GAP, noun \’gap\ :
(1) a difference, especially an undesirable one, between two views or situations
(2) an incomplete or deficient area
(3) an assailable position
Katie Ledecky carves water into shards as the construction men shatter the street outside our house, hunting for the source of the leak. The excavator’s teeth gnash asphalt while our dirty dinner dishes languish in piles in the sink since we’re forbidden from turning on the faucets while they toy with the pipes.
With our surrounding ground rumbling, crumbling, and caving in, our family tree is temporarily replanted. We spread our warped branches across the couch. Home from grad school for the summer, my younger sister shifts her eyes up and down from her iPhone to the television screen. Mom pauses balancing her checkbook towards the end of each race to cheer for the swimmers, as if they can hear her, while Dad reclines with his laptop in his lap in the slumped corner of the cushions he has always preferred.
I’m visiting from Brooklyn, where I’ve spent the past three years since college graduation. I’ve arrived at the same time as both the Summer Olympics and the sinkhole that’s oozing yellow-green murk into the gutter. I perch on an arm of the sofa, not quite committed to sitting but not going anywhere, either.
Mom’s whole torso tilts forward as she shrieks. “Go, ladies, go!” This communal spectating is its own homecoming. My sister swam competitively throughout our shared childhood and we spent every sticky, summer Saturday hollering her name from different pool decks. She couldn’t make out our voices with her head submerged underwater but that was never the point.
We flailed and screeched at the races we could not control, sharply aware that a mere half-second shaved off a single stroke could be the difference between winner and loser.
I never understood exactly what the point was. I was too painfully unathletic and too uncomfortable with the overall concept of athletic rivalry. It seemed slightly delusional: pitting goggle-decked pubescents against one another in a concrete rectangle of aquatic chemicals, as if the fastest splashing movements of their growing bodies could truly represent some significant victory or virtue. As bystanders, we flailed and screeched at the races we could not control, sharply aware that a mere half-second shaved off a single stroke could be the difference between winner and loser.
“This is all make-believe bullshit,” I sometimes wanted to say. But I didn’t because she was my sister, because supportiveness seemed to require complacently embracing the illusion, and because I cared about her competitions in spite of myself. I cheered, too, as loyalty clenched itself around my chest in the final seconds of each heat, squeezing zealous enthusiasm from unexpected corners of my body.
To entertain myself during the in-between moments, I texted my best friend, Shayna. “Save me,” I might have said, “from this make-believe bullshit.” I flipped through fashion magazines, gently ripping my favorite pages from the seams. I snuck glazed donuts from the snack bar when my parents were too distracted by their pride and anxiety to ask questions like: Are glazed donuts a wise breakfast choice? Have you given yourself enough insulin? Is your blood sugar in range? How about a fruit cup? (For a Type 1 diabetic, a mere digit shaved off a single glucose meter reading can be the difference between healthy and unhealthy. Or can seem that way.)
“What a split!” my mom says now, as Katie Ledecky wins by more than six feet. “She’s a powerhouse,” says my sister, and we all agree. Outside, the trucks continue to gobble their way into the ground.
An oral cavity is a cavern caused by decay. Natural bacteria in the mouth can overgrow when inadequately curbed by brushing and flossing, and the acids they produce (while feeding off of the sugar and carbohydrates we ingest) begin to eat into the top layers of enamel on the teeth. We eat, and they eat, and their excrement eats into our bones.
If the deteriorated stuff isn’t drilled away and the pit isn’t filled, the cavity continues to grow into a deepening abscess, until it reaches a nerve or precipitates a farther-reaching infection.
Still, only 40% of Americans floss daily. 20% never floss. We ignore the dentists’ warnings, however right we know they are. We are careless and lazy. But we react to the diagnosis of a cavity like it’s an unjust affront. With our palms gripping a plastic-coated recliner, our eyes squeezed shut, our grimaced lips forced open, and whirring metal digging down towards our gums, we swear to ourselves that we’ll floss from now on. And then we break that promise. Again and again.
March 23, 2009, 10:31 p.m.
@shayna_amie: did amanda tell you her story about mark? it’s so sad and scary. wow.
@leah_pellegrini: NO AMANDA DIDN’T TELL ME. TELL ME
@shayna_amie: okay, so, she asks him to prom. which takes lots of balls. but for a person like amanda, x 12.
and he says NO IM HOLDING OUT FOR JESSICA. WHAT THE FUCK! WHO SAYS NO?
i can’t imagine what i’d feel like if that happened to me. i’m scared shitless to ask eliot now, i didn’t think people said no.
@leah_pellegrini: WAIT. that’s like, kinda MEAN. and really dumb. mark is SO damn overrated.
n e wayyyz, eliot OBVIOUSLY will not say no to YOU because you’re you and he digs you and if HE is waiting out for jessica, my world will combust.
@shayna_amie: ITS SO MEAN i’m so upset.
i decided that even though a cute proposal is nice it is not in the spirit of me so i’m just going to be casssssual and ask eliot in like, physics. don’t be mad.
