugged everyone one last time and stepped out of the door. It was still dark.
She walked past the rubble that was all anything was these days. She didn't take precaution to avoid getting killed. She turned to see that the tree she had picked jili fruits from has been killed in the bombing. Nothing good lasts. She had her shirt on now and it felt like a small bit of protection. She waited near the same rubble pile where she first "met" the soldier. She didn't even know his name. She let her tears flow freely.
Another hour or so passed. The fighting died down. A military glider zoomed up to where she was standing. Headlights shone through the darkness. It was emblazoned with the seal of presumably Zirunika. It could fit a lot of people, if they sat close, but only for people stepped out of it. One of them was that man. With great effort she kept her body absolutely still.
"Oh gods, she is a fine thing. It's not fair that you found her first Patton." The soldier's tone was jovial.
"Well maybe Lord Aldura favours me. Because she is mine."
They bantered back and forth a little bit. Azalia couldn't pay attention to any of it, her mind was screaming. Patton slung her over his shoulder and got on the glider. He positioned her onto his lap as he sank into the plush seat.
"You'll love it there. I have so much to show you." He traced the hemline of her pants.
As they zoomed away Azalia kept her eyes glued to her village until it faded into the night.
If you like this piece check out my Mastodon my account is FSairuv@mas.to and I po about human rights, social justice, and the environment.
The End of the Princess Lorelei
“The wind blew heavily that night as I stargazed on the deck. It was cold and full of salt, I could taste it on my lips, when the first explosion rang out. Smoke belched from the port side of the ship as it pitched 35 degrees to the opposite side. This would be the beginning of my adventure, or rather misfortune with the Princess Lorelei. My chair began sliding toward the gilded railing that lined the side of the ship as the second explosion bellowed. I didn't see where it had come from, but it did for a minute level the ship out. I heard the screams of the other passengers as they ran to me on the bow. They were screaming something about the stern being gone. It didn't leave me much time to think as I heard the metal of the ship groaning. A third and fourth explosion roared loudly as the ship began to list once more, 45 degrees to starboard. There were more screams as people began to be thrown overboard. One after another their screams ended with a splash into the cold, dark Atlantic ocean. My chair was starting to slide toward the railing, the legs of the wooden deck chair dragging on the planks making an awful scree sound as they did so. I instinctively reached out my hands to brace for the impact against the rail. I hit the rails with a resounding thud as I looked down at the unfortunate souls who couldn't catch themselves. Those who couldn't swim sank below the surface, only to reemerge from the depths and bob along the waves. Their corpses made for macabre life preservers to those desperate enough. The moonlight danced on the waves that now carried the dead. I was scared stiff as I continued to watch and listen. I knew that I would join them in only a matter of time. I gripped the railing as hard as I could to stand up. I turned slightly to my left and picked up the deck chair. I folded it up and hefted it overboard to attempt to help one of the drowning unfortunates. I couldn't see if it did help them because almost as soon as I did so the entire ship shuddered. I looked down to see the only blackness of the hungry ocean rising up to claim me. I started to climb the railing. One thought raced through my head at the time. If I could release the lifeboats, I'll be saved. I lifted my left foot onto the railing and started to climb toward the bridge. The lights inside flickered, but I could see no one manning the wheel. I was about to halfway to the bridge when the ship’s PA system came to life.
“By order of the Captain, all passengers and crew are to make their way to the lifeboats and prepare for evacuation. I repeat. Make your way to the lifeboats and prepare for evacuation.” I hadn't heard that voice before, but I knew that they were not the captain. At least not the original one. I would know because I had dinner with him just a few hours before the first bomb went off. I made my way to the bridge, I grabbed the metal stairs like a set of monkey bars. I was now hanging on with all my might. The lifeboats were still not close, but I had to try. I wouldn't end up bobbing in the waves like an apple. I put one hand in front of the other to continue. I held on for dear life to the stairs, and then the railing. When that finally ran out, I lunged for one of the portholes. They were only about 12 inches across, but the glass was recessed fat enough for my hands to grab on. I felt the shop shudder again as it rolled onto its side. The screaming mostly died down, but I could occasionally see a pair of ghastly pale hands beating on the glass of the portholes, doing what they could to get another breath. I tried not to pay attention as I walked to the nearest lifeboat. The lines that allowed the boat to swing freely were now tangled like a spiderweb. I used my hands to beat on the emergency release. I hit it three times, mighty blows each time until it finally gave way. I held onto the boat tightly as it slid off the side of the ship, leaving a long streak of white paint on the ship’s black hull. The little boat landed with a resounding plop in the ocean. I feared that it would break into splinters as it landed, but to my surprise it stayed intact. I retrieved a pair of paddles from below the seats as I started to look for other survivors. The ones I saw earlier were now bobbing lifelessly alongside the deck chair I'd thrown overboard a few minutes ago. My heart sank as I rowed. I couldn't tell where I was going, but I knew that I had to get away from the ship. I turned around to see the last half of it sink below the waves. The remaining lights in the windows flickered and died as the ship sank silently into the blackness. Any delusions of being fit for the sailor’s life that I had vanished on the open ocean. I paddled as hard as I could to where I thought land was but by the third hour I was exhausted. I grabbed my suit jacket tight to keep warm. The wind howled fiercely as I huddled down into the boat with waves beating against the sides to remind me that if I wasn't careful, I too would be bobbing.
