i’m cold. not quite shaking. not quite. but, almost to the point of shaking. i feel these pre-goosebumps coming on. this weird tingling. they feel like they might erupt at any moment.
my skin feels so taut this night. i finally feel paper thin. well, at least my skin feels paper thin. not as smooth as paper, but fragile. like paper. a vellum?
funny. paper isn’t fragile. it’s fairly strong. well, at least laser paper is fairly strong. i love laser paper. it’s strong. superstrong. and brutally white. so blank and powerful. newsprint is thin and fragile. my skin feels like newsprint. no. not like newsprint. like construction paper. cheap construction paper. really cheap construction paper. and i say construction paper because construction paper isn’t as thin and smooth as tracing paper. i want my skin to be thinner. i want it to be like tracing paper. or better yet, latex. tight. with nothing but bone underneath. bone sharp enough to cut latex. bone sharp enough to cut people. bone.
but, my skin is not latex. and its not tracing paper. its just construction paper. the cheapest possible off-brand construction paper that my mom paid too much for at the bodega across the street, because she was too stoned or drunk or spaced-out or weak to buy the real kind at Staples® or even CVS®. i really feel like i am made of the same crummy paper i had to bring to school and get laughed at by the little bunhead girls that lived in “real” buildings like the apthorp or the beresford or the f*cking dakota for heckssake. i want to tear at it. i want to cut it. i want to cut at my crummy construction paper skin.
and i can’t even breathe because i’ve got these chest pains. and i know, i know it’s not from asthma or bronchitis or reflux or anxiety or some other bullsh*t malady. it’s because i haven’t eaten solid food in five days. and i can’t bring myself to eat anything. and i don’t want to eat anything. and i have like six papers due. and i can’t get IT. out of my head. and i want IT to go away. far AWAY. AND I NEVER WANT TO SEE HIM––OR HIS KIND––AGAIN.
BUT, in the background, my roomie keeps chatting away. she’s sooooo excited about her newest IPhone® and all of these stooooopid little things it can do, and the stoooooooopid new katy perry song, which she plays over and over and over again on these silly looking new “ispeakers” that her superbuff new boyfriend bought her.
all i want to do is rip at my off-brand construction paper skin and find a way to finish the six papers and the 1753 pages of reading that are due by monday.
so, i think about hiding in the library. i start fantasizing about the library, in fact. well, not THE library, but “A” library. maybe, i should disappear into the a.d. white reading room/library (or, whatever its called), with its brass-painted wrought-iron railing that they feature in all the viewbooks, which makes the place look like what you think an ivy league school ought to look like, with it’s red carpeting and its multilevel mid-nineteenth century charm (even though the place was built much, much later than that. 1889, i think). but, it all feels so fake to me. well, maybe not “fake,” as the requisite rows of math/science/engineering geeks, studying the kind of superadvanced calculus or linear algebra or quantum mechanics that requires some supersophisticated texas instruments® graphing caluculators, beneath the old-school, green-lamped carrels might imply.
but, the a.d. white library, as pseudo-ostentatious as it may be, is not nearly as grand as the peabody library, shown so incessantly in the johns hopkins literature. now, that’s a library. “a cathedral of books” built by the scions of america’s first guilded age. it’s featured so prominently in all these pictures, you think: “wow. i totally want to go there. even though i know johns Hopkins is totally brutal and everyone there is either a premed, a lacrosse player, or an engineer, none of that matters, because i can ‘LIVE’ in that Peabody library and no one, no one, will ever find me.”
so, you go to baltimore and you go on the tour. and it’s drizzling. and they take you past this 1950s brutalist monstrosity (well, not quite brutalist, just fugly), and you ask, “where’s the cool ‘old’ library? the peabody library?”
and the pimply-faced engineering-geek-tour guide from supersmall town just southwest of erie, pennsylvania, answers like, “oh, the peabody library? the one in all the pictures? oh, that’s a few miles away. it’s near downtown. nobody ever goes there.”