@leah_pellegrini: i will be mad if you ask eliot in physics. if you do that, you have to at least scribble it in cute note form, or something.
@shayna_amie: hows YOUR prom date btw
@leah_pellegrini: he came over today
@shayna_amie: WHAT DID YOU DO WHEN HE CAME OVER AHEM HEEMEMMEMEMEM DID YOU HAVE SOME FUN?!?!?!?
@leah_pellegrini: wellLlLLLll before i forget, he made a comment about how you’re skinny while he was here. i swear to god.
@shayna_amie: WHAT. i am actually very perplexed about this skinny thing. i just weighed myself for the first time in months and it’s an unhappy sight. i can’t even tell you, so you know it’s bad.
i cant believe he said that. that’s insane. i’m a fan though.
it just doesn’t make sense though. like, you wouldn’t call certain people skinny. they’re not fat but you would never say, oh susan and heather and cara are skinny. i put myself in that category……….
ps. how did me being skinny even come up?
@leah_pellegrini: we were going through his tagged pics on Facebook, originally looking for potential profile pics but then just browsing and laughing (this sounds lame)
we got all the way to the beginning and i said woah look at shayna she’s so little! and he went little? she’s still so skinny!
and i said no no not skinny, like small, like young! and he said oh! then it ended.
point being, he thinks you’re skinny. which you are. disregard the scale.
@shayna_amie: SHE’S STILL SO SKINNY WHOOOOOA I LOVE HIM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
@leah_pellegrini: :) bum bum bum i love YOU
@shayna_amie: it’s mutual, gurl. when i think about us separating for *~*kolleg*~* i freak out and have to start playing music loudly or watching tv or something
@leah_pellegrini: i freak out too, let’s not even talk about it. it’s a good thing we’re so talented at technological communication
GAP, noun \’gap\ :
(4) a break in continuity
(5) a lack of balance
Deprived of running water, we suddenly crave it more than ever. Someone whines about wanting a shower while someone else suddenly can’t stand to be without a cup of tea. The swimmers splash across the television, drenched in that bounty of blue.
Every so often, we take turns standing from the couch to traipse barefoot into the front yard, asking questions. The construction men just keep saying, “Soon.”
Still, we peek out through the blinds at the bulldozers and the deep holes in the asphalt and grass. It reminds me of the subway platforms in New York, the way commuters stand at the edges to crane impatient heads down the tunnels, searching fruitlessly for the lights of an emerging train. Rationally, we always know we’re going to have to wait several more minutes, like the board says in its red digitized numerals, and we know our yearning alone can’t force time forward. But that doesn’t stop us from ferreting for some hint, however small, of progress.
Eventually, I retreat to my childhood bedroom to attempt to sleep. Its walls are plastered with paper carcasses of my pre-adult self: a note Shayna passed to me in AP Chemistry class — pinned up and dangling sideways like a wing — globbed with gushy promises of undying bonds; high school and college diplomas hung by Scotch tape; and collaged pages of magazines, each one once carefully selected for its aesthetic inspiration.
It’s strange, sentimentality — the way we imbue meaning in thin slips and crinkles that slowly disintegrate, inherently flimsy. The edges curl and contort where they’ve been licked by humidity and faded by time. I reach out and press my thumb to a corner that’s peeling away from the wall, unfurling the face of a blonde, freckled model I’d admired.
To our teenage selves, the thigh gap represented the golden standard of skinniness.
In high school, Shayna and I had gushed over these sorts of ethereal Bambis with “thigh gaps.” We envied their thin hips and teetering twig legs, attracted to the near anatomical impossibility and the precariously pure perfection of that empty space like an inviting arrow. To our teenage selves, the thigh gap represented the golden standard of skinniness, sans a single wavering curve of fat or an unruly pock of cellulite.
With our wiry hair and inky eyebrows, we wanted the thigh gap for the same reason we admired soft, sleek manes; sweet, strawberry lips; and Chanel headbands. They were not, and could never be, ours.
This was just one of many small and shameful whims we exchanged once or twice with no one but each other. We spilled desires across my pink floral comforter as we splayed out on my bed, scrolling through our crushes’ Facebook pages on my laptop. We whispered secrets across booths at the local 24-hour diner over milkshakes, home fries, and whipped cream-dolloped pancakes. We spun yearnings out like silk on aimless neighborhood drives with the same songs by Beck and Radiohead humming perpetually in the background. Our flippant, far-off wishes flapped their thin butterfly wings through our frivolous hormonal brains, fluttering wherever they found the air amongst the clutter of chemistry labs, college applications, and prom limousine dramas.
We shared bigger dreams for adulthood as well. I wanted to move to New York and to publish my writing; she planned to pursue defense law and abolish the death penalty. But a wish is a wish, frivolous and far-off or not.
The shiny page crawls back on itself when I release my finger and hit the light switch. As I get into bed, the construction trucks are still rumbling right outside my window, the bright bulbs of their headlights burning circles through the glass. The grinding racket splits through the suburban silence, rocking me back and forth, back and forth, like a soothing city lullaby.
To “stand in the gap” is to take a defensive stance to protect something or someone. It is the brave and vulnerable act of interceding between danger and its victim.
