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A Biography Devours Itself

MY EX AND I ARE STILL TOGETHER. Or, to say it more eloquently, we’ve been fucking not dispassionately since our momentous departure at a dimly-lit downtown bar whose fake elegance we hoped could conceal how hackneyed the entire thing was. I drank two greyhounds and then we started over. I cried to give the event a kind of tangibility, even when that tangibility still turns into physical isolation.

Continuing to sleep with each other, and hungrily, was a prerequisite to our eventual real split. It’s as though if he tries hard enough, he can fuck the memory of himself and his body out of me, because one can’t be alone without facing a white and unscalable wall of memory.

My loneliness from my ex is different from my loneliness from the memory of my mother, who hated him, or the memory of my dead cousin Danny, whose existence was limited to a collection of heavy-metal records and the sensation of my first hit of marijuana. It was different from the memory of the first girl I loved and wanted to touch.

Her name was Annie, and I never saw her in any out t other than a hospital gown. She was so thin, however, that she barely wore the thing. Annie scarfed down food with animalistic rapaciousness at Children’s National, and insisted a stomach virus was making her so thin. This wasn’t the classic case of anorexia and self-denial: Annie’s smile, wider than her face, and the mysterious disappearance of her stomach virus upon entering the ward convinced everyone — nurses, therapists, the girls, myself included — that her body starved not from within, like our bodies, but due to something outside itself. I know that in writing about Annie like this I am abstracting from and erasing her. I am claiming her like I couldn’t when she was twelve and I was ten. Her pitifulness was loud, and I felt as though if I stood next to her — close enough to feel her collarbone breaking through yellowing skin — I could cut o a chunk of that effortless desperation, eat it, be transported like Carroll’s love- starved Alice to a world where thinness just happens. Did I, then perhaps too young to begin to understand love, con ate my desire for invisibility with romance? The anorexic’s journey is one part a affectation, two parts genuine egotism.

One afternoon when the nurses and aides weren’t watching I asked Annie to kiss me — she did. Her teeth knocked against mine, and after that we barely spoke. I reinvent the story now with an all-too-poetic surfeit of love to get at the feeling of the memory, but I can’t. I loved her as a surrogate for my own body, which I couldn’t touch, even through a religious dedication to hunger. I loved her, and she left the hospital before I did, convinced still that her diagnosis was false.

In Kafka’s A Hunger Artist, the subject’s eating disorder is a kind of pious performance art. The man — if you can gender him — at the center of the story is put on display at a circus, and when crowds fall sick of his “talent,” a caged panther replaces him. The panther symbolizes what the hunger artist couldn’t do: scare his audience into adoration and worship. The animal overshadows the hunger artist’s departure from the story. Annie is this creature that blotted me out of the story. Even today, I fear I’m not “disordered enough.” Like Kafka’s heretic, my starvation was self-imposed, false.

As I grew older and relearned how to eat, I fell in love with a number of men and women who were always so thin I felt they could replace me as Annie did. Friends say I “have a type.” One of my types, a man, claimed my body like an illness. Shortly after, he became my ex, and one morning after a night with him we ate a breakfast in relative silence. I dutifully purged afterward in the style of devout and routine prayer.

“You did the bad thing.”

He stood outside the bathroom door, taking up so little space.

“It was the right amount of time.”

I felt too present, too much of myself, to respond. His face crumbled. Frail thing. I loved him as a surrogate for my own body, which I couldn’t touch. I loved him, and he left.

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