but, he notes, looking lasciviously at your lips or your tits or your eyes or your hair, that the place people tend to hook up in is in some dank corner in the “third basement level of this library, the eisenhower library.” well, one look at him and another look at this superfugly excuse for a library and you’re like “ugh. womp this. hopkins isn’t even an ivy. it’s a f*cking safety school.” and, to your surprise, your mother agrees, “yes. i think not. this would make sense if you were a premed. but…” and the two of you barely contain under your breath what must be your first laugh in like five days days. as you “quietly” ditch the remainder of the tour, the drizzle starts thinking about turning into rain.
but, now, thinking about that laugh. and that moment. and that crappy hotel, which smelled of a nauseatingly curious, asthma-inducing combination of wet puppies, mildew, dust mite feces, stale cigarettes, curry, and dried “ugh,” and the drizzle and baltimore. and the hideous excuse for a tour guide. you feel just a little nauseous. and you realize you are here, in ithaca. and, it’s cold. bitter, f*cking ithaca-cold, “itha-cold.” and you think: we have the same damn brutalist library at cornell. the only difference is that the hook-ups aren’t in the basement, they’re somewhere in the stacks on like the fourth floor, near some foreign grad student’s study cage.
f*ck it. it’s soooooooo bloody cold in here. and i’m not laughing anymore. and the roommate is starting to screech into her iphone®. and it seems like she’s talking to one of her field hockey buddies. then, suddenly, she tells heather, or kyrnya, or whatever this girl’s name is, to hang on. and, suddenly, her voice totally switches to some slippery wet superhetereo-semi-sultry patois, like the kind you’d hear on one of those late-night phonesex cable tv informercials. and she’s cooing into the phone and telling “him” how super fabulous her new ispeakers are. and whispering to him to come by in an hour, so that she can demonstrate how hot they are by giving him a superspecial private dance. then, turning her body away from me, she tries whispering even more softly, so that she can make believe that i’m not around. she curls even more tightly to her iphone®, making sure i can’t hear her. or making sure that he thinks i can’t hear her by covering her mouth as she speaks, “not that ariana would mind….”
so, of course, i hear all of this. and it makes me completely nauseous. i am, very seriously, about to hurl. the sense of violation is beginning to boil beneath my construction paper skin. her cooing and slithering and hiding and deflecting and giving of herself to this “male,” this oh-so-pretty, oh-so-strong, hunk of muscle and flesh and man-meat is soooooo supertriggering that i really can’t breathe.
my chest tightens further. not, from the starvation, but from the fear and the asthma and fear of the asthma produced by the post-traumatic stress of that moment. that moment not so long ago. that moment when i coooooed and slithered and allowed a him to reach inside and steal so much from me. so much more than pride.
i can’t be around her anymore. i can’t hear one more whisper. i can’t look at her adjust her hair, or stare at her nails, or ponder her lips, or tear apart her side of the room looking for her very bestest victoria’s secret® underwire bra.
i curl under my covers. and i pretend to sleep. and i hope it will all go away. but, the chirping and cooing continue. i try covering my ears and burying them in one of my best Ralph Lauren® goosedown pillows. but, even if i can mute the chirping and cooing, i can’t get those images out of my head. those pictures of HIM. not her “him,” but my former “him,” my “him” from am all-too-distant life. so crisp. so beautiful. so, so, superstrong. how could pure evil be wrapped with such complex, beautiful packaging? with each flash of his face, his hair, his jaw, his abs, his superstrong hardbody (honed, oh-so-carefully, by two decades of resolute athletic preparation, and high-protein, low-carb, dietary determination), my esophagus constricts further. my tears grow louder. my desire to slice at my skin increases to the point of total, unbearable terror.
as my roommate coos, i am reliving events best left forgotten. but, i cannot forget. i cannot forget the unforgivable. i cannot let go. i can only implode. i drift to sleep in anger.