I don't know how many hours I spent in the dinghy, but I watched with glee as the sun lazily crested over the horizon. It was with the sunlight that my glee became absolute terror as I realized that I wasn't too far from the ship. The debris and bodies stretched as far as I could see as I began to paddle harder. Eventually with the sun high in the sky, my muscles screamed at me not to continue. I felt the insidious thirst begin to creep up on me as I desperately looked under the seats for a water bottle. I found two of them and five granola bars. They weren't the best meals, but it would definitely be better than nothing. I twisted the cap off of the first water bottle and drank heartily. I drank half of it before I realized how important it was now. I paddled as much as I could against the waves. Hoping against hope that I could spot land before my meager rations ran out. However as the sun ran its course across the sky I was no nearer to my goal that I was home. My arms were stiff from the rowing and the skin on my hands, arms, neck, and face was burnt to a solid red. I could feel the gnawing pains of my belly as it howled for more food, something I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to get it. The sun began to sink below the horizon as I stood up. I looked around to where the ship has sunk and marveled. Aside from the occasional stray body and bit of debris, it was like no one has ever passed here. I felt my heart sink as I came to the realization that that could very well be me. I sat down in the bottom of the boat, holding my knees to my chest as the cool air started to blow over the water. I shut my eyes tightly as I drifted off to sleep.
I found myself in the ship’s dining room, sitting across from the captain. I grabbed a silver spoon to prepare for the first course. It was creamy shrimp and crab bisque. I gently pushed the spoon into it, watching as the metal sunk below the surface. I brought the spoon up to my mouth and tasted only salt and the sickly sweet taste of rotting corpses. I spat out the soup, most of it landing on the table in front of me, but some landed on the front of the captain’s jacket. The Captain easily stood at six feet tall. His thinning blonde hair occasionally peaked out from under his massive white captain hat. He looked at me with his big blue eyes.
‘Is there something wrong with the soup?’ He asked with a smile.
‘Yes, there's something wrong with the damned soup,’ I said exasperatedly, staring into the bowl, ‘it tastes like shit.’ The Captain clicked his tongue as I looked up. This time I didn't see the man with the farmer’s tan and big blue eyes. Instead I saw a bloated corpse with milky white eyes. His jacket was rumpled and soaking wet.
‘Aww, our chefs worked diligently to prepare a dish you'd love.’ He said with water spilling from his mouth and soiling the fine linen table cloth. I stood up, shocked at what I saw.
‘Sir, is there a problem?’ The waiter said. I turned around and saw the waiter too had milky white eyes. Most of his face was bone now with his teeth and jawbones being picked clean. I backed up, horrified until I hit the wall. I tried to run but at every turn there was another. Each one in a different state of bloat and decay. I awoke with a start to see the sun once again creating the horizon. My heart raced as I stood up and stretched my legs. The sun beat down on me mercilessly as I continued rowing. The thirst was now omnipresent as I polished off the last bottle of water. I stared longingly into the ocean as I rowed. Its presence seemed to mock my new plight for survival. Days passed, one after another. I spotted it in the east. The little speck of land that would be my salvation. The island wasn't large, I'd reckon it was a mile long strip of land with a dense jungle that resided on it. I pointed the small boat toward it. I rowed with all my waning strength toward this small beacon of hope until at last, the prow cut through the wet sand. I stood up and gingerly climbed from the boat. Where there were trees, there had to be water. I grabbed the two water bottles from the bottom of the boat and trekked into the jungle. Neither the heat nor the hunger I felt bothered me, just the sensation of needing water so terribly. I walked until I broke through the trees on the other side of the island and found no fresh water. I felt my heart sink into my stomach until I saw a boat. Your boat.” I finished relaying the tale to the captain of the small fishing vessel. He was a large man, built like a barrel and smoked one of those old fashioned corn cob pipes. He smiled at me and blew out a puff of smoke.
“Your name, what did you say it was again?” He asked, his voice sounding like tumbling gravel as he spoke.
My name is Edward Welles, sir.” The Captain took another puff of his pipe and blew the blue-gray smoke into the air.
“You know, the sea doesn't give up her dead easily. That's why she wants you so bad.” He said with a small smile growing on his face. I watched the smile grow and as his blackened teeth were revealed under his great white mustache.
