Jessica Sabo: Memoir: June 2021

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I am a southern transplant, having lived in the south for over 16 years after relocating from Southern California at 19 years old. I found my heart in the small, coastal city of Virginia Beach and now, live in Orlando.

Wasteland

The digital clock in my parent’s kitchen reads 11am. I have exactly two hours until I need to report to work. Before I can turn around, the voice confronts me as it always does. I stay in the kitchen, pretend to read the calendar on the wall.The linoleum cracks beneath my socked feet while I mindlessly perform relevés and wring my hands, inhaling deeply.I open the refrigerator. The voice starts screaming. It doesn’t stop even after I close the door seconds later. Its bellows drown out the smallest protest that is left inside me.

“You have to do this.” 

Listening to the voice was as automatic as breathing. Like respiration, it held the power as to whether I lived or died. I was not in control. 

“You are nothing without me. I made you what you are.”

The voice’s words circle my brain. It has always thrived on my confusion, on my softness. It is now that the voice swells in size and pushes against my skull as I open the refrigerator door again, falling to my knees. How many times had I begged it to leave me alone? Every day I was met with the same answer:  

“Once you’re thin enough, once you’re smart enough, you will be enough.”

Glancing at the clock again, I walk from the kitchen, towards the bedroom where I stare at my torso in the mirror. 

“At least you did one thing right.” 

The laxatives did their job. 

I feel nothing inside of me except the cascading emptiness. I lift my shirt and finger my ribcage, focusing on whether I can see the diamond shape of each pelvic bone through my translucent skin. Years of starvation had washed away the glow from every Southern California morning. The purging had taken my hands, each aching knuckle’s cracked reflection a reminder of what my life was now. I pivot 90 degrees to the left, staring at myself from the neck down and the hips up, focusing on my stomach, what it looks like from the side. The only way I can see my face in the dresser mirror is to lean down. 

I don’t. 

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself! Turn the other way!”

I turn to the right. This is my “bad side” since my left hip bone doesn’t bulge as much as my right. With my left thumb and pointer finger, I pinch the layer of skin that covers my stomach. My eyes well up with tears and I pivot again to the left. My nonstop movement causes the carpet to flatten underneath my feet, and I turn to face the mirror confrontationally, placing both hands on each side of my waist. Splaying my fingers, I measure how many hands it takes to wrap around my waist. I start computing in my head.

“You’re a failure! A phony! No one can stand to look at you!Stupid, stupid, girl. You are NOTHING!”

Hot tears stream down my cheeks as I speed down the hallway and into the service-porch where my mother keeps her sewing basket above the washing machine. I grab the soft tape measure at the bottom of the basket and return to my room, my breathing quick and sharp as I unroll it in my shaking hands. The voice is still yelling at me, telling me I can do better, be better. It never stops screaming. 

I suck in as hard as I can, peering down at the tape measure to ensure the mirror’s reflection isn’t playing me for a fool when I first read the numbers looking back at me. 

Twenty-eight inches.

“Pig! Do it again!”

I wrap the tape measure around my waist four more times, holding my breath until my head fogs. I try sucking in my stomach so that my belly button touches the front of my spine, knowing that no matter how many inches the tape measure reads, I am not going to be happy. What was happy anyway?  The last time I remember being happy was as a five-year-old running around in the backyard with my twin sister, the two of us playing on our jungle-gym. Happy was going to the mall with our grandmother, or eating too much Halloween candy after trick-or-treating. Happy was so far in my past that I barely recognized it.

I shake my head and roll up the tape measure into a perfect circle, carefully placing it back in my mother’s sewing basket. I don’t want her knowing I was measuring myself. I don’t want to have to answer the proverbial question of “is everything alright?” which will send me over the edge as it always does. I couldn’t have a normal conversation about this with my mother. It usually results in my becoming nervous and angry. Even taking photos was a nightmare for me, and I would frequently leave my parents living room in silent tears, lamenting the day my mother would develop her film. The publicity of it all was too much.

