WE ARE Narcissus

I have tried to write my story many times and have never been able to get far. I always go over my words again and again, editing and polishing and getting caught in the obsessive intricateness of arranging lyrical phrases. I am hoping that writing this online and posting as I go will keep me pressing forward.


34. In The Loop

my senior year of high school, i actually managed to find somebody to crush on who was more feminine even than jimmy. it probably won't come as a shock, by now, that this person was a she and not a he. i joked about it to my older sister in our texted conversations. i informed her, with a nonchalance i did not feel, "i think i might be bisexual," while my internalized parent shrieked at me that i was going to hell, that guilt would eat me up from the inside out and since heaviness of spirit was the hallmark of a soul darkened by sin, my chronic depression would close over my head and drown me.


at the same time, i entertained fantasies about inserting my hand into another girl's vagina, feeling her internal muscles tighten and spasm around my fingers. 


it took me a while after my attempted heart to heart with my mother about my bulimia to wiggle my way at least somewhat back into her good graces. i was absolutely banned from running, an edict that i daily, tearfully begged her to revoke. my mom held her ground in this respect, and i was not even allowed to tag along when my siblings went for exercise walks. furthermore, she also force fed me; the power she exerted over me by threatening to impede my college education was enough that she never had to physically shove anything down my throat, but i did sob over my plate and quiver from head to toe as i choked down chili and corn on the cob and baked beans and whatever else she'd decided i should put into my body, while she fueled hers with a veggie burger on flatbread and a handful of cherry tomatoes. this continued until the time when i got what could debatably be called my first job: i spent about eight hours per day for a little over a week painting a mural of happy jungle animals onto the wall of a woman's nursery. because i was away from home for so long, i got to pack my own lunches, and this began my reclaiming of control over my own diet. i was able to slowly whittle down my daily intake until all i ate every day was one footlong tuna sandwich on nine grain bread from "subway," and this served as my plan of actions in regards to managing my weigh for most of that school year. 


i was supposed to be more involved in the family, but it hadn't really penetrated my skull yet that this was what my mother expected, so i continued to live the way i always had, devoting my time to finding ways to escape from my feelings. i attended a few more daily masses with my family, sitting in a long line with them that made up the only full row of chairs in the entire church. i watched my biological brothers shuffle around in stiffly starched altar boy robes and my younger sister fulfill the role at which i'd also taken my turn when i was her age, singing hymns into a microphone while ensconced in the little corner stage that should have held a church choir. and i listened to the loud, crass, insistent ignorance of the few senescing parishioners and the priests who greeted me and offered me scoldings based on their assumptions that i was nothing more than an ungrateful brat born with a silver spoon in my mouth. besides this, i agonized over textbooks, especially for my calculus class, which i never really attended in that i spent the entire time i was there with my head on my desk, my whole being racked by seizures. and every day i went through the ordeal of convincing my mom to drive to subway and buy me a sandwich, something i could not do for myself because my driving lessons in preparation for my license test had been canceled due to my mom's judgement that i was not sound enough of mind to be safe on the road. one by one, i witnessed younger siblings earning their licenses and thereby attaining a modicum of freedom the likes of which i couldn't really even imagine, while i continued to be too frightened of hearing my mom's judgement that i was too shallow and vain and brain damaged to ever lead a normal, productive life to ever venture to ask her if i she'd give me just one more chance at a driving lesson. 


now, here, i have to interject into what i've already written and clarify. i am not always honest. in fact, one thing i can truthfully say is that i have a propensity for telling lies and stretching the truth. what often seems to happen is that i say what i think without much premeditation, and then the rancid aftertaste of my words that lingers on my tongue after they've already flown the coop tells me that i need to do a little self searching. i have admitted much worse, extremely painful secrets of mine before, exposed before the world flaws or misdeeds i thought i would never tell a soul about, yet the lingering resentment i still have inside me with regards to my mom and the issue of my driving makes this a challenge. in retrospect, i can see that my mom was right to stop me from driving. she did not have the right to do it - on this i will firmly stand my ground - but for once she probably saved me from physical harm and danger instead of incurring it on me. you see, i have already explained that i was eating strictly one meal per day. the amount of calories i consumed was enough to keep me alive indefinitely, but still i was extremely unhealthy. i cannot stress enough how important it has been to me in my eating disorder - and to some extent still is - to eat dinner alone, and to have an uninterrupted period of peace afterward in which i had no duties or responsibilities or engagements to worry about. eating dinner then going out for a driving lesson would have been practically sacrilege according to my code, because then i'd get home and my belly would be empty and i wouldn't be able to lie down and sleep and i'd need to binge and purge until i became exhausted enough for my mind and body both to shut down for the night. i don't remember if i was conscious of avoiding situations that would surely lead me  into the black hole of bulimia at this time, but i do know that i considered it to be completely unquestionable that i needed eating my one meal of the day to be the last thing i did before a lot of uninterrupted rest and solitude and then sleep. so i would get in the car with the chipper, flirtatious driving instructor who talking about being a painter and praised my nonexistent ability to learn quickly, in a state of debilitating starvation, not having eaten anything at all in twenty four hours. my head would be pounding and i would barely be able to hold the words he spoke to me in my head for long enough to decode them much less respond. every time he asked a question i fought an intense urge to find something to stab him with or maybe to shove through my eardrums instead in order to put an end to my agony. it may or may not have been our last session, but there was a night that it was pitch dark and raining steadily, and i had a very, very bad seizure behind the wheel. somehow he managed to be calm and cheerful when he instructed me to pull over and let him drive us home, and somehow i managed to repress this episode so far back in my mind that it never colored the bitterness i've harbored toward my mom for cutting off my normal development as an adolescent. why should i be the one stunted and held back when all i was doing was trying to be cinderella instead of an ugly step sister? why could she still drive on a diet of less than one thousand calories per day and i couldn't? she told me i was an enigma and she didn't know how to raise a child like me, but i wasn't a child and she wasn't a parent and she didn't get to raise me. and i would rather a million times have had her hand me the keys to a brand new car with her blessing, then wrapped it around a tree and ended up an inch thick layer of jelly smashed between metal plates, then have her tell me my choices prevented me from achieving the milestone of a driver's license. she had no right, but she was right.