“I never did ask, what's your name?” I said, a feeling of fear growing.
“My name's Charon. Although, most folks in your position just call me Captain.”
I'm not sure what this is... A cry for help, a beating on the chest, or just some given reason to believe I'm going crazy. Life has a peculiar way of winking its eye at you like you're some circus act, supposedly meant to make people happy, but at the cost of making you into an empty, hollow shell of a person. Read with caution, I didn't stop until I reached a thousand words, and I didn't edit beforehand. I have no other way to categorize this besides calling it what it is...prose.
The cascaded force, truculent in fluency, rebounded and caused me hyperfixation. I was there, washing away my sins like the bible commanded me, exuberant with new life, telling of any living bodies willing to pass me by to seek the help they need to manage. I was the fly, with little to no meaning in the root of the world, cruising into soft completion; there was a dark crimson light flashing from the fly’s eyes and into the cream-colored pallor of my skin. And how dare there be such an obsessive cascaded force, willing to try and put a stop to my intentions, thrilling the possibility of me actively coming to a halt. What cost would that do me, but the worst? The clacking sound of my brain caressing the varicose veins in my hands, plowing the fields that they are so apt to harvest; and the blue tools are slicing away at the God-woven weeds, polluting my garden of passion. My hands flee away from me, far away from my body’s control. I fear my hands are more powerful than I can handle. The rest of my body is here—in the flesh?—feeling the soundwaves of chords swooning over my naive persona. And suddenly, I’m back in the dark-bricked building down the road from the downtown nucleus. There is a woman there, waving her hand to me, hoping I notice her streaky, anxiously-applied polish. There were stripped pieces hanging loosely against her cuticle that she tried to pluck, but dangerously chose to just drink her dirty martini and wash away her sins. I pull her in close to me, feeling the warmth of the alcohol dabble its hand in her drab idiosyncratic tendencies. Her eyes are like pieces of a washcloth, covered in sudsy backwash, chilling to the bone in chemicals and abhorrent joviality… The mind I thought I once had, now just a fever-dreamed memory away, glides away from the dark-bricked building. It’s quiet when he leaves his house, goes down the street, and accompanies himself without me. Only my hands, that of which are holding that woman drinking her drink, he uses to extrapolate the truth. He wants to dig for the truth, desperate for an answer that he does not want to hear. The fields grow longer and farther, absorbing the sun as it melts into the purple darkness. The weeds grow long fingers and hold hands with each other, terrified of losing one another. A dog-eat-dog world clutching at the very well-being of a person when they feel the most happy about something. And the terrifying truth only thrusts itself onto me, like I hold that woman, hoping to keep that warmth around me for a little while longer. My hands are getting older, but still so full of youth—the veins create a prevalence against the skin of my body’s liking. I watch the balls of my knuckles roll around the finger, feeling the pressure of every key as its soft-colored dwindling leaves my thoughts for moments at a time. It takes too much time to realize the importance of the craft, the charisma that witnesses the creation of the craft, and the groovy sliminess of what exactly I am doing with this…here and now. Why here, why now, why this? Why not figure-skating, or baking, or painting, or teaching? I want this all to make sense, want God to show his face and scowl at me for not truly harnessing this sooner—I can’t get the right hang of it. All there is is a hormonal ecstasy that overtakes the adolescence of fictitious departure, and the molding together of my hands and mind. Two prominent figures that seldomly intertwine with each other's affairs, but commonly create substances good enough to eat and refreshing fluids swell enough to bathe in. I eat too fast with these kinds of uncommon, unprecedented periods of solace to which I absorb and spit out like a bulimic. I want to sleep away the rising pain in my belly, I want to cradle my words like a newborn, burping out the bad, and petting the good. I pick up those words created by me, read the large purple, red, and white letters on each of the covers and wonder how it all happened…and why so fast…? I wish John was here to help me out. I wish Stephen was here, and Norman, and Jerome, and Kurt, and Dean, and Papa, and Ralph, and Willy, and Ed, and Jim, and George, and Ray, and Jack, and Fyodor, and Scotty. I wish they were there, destined to press the luck, dubbing me a knight of the round table of literate prophets. They’re all gone, except one. Who knows how long Steve-O has got? I want an answer to add to my correctly-portioned plate. All I have are a few dozen side dishes that spit out the questions, but I want the solution to all of them. I want to vomit out the impure and relish in the pure: I want to grapple with the fruitfully unknown and practice into the new era of evolution. Yet, all I have are my hands to guide me. I’ve done an unerring abhorrence with my hands in the past; and I do not forget the past as easily as the future will try to persuade me to. My hands tangle against the silvery-plated panels like a string of Christmas lights, shaking as they hover over the batter’s box of what can truly create a modern-day prophet. A gaudy passion that only a writer can possess; and it’s only up to him to master and utilize the cat’s cradle of an abomination. Am I the overlord willing to take over the modern-day literature movement, or am I just a mindless spirit flooded with all of the geniuses and their immoral minds holding me hostage? I have twenty-two words left and I still haven’t conducted myself an answer. I want to feel the warmth without so much suffering involved.
In Honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week
Marya Hornbacher, in her memoir "Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia," states: “It is, at the most basic level, a bundle of contradictions: a desire for power that strips you of all power. A gesture of strength that divests you of all strength.”
The contradiction is that I was very much, at the age of sixteen, catering to the male gaze, the patriarchy, or whatever other evil psycho-social forces dictate a woman's fate in the United States. I wanted power, but I was not, ultimately, the one who had any power.
I remember walking down the street one day, at sixteen, weighing in at just over ninety pounds, and I will never, as long as I live, forget the way people looked at me.
"... a desire for power that strips you of all power. A gesture of strength that divests you of all strength."
I remember one little boy, who might have been five or six. He held his father's hand. He looked at me like I was something other-worldly, something to be feared. I say that because his eyes were wide open, and he could not look away from me, my body, my choices.
Choices. Such a loaded word. At some point in the process of developing an eating disorder, you lose the choice to restrict, and I imagine, to purge. You just lose that choice. It becomes clear, after a certain point, that you no longer have control over it. You must follow what it tells you to do. You must hide your food, skip meals, and pretend you ate. You must cut your food up into little pieces until it looks like you made a dent in your plate. You must suffer, because by virtue of being you, you must suffer in this very specific way.
I remember eating dinner in front of the TV with my family and hiding steak and potatoes in my napkin, shoving it down into the couch cushions, and waiting until it was safe to throw it away. I remember passing out. I remember that I only allowed myself to eat twice a day, at 11AM and at 5PM, one apple each time. That was my only sustenance for months.
Sometimes I wonder at the lasting damages of this deadly disorder. I was only sixteen: did my brain develop properly after years of restricting my food intake? I will perhaps never know. I read that on average it takes six years to recover from an eating disorder, and for me, that's exactly how long it took - six years of not just denying myself food, but hurting others in the process, of treatment centers, doctors' offices, medication, and therapy.
I hurt a lot of people. I lied to a lot of people. I had to lie because I had to be thin. And being thin was the only thing that mattered, for six years.
I remember the treatment center, the girl who cried while cutting her food. I remember the girl who broke her ankle after running for miles to burn no consumed calories at all. I remember the gym teacher, one of the only bulimics (the rest of us were restrictors), who ate her food like it was poisoned. I remember the woman whose sons had begged her to get help, to go into treatment.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. Someone dies as a direct result of their eating disorder every 52 minutes. I would get comments that I didn't look pretty, or just didn't look good, period, when I weighed less than a hundred pounds. As if it was about being thin.
“It is, at the most basic level, a bundle of contradictions: a desire for power that strips you of all power. A gesture of strength that divests you of all strength.”
I come back to this quote because it summarizes it best: the power being thin gives you, that "thin privilege" so many women seek. It brings you special attention, special treatment. But at the same time: I didn't want that attention, not in that way. I wanted attention for being thin, but when it would come up that I looked "too" thin, I would shrink away. No, I'd think. It's supposed to be unspoken, this is supposed to be me quietly suffering. Don't make it "a thing" that needs to be discussed. It was embarrassing, after a while. It was just plain embarrassing to have an eating disorder.
You want people to notice your thinness, but you don't want to be labeled that way. It's a walking contradiction, like when I walked down the street and that little boy stared at me, horrified by what he saw in front of him. I felt bad, but also powerful.
I felt powerful until I didn't. Until I felt really, really sick.
This week, it's National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. I want to shed light on this disease, because that's what it is: not just a bundle of contradictions, but also a deadly lapse under the guise of being "pretty" - and above all, "thin."
We floated lazily along the water in a canoe. The river was calm, and it was August. I smoked a cigar, and nursed a warm beer and looked out at the vast openness of it all.
My skin burning, but I didn’t care.
Maple trees, and oak trees, rose up on either side of the riverbanks like a crowd of colossus onlookers. This town, a prison in so many ways, yet at this time of the year folks would flock from all edges of the world to come and tell us how lucky we were. How we had it all. How we lived in paradise.
One beer after another and soon the prison sentence was over. College awaited, and at that moment I didn’t know how to feel. Comfort and change at odds with each other. Fighting a bloody fight at the center of my gut. This feeling, I thought, this feeling right now, was one that had consumed so many. The ones that almost got out. The ones who were destined to be great, or at least better, stayed behind because it was comfortable. And comfort could easily be disguised as truth, and happiness. I could feel it now. Christ, could I ever feel it.
