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I have reached a lifetime low. In this very moment, I sit perched on the edge of a bathroom counter with no soap, eating cookies that do not taste good. Each time I swallow a bite, the chocolate chips scratch my throat. It hurts because I have been crying.
I don’t know how I got here. I mean, I know how I got here, to this party and into this bathroom. But I don’t know how I got here, to this party and to this bathroom. I had a good day. I worked on my poetry collection. My hair looks cute now that it has grown out of that horrible cut; my butt is smaller since I have switched to an animal-free lifestyle (“we never say ‘diet’”). And yet, I am standing in a bathroom again—with germs!—touching dairy-free cookies with my unwashed hands and putting them into my mouth (the cookies, not my hands). I hear laughing and banging outside of the door. I have yelled for the third time this trip that “NO, I am not finished yet.” And this is my seventh time in the bathroom tonight.
The cookies don’t even taste good. Like cardboard.
This moment doesn’t differ that much from other lifetime lows, I guess. When I really think about it, my life comes together as a series of food-related flashes, bits of regurgitation and strong-smelling burps that linger in my memories and daydreams, or yellow and brown streaks that stain my students’ papers and the poetry that no one will publish.
Like the time I got sick and had garlic breath and body odor for three days. The problem wasn’t so much that I ate the entire loaf of spelt-based vegan garlic “cheesy” bread in fifteen minutes. The problem was that I ate it even though it smelled like someone else’s dirty underwear. I hadn’t tasted real cheese in so long, I told myself that maybe Limburger or Gruyere smelled that way. Or was that feet? The night before, I ate two-thirds of a silken-tofu cheesecake that definitely had the aftertaste of something unsavory.
But the problem is not the vegan food. I would have eaten a Barth burger in a bathroom if the ketchup were fresh.
Looking back, I’ve always been body conscious, if not food conscious. When I was 5, I stripped the clothes off of my Kid Sister (the doll, not my actual kid sister) and put them on myself. Pleased that I could fit dolls’ clothes, I paraded my outfit in front of my parents, who did not hide their amusement. When my actual sister was born and I tried the same thing, my parents were not amused.
“Why do you want to wear the baby’s clothes?” they asked. “Do you want to be a baby?”
“Nope,” I said without hesitating. “I just want to know that I can fit the baby’s clothes.”
This time they did not hide their bewilderment.
I don’t even think it’s a body issue or one of those cases of stuffing my feelings, or any psychobabble like that. And it’s not an eating disorder as such; no binges, purges, or cases of going without meals here. I eat out of pure greed. Lust, maybe an oral fixation.
Only while I used to be able to contain the feelings in my waking hours, now they surface in my dreams as well, haunting me like frightening beautiful things. Last night I dreamt that a masked man entered my house and forced me to eat cake, with buttercream frosting and raspberry filling.
Four days ago, I dreamt two poems that I remembered so clearly, I got up in the middle of the night and wrote them down:
If I had a giant
I would blend the world
Into molé sauce
And swim though it
Not caring if I drowned.
I will put you in my
I will lick you from my
And all the pita, too.
Obviously, these poems will not go into my collection. They’ll remain stains on the papers and smells in my hair or on the furniture.
A month ago, while my husband watched Monday Night Football for what must have been the millionth Monday this year, I nibbled a hot fat-free brownie with my eyes closed. Kyle said, “Can’t I have just a corner of that to go with my ice cream, love?”
“No,” I snapped, half laughing, half crying, and then I moved away very quickly in case he asked again.
There’s a sense of selfishness and longing that sometimes keeps me excited and ashamed. Before the annual party tonight, for example, I tucked away a baker’s dozen of Mr. Meadow’s dairy-free chocolate-chip cookies, sneaking off to eat one at a time, lest anyone see them and ask for one.
That’s how I got into the bathroom the first time. But I’m still not sure why I went back. Each time I returned from a cookie break, I prayed everyone thought I had drunk too much water.
If this were a very special episode of my favorite childhood show, I would pause here and say with all seriousness, “Addictions are serious problems and not to be taken lightly. There are numbers you can call for serious help. Seriously.” But as Kyle always says, sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. He usually says this after I attempt to say something funny and threaten to hit him with a wooden spoon for not laughing. I have ruined many a good spoon this way.
Perhaps I would laugh, but I’m afraid the drunk girl who just barged into the bathroom would smell the chocolate. I am afraid she will ask for some.
Nafissa Thompson-Spires earned her Ph.D. in English from Vanderbilt University. She is the author of several articles exploring the relationship between cultural identity, racial politics and representation in United States and Canadian youth television, including the forthcoming “Tolerated, But Not Preferred: Troubling the Unconscious of Televisual Multiculturalism” (American Review of Canadian Studies, September 2011). Her current projects include a study of teaching singular voice in HBCU composition courses, forthcoming short stories on black identity and a middle-grade novel. She is an instructor of English Tennessee State University.