The expression comes from chapter 22 of the Bible’s book of Ezekiel, which describes Israel in a state of moral breakdown, ravaged by bloodshed and robbery and extortion and contempt, pillaged and plundered by the lies of power-hungry prophets. Witnessing this destruction, God threatens to gather all of the nation’s people in Jerusalem, where he will melt them like metal in a furnace with the fiery blast of his wrath. But first, he seeks someone, just one person, to come forward to save the rest — someone to build a wall between them and his ire, to “stand in the gap on behalf of the land” so he doesn’t have to destroy it.
No one does.
The gap is the split ripped by sin — it is humanity’s breaking point. It’s the place where evil seeps in and divine ire flows.
Religious believers will argue that the point of this passage is God’s yearning to show mercy. Even when we are at our worst, he calls on us to rise above. Even when he has no reason to believe in us, he is gracious enough to offer pardon to us all, if just one humble individual is willing to choose goodness.
But this generous faith is futile, a nonbeliever will point out. Nobody steps up. We cannot be saved from ourselves.
We earn the horrors we deserve.
The Brooklyn sidewalks were scattered with potholes and I was learning to navigate them in the murkiness of the early morning, the sky still purple like an unhealed bruise. I dodged the cracks I had begun to memorize between my apartment and subway stop, heeled clogs clacking against the cement. The shoes were freebies from work, leftover samples from last season. (These were the perks of the otherwise joyless entry-level PR role — my first — for which I was harrowingly ill-equipped.) They didn’t quite fit but they were worth several hundred dollars, which seemed to matter. I took each hobbled step as a strike of conviction — click sleek click chic click confident click sleek click chic click confident click.
It occurred to me suddenly that my thighs weren’t grazing against each other as I walked. The thought appeared like a housefly, buzzing into my awareness from nowhere. I stopped, brought my legs together, pressed my foot arches against each other, bent and unbent my knees, and twisted desperately. My muscles swelled and contracted, but the skin refused to touch.
When I arrived at the office, I slipped into the private bathroom. I’d been meeting my reflection in that full-length mirror nearly every morning since I started the job, admiring each day’s costume: those clogs or other gifted heels, slim blazers, and new pairs of size-two jeans.
(“You’re just one of those people, aren’t you?” the salesgirl had said the previous week as she passed me a hanger. “Everything looks good on you.” And, “Excuse me,” said the woman climbing the subway stairs below me, tapping my back. “What kind of workouts do you do? I want my legs to look like yours.” Startled into a smile, I told her, “I run, mostly. Some yoga. Thank you!” I did not say, Also, I’m starving myself. I don’t know how I started, and I don’t know how to stop. This is not what you want if what you want is healthy fitness. It’s all make-believe bullshit. I liked that she assumed I had some stable control, some balanced technique; that she believed this body was the natural product of enviable genes and admirable practice, not a perilous accident.)
I peeled off the costume while the fluorescent light jittered above my head. For the first time in months, I saw myself naked. My legs had gone to twigs, my belly a concave bowl, my elbows angular and sharp-edged like protractors, my shoulder blades threatening to pierce through my thin skin. I ran a delicate pinky — even my fingers now resembled skeleton hands — down my ribs like a silent xylophone.
“Another ‘dream come true,’” I would have texted Shayna if I could have. “Remember our dumb teenage obsession with thigh gaps? Got one, by mistake!”
“Skinny minx!” she might have replied. “Teach me your ways.”
Or maybe she would have saved me before I’d ever come this far. Maybe she would have challenged my cup-by-cup calorie counts, squashed my restrictive obsessions with her affection, and dragged me out for milkshakes. “Screw ‘health’ if it means we have to give up milkshakes,” she would have declared. “Your blood sugars are great. You’re a beautiful shining star. Shush.”
According to Hesiod’s Theogony, a text from the seventh century B.C. that explains the origins of the Greek gods, the universe began with Chaos — a name signifying a “chasm” or “gap.” Chaos was the personification of a formless abyss. Next came Gaea, the earth; Tartarus, an incarnation of the underworld; and Eros, the god of desire. While Gaea gave birth to the sky, the mountains and the sea, Chaos begat Erebus, the god of darkness, and Nyx, the god of night.
Chaos: the creator of indistinct shadows; the person, the place, where all is muddled before light and life are allowed to emerge.
Early translations of the Book of Genesis took inspiration from Hesiod’s writings, using the word “chaos” to describe the gaping void at the beginning of creation. It was the messy mass of nothing and nonbeing, soon to be something, but not yet. It was the fumbling confusion — chaos’ modern definition — in the gap.
I don’t remember what I was wearing or even what season it was; not the doctor’s office, nor the doctor’s name. (There have been so many doctors, so many shifting eyes and clinical critiques from chilled hands in white coats — these are costumes, too.) I do not remember her full face. I remember only the contortions of her features — eyebrows warped and cheeks stapled by a mouth torn between a smile and a frown — as she told me, “I’m diagnosing you with anorexia nervosa.” She wrote it on a thin slip of paper, intended for medical insurance purposes, which she passed to me like an apology note and which I accepted, astonished, like an unexpected award.