Greg was next to me, Yankees hat on backwards looking out and looking in. He wasn’t leaving. He was staying, and the openness to him had a different meaning than it did to me. To me it was showing a path out. A sparkling diamond path. A thank you for the years. A bidding farewell. But for Brent, it was something different. His hand brushed the water lazily, and conversation had come and gone. I didn’t know what to say, because part of me believed that he was angry at me. As though he was feeling like a baby left at a stranger’s door. Abandonment. A breaking of the bond. A motherless child.
And so I let him internalize what he needed to internalize and drank beer, and let the sunshine burn my skin.
Once we reached the beach, we paddled to the shoreline, then dragged the canoe to his car, and strapped it to the top. Still quiet. Still distant. Inside, we drove through town, window down and music blasting. Drove down the old roads, we’d driven so many times.
Finally, he said, “You wanna go to The Crop Circle?”
And I said, “What for?”
“I’m feeling like I want to fight. You?”
And as he looked at me, there was something dark in his eyes. Like this was a test. He was telling me to do this, or I was already gone. A liberal pussy college kid, who forgot where he came from. Here, in this town. We fought and we bled. And in other towns, other cities, people read books, talked about their feelings, and expected the world not to hurt them, because they had never hurt it. But they had hurt it, hadn’t they?
And so I said, “Sure man, let’s do it.” And I tried to smile like something wasn’t broken. Like I wasn’t being torn in two. This was a nexus. I was in the middle of two lives. And I was hoping my eyes were camouflaging me from how I actually felt. But eyes couldn’t be camouflaged, there were just those who looked hard enough and those who didn’t.
We crossed the bridge and turned left onto the reserve. We drove for about five minutes before reaching a church of immense stature. A steeple high in the air, casting judgements. Casting aspersions. There we turned right. In the back of a small rundown house, there was a circle of dead grass where two boys hit each other with all they had.
What was going on in their heads? The girl that got away? The absent father? The drug-addled mother? Lack of money? Lack of friends? Lack of hope for a future? This was a prison to them. A prison partially of their own making, but a generational one too. A prison handed down by the father’s of their father’s, like a blood ritual.
Brent walked up to Jerry, who ran the backyard club, and said, “Hey brother, I’d like to get in.”
Jerry nodded, taking a bite out of a hotdog, and said, “Right on, right on, brother. We’ll get you in next.”
“Uh, how about Jessie?”
Jessie weighed about 90 lbs soaking wet, and he was shadow boxing under the shade of an oak tree about fifty yards away. Greg laughed, and said sure. Greg was bigger. But I’d seen Jesse at school put his fists up against anyone, no matter their size, or their ability to beat him senseless. And a kid who had nothing to lose, was unpredictable. And unpredictability, could win fights. And I could already see Greg palling it up with the guys, and drinking a beer, and eating a hot dog. I thought that was a bad idea, but at the same time, kinda thought that seeing Greg get his nose busted up by Jesse, had potential to be quite a funny scene. And hell, I was leaving in a week. I wanted a show.
Greg won the match, but certainly not by a landslide. Jesse connected two or three times, one of those times busting just above Greg’s left eyebrow, blood leaking down his face. But Greg got the best of him, and Jesse eventually, grasping his stomach, put his hand up to say, “enough,” and went back to shadow boxing under the oak, preparing for his next match.
Greg sat on the deck afterwards, feeling a sense of pride at the display of blood on his face. Like the blood was his cross to bear. The feeling of it leaking down the side of his face, the understanding that the college kids that I’d soon surround myself with would be taken aback, and disgusted at the sight of it. Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn’t, but it provided a sense of relief, thinking that they’d be queasy at the sight of him.
“Good fight, man.” I said, and he laughed,
“Squirrely little fucker is tough. Shouldn’t have drank all those beers.” Then it was my turn to laugh.
Jerry was at the center of the crop circle now, bouncing around with his small mixed martial arts gloves, asking someone, anyone to come and square off against him. Waving to the crowd of a dozen or so guys, who were pretending to be too locked into deep conversation to hear him, or notice him.
Then I thought about Greg, and this town. The mountains in the distance, the water, the bridge, the fights, and all of it. The good, and the bad. And realized that for better or worse, this town had molded me. And maybe I’d leave and never fit in. Maybe the intellectuals would see a fucking hillbilly mongoloid, and send me packing back home, to the wilderness, where I belonged. Or maybe I’d fit in just fine, and forget about this place. But he’d never forget. He knew that.
“I’ll go.” I said, and Jer gave me a look that was a split between feeling impressed, and thinking that I had some kind of death wish.
“Dude, Jerry’s never lost.” Greg said to me, and I told him I didn’t give a shit. I wasn’t here to win. I was just here because this was my home, and I spoke the same language as the rest, because I’d lived the same life.
I wrapped my hands and put on the gloves, and I went toe to toe with a certified killer in a small patch of dead grass known as the crop circle. I looked over at Greg and winked, and he looked pale as a ghost. But what he didn’t know was that I was expecting, I was expecting a scar, and when I left, I didn’t want to hide who I was, I wanted them to know exactly who I was.
