writing: hunger and boys and poetry

There was a storm coming and she had run six miles and she was not hungry. She sprawled on the couch and ached pleasurably, but her stomach was ringing hollow. I am going to vomit, most likely. Why the fuck am I not hungry? Why the fuck? It was six miles. The last time her appetite had disappeared like this was last spring, during the worst of the depression, when she was still at university and had to force herself to eat. Buy a V8 energy drink and two granola bars from the late-night stand, the boys at the counter taking her food and asking for her credit card, and not really caring. Sit at a table in the empty English department, the fluorescent lights falling inside your mouth along with the food. Everything tasting like vomit. Now she was doing better. She went on runs, she had something like a skincare routine. She was staying at a friend’s house; it was stressful enough, maybe that was the trigger; last fall, when the friendship was new and awkward and she visited for the first time, she had fallen in love with her friend’s brother (although was it really falling in love when someone doesn’t like you back?) Now they were like strangers, her and the boy. He was taller than she remembered, and he wore white more often but the same type of shirts — cotton, the logos stretched tight across his shoulders and his chest. He worked out too much and he was smart in a tactical, old-world way but was not good with school. He was sitting across from her on the couch, starting his community college homework with a tired, half-assed attitude that stressed her out almost to the point of feeling hungry. Last fall, when she was here, and the next spring, when she was here again, she had tutored him. Long mornings with the spring falling lightly around the house, sitting next to him in her pajamas, and his eyes tired and wet. She could read over his required texts quickly and then explained them back to him — Kant and his Categorical Imperative, was the Afghanistan war a political or a military problem, highschool level biology texts on global warming or conservatorship — and he watched her too intently or stared off in space. The loneliness inside him was loud and magnetic. Now he seemed happier and almost content, but she was too bitter to feel happy for him. She felt like all the boys she had ever liked hadn’t come planned; they had been thrown at her, almost cosmically, and she would burn up bright and fast. The chemistry was always theoretical (she had barely been touched, never kissed) but the potential stayed hot and strong in the conversations or the eye-contact. He was the first boy she had ever really been close to. The other boys she met in class and talked politics with in the hallways (Keynesian economics is shit, the alt-right is getting too mainstream) or she found them by chance and they consumed her sexually. The first spring with the depression, when she had forced herself to eat and her weight dropped to 134 (size four jeans!) she had met a boy one year younger than her. He had the strange dark eyes of a Bryonic hero and wide shoulders. She almost had no interest in him personally but her body wanted him naked and kissing her. If she wasn’t religious and saving herself for marriage he would have been a one-night stand; when he came into the room she would go wet between her legs and sweat through her tee-shirt and then run back to her dorm to change, fixing her hair and refreshing her mascara and listening to the B-sides of Welcome to the Black Parade with a frantic adolescent energy. That had been an horrible time and now she thought about it nostalgically. It was the spring before the first covid quarantine and she was still successful in school and the nights were dark and long and thrummed with her new sexual energy. She stayed up until three or four a.m. in the abandoned foreign language building, writing strange poetry and feeling invincible with the writing pouring out of her. Her father, the younger boy with the gothic eyes, the resurgence of her highschool emo obsession — it all made good poetry. She wrote more poetry in those weeks than she had ever written in her life, including even the crush on her friend’s brother and the next year-and-a-half of depression; it had been those opening moments of mental illness, when she lay crying in her dorm room at five a.m. with her brain throwing feral cats at the wall, when the writing came out of her like blood. Now she was just tired and tired of being tired. The boy (the latest one, the athletic one, his past patterned with a similar trauma to hers — so of course they had collided) seemed to be making some headway on his homework; he had his Christian rap blaring out the speaker and she lay on the couch with her hands over her stomach, only getting up to refill her glass of water. She was not hungry but she was thirsty. She wouldn’t mind if her appetite went away again and she dropped four pant sizes and could finally fit into everything she’d bought at 134, but she was also trying to build up some muscle and that meant eating, eating, eating, but shit — you know — that was not currently possible. She lay on the couch and the pounding bass of his music went inside her like a heartbeat. He asked someone else to look over his homework; he used to ask her. She felt ignored and also relieved. She wanted to be useful and she wanted his attention and she also wanted him to drop off the face of the earth. What was the point of boys except for poetry? That seemed like the only reasonable explanation (the art, the art, the art) for meeting someone and becoming close but not close enough and then him shutting off fast — leaving her. She liked it much better when she was in control and doing the leaving; who doesn’t?

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