I remember recognizing the twisted irony of qualifying for the disease by body mass index. Below 17.5: anorexic. 17.6 and up: not anorexic, not technically. The split occurs across one decimal point. The eating disordered person craves this kind of numerical clarity and clings to it, breaking her own records, again and again, racing herself in a competition that cannot be won without winnowing herself to death.
I do not remember what my own record was by the time I forfeited the race.
I do remember the other doctor who had cheered me on, just months before, because my blood sugar control was improving. I had been exercising regularly, I explained. (“Running, mostly. Some yoga.”) I was eating healthier food. 0% Greek yogurt for breakfast. Kale. I was using a continuous glucose monitor for my diabetes and a nutrition-tracking iPhone app that, according to its rave reviews, changed lives. An emotional affinity for numbers — for the significance in the specific digits of every glucose test, every insulin dosage, and every precise carbohydrate count — serves the Type 1 diabetic, too.
I was telling the truth. Just not the whole truth. The hole truth.
I remember believing I was telling that doctor the truth — “I feel great. I’m doing great. Thank you!” — while consciously omitting certain details, like the fact that I had recently cried when I watched a waitress whisk away a stranger’s plate with a smear of avocado still left untouched. Like the milkshake I had made myself puke up, and the pizza I had made myself puke up, and the cookies (13 of them, one after the other, after the other) I had made myself puke up. Like the fact that I still felt guilty for eating 29 almonds instead of 24, two days ago. I was telling the truth. Just not the whole truth. The hole truth.
“I’m doing great. Thank you! And you?” I remember how my sorority sister from college didn’t recognize me at first when we stumbled upon each other on some random sidewalk on the Lower East Side. She stared at me blankly while I waved madly from a few feet away. As we drew closer, she had to look my alien limbs up and down for several seconds to search for familiarity. Those seconds felt like hours. Her body pulsed when she finally identified me — “Oh, Leah! Wow! You look so… ” Different? Skinny? Sick? Sad? “How are you!” It was not a question but an exclamation because her awkward pause already held the actual answers.
I remember when Shayna visited me on a whim during our freshman year of college. After a frat party, we drunkenly made out on my twin-sized dorm bed, which I did not remember the next day, but she did. I know this because she casually joked about it later and mentioned that her boyfriend said it was “hot” when she told him via text. I pretended to know what she was talking about. We laughed. We were headachy but happy, with fake IDs and vodka spills and a half-eaten bag of Cheetos scattered across my desk.
I remember the coworker who sat diagonal to me at work, our desks separated by gray and fuzzy walls of the cubicle. (In my square, I’d pinned up a few mementos: postcards with inspirational phrases, a doodle of a bird, and a sticky note on which I’d scribbled, “You are doing great.”) I remember the sound of her chair wheels rolling out from underneath her as she stood to succumb to one of the croissants leftover from a client meeting and abandoned in the staff kitchen. “See, this is why I could never be anorexic,” she said. “I can’t resist. I like food too fucking much.” I remember wanting to shriek, “YES YOU COULD, YES YOU COULD, YES YOU COULD.” No one warns us to be wary of the power of a pipe dream. Instead, I laughed like I knew what she was talking about. All I ever did at that job was pretend that I knew what everyone else was talking about.
Later that evening, when I was the last one still left at the office — I was always the last one still left at the office, perpetually trying to catch up — I stood in the silent shadows of the kitchen and stared at that pastry box, the bent top gaping open like a mouth, debating whether or not to taste just one torn corner of doughy bread. I inserted my thumb, pressed it to the greasy doily inside the cardboard, and removed it with a few stuck crumbs of croissant that I promptly rinsed off in the sink.
I remember when Shayna and I attached a padlock to that famous Paris bridge when we studied abroad together for a semester during junior year. She scrawled her name in Sharpie on one side, and I wrote mine on the other. She was worried people would think it was a “gay thing,” though I didn’t see what the big deal was. She was grumpy that day. She clicked the lock onto the bridge with her side facing the front and mine facing the back, buried. I wonder how many other thousands of pairs have split up since securing themselves there in the dizzy fantasy that any relationship is ever solid and certain, impervious to the disintegrating forces of time and growing up.
I was already in trouble. I just didn’t know it yet.
On that same trip, I told her about the girl I was secretly dating. No one back home knew. I remember she was surprised, fascinated, and supportive, and she asked lots of questions. When the girl broke up with me suddenly, she kept me from falling apart. She plotted a fantasy for the girl’s destruction and told me that I deserved better. One night, we shared bottles of wine in her tiny apartment with the ridiculous mural of a tropical beach scene, the miniature fridge, and the hot plate always splattered with rogue tomato sauce, and I got so drunk I don’t remember it. She nursed me while I puked in her toilet for hours and then chided me the next morning. “Do you realize how dangerous that could have been? You know what kind of trouble you could have gotten us into?” I was already in trouble. I just didn’t know it yet.