five hours later, the roommate stumbles in drunk, so drunk, in fact, that she’s oblivious to my shudders, my tears, my inner screams, as i unveil to some semi-anonymous facebook® friend, in all too grave detail, the litany of my sorrows: the abuse; the unmentionable words that begin with date and end with r*pe; the desire to cut myself into itty bitty slices; the anger; the pain; the shame––every horrifying thought rattling my ana-addled brain.
my semi-anonymous ana friend is so totally there for me that i feel alive for the first time in weeks. i feel a sense of hope. light. something warm, even though the biting cold is seeping through the glass of my dank and drafty dorm. she talks me down from an anxiety attack, an asthma attack, an overwhelming urge to purge, to cut, to overdose on anything. from 4000 miles away, she holds me. she strokes me. she makes me feel something pure. something clean. something beautiful.
suddenly, the moment is broken, as my roommate starts to wretch. i snap into action. grabbing a waste basket, i race to the roomie, guiding her pink, bloated face into my basket of wasted history, english, and physics first drafts. i race into the hall with one of her fluffy, red towels. i wet it in the restroom. and race back to the room, before she’s completely covered in puke.
my radiant glow is gone. as i prevent the puke from enveloping our room in slime and stench, flashes of my druggy, drunken, mother obliterate every strand of warm and fuzzy i had felt just moments before.
i hate my roommate. eight weeks of her drunken revery have induced more moments of post-traumatic stress than i can count. i hate her for reminding me of my mother. i hate her for reminding me of my own horrible war with bulimia, ana’s evil twin. i hate her for having fun. i hate her for having sex. i hate her for befriending the male species. i simply hate everything about her.
finally, she stabilizes into a deep and docile slumber. i return to my ana friend, recounting in detail all of the above. once again, she comforts me. once again, she holds me from across an ocean of cyberspace. once, again she calms me. she brings me back to earth. for that, i am eternally grateful.
in that moment, i am inspired. i am strong. i am willing to be alive.
but, this is november, that weird time between winter and fall, between colorful and cold. my ana-facebook® wants more. she wants me to drop my veil. she wants to know the me that i don’t even know myself. she wants to send me something. she wants an address to go with the words that appear as blocks of poetry and prose in a tiny window at the bottom of her web browser. i have opened my soul to her and she wants so much more.
my chest tightens once again. i need my inhaler. but, i’ve misplaced it in the confusion of the barf-o-rama drama just moments before. she tells me to breathe. she consoles me. but, i still can’t breathe. i don’t fear that she is some middle-aged male internet stalker. i don’t fear that she knows so-and-so from dalton or nightengale or trinity or columbia or brown or cornell. i don’t fear that she lives around the block or in the next dorm. i only fear one thing: the loss of speaking freely, the loss of my one safe place in the world. i fear losing my ability to share openly my fear, my anger, my pain––without fear of retribution.
can stand it anymore. i can’t handle the pressure. i can’t breathe. she is soooo sweet. but, in this moment, i simply can’t handle another moment of human interaction. i type “gtg” into the chatbox and sign off in yet another anxiety attack.
curling tightly beneath my covers, my mind returns to darkness. i feel itchy. allergic. it feels like hives are about to erupt on my arms, my back, my thighs. within minutes, my scratching draws blood, as i dig my nails deeper, and deeper, and deeper into my off-brand construction paper skin. i won’t need to fast. i won’t need to purge. i will cut away my flesh. i will cry away the water weight. i will scream as loud as i can with each bite i take of my skin.
forty minutes later, my alarm clock buzzes. i look worse than my obliterated roommate. it’s november. i need to get back to work. i have 1700 pages to read and like six papers to write. i can’t afford to shred my mind, my spirit my flesh. i must BREATHE. and read. and BREATHE. and write. and BREATHE. on the second buzzer, my room ignites with sunlight. BREATHE. the salt of my tears burns my tattered flesh. november. i must find the strength to be so much more than me.
november 11, 2008