Self-Portrait, Thomas Vause
When you wake up, you will weigh yourself one, two, three times for safe measure. 95.0 lbs, 94.6 lbs, 94.8 lbs. Fat, fat, obnoxiously fat. You will poke at your cheeks where they are swollen from overactive salivary glands and you will drink ten glasses of ice water to counteract the bloating. Ice water. Always use ice. If a food or drink is cold it burns more calories as your body works to keep your temperature steady.
Then you will dress in layers of clothing: sweatshirts, thermals, and leggings, as to burn as many calories as possible on the treadmill. You want to sweat. Sweat is good. After an hour you will start to feel tired. Your heart will pound in your ears. You will keep going. You will keep going and going and going until the adrenaline drowns out the sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. Once you start seeing double, and the calories burned twice overcome the calories consumed the day before, you will step off the treadmill and try not to faint.
You have to stop fainting all the time. People will worry. Your mother will worry. She will arrange decorative sculptures over cherry-stained wood end tables and she will buy more and more things to fit some color scheme you can’t keep up with. She will tug at your waistband and say “These look bigger than they did the last time you wore them.” and you will shrug and say you stretched them out. She will excitedly tell you what she is making for dinner. Your favorite. Always your favorite. Anything to get you to eat. Eat, eat, eat. That’s all anyone says anymore. You will half-smile and thank her for her consideration. You will worry about how many bites of food you can stuff into your napkin before she starts to notice. You will worry about how many bites you will actually have to swallow. She will applaud you for your efforts. Such a good job. You tried your best. You will examine the artwork you have created on your plate to deter yourself from actually consuming it. She will hand you your spreadsheet and make you write down exactly what you ate, and the caloric value. She will post it on the fridge for encouragement that feels a lot more like shame.
At night you will drive to the gas station. It will be two in the morning, and your parents will be asleep upstairs. You will climb the stairs slowly, silently, like sneaking out to a party. A party of one. You will turn off the alarm and cover the speaker. The words will vibrate into your palm “Doors and windows disarmed.” The Quick-‘nd-EZ down the road will be brightly lit. It will be empty besides the two-pack-a-day clerk that sold you cherry flavored cigarettes before you had the proper ID. She will give you the same sorry look she gives you every night and she will smile halfway before returning to her Us Weekly. You will walk up and down the aisles of neon labeled candies and cellophane wrapped pastries. The sound of the top 40’s playlist will morbidly echo throughout the store. You will resist the urge to pull out your phone camera and examine how you look in this moment. The lighting will be shit. Your eyes will be yellow and your skin gray and porous. You will pour an extra large slushy, cherry, and grab a container of Ben and Jerry’s from the freezer. You will pile up your loot on the counter—let it spill from the wide pocket of your extra-large sweatshirt. You will pay in cash. You will always pay in cash.
Your mother will always check your bank statements. When you get home, you will strip down. You will remove bulging sweatshirts and fleece sweatpants that conceal your shame. You will pull down department store underwear, the kind you buy when your mother won’t let you shop at Victoria’s Secret, the kind she holds up in front of her chest and says “These ones are cute! They cover the whole butt, see?” the kind you would hand to her, balled up in your palm, embarrassed, so she would run them under cold tap water to remove bloodstains if you still got your period.
Then you will pinch your arms. Your thighs. Your stomach. You will take a sharpie and draw circles on your body. Where it’s soft, mark it. Where it’s bulging, where it’s squishy, where you can’t feel bone on the surface with a light touch. Then you will write messages backwards to read them in the mirror: “Fat Fuck,” “Ugly Piece of Shit,” “Disgusting.” You will pinch the skin and roll the words between your fingers; you will leave red marks and crescent-moon indents from sharp fingernails.
Then you will arrange. You will build a shrine. You will spread powdered donuts, chocolate cookies, tubs of ice cream, green and blue and red licorice, peanut butter and white chocolate and marshmallows. You will sit in the middle of a crop circle of calories and confections and you will sip soda to expand your stomach. You will wash it all down with cherry slushy and you will let it dribble down your chest. Your hands will be sticky and tense from the fast-paced unwrapping. You will eat until it hurts. You will eat until it doesn’t hurt anymore.
Then you will turn the shower on, the steam will make you sweat and what’s left of your hair will frizz and expand to show the obnoxiously Jewish curls and waves you try so hard to straighten. You will enter the shower, naked, ink and bruise covered skin from iron deficiency, you will be careful not to make too much noise. You will sit on the bench in the shower, wet and chafing your ass when you bend over to stick one, two fingers down the throat. You will hold your hair above your head with one hand and with the other you will scrape esophageal tissue, blood will gather under your fingernails and it will hurt. It will fucking hurt. You will push on your stomach while you wave your fingers around in the back of your throat until you feel it coming. You will salivate. You will taste powdered donuts, chocolate cookies, tubs of ice cream, green and blue and red licorice, peanut butter and white chocolate and marshmallows, cherry slushy, and acidic soda. The chocolate will taste the worst coming up.
You will take solace that this, this will make you beautiful. Your head will throb. You will push in on your temples and hope your fingers might slip through the layer of skin and wires of nerves and puncture your brain. You will let the water run in through your nose and out your mouth. You will breathe it in and cough it up, tinted pink and flavored like pennies. You will let the water pound on your chest and you will lose count of your heartbeats underneath its steaming hot, consistent pressure. You will wipe up what didn’t go down the drain. You will brush your teeth three times and try not to trigger your gag reflex. You will wrap yourself up in blankets and turn your space heater on to the maximum amount of watts.
You will not cry. You are not weak. You are not weak.
You will have nightmares about eating. It’s Thanksgiving or Passover or your birthday. You will fill your plate. You will eat every last bite. Puff pastries and tenderloin steak. Butternut squash and Haricot Vert green beans. Balsamic reduction over turkey breast. Triple Chocolate cake. Éclairs. Bow-tie pasta and matzo ball soup and petit fours. There won’t be a bathroom in sight to get rid of it. The food will sink into your arms and legs, your thighs will envelop your whole body. You will wake up sweating. You will count your ribs, touch your hipbones, finger your spine, it was only a dream. Lay back down, see how high you can touch fingers around your arm, fear tomorrow, go back to sleep.
Your hair will fall out in clumps of withering, brown locks. Your mouth will have the permanent taste of blood and toothpaste. You won’t be able to think in a straight line of thoughts. You will have conversations with people and lose yourself midway. Where am I again? What are we talking about? It’s this irrevocable exhaustion. You will sleep ten hours a night and won’t be able to wake up in the morning. Stand up out of bed, dizzy, fall down, crawl to the bathroom, face on the tile, take a pill, numb the pain. This is the life you wanted. You will be sure you looked skinnier than yesterday. The number on the scale went down and your collarbones are protruding a bit more. Your eyes will sag. The doctor will say that your electrolytes are off balance, your blood sugar at dangerous levels. If you keep this up, you won’t have much longer to live. You will read obituaries and think you wouldn’t mind seeing your own. You don’t know if dying from this would be a reward from God or a punishment. But you will look in the mirror, see your ribs when you’re standing up straight, your hipbones protruding to canopy thin skin over disgusting insides, and you will think:
I can do better. I can be better. This is just the beginning.
About the Artist
Thomas Vause · Florida State University
Thomas Vause was a Humanities student at Florida State University. More of his work can be found at www.lingeronart.com. This piece first appeared in The Eyrie and has since been the 2017 Genre Winner.