And so was she. So were we. She was possessive and demanding in ways I no longer remember, but I do remember one particular disagreement, how I stood staring down at my phone on the corner of the Champs-Elysées, trying via text to convince her to come out clubbing with my group of classmates whom she disliked and whom I desperately wanted to like me. The rest of them — those girls who never wound up welcoming me into their circle, anyway — click-clacked ahead in their heels while I stood trapped on that corner in the swirl of foreign accents, tugged between too many worlds at once, desperately fighting to placate her as she grew increasingly hysterical. Our friendship was too tight to allow room for anybody else.
GAP, noun \’gap\ :
(6) a break in a barrier (as in a wall, hedge, or line of military defense)
May 17, 2009, 9:36 p.m.
@shayna_amie: eliot just told me he has the flu. cool that you have indirectly kissed my boyfriend since he kissed beth that one time and now you kissed beth on friday!!!!!!!
@leah_pellegrini: excuse me it was a fucking accident and anyway it was mostly beth who started it and i bet ally made it sound much worse than it was when she told you the story. but if eliot has the flew, it’s a really good thing you didn’t see him last night
@shayna_amie: YOU JUST SAID FLEW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
@leah_pellegrini: wow. that’s proof that english is taking over my brain. i’m reading my criticism article while we chat and i just hit a part about flight as a theme in the novel. also, i’m really tired and my blood sugar is high
who else exactly was there when ally told you the beth story btw? i am FURIOUS that she brought it up amongst so many people like that. obviously maggie and whoever else are going to gossip about it, or something, plus who knows how much she twisted the story i’m just so mad!
@shayna_amie: i mean, honestly, those girls will probably gossip, but you never know cause ally was like PLEASE DONT TELL LEAH I TOLD YOU GUYS so maybe they won’t…
it makes me sad. that was supposed to be us. and now it never will be. ;)
@leah_pellegrini: no. soon we will share a beautiful makeout session. no flu and no controversy for us.
@shayna_amie: was it like…intense
@leah_pellegrini: uhhhhhhhhhhh. what did ally exactly tell you
@shayna_amie: she said that it was like, hot and heavy. i don’t know. i was trying to not think about it/i was texting under the table to distract myself.
@leah_pellegrini: Distract yourself why?
@shayna_amie: You are dating an adult man and getting some with a lady on the side, and I’m sorta dating a sick baby but really I am dating oreos
@leah_pellegrini: i wish i was dating oreos on the side, but my mom is a health freak. i want some oreos
@shayna_amie: btw i heard that you had some blood sugar drama friday night too. that makes me nervous and scared and upset. i wish i would have slept over so i could have helped you out. i’m really glad everything is okay though
@leah_pellegrini: i can take care of myself you don’t have to watch me!!!!!! but i did make some dumb decisions that night, definitely. i just can’t be responsible leah all the time. i get tired of being so restrained and living my life behind so many bars and being the perfect daughter and keeping all of my ducks in a row
@shayna_amie: don’t go out of control anymore….it’s no good. BUT ANYWAY YOU SHOULD BE TELLING ME THESE EXCITING STORIES so i dont have to hear them from ally!!!!!! you tell me nothing EVER.
@leah_pellegrini: i should be telling you WHAT exciting stories!!!!!! more like embarrassing
@shayna_amie: we’re supposed to tell each other everything, though. bears and not bears
@leah_pellegrini: i mean if we had talked and you were like hey, so tell me about last night, i would have said it. but why text you out of the blue to say guess what i kissed beth lol!!!
i’m glad you don’t judge my bears secrets though.
@shayna_amie: i would never judge you. i will tell you everything.
although if matt and i ever hook up again i don’t know if i’ll tell you cause you’ll beat me with a rolling pin i bet. right?
@leah_pellegrini: if you hooked up with matt again i might be disappointed but i would never ever beat you, not even with words. i’d help you figure out your next step. that’s my job.
@shayna_amie: wow i am like getting increasingly concerned about how far you went and how much you did and how intense it was. i feel like the jealous boyfriend. trippy.
@leah_pellegrini: you feel like the jealous boyfriend and i seriously feel like i’ve done something so wrong and completely cheated on you!!!
i swear to god we might as well be dating each other. things would be so much better for both of us if we could just be a lesbian couple. it’s too bad we both like boys.
anyway we did not go past kissing don’t be crazy but uh, i mean, you were right they weren’t pecks. it was all her doing and when you and i kiss eventually it will be better and it will be like beth never happened. i swear.
@shayna_amie: i wish we were lesbian it would be easy.
i’m going to bed and i have a fever officially (guess I got the “flew”) but i love you more than getting some and more than oreos and more than sleeping. take THAT
@leah_pellegrini: you have a fever????? NOOOOOOO DON”T GET ILL ON ME I CANT SURVIVE WITHOUT YOUUUUUU please feel better i love you!!!
@shayna_amie: I LOVE YOUUUUUUUUUUUUUU GOOOOOOD NIGHT LETS SKIP FRENCH CLASS ITS ALMOST 12:30AM
also i advise you to delete these threads. imagine if someone had one of our passwords and read these. man, we’d be so fucked.
