swimming swimming
CLAIRE WHITMER

I have a recurring dream that I am swimming in the sky, right above the world, hovering over sidewalks, sometimes ascending as high as the tops of buildings. I swim freestyle or breaststroke through the air. The weightlessness is divine. The distance is just right. I can see everything that is happening without having to encounter any of it directly. It is the sweetest dream; when it comes I always wish for it not to end. Wish to just keep hovering gently above life; weightless, watching, swimming swimming.

Swimming Up

This is how I feel now, in my car, eating the dense square of cake, driving between places. I am floating. The world comes to me through a soft filter, noises are mostly muffled and faint. I’m hardly there. The weight of the cake in my hand and then mouth and then belly is the only thing anchoring me, keeping me from floating away completely. Mouthful after mouthful of thick sweetness keeps me suspended in this perfect liminal state.

Earlier in the day, at my neighborhood market, I linger over ears of plump summer corn, intending to buy one, cook it with salmon, enjoy a simple dinner. But something is thwarted, my plan foiled, and I find my hands in the bulk bins — pantheon of offerings. One bite and I’m off, rabid. Insatiable. Devolved into desire, fingers moving from one granola to another.

One bite and suddenly the innocence of my existence — young, white, thin, pretty — is a smear. Outward appearances mean nothing. I’m a hungry ghost, an imposter. I can’t be convinced of my own beauty, my wholesomeness. I am flattened, my eyes are dead, my pallor is dull. I am roaming roaming, hungry ghost among the living.

Last bites wrench me from the soft-hued world and bring me back to this slogging, impossible reality. Haste returns. I’m the hungry ghost again.

Surely everyone knows. Clothes, hair, skin, embellishments — the obviousness of this costume is humiliatingly detectable. People don’t trust me; don’t trust my beauty is real, don’t trust my thin body is natural. I’m diseased. They know.

Better after first bites to stop making eye contact. To make best efforts at expediting my departure from the world; to abide the plain division between me and everything else. So I roam with jumpy eyes that dart between different foodstuffs, avoiding other human eyes at all costs.

Supermarket Aisle

My mind is smog. There is no clear seeing. There are sirens, smoke, there is a lot of shouting. A clamor of voices giving hurried instructions; voices that come to me as though transmitted through an earpiece from a strategy room, assisting me on this mission.

The mission is to get what I need and get out. I remain cool and unsuspecting, attempt to make myself wholly undetectable. I long to be camouflaged, to don an invisibility cloak so I can do the dirty job of lingering over each precious food thing calling me from every corner of the store. If I were invisible then I could slow down, commune with the foodstuffs, curating them into a well-staged sequence designed for my consumption, for my soothing, for my slumber.

But slowness is a luxury reserved for the others. I fear I already smell of the rank odor of fixation and compulsion. I stitch an imaginary scarlet letter to my breast. My A is for addict. The word sounds filthy, feels like dirt beneath fingernails. I imagine at this point I am appearing a bit crazed, hovering near shelves and tracing my steps back and forth between bins, gripped by a witching combination of indecision, urgency, and fiendishness.

The hunger rages from somewhere deep below. It drops down into a dark bottomlessness, daring me to keep feeding it, daring me not to.

I put the corn back, regretting grinding the coffee that I now can’t return. Purchasing anything that isn’t for my immediate consumption now seems outlandish. I’m confused and fooling myself when I walk out of the store with an avocado, decaf coffee, and a raw food bar made from almonds and coconut. I hardly make it to my car before opening the bar. I eat it feverishly in big bites in the driver’s seat. It’s gone in seconds. What now. Gotta go back in. Gotta have more.

I do. Back into the store from the other entrance this time. I’m quick. A jar of walnut butter to the tune of seventeen dollars. I drown out the voice that reprimands me about money. Can’t be bothered right now. At the checkout I reach for a fruit and nut cake wrapped in cellophane from the bakery. Yes. That is what I want. Ages since I’ve eaten anything wrapped in cellophane. Anything from a bakery. I feel its weight, its heft. I’m soothed just having it in my hand.

Approaching the register, I wonder if the cashier knows the truth about me. She must. I reek. Brokenness seeping out of brokenness. I long to out myself with her, free us both from the purgatory of pretending. Speak to her in confession and plea — There is something wrong with me! Something is malfunctioning. I don’t know what to do, I can’t help it!

Instead — “No, I don’t need a bag.” I shove everything in my purse, my unreasonably small purse. I check my reflection in the glass doors as I leave. See collarbone, see browned skin, see youth. Wonder am I still beautiful. Wonder am I still here. She in the glass is strange and distant, not me, not this mind — this mind is out to destroy her.