it's somewhat the same as my mom's complaints that she never had any privacy or any time for herself. i can see the truth in these words, and a part of me empathizes. but all the same, it doesn't change my view that of course she couldn't have her own life while she was too busy spending every waking moment making sure i didn't get one, either.


my mom was the kind of mother to me who scheduled me an endoscopy, nominally as a means of helping me find out if i had some kind of damage to my stomach that accounted for my inordinately frequent heartburn and acid reflux, while in truth what she wanted was for the doctors to stick a camera down my throat and give her indisputable proof that i was a liar who was still throwing up everything i ate. this may have happened while i was eighteen, but i'm really not sure; it's a memory i can't exactly place, so please bear with me. in the days preceding the operation, i desperately tried to curtail my purging but it was a hopeless enterprise because my bulimia was full blown and controlling me rather than in my control. even as i was stripping off my school uniform, a ratty black polo that day, in the changing room of the hospital, and lacing myself into a hospital gown, my eyes were glued to the mirror hanging on the wall in front of me because i couldn't stop worrying about my weight. similarly to my experience of going under when my wisdom teeth were removed, i did not drift into sleep but all of a sudden my visual and auditory perceptions ended like i was a television that had been clicked off. i remember waking up because it was an excruciatingly nerve wracking experience, seeing my mom's face as the first sensation to greet me when i regained consciousness, unable to ask her but dying to know if the doctors had been able to confirm that i was still vomiting. her smile meant absolutely nothing, because i never knew until she peeled it away whether i was staring at her face or a mask. so i lay there, in mute terror, goose bumps pebbling my flesh, trying to deduce whether or not my life was over, whether it was safe to answer my mom's smile because if she didn't really mean it, if she wore a mask, she'd make me pay for my unguarded emotion later. eventually i found out that the hospital staff couldn't tell if the scarring of my esophagus was old her new. so for the time being, at least, i was granted a reprieve. 


butting getting back to being eighteen: the breaking point came when my mother decided that she'd had it. she would no longer pick up my dinner, enabling my insanity, because i put no effort into our relationship, and therefore did not deserve to receive any help from her. this statement was probably intended to shove me toward repentance and responsibility; however, what it really accomplished was to send me spiraling into an uncontrollable panic. because, if i couldn't get my footlong tuna sub, i knew my next move would be to restrict my diet further to having two of my mom's veggie paddies on flatbread buns per day, which would total a caloric intake of four hundred calories that, even in my skewed estimating, was frightfully lower than the thousand calories i was used to consuming via my customary one daily meal. after at most half a week on this new system, i totally lost it, and ended up sitting in a religious counseling office across from a sour looking, pushy blond woman who i neither liked nor trusted, spilling my guts to her about my terror that my life was always going to be this way, that i would always be fat and starving. 


again, the loop repeated, wherein i pressed an adult who felt she knew best for me to just for once take my word about the situation in my family and help me in some other way than calling my parents, she reassured me that i could confide in her and everything would be okay, then my mom picked me up from school with her lips flat and tight in a straight line, dropped my brother and carpools off at our house, drove somewhere for the express purpose of venting her rage and hurt and betrayal. how dare i have my own problems. wasn't her life hard enough already? i was supposed to be helping her bear her burden, not adding to it. as always, i listened in silence because i had nothing to say, because even if i'd had an answer to any of the questions she hurled me, my mom wouldn't have listened anyway. 


nevertheless, i resolved that day to make a change. and i believe that i lived up to this goal. i did my best to act the part of the golden child in her absence. i let my grades slip lower than they ever had before, spending time with my mom to listen to her talk and holding my newest baby sister for hours on end instead of studying. my mom had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer during her latest pregnancy, which added a whole new level of emotional dynamics to the family. as a result of her surgery and the medication she took daily, which was translated to my baby sister through her breast milk, this new addition to my ever growing pool of siblings seemed to have been born in her terrible two's. she screamed endlessly, and fixed her attendants with a stare of pure hatred far beyond her years while kicking her legs with all her strength into the ribs of the unlucky soul who held her. 


i thought that because i did all this, in return i deserved some privacy and respect. in my mind, because i was functioning as a part of the family now, the least my mom could do was turn a blind eye to some of the activities i chose to engage in while i wasn't wearing my best-est big sister ever hat. to put it simply, i was stupid to even entertain this idea for the barest fraction of a millisecond. i learned a lot about my mom that year, or at least about the stories she told herself to explain who she was. the suitors in high school and college, always being the belle of the ball, being driven from my grandparents' house at the age of fifteen and living with friends and spending her free time in tanning beds and arriving at university in the snow without shoes. she didn't learn anything about me, not even when her discovery of what really went down prom night shattered her illusions that i had become a good daughter whose life was devoted to listening dutifully to her mother's troubles. 


it blows my mind to realize that, had my suicide attempt been successful, this would have been the end of my story. this, and the next thing i have to tell you which i should have included much earlier in my narrative, would be the sum total of my life. and that would be a very sad story indeed. but i did not die. i lived, and not right away but over time i lost everything i thought i had and stripped away everything i thought i was, and gained more than i ever dreamed i could have, and met somebody in myself that i never would have thought to look for.

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