I snap back into the present and walk into the kitchen, opening the cupboard. I need something that my parents won’t notice had been depleted. My eyes fall on the extra-large box of Bisquick Pancake Mix. Lifting the box from the cupboard, I go to work mixing the ingredients and coating the hot griddle in butter. It sizzles with promise. I start cooking the pancakes two at a time, creating a large stack, each one coated in globs of butter and hot maple syrup. As the pancakes cook, my mind empties itself. My brain shuts down, the nerve-endings replaced by a black hole. In this moment, I am incapable of feeling or thinking anything. All I know is that I need to feel something. I need a release. 

I pull open a bag of tortilla chips and stuff them violently between my lips, the sharp corners slicing the back of my throat. Next, I empty a box of vanilla ice cream into a bowl, pouring Frosted Flakes and tablespoons of white refined sugar on top, coating the cereal in just enough milk to mash it all into a slurry. When the flakes are gone, I slurp the sugary milk and run my tongue along the ceramic edges. Scanning the back of the fridge, I find a few of my dad’s Cokes, drinking them so quickly my throat burns from the carbonation. 

After finishing the plate of pancakes, I turn on the TV to a soap opera in the living room and walk quickly to the bathroom across the hall. I keep the door open just in case I hear the jingle of keys opening the back door. 

“Hurry up! Stupid, stupid, girl. You are NOTHING!”

The ocean is crashing in my ears but I can still hear the voice, its repetitive words needling through my brain.

Kneeling on the pastel rug, I pull the toilet seat up and line the water with toilet paper. Without hesitation, I mercilessly shove my right forefinger and middle finger down my throat, another deafening hum rolling through my brain as I begin regurgitating food. The fan drowns out the suspense-filled plot of All My Childrenin the background and my heavy breathing and retching continues. My fingers are so far down my throat that I am biting my knuckles, half-moons of shredded skin stinging from my stomach acid. My stomach cramps as I continue to heave, relentless in my attempt to get everything out of my body. At one point, I begin choking, and so I slam my stomach into the side of the toilet seat, shrieking in pain as the hard surface cuts into my pelvic bone. 

My eyes bulge and my vision blurs as the bathroom tile goes in and out of focus. Saliva tinged with blood coats my hand, but it’s not enough. I heave again and again, my back seizing as I arch and flex my tired muscles. With one final lurch, my body goes limp. I drape my chest over the toilet seat, my breathing shallow as the adrenaline courses through my veins. The euphoria is overwhelming and for an instant, I forget about all the ugly things that brought me to this point in my life. Nothing hurts in these fleeting seconds – not my body that is slowing dying, nor my heart that with each passing day become smaller and weaker. 

Within seconds, I am brought back to my living hell.

“Get up, you stupid girl!”

I sit back, the air acrid with the smell of vomit. The ocean is still crashing between my ears and my knees are numb from being pressed into the floor. Sitting on my heels to relieve the pressure, I wince as a wildfire runs through my shins, up my spine, and into the base of my skull where it will sit for the rest of the afternoon. With one hand in the middle of the pile of once-eaten food, I use what little strength I have in my wrist to pull upward while flushing the toilet, ensuring that the pounds of vomit don’t clog the drain. 

This is my life.

Making my way to the sink to wash my hands, I catch the sight of my reflection in the mirror. The dark circles around my eyes are coated in tears, and my cheeks are puffy and swollen. My right hand is red, the scratches aggravated by the soap I use to clean myself. There is no relief in the reflection staring back at me —nothing but a girl who looks empty and is empty. She is angry and worn. My expression is hollow as I stand there quietly, holding my jaw. Shooting pains pulsate through my neck and my shoulders, down into my hips. The familiar pain settles into my bones from dehydration and potassium loss, and my chest softly convulses as I begin sobbing for the girl in the mirror. With shaking shoulders, I lean my forehead against the cool glass. I can’t look at her any longer. 

My body is a ruin — all that remains of a ravaged landscape. There is no mercy here. 

I walk back to my bedroom, pull the covers over myself. The world begins to swallow me in darkness as my eyes close and I am lulled to sleep by the faint beating of my heart.

Finally, the voice stops.