I consume the fruit and nut cake while driving. Sweet relief. Haven’t eaten anything like this in so long. Cake-y and dense. The world is warm and round with my hands reaching from cellophane to mouth. Things are sedated. This is sweetness. I half listen to the podcast playing in my car on my way to pick up more food. This driving and eating and half listening — I don’t want this to end; I could do this forever. Like I am touching the world ever so lightly.

Hazy Shot of Swimmer

Hate last bites more than anything else. Last bites wrench me from the soft-hued world and bring me back to this slogging, impossible reality. Haste returns. I’m the hungry ghost again.

If I were invisible then I could slow down, commune with the foodstuffs, curating them into a well-staged sequence designed for my consumption, for my soothing, for my slumber.

Park and pick up food from my favorite place. While I’m waiting for my order I go next door into the bodega wanting sugar and peanut butter. Again, I pace back and forth like a crazed woman; my behavior betrays my outward appearance — tall, slim, beautiful. I won’t always be able to trade on this beauty; won’t always be able to quell peoples’ skepticism about my neurotic behavior by smiling and swinging hips as I exit. One day I will just be the haggard, crazed woman I feel like on the inside right now to everyone else on the outside. The pity and disdain I feel for myself in this moment will be the pity and disdain the world shows me. I grab four granola bars, pay and shove them in my bag. Eat one on the sidewalk waiting for my order. Eat three on the car ride home despite best intentions to save them for later. Can’t wait. No mercy in this unholy hunger.

I think of how when beginning to touch myself I am full of intentions to move slowly, to linger over the sweetness, unwind with a virtuous patience into that final pleasure. Think of how haste topples my intentions, how just a brush with that sweetness can sabotage my will power diminishing me to a writhing, greedy body. Then climax, urgent and grabby. The sour regret of arrival, the insistence it should have lasted longer, the empty fantasy of discipline.

This is me now, getting home with all the food yet to be eaten and realizing the ascent is over. The three granola bars consumed in the car are the peaks of sweetness I am capable of knowing today. Now I’m beginning to feel the signs of sickness. Body is starting to turn against me. There’s a frantic computing of what’s waiting below, a tantruming refusal to be brought back down to the world.

I wish I could build a dam against it. I don’t want it. But I’m powerless to keep it out now.

Floating in Black & White

I’m insistent. I can’t be done yet. It’s too early in the night. My belly is becoming swollen and taut, but the hunger that holds me captive in this wicked state knows nothing of my belly. The hunger rages from somewhere deep below. It drops down into a dark bottomlessness, daring me to keep feeding it, daring me not to.

I try to cool off but I’m feral. I pace oblivious of direction, distracting myself long enough to smooth the sharp surface of my physical discomfort. I work anxiously to regain the excitement for more.

Each next bite reaches for a pleasure that’s now lapsed. I struggle through this swamp of contaminated sweetness. Beg to be returned to enchantment, pray for rapture. But all I’m left with is effort, a stubborn insistence. The filter has been punctured and more of the world is getting in this time; it’s distracted and hurried, it’s unforgiving.

I eat like this in an empty living room in front of the television, feeling more pain than pleasure. Reality comes first like a trickle and then like a flood. I wish I could build a dam against it. I don’t want it. But I’m powerless to keep it out now.

Coming Up for Air

I’m coming to, and here is my body heavy and wrecked, here is the late afternoon sunlight streaming in through the window like an uninvited guest, here is the sound of the television I have not been watching. If I can’t have the pleasure back, then I want darkness. I want total oblivion. I want to deactivate my senses. Stop feeling this body, stop seeing this light, stop hearing this noise. I want to go away and not come back till my senses have recalibrated, until body feels normal again and light seems natural and sound is no longer an agitation.

In the morning my body puffs and aches from last night’s ritual poisoning. Torso hinges over thighs and forehead touches ground and breath comes out like a groan. My exhale is like something being dragged along loose gravel. Rough and resistant.

I’m making noise. Willing my breath out of my body. Letting it scrape and yank what it can from my insides on its way. Then I catch the sound of my own exhale and for a moment it’s like a spell being broken. I don’t understand, can’t explain the effect of hearing this breath and knowing it belongs to me. But in this spark of recognition comes an immediate impulse to cry.

It is the sweetest dream; when it comes I always wish for it not to end. Wish to just keep hovering gently above life; weightless, watching, swimming swimming.

Oh, crying. What a relief that would be. My body, folded in thirds over itself, sinks into the thought, softens just at the mere fantasy of tears. I wait as though crouching quietly outside a door, listening for who’s on the other side, are they coming out to meet me? No tears come; it’s only the longing for tears. I touch the longing and realize I can’t find its bottom. It’s a sharp dark drop-off between two rock faces. It plunges down down down into what can only be the question of an end.

Bubbles Underwater

 


 




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