@leah_pellegrini: hahaha that occurred to me earlier too. they reveal our deepest secrets. nobody would ever bother to read them all though. they’re too fucking long.
i refuse to delete them. i want to keep them forever. LOOOVE YOU SWEEET DREAMS
Potholes form progressively, as water weakens the soil beneath the road and the heavy load of traffic stresses the pavement past its breaking point. Craters, too, result from internal collapse or explosion. All splits have insidious beginnings; the breaks begin underneath the surface, in the places we’re unlikely to check.
I remember when my sister came to visit me in Brooklyn and I took her to brunch at the French restaurant with the terrace beaded in leafy vines. I studied the menu, poked at my eggs with the tip of my fork, and stirred the soupy spinach in distracting circles. “Should I attempt to reach out to Shayna again,” I asked, “or should I give up and let it be?” I don’t remember her advice. I asked so many people for so much advice, none of which seemed right.
Later that afternoon, on my rooftop, someone took a photo of me and my sister together. In the picture, the city skyline towers in the background, and I am smaller than her. (She had always been the one with the lanky, sculpted limbs, but I had shrunk to half her size.) She has her arms wrapped around my waist like a bracelet dangled on a delicate wrist, I seem to sink into myself as she tries to hold me, and we are smiling strangely.
I remember how it was painful to be hugged and to sit down — both physically and emotionally.
I remember locking myself in my dark, windowless bedroom in Brooklyn, alone, while my roommates and their friends sat around the table in the common space one Friday after work, playing music from a portable stereo, drinking tequila with Coke, and munching on chips and chocolates from Trader Joe’s as if this was an easy, thoughtless thing. I told them I was too tired from the long week to hang out, which was what I always told them, which was the truth, if not the whole truth. I remember overhearing their conversation through the crack in the door: “She’s so skeletal. Does she eat?” Hearing it hurt in a gratifying way, like self-flagellation.
I remember arriving at that apartment, two days before I started my job, to find it still in shambles. The walls between the bedrooms did not exist yet. There was powdered drywall piled everywhere, paint buckets, electric tools, and a ladder. I had to leave my belongings in suitcases and boxes in a corner. I crouched in my cubicle to text Shayna on my first workday, afraid I’d be chastised for using my phone. I asked if I could possibly stay at her apartment that night, when the landlord wanted to finish the construction.
She was curt and annoyed. I don’t remember what she said but it was something like, “I guess.” She had tickets to some comedy show and wanted to sleep in the next morning, when she had the day off from her public defender job.
I don’t remember what I said in response but it was something like, “Forget it.” I found another friend’s couch to crash on instead. It was a big fight for a small reason, or maybe a small fight for a big reason we couldn’t consciously recognize yet. The straw that broke the camel’s back. That broke us.
I do not remember our last words, or any of the words — only the hazy outline of the conversation, how many times I said I was sorry, and how she never said she was sorry in return. I’m sure she remembers it differently.
I remember how giddy we had been to start our adult lives in the same city. She got there several weeks before me and she had texted, “We’ll take runs in Prospect Park together and then do picnic dinner! Look what I made.” She attached a blurry picture of quinoa-stuffed bell pepper, a recipe she’d found on Pinterest. I remember knowing I’d have to concoct careful excuses to avoid the food part, to explain to her why I didn’t want to share brownies, fries, or even the adulthood-appropriate things like quinoa, though I didn’t yet have the word “anorexia” to explain it.
I remember dismissing my anxiety as ordinary nerves — as if the blithe butterfly dreams of pre-adulthood had shifted to my stomach — and how she had said, “Don’t fret. Think of all the sleepovers we’ll have! I’ll be your eternal rock.” And how fully I believed her, just as fully as she must have believed herself.
I remember not realizing, days after, that the fight was the end. I do not remember the moment, weeks and months later, when I realized. I only know that I was whiling myself away while I waited to hear from her, working myself down to the bone, wondering, worrying, wobbling, and wandering coldly through scorching hot summer days in a starvation-induced fog that became so familiar I no longer noticed it or knew it was wrong. The pounds dropped off my body like petals while I watched blearily.
I remember sobbing into my pillow the night I received the anorexia diagnosis, knowing Shayna was the only one I could have told — except that she wasn’t, really. Gradually, I told my parents and my sister; I told the doctor who had praised my impressive improvements in diabetic control; I told friends I was afraid to tell. They all gaped as I opened up, like maybe we have to unlatch and expose to take in new truths.
I vaguely remember telling a friend from college who came to visit me soon afterward. It was late autumn. We went to the farmers market and admired the homemade apple pies and pastries; she bought one and I didn’t. When she tried to kiss me that night, to wrap her arms and legs around me in that terribly tiny bed in that terribly tiny room, I curled up like a bug, scared to be touched. I remember that she asked if I was okay, if I was attracted to her, and if I wanted her like she wanted me. “I’m just going through something right now,” I said. “My body does not feel like my body right now.”