The first round started and Jerry landed a brutal jab right between my eyes. The world was distorted, then he landed another. Under my right eyebrow, bursting, blood ran down my face. I laughed, Christ, I hadn’t laughed that hard in years, if ever.
“You’re fucking crazy man,” Jerry said, and I wiped the blood away from face with the dirty glove, and urged him to continue.
With each blow was a reminder of who I was. There was my mom packing up her suitcase and leaving us. My brother or old man not able to stay in the house, so there was me, begging mom not to go, as she cried and said she had no choice. The next blow was me holding her so tight, and squeezing my eyes closed hard enough that they watered, and praying that I was again a child, and my mom was coming into my room to tell me she loved me and tucking me in tightly.
Then I felt anger flush in my face, the laughter gone. The memories so close they were like a shadow over the present, like an eclipse, and I didn’t know where I was, or when I was, or what the hell was going on. There was just blood and memories, and I landed a hook right under Jerry’s jaw that had him stumbling back, outside the ring into the green grass, the living.
And there was a memory in his eyes too, and they flashed between anger and sadness, contempt and denial. The fight wasn’t me against him, it was my pain against his pain, my hurt against his hurt.
Then he hit me again, and I was standing at the edge of a great field, a hundred acres or more. Playing a game of burning the dry grass and stomping it out before it took off like a flash of lightning. I had a brand new shirt bought for my birthday and a bottle of gatorade. I’m too slow and like an inferno the field is set on fire, flames higher than my head, smoke as dark as midnight. The older guys, who I thought were friends are bailing, running down the street leaving me. I’m taking my shirt off, brand new and helpless smashing it against the flames, my gatorade bottle doing nothing, but I’m trying. I’m helpless, friendless, and in fear of lighting the whole town of fire, I’m crying.
And each hit brings pain and stinging, and memories. But it’s nice, it’s freeing because they’ve been locked up for so long. The wind and the summer, and the people, they’re all real but mirages as well because soon they’ll be in the rearview, and soon I’ll see once and for all, if the grass is truly greener or if every town, every city, is just different shades of same damn colour, and if it isn’t actually location that changes a person, because in reality we’re running from ourselves. I’ll find out soon, if the problem is the town or the person.
I make it two rounds, and Jerry ends it with a shot to my midsection, which instantly swells my ribs and I hit the burned patch hard, on my knees, and tell him to stop. “I’m done,” I say out of breath, “I’m finished.”
Jerry reaches out a hand, and pulls me up. “You’re crazy you know that?”
“I do now,” I say and we laugh, and he pats me on the back. Then Greg hands me a beer, and looks at me with a new found respect, like he never could have guessed that I’d have it in me.
I sit back down on the deck, putting a paper towel up against the cut.
“You might need stitches,” Greg says,
“Worse things than scars.”
He goes quiet for a minute, and I lay back on the deck staring up at a sky of unbelievable blue. Clear. No clouds. Just endless blue.
In a few days, I’ll be rolling along highway 11, looking back, and wondering at which road side sign it’ll be before this town leaves me like a possessed spirit, and I’m reborn.
“You better come back and visit.”
I tell him I will.
“Don’t forget about this place. Don’t forget about who you are.”
And I think about the deep gash above my eye, and I think about stitches, and scars, and realize that this place will be on my skin for the rest of my life.
“I couldn’t even if I tried.”
“Forget me not...”
The man sat on his ancient bed within his dilapidated house as the void of ghostly nothingness around him seemed to reach out for him, devouring more and more of his existence until nothing but a shred of his existence remained. Each and every day, he felt emptier, more hopeless than he had the previous day. He could barely cling onto the little bits of his past self as they were violently torn apart from his soul; day by day, one by one, no longer to be felt nor observed by either himself nor those around him. Each and every single moment of his waking thoughts soon became a nightmare that was infinitely worse in comparison to the world around it.
Bags formed under his eyes; his breathing was constantly heavy; his knees were always weak; his back was slouched; his mind was fogged.
He lay on his back and closed his eyes...
However, instead of the dark and dreary abyss that he was used to, he found himself on an old and dreary road that looked like it had been worn out by hundreds of years of use. Around him, the path was filled with an infinitely disorienting swarm of images as a constantly shifting cacophony of sounds played from unseen orchestras. Each step that he took shifted the image, sometimes slightly and sometimes beyond the boundaries of his comprehension. From a dragon's den, with bright orange sparks flying all about to a swirling burst of starlight and nebulae to the twisting fabric of time, space and non-existent concepts- there seemed to be no end to it all.
