I’m eating BBQ Lays out of the trashcan, which smells like vomit because I puked fluorescent lemon into it a few hours ago and still have some stuck in the gold chain around my neck that holds my grandfather’s wedding ring. I’m eating them from the bag, which I poured dish soap into last night so I would stop eating them, which is in the trashcan at the top. I’m picking around the soapy parts but every once and a while I still get one that tastes like Palmolive, causing me to surrender my livelihood, or just vomit again. The trashcan is lopsided in the middle of the room, souring the static air of my studio apartment. I’m still wearing the tight black dress I wore out last night, hiked up over my hips without a bra like a prostitute or an American Idol contestant, which doesn’t matter because I’m alone, caked in vomit and sticky BBQ sugar.
As I continue to eat, my body halfway between where the kitchen laminate and living area carpet meet, I feel like Jell-O melting. I wonder if I have enough money on my debit card to order a pizza but ultimately decide that I don’t want to deal with the delivery guy and his judgment. I think about driving to Burger King instead but don’t because I don’t want to see the person at the drive-thru look at me like I remind them of the worst thing they’ve ever done. So I keep eating even though it’s hard to tell which chips are soapy at this point because they’ve all congealed into one big antibacterial-BBQ ball. The kitchen is cold on my bare legs, I try to think about the worst thing I’ve ever done and ultimately decide that I can’t decide. I squeeze at my stomach and try to grab a fist full of fat, and feel a little better because I can’t. Then I lay my back on the cool plastic floor and run my palms flat over the skin to see if I can feel a bulge between my upper and lower abdomen; feeling a little better still because I can’t do that, either.
I come from a paternal Sicilian-American family who attributes every condition, accident, ailment, misfortune, or memory-loss to having not eaten something, and to whom weeknight antipasti consists of scungilli salad, prosciutto, and mozzarella. My mother is a hybrid first generation Serbian-Italian, short and svelte and blessed with the Eastern European woman’s aptitude for moderation; I was instead predestined for lifelong cravings of canolli rigotti and ravioli. I started my first diet at age six, swearing off pepperoni and provolone sandwiches in favor of early childhood vegetarianism. I hated my mother and grandmother and every one of my female relatives for promoting Barbies; inspiring my first feminist conflict between hating the dolls’ illusory, plastic representation of what a woman should be and hating myself for wanting to become that woman. I cut off their straight hair and acrylic limbs with purple safety scissors, colored their eyes in with scented markers, and developed a brutal detestation for the lack of space between my thighs.
Since kindergarten I’ve been vegetarian, vegan, bulimic, anorexic, orthorexic, overweight, underweight, and at present day, pescatarian with a BMI of 23.4 and an inclination towards binge exercising. While the space between my thighs fluctuated throughout each chapter of my disordered eating, I never once achieved the distance I desired. Despite being deemed the “skinny” one in my dad’s family, my size six/eight ass is still deemed by my own, my mother’s, and society’s standards as curvy — not curvy in the swimsuit model or porn star sense, but curvy in the Cosmopolitan’s “Best Look for Your Body Type” sense, Gap’s “Not-So-Skinny” jean sense, the if-I-were-a-model-I’d-be-plus-size sense; the sense that says that I’m not thin enough.
When I go grocery shopping I buy only daytime foods — produce, quinoa, almond milk, Greek yogurt, lox and “bagel thins” (which are literally just thin bagels that cost twice as much as the plain ones), and preoccupants (in-shell pistachios, pickles, 100-calorie bags of microwave popcorn, chewing gum, peppermint tea); “busy foods”, as my mother and every glossy women’s magazine next to the candy bars in every checkout line of every supermarket in America calls them. Plus sometimes, if I’m shopping alone, Weight Watchers brand fudgesicles, sugar-free pudding, or vegan ice cream sandwiches — I leave the store in the sunshine faith of daytime that I won’t be eating any bad stuff. I buy the bad stuff exclusively in privatized moments of 2 a.m. desperation — Ben & Jerry’s, Oreos, Nutella and Nilla Wafers, Jack’s double cheese frozen pizza, Break ‘n Bake sugar cookies, New York Cheddar Kettle Corn, King Size bags of Skittles, and BBQ Lays chips. On these nights I go to the grocery store on the other side of town; the one with the worst, most violent lighting that’s always vacant and open twenty-four hours. On these nights I don’t want to see anyone that I’d ever want to; I don’t want anyone know me. Once, at 1 a.m. at a Wal-Mart six miles outside of town, I ran into the cute, brooding boy from my Asian Horror Cinema class and bolted out of the store before he could see me, unpaid ice cream under my arm.
Some nights a dawdling old lady in front of me will load her thirty-five cans of Whiskah’s or black olives or tuna onto the conveyor belt in meticulous horizontal lines and the checkout girl will tell me that John or Brandon is open in lane five or seven and I’ll mumble something like, “Oh, I don’t mind waiting,” and continue to flip through glossy pictures of Stars With Cellulite in Life And Style, my extremities feeling increasingly hot and my teeth numb from anxiety. Or I’ll pretend not to hear, appearing to be absorbed in my cell phone, while the unaffected old woman irons her coupons out on the counter for eleven excruciating minutes. I don’t want John or Brandon to scan my pint of Cherry Garcia and look at me with male eyes that say I remind them of the worst thing they’ve ever done, while I verbalize my obligatory robotic response that my day was “fine.” Because even though the checkout girl, whose nametag has rearranged itself from reading “I’M A HELPFUL HAND!” to “SHAME ON YOU!” will look at me with the same disdain, I’ll be able to get through it with her. I used to go exclusively through the line with the obese cashier until I realized that he looks at me this way the worst. So now I go through the line with the woman, because at least when I let her know how miserably fine my day was, she doesn’t question me.
When I got my period for the first time, in the sixth grade bathroom, my mother left work early and took me to the Jewel-Osco to buy pads. She selected a mint green box of assorted absorbencies and explained to me that these were the best. She wrote a check for them with a felt-tip pen and handed it over to the Russian man at the register who then cleared his throat with brute force and asked, “Do you vant bag?” Yes, my mother told him, of course — and explained to me in a whisper that they’re usually very discreet about the whole thing. When the woman at the two a.m. checkout poses the same question, she does so with a level of nonchalance so severe that my eyeballs nearly roll out of their sockets onto her register and look at her frozenly before she asks again, “Would you like a bag?” Yes, I want a bag, I think of course.
I spend the entire twenty-five minute bike ride home from the store planning; mentally scanning my Netflix Instant Queue for the perfectly appropriate visual accompaniment to my gluttony, re-counting the number of calories I’ve already consumed throughout the day and rounding everything up by ten, estimating how early I’ll need to set tomorrow’s alarm for the equivalent time needed at the gym. When I get home, I usually eat half of whatever bad stuff I bought and throw the rest out, feeling satisfyingly guilty for at least not eating all of it. After the first or second time of digging the food out of the garbage, eating under the dim light above the sink in my underwear, I pour dish soap on it, a trick my mother once taught me. Sometimes I go back and eat around it, if I can; this is acceptable because eventually I’ll gag on a soapy part and throw it all up. Other times, deciding that I’ve done enough damage already, I go on to eat everything else in the kitchen; all of the busy foods, a packet of the pasulj soup my mother sent in the mail, a bowl of Life and vanilla soymilk. I then weigh myself, jump thigh-high into the shrunken pair of size-four “skinny” jeans from my pre-anorexic phase and remember how, in the Gap dressing room two and a half years ago, my mother clapped her hands together when I buttoned them and said, “Look at you, skinny minnie — did you ever think you’d be a size four?”