Brownie Sundae

In honour of Father’s Day, here’s an essay I wrote a couple years ago about my dad’s death:

There were dead people in the letters. Birds’ nests braided, golden, in the hollow of the O and around the corners of the H, and the dead people walked through them, tiny at first, tiny as they slipped through the toothpick-thin cracks in the concrete, as they spun between the letters and out into the heavy air. That’s when they disappeared, dissolved, disintegrated. They became part of the bubblegum blue sky, the tissue paper clouds, and the grass–the parched, the yellow, the grass, the grass with its life all hacked and sucked away.

What was it like to die? Was it like getting your ears pierced? Just a pinch! Was it sweet like eating a brownie? Was it like jumping into Barton Springs in December?

The dirt was slippery, quite, and grainy, and dry. That’s because it hadn’t rained in ages. (I was fine with that. I mean, I didn’t want it to rain tomorrow. Rain would ruin the Keep Austin Weird parade.) Hey, that’s why–why the grass was dead.

“We’re near TCBY, right?” I asked, tired of standing on the dirt by the side of a busy road, surrounded by suffocated grass, looking at the lettering on the side of an ugly, grey building.

“I–” The grumbling of a passing car gobbled up the rest of the nameless  family friend’s sentence.

“My dad would let me have ice cream,” I crossed my arms defensively.

An old, silvery woman with skin like a wet paper bag had just peered out from behind the L.

“Are you sure you want ice cream?”

“Um, duh.” What kind of question was that?

We got in the car. The doors, as they shut, clicked like the trigger of a gun. “Here,” I took out my phone, my nine-year-old self’s prized possession, which looked rather like an enlarged green jellybean, “I’ll call my dad.” I said that like it was such an imposition. “He’d let me have ice cream.”

The phone rang. There was no answer. I tried again.

We weren’t moving; it wasn’t the 5:30 traffic; he hadn’t started the car. “I promise,” I whined, impatiently slamming my fingers onto the phone’s plastic buttons. “My dad takes me to TCBY every day.” That wasn’t entirely true. (We went almost everyday, but only when I had practiced violin for an hour and twenty minutes and only if we rode our bikes around the block and down the steep Far West hill to our destination.)

“Stop.” He said quietly; he sounded like his mouth was stuffed with cotton balls.

“Stop what?”

“Stop calling him.”

“Why?” He wasn’t going to get me the ice cream. I could feel it.

“He’s not going to pick up.”

The nameless family friend sounded so serious. It wasn’t a big deal. My dad was probably just brazenly taking the Band-Aid off his knee–why would he even need it? he just fell off a bike!–or signing the discharge papers. He’d meet us there. “He’d even pay you back.”

I heard a “fine,” a defeated, muffled “fine.” The red car turned on, and the engine spat golden-orange, glowing sparks. We drove away from the building, from the faces in the lettering, down the highway, and past a screeching ambulance. The dead people faded into red, and then into grey, then into white. They were just dead people, dead people in the letters, getting fainter, getting lighter, getting softer, as we got farther and farther from them.

It did not occur to me that at 6:53PM there would be crooked, yellow teeth, a mustache, and a white bicycle in the crevice on the letter P, bicycling, bicycling in circles, bicycling up and down. As we drove, the family friend and I, in the maroon car towards the swirls of frozen yogurt and the fountains of sprinkles, they–the corpses–looked down, placid, knowing, watching. They smiled; they smiled, because they knew, the dead people in the letters.

A Literary Critic’s Take on Anorexia

Six months ago exactly, I was 70.4 lbs, 6.6 lbs above my ultimate goal weight. My ribs popped out like little crescent moons; I couldn’t help but smile every time I saw them. Of course, I had to lose that last little bit of flab from my upper arms, but aside from that atrocity, I was actually–for the first time in my life–starting to like the way I looked. Each puffy, protruding vein, every visible spinal vertebra was a badge of honour; I was proud of my perfectly rectangular shoulder-blades, the gap between my thighs, the way my collar-bone stuck out, how it swooped across my chest like a seagull or a scythe. I was just a couple pounds away from being really, genuinely, truly happy… wasn’t I?

‘I’ is probably the wrong word here. In fact, from a literary-critical perspective the previous paragraph’s use of the first person pronoun in any and all of its forms is specious diction at best. ‘I’ is, after all, a word that implies (and arguably declares) connection, agency, and self, while the possessive ‘my’ carries with it an air of control. Since elementary rules of grammar dictate that the qualities of a pronoun are applicable too to its referent, this personal statement’s subject should be syllogistically characterisable by the aforelisted attributes; in this instance, however, such a linguistic transfer is ‘infelicitous’ (to borrow a term from noted theorist J.L.L. Austin), because the traits that define the pronoun are the very ones its referent so signaturely lacks. Drained of agency until her bones were hollow, purged of connection until her eyes turned red and bloody, and starved of self until even her internal organs had given up on her, the girl described above was anything but an ‘I’; frankly, considering her low blood estrogen levels and shrunken, shrivelled breasts, a compelling argument could be made that ‘she’ was hardly even a ‘she’. It, for that seems the only non-malapropos appellation, was a zombie, a walking heart attack, a disease.

Anorexia replaced me; it became who I was. I don’t know why; I’m not sure how. Perhaps my eating disorder was a natural progression of my depression; perhaps King’s wasn’t the enlightening educational experience I expected it to be and in lieu of an academic challenge I lost 40-something pounds in three months; perhaps the illness and the insecurities crept in through my pores like they convinced me calories would? The consequences are the same regardless. I flamed out of a world-class university, did irreversible damage to my body, and put my career at stake; even the most profound of psychological explanations cannot and will not change those facts.

I can, as I did at the beginning of this essay, idealise my eating disorder all I want. I can reminisce about being thin in lush, loving language. I can tell you how glamorous it was, how it was my best friend, my favourite hobby, the solution to all my problems. I can even say my eating disorder made me happy, that it allowed me to love myself, that it gave me a reason to live–and it did, for awhile at least. But that’s not the whole story; anorexia isn’t all cheekbones and cliches. Anorexia is hair that falls out in clumps, trembling knees that buckle under shaking thighs, electrolyte imbalances, chills and convulsions, heart attacks, preventricular complexes, incontinence, palpitations, supraventricular bradycardia, inappropriate sinus tachycardia; anorexia is diet pill overdoses, toothbrushes stuck down my throat, and scissors covered in crusty blood from the time I tried to slice the fat off my thighs; anorexia is having no choice but to drop out school and being forced to leave the dance studio I called home; anorexia is a mental illness, a disease, a fucking death sentence. That’s the truth, the reality, the story of anorexia, but that cannot and will not be the story of me–no, not anymore.