Eventually, he came to the end of the road, and instead of a bright and golden door or a messenger from the heavens to congratulate him on finishing his journey, the man saw something odd. A child sat on the middle of the path with a few crayons on his hand, scribbling onto a small sketchbook that he held on his hand. Every single time he finished a stroke, the landscape shifted, making the nauseating discomfort a bit worse for the man. The man took a step forward to get a better look at the child, whose face seemed obscured by absolutely nothing, In fact, it seemed to shift along with the background, but it always held an unearthly sense of nostalgia- like an old portrait of his father, or rather, himself.
"Why am I here?" the man spoke, his words barely above a whisper "Why did you bring me here?"
The child stopped and stared directly at the man as a blank expression rested on his face, seeming to look both at and through him at the same time.
"To remind you; of me, of who you were, of what you were... of what we were. Look around, the worlds that you'd made, the sounds that were the orchestration of your sublime thoughts. They are still here, like a treasury of untapped infinity. Waiting for your call- for you to seek it." The child took a deep and haggled breath that didn't belong to a person of that age- it sounded far older, far wiser than it had any right to be. "So, please... don't forget why... don't forget me..."
The man woke up in his bed. The situation around him hadn't changed, but he had. The strength to resist was far stronger now. His fervor was renewed, and thus his eyes lit up with a burning desire to work harder- the hopes of a time far past now rang far louder than ever.
He took a deep breath and stepped out to meet headfirst the world that had caused him so much agony.
Under One Sky
Two souls, Adriana and Leo, who were unknown to one another but profoundly connected, resided in the center of the city, where skyscrapers kissed the sky and the streets buzzed with the beat of the restless. Their paths crossed every morning as the city awoke in a cloud of golden dawn; it was a brief moment of closeness, a near touch of destiny.
Adriana left Westside for the 7:45 AM train, her dreams nestled under her arm in the shape of a well-used notebook. Her days were spent creating the images that light up the city's nights in a cubicle on the twenty-fourth level. The same train left Eastside at the same moment as Leo, a photographer whose heartbeat in step with the heartbeat of the city. His mornings disappeared into the maze of streets, seizing moments that revealed the secrets of the city in whispers.
Their lives were a series of near misses. Leo went over his morning's work at the busy coffee shop where Adriana scribbled thoughts on napkins while their tables reflected images of each other. They would walk the same route around Central Park in the evenings, their footfall a silent duet on the meandering trails as the city painted itself in hues of dusk.
Up until the day the clouds parted, bringing with them a deluge of rain so intense that it became impossible to distinguish one place from another, the pattern persisted, a monument to the city's unwritten code of silence. Without an umbrella, Adriana ran under the bookstore's awning and huddled her notebook to her chest. Moments later, Leo, shielding his camera under his jacket, ducked beside her, both seeking refuge from the unexpected storm.
A spark of recognition ignited between them as their eyes locked—a recognition of spirits that had danced around each other for far too long, rather than just faces. The symphony of the rain fell about them, a curtain closing off the outside world.
"I've seen you before," Leo said, his voice a blend of curiosity and certainty.
"In the reflections of the city," Adriana replied, her smile a bridge spanning their worlds.
During that conversation, they found a common rhythm for their lives in the middle of the metropolis as their words flowed through the gaps between their nearly-meetings. Even after the rain stopped, they stayed put, unwilling to return to the flow that had kept them apart.
The city appeared different when they eventually parted, as if recognizing their newfound bond. Adriana and Leo rode the 7:45 AM train together the following morning and every morning after that, no longer traveling in separate directions but rather as friends on a journey altered by destiny.
Heartbreak. Confusion. Sadness. All of these emotions have taken hold of me to which I cannot dismiss. His leaving me, without notice, blindsided me from all sides. What began as a beautiful morning walking along the beach, side by side, and sloshing water from the receding waves turned into a paralyzing nightmare. I felt something was not quite right but I blamed my irrational insecurities that rise up at the most inconvenient times.
He stopped short, with the sunshine gleaming behind him, and took my hand between both of his and turned me to face him. With no time to really process what was about to happen, he unburdened himself by telling me there was someone else.
Immediately reeling, I tried to render composure but found none of that. His explanation was filled with unnecessary details other than those that were pertinent to me. It took every fiber of my being to allow him to relieve his conscience before I found my voice and protected my dignity with many unanswered questions. I, at least, deserved to understand as best I could and to maintain my value as a person and as his wife.
He left my once-warm and loving home to be with her. He made a point of picking up his belongings when I was conveniently, and thankfully, at work. Work was, unfortunately, preoccupied with thoughts of my then perfect past with him, my downward-spiraling present, and my uncertain future.
Enough was enough. In two weeks, a filing for divorce materialized. He has been seeing her for two years...TWO years! My reflecting upon and looking at photos, gifts, and other mementos that glued us together, found their way into donation bins and trash bags; yet, granted, the photos found themselves set afire in a blaze of freedom, opportunity and new beginnings.