I remember eating an entire heart-shaped pizza with the first person I dated after I got better. It was Valentine’s Day and also my birthday, and he took me out to dinner at a twee BYOB in my neighborhood. We waited for an hour for a table, each of us cradling a bottle of wine. Afterward, he came over to my apartment for the first time . He held me up as I slipped on the frosty snow on our walk over, and we laughed, and it was goofy. My roommates offered tequila shots when we walked in the door, and we took them, and then we made out in my bed. “I used to be thinner,” I told him, giggling, as he kissed my belly button. He shrugged. I smiled. I was no longer scared to be touched.
There would be more moments, later, when I was scared to be touched again. To be seen. There would be more doctors, more slip-ups, and more sobbing, until there was no more, until I was more healed than unhealed. It all shifted slowly, like sand filling in the holes, gritty bit by gritty bit. I still have cracks in places, and I know that. I will always have cracks in places. But not gaping ones. Not the kind that could tear me apart.
I do not remember most things — only the moments that hurt, and the ones that felt, however fleetingly, like flying.
[This space has intentionally been left blank.]
October 5, 2009, 6:34 p.m.
@shayna_amie: i just realized we havent even talked about gossip girl all year. we will this weeKEND.
@leah_pellegrini: i watched the latest episode this afternoon so it’s on my brain. blair is a conniving bitch. however, she is BEAUTIFUL BEAUTIFUL BEAUTIFUL and her outfits are cuter than serena’s
allllllllllllso how dare you change your profile pic away from the one of you and obama, i am disappointed. however, you are a hot cheetah/leopard/spotted animal.
@shayna_amie: i love her so much fuck serena for telling her that she’s stealing her shine. SERENA is stealing blair’s shine.
i enjoy looking at my skinny self. if you’ll notice few profile pictures are from this past year. i might have been like, twenty pounds lighter in that picture, legit. and one day i will be again but that is after i get into college and after everything stops sucking.
@leah_pellegrini: when you get into college you’ll just put on your freshman 15 so don’t get too excited HEHEHEHHHHEHEHHH
i’m just kidding, i wish you weren’t so self-conscious about your weight, you’re crazy
what are we DOING this weekend!!! what happened to our new york plan? let’s go to new york this weekend, okay? great.
ps. blair is not conniving, serena and little j deserve to be put in their places
@shayna_amie: let’s go to new york like, mlk weekend
college apps will be done, it’ll be cold and we will be drink hot cocoa and try on scarves we can’t afford and go to a broadway play and go to soho with dramatic eye makeup
jenny does wrong, she’s dropping out of school. i bet her classmates are relieved
let’s do something absurdly fun this weekend but not when we say that and then you/i just end up coming over and we do nothing. let’s actually
also when i thought about gaining another 15 pounds, i laughed. that’s not an option. i will be a home.
@leah_pellegrini: disagreed about jenny. she’s super talented. good for her that she’s not afraid to drop school and pursue her favorite hobby. i wish i wasn’t too much of a wimp to do the same.
new york sounds amazing the way you described it… i just died
i’m up for doing something absurdly fun if you have any absurdly fun ideas. and if it’s workable around the fact that i have to have my early decision app done by 9:30 on sunday morning. fuckiasasdasdnbasd i haven’t had fun for so many weekends in a row.
this is my last annoying one and then i’m going to be a free bird (in my dreams….) but for real i want to do something exciting
There are breaks like welcome interruptions, and then there are breaks like ruptures. Breakaways: bold splits from what’s expected. Breakdowns: mental and emotional crumblings.
Heartbreak is the hurt so deep, it’s like a shattering. It’s always spoken singularly — the solitary break that eclipses everything. Its gaping sinks into the stomach.
The term “breakthrough” originated in military language circa 1400, describing a successful attack. A breakthrough was a war victory. Stripped of that context, it now signifies any sort of abrupt solution, as if a search for clarity or direction is a kind of bloody battle.
Break a leg!
Let’s make a break for it.
New shoes must be broken in — boots, sneakers. The breaking is the softening of the initial stiffness; the act of becoming cozy; the slow creation of a better fit.
Here are some icebreakers: Where are you from? What was your childhood like? What words would your best friend use to describe you? When was the last time you felt beautiful and brave?
Give me a break.
Whatever pipe was punctured, they’ve fixed by the following morning. I wake to quiet sunlight poured like waffle batter through my windowpanes and onto the floor, with a syrupy glow spilled across my comforter.
I always leave my blinds open on purpose. I have preferred this early but organic alarm clock ever since leaving my first New York apartment, where the only windows were locked inside my two roommates’ side-by-side bedrooms at the far end of the cramped loft. My own room — the one still in shambles when I arrived — was erected separately, an awkward box in the center of the common area; a dark, square cave that was too apt a metaphor for my emotional state at the time.
Without a view of the sky, I never knew if it was raining or if there was a breeze. I slept and woke with no proof of which way was up, aside from gravity. This seemed to multiply the force’s magnitude, which felt so immense already, like my whole body was just one heavy weight to the ground. (Did the anorexia foster this feeling? Or did this feeling foster the anorexia? It was always difficult to pull the tangled roots of things apart enough to distinguish where the rotting began before it spread, eating holes through everything.)
