Braided Essay- Consumption

My roommate is sitting in front of me, self-detonating. I don’t know what I can offer, if anything- I’ve been great at tearing things down, not building them back up.
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It’s easier for me to break down. As in, I break down myself. I break down words into easier-to-consume syllables. I break down cars, computers, the things I care for. It’s only to make things easier for me to process- there is only so much space I carry within me, there is only so much I can hold. That’s why I have poetry. It helps me break down these things inside of me I don’t quite understand, the things I don’t want to hold on to. I can conveniently take this ((emotion, situation, pain)) and break it into something that can be swallowed, that can slip past your teeth and sit in your mouth. I can make trauma pretty, I can make heartache appetizing, I can make myself something that doesn’t need to exist in any other context than as something to be eaten. And you’ll like it better than the parts of me I composted to get there.

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My mother would have my sister and I help her with dinner: chopping up onions, grating cheese, dicing bell peppers, the basic building blocks of cooking. I’ve always been good with a knife. Didn’t mean I wanted to be. I could have gone all my life without knowing what that tool can do in my hands, what my hands are capable of.

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The tension to say something fills the table that is between us. She’s waiting for a response and all I can do is worry over what I could possibly say to her. She has worked so hard at building herself into what she wants to become. All I can do is admire her. She sits in front of me, shaking her head at her own framework- how her iron is warped, how the metal skeleton of her shape is deformed no matter how hard she tries to straighten herself out, how close she is to taking a wrecking ball to it all and all I can think to say is, “Don’t be so hard on yourself” as if city code won’t coming sweeping through her with citations of exposed rebar, of cracked foundations, of broken pipes. And she knows this too.   

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Maybe I think too much of consumption. Tuberculous used to be known as “the consumption” based on how the disease eats you whole. How you are left with the barest parts of you needed to survive so you can draw your last breath. Many writers also died of consumption- Chekov and Keats, Kaftka and Orwell. Perhaps that is just what artists do, waste away inside of themselves. How else do they unearth that level of humanity? It is necessary to consume what you can in order to understand how this world works. Perhaps, I am an artist.
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Weapons were not allowed in the home, so my family got creative- we used everyday objects to make each other bleed. My sister was fond of her nails. I used to joke she was feral in her anger, letting her “lizard-brain” take over as our father would say. I lorded it over her, like my anger was more sophisticated than hers. Our mother didn’t want to see us bleed, she was maternal in that regard. But she wanted us to remember that pain- also maternal in that regard, trying to keep us from making the same mistake twice. Wooden Spoons, Hairbrushes, sometimes shoes, mostly chucked at my father’s shadow. The worst were her tears. While the bruises were something that faded within a week, my heart still bleeds at recalling her saltwater.  

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My roommate hasn’t shut down her construction zone yet. There is no demolition team prepped for her to call inside her body. I look at her eyes. She is tired. So am I. I know what the aftermath of tearing apart what you’ve built-up can be. She only holds small code violations- nothing that can’t be patched up in a quick fix. These are easy. This is something she can do, if she eases up on her own mistakes. This is something she knows. This is something I know too well. My mouth opens before I realize I’m speaking: “Be more self-disciplined, stop disciplining yourself”, and my hands reach out across the table, palms turned upward to hold hers in. She rests her hands in mind and it’s the first time I’ve seen her body relax in a long time.

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I am too tense- too much like my father, always ready for a fight. We have both been too comfortable with using language as violence- letting fists speak when words stop. That’s not to say that we don’t have tongues for knives. He can use words to cut through bone, through ego. Even used his silence to stab into me lessons he thought I should learn- like how to be a better daughter, how to be an object. He would only resort to fists when words failed. I bested my father in words when I was 19. I drew blood with a, “You will always be a disappointment to me too, Father. Just like how yours disappointed you.” and there was a crack. He didn’t rush, so much as stormed (he took his time to reach me) and backhanded me across the face. I can still feel the image of his knuckles. I can still feel the immense amount of pride that I had pushed him over the edge, that he was weak enough to hit me. When he saw the challenge in my eye, he backed away. My father has always been a coward. That’s how he’s survived. That’s how I became a threat.

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I’ve thought about eating myself. Less TB-styled consumption and more literal. Perhaps a bit more metaphorical than I’d like to admit, but a more literal interpretation nonetheless. Not in a cannibalistic way, but more so as in I can just digest the parts of me I don’t like, let the stomach acid bathe it into nothing. We can dissolve the bones of some small animals, what of the skeletons taking up room in my closet? I can devour them rib by rib and make room for the newest Spring/Summer Collection, increase my consumerism to more materialistic means. It’s a nice thought, to waste away what I try so desperately to actively destroy just with a meal.

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My roommate shakes her shoulders with a laugh accompanied by, “wow that’s a really good line” and I chuckle and squeeze her hands while smiling into the response of I’m full of them. She deluges to me some things her her life, and I mine. We both make resolutions to eat better, get healthier together- keep each other on track. It’s worked so far. But something has clung to me since that day.     

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The first time I pulled a knife on someone, I told them if they were gonna try anything, I would not hesitate to shove this inside of them and not worry about what I would fuck up. There must have been something honest in my eyes since they believed me. I wasn’t terrified they wouldn’t believe me, I was terrified that I wasn’t acting.  

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I do not like slicing open parts of myself to reveal to others. I would prefer if they would accept the parts I tore out with any delicacy or attempt of plating and aesthetics. I cannot deny the artform of presentation, but I’ve always hated presenting myself. I’d rather give you the scraps of what I’ve butchered from my system.

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I cannot help but wonder why I ignore my own advice. Why is it that my ears keep on returning phrases to me?? I tell someone something I desperately needed to hear, but my ears are ungrateful.  

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I have constantly been told I’m ungrateful by my father.  

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The first things I would eat are my ears.

 

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=> I should probably be more self disciplined instead of disciplining myself.  

=> I pulled the knife on my father,

=> This hunger is natural

=> I should forgive myself more.

=> He looks at me and I see

=> this total need to devour

=> God, I wish

=> betrayal. But I know he sees

=> the rotten and rancid parts of me

=> -I can change, I can change-

=> that if it’s me and mom or him, I will not hesitate in choosing who to defend.
=> I have to stop lying, this isn’t hunger, nothing so simple-

=> I will strive to not be consumed by my anger.

=> He backs off, almost disbelieving. Almost.

=> This isn’t hunger; This is shame.    

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