Closure was the grand result, and I found my life was set on fire to blaze a new trail.
a short story; Intro
I was inspired in a sex ed class.
I had never been more affirmed, encouraged and perhaps even inspired beyond my young imagination before then. You see, I was only 12. I had never done this before, not with strangers at least. The last time I had participated in this activity was in familiar territory, and still, I wasn't as good as the others, I was made to believe.
The request came in a fortnight earlier and I immediately dreaded the pressure. I looked around me to size up the competition. I could count at least 5 girls in my class who would be formidable opponents. Submission was mandatory, but I had time, enough time to consider whether my ego could stand losing at a large-scale level.
On the day before submissions, my anxiety was eating me alive, I could not hold it off any longer. I sat down with my freshly sharpened pencil, an A4 page paper, and a conviction that since the writing competition was regional, my paper would drown in the masses and my mess would never live to see the light of day.
When I write, even at that young age, I always seem to drown in the words I am articulating, in the thoughts I am giving life. I become one with my material, and in a few minutes, I was done.
I submitted my work and put it behind me.
On the day, the district had arranged a sports day with trophies for its winners, and the essay results would be the grand finale. I consider myself somewhat athletic but failed to secure a win in the balloon popping competition, I was peeved. My cheeks turned red from blowing balloons, or was it the embarrassment? Thats how competitive I would get. After a full day of dopamine, adrenaline and tears, of joy or despair, it was time to announce the essay results. The lady making the announcements had a lazy soft voice, like she understood my lassitude and also wanted to go home. She explained calmly that only the top students would get their results, that there were so many entries and it made it difficult to announce them all. What a relief, I sighed, as I moved to sit next to my friends and classmates. I had not really sat, I was fussing over my chair, just hovering over my sit when she announced the runners up for the essay competition. I did not hear my name, but I heard my school's name. Everyone around me turned and started screaming, 'She said you won!' 'Who?' 'You Carol, you won!' My first thought was doubt. But the eyes kept staring at me as my friends hugged me aggressively with excitement.
I almost passed out walking to the stage to receive my price, a voucher, for a book, ha-ha. That's how I got inspired, by winning an essay on HIV/AIDS from my sex ed class. I got an English textbook; in case you were wondering.
In retrospect, I should never have doubted my capabilities. I am pretty awesome, and words come easy to me. I am all that, and that's how I found out, at 12 years old, from my sex ed class.
One Day of Snow
A blanket of snow dampened the city's usual sounds as it awoke to an unfamiliar peacefulness. The sight was as stunningly gorgeous as it was perplexing for a place unaccustomed to winter's touch. With their faces pressed against the glass and their eyes wide with awe, they walked from the high-rise apartments to the old quarter's small lanes.
Breath clouds formed in the chilly air when Mara, a barista at a downtown café, stepped outside. The city seemed to have been born again, its hard edges softer and its relentless pace slowing. She observed children and adults alike, who were hesitant at first, as they ventured out into this unfamiliar environment and left their mark through footprints.
Across the city, Tom, a taxi driver for thirty years, sat in his cab, parked at the side of the road. The snow had rendered his job unnecessary for the day, but he felt no irritation. Instead, he marveled at the silence, the absence of the constant hum of traffic. For once, he wasn't racing against time; he was merely an observer to the unexpected pause in everyone's lives.
In the heart of the city, under the shadow of tall buildings, an elderly man named Mr. Chen walked his dog through the snow-covered park. The usual green had vanished under a layer of white, transforming the familiar into the magical. Mr. Chen smiled as his dog bounded ahead, kicking up flurries of snow. This was a day to remember, a stark contrast to the monotony that had seeped into his golden years.
The initial reluctance gave way to play and laughing as the day went on. There were snowmen everywhere—on parks' pathways, on balconies, and in varied shapes and sizes. Unplanned snowball fights erupted, bringing complete strangers into momentary fellowship.
Having never seen snow before, Mara closed the café early to help a group of kids construct a snow fort. Their laughter brought her delight; it was a sound so pure and contagious that it helped her forget the troubles that otherwise weighed her down.
Tom, on the other hand, had left his taxi behind and was now wandering the streets capturing moments of joy and surprise on his phone. The city, which had always seemed so familiar, had changed to become a place of joy and exploration.
And when Mr. Chen got home, he sat with the snow falling outside his window. With his wife gone for the last five years, he thought of how much she would have enjoyed this day. He felt connected to something more than himself for the first time in a long time.
The city shone under the streetlights as night fell, the snow turning the light into a million diamonds. The day served as a gift, a reprieve from time's unrelenting advance and a reminder of the wonder and beauty that may still astound and bring people together.
The snow would begin to melt tomorrow, and the city would resume its regular schedule. However, they would always be reminded of this day and its fleeting enchantment; it was a shared experience that brought them together and taught them to appreciate the beauty of the present as well as the unifying power of shared wonder.