I started running in the mornings before work because it was as close as I could get to floating or flying. I ran to justify sitting at my desk all day, and to chase tiny bits of joy in the form of sunrises, wildflower sprigs, and artful graffiti scattered around Brooklyn. To feel free for a few moments, and strong. After I moved to a new apartment, quit the job, and quit anorexia, too, when my seemingly exorbitant diet and unplanned future made me feel heavy, I ran to convince myself I was agile. In those moments, it was as if I could look down on the city, my city, from above, while airy and boundless, unburdened by the pull of a stagnant reality.
Maybe that has always been my problem: that reality feels constricting. I am always trying to catch the blithe butterflies — the versions of self that aren’t queer, aren’t chronically ill, and aren’t bound to the baggage of the past. The versions that are immune to heartbreak and rent payments. That aren’t so loaded with flaws.
I sit up in bed and look out my window at the front yard, where a few stunted lines of neon orange remain sprayed onto the grass. Dirt smatters the road and there’s a lump of asphalt where they dug and refilled the hole, like a scar protruding in place of a gash.
Once I’m dressed, I set off on a jog, finding construction trucks scattered all around the neighborhood now, patching pavement. (The area in front of our house wasn’t the only place with weak spots, it turns out.) I dodge veins of gummy tar and cracks newly filled — cracks I’d never noticed were there in the first place — as I loop up and down the streets, thighs perceptibly thwacking with every step.
Japanese ceramicists use a technique called kintsugi or kitsukuroi to repair broken pottery by filling the cracks with gold lacquer. Rather than trying to conceal a bowl or cup’s breaking point, they honor and elevate its shattering with a shining seam: a shimmering ode to recovery from destruction.
This technique was developed around the late 15th century and became so popular that some collectors were accused of deliberately wrecking valuable pottery pieces, just to be able to transform them with the kintsugi treatment.
The aesthetic approach reflects a human philosophy — one that embraces flaws, that cultivates non-attachment and accepts life’s transformative duress as inevitable. It sees every blow as an opportunity for a lovelier mending.
One year later, another summer — that dazed and sticky season when the rift between fantasy and reality seems to shrink as if both halves have swollen in the heat — I will attend a high school friend’s wedding. She will be the first one of my high school friends to get married, though none of us would possibly have predicted this in high school. Shayna will not be among the small handful of classmates invited.
At the end of a night spent reminiscing, dancing, and stumbling around in high heels, I will trip and break my ankle. I will think it is sprained but the white-coated doctor at the ER will shake his head at me like I’m dumb, as if to say, “No, it’s broken, you idiot.” He will point it out on the X-ray, the gap in the white.
In the ensuing weeks, I will keep forgetting exactly where the break is because it will be so buried beneath the bloat of my skin, which will have expanded to the size of several scoops of ice cream. This is how the body protects: It inflates. It arrives at the scene of the split, bearing fluid and white blood cells, precluding the use of the injured part to prevent more harm.
I will wish for a way to remove myself from my own skin; I will wish my skin were different.
I will not be allowed to walk for seven weeks or to run for weeks longer. I will watch the thick pounds pile around my stomach, my blood sugars rising, and my body expanding from the inaction — my body that I had once whittled down into a whisper of itself. Even though it will have been years since I surrendered those attempts to starve myself into perfection, this extra weight gain will be uncomfortable. I will wish for a way to remove myself from my own skin; I will wish my skin were different. I will wish I was different. I will look down at the loaf of my stomach, folded over on itself, as I sit on a stool in the shower with my left leg angled out onto the tile to keep the boot dry, and I will cry into the hot water, this time because I understand that I cannot have everything I want. I know, now, that to fulfill a pipe dream is to divorce oneself from the real necessities of human survival — of mature adulthood. We cannot be human and illusion at the same time.
While I recover, I will stay at my parents’ house, which they will be preparing to move out of at an unforeseen date. They will ask me to begin getting rid of any old mementos I don’t want or need to pack. I will peel the fashion magazine pages from my wall, and I will discard the old notes from Shayna, the box of glossy 4-by-6 photographs, and the empty wine bottle from the fondue restaurant in Paris. I will have no qualms. I will not miss Shayna anymore, except in the way all adults miss childhood with the knowledge that we’re gripping only ripped remnants of something, a nostalgia whose futility is part of its point.
I will feel this way about New York, too, and about the beginnings of grown-up life I built there before leaving to travel, to settle eventually somewhere more suited to my practical needs than my romanticized visions. New York will not be my home anymore but this place where I spent my childhood will not feel like home, either. I will be in the process of piecing together all the shards of my life, all the likes and dislikes, the haves and have-nots, the unrealistic idealizations and the true cravings, to figure out where I want to be, whom I want to be, and how she differs from whom I think I have to be. I will turn on the television and I will hop on my one good leg to the couch, where I will nestle myself into a crack between the cushions — a chasm. A pause. An opening.
GAP, noun \’gap\ :
(7) a pass or way through a range of hills
GAPE, verb \’geyp\ :
(1) to be or become wide open