As I lost my breathe gazing into her hazel eyes, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had met her before. Did we share a cookie in the second grade? Did we take tap-dancing? Did we smoke a fattie in a bathroom at a party, discuss female genital cutting, burn our bras and have bondage sex with the shower rod? Maybe. Or, Maybe- like seeing a Lindsay Lohan’s mug shot on the cover of us weekly- it was because I had watched her grow up from a sweet freckled moppet to a coked out klepto hospitalized for living off tic tacs. I just didn’t recognize her staring back at me in the dressing room mirror, with her legs unshaven and her blonde hair spiraling down over her shoulders and her bones delicate lyrics. Especially not like this- not beautiful. And yet, as I looked at myself, I was shocked to notice the shimmer of light, as golden and raw and wild as Tigers Eye.
I was pretty.
I wasn’t used to thinking of myself as anything other than a fat talking vagina, so this thought came as a big motha’ fucking surprise. Anorexia changes the way you look at yourself. You pretty much throw positive self-talk away with the takeout menus, and coupons for Steak and Shake. You bulk up on self-loathing, Luna Bars, and put a bag full of nuts in your purse - just in case you lose feeling in your feet and the space beneath your ribcage throbs like a dentist stripping away the tartar from your bones. You probably also threw out your 80 calorie cup of yogurt, after you cried hysterically for allowing yourself such an extravagance. Really, how could you?! You ate a fistful of popcorn three days ago!
My bones still snap when I wake up in the morning, but like the stupid bitches on tv yapping about douche spray and twirling in white sundresses: Things were different for me now. It was like I had entered a new day as clean as rain. I was feeling like myself again.
Except, I didn’t really know who this ‘self’ was anymore. Not really. The self I knew before had rules as sturdy as a game of Russian roulette. This new girl who eats chocolate pudding for breakfast is cray. I looked at the size on the tank top that could have been a tent and wondered, was I really that small? What was I before? It was almost as if some weird girl had left me her laptop and her nailpolish collection. I didn’t know what size I really was, what I really liked to eat, do, or who I really wanted to fall in love with.
I was wandering around Victoria’s secret, because I realized I was in college and I hadn’t worn a bra for the past two years. They were all too big. Shit, I could probably buy a training bra at Limited Too the way my tits were looking these days. As I walked out of the dressing room, a woman with chocolate hair, and cheekbones just as sweet, was folding a pair of panties.
“Do you need any help?” She had the kind of nose that I wanted to nibble on.
“Um…maybe.” I said. “I don’t know what bra size I am.”
“I can help with that.”
I turned behind the poster of a feather clad woman sprawled on top of a car, and lifted my arms while the sales lady wrapped a pink measure around my chest. I didn’t know what I was doing here. Not because I was a feminist- I’ll shove my feet in a pair of stelettos until I bleed- but because I’ve never felt the urge to arch my head back in the middle of the street, twist my neck and squint like I need prunes. I wasn’t sexy, and I knew it. And yet, there was something so appealing about the challenge that I wanted to take a crack at it. I could be one of those girls who look constipated simply because they can. One of those girls who wake up in five star Hotel rooms in France wearing nothing but Chanel and a red satin nightshirt. One of those girls who quietly tuck their nimble fingers in the back pocket of their lover’s jeans and whisper: I want you inside me.
I would call myself Lamb. No last name, just Lamb, like Madonna, or the sock puppet. Lamb would fall in lust with a beautiful photographer named Tristan. He would graze my hand as I paid for my cappuccino, and taste me like the foam. Tristan and I would run off to New York city where we would go on long walks through central park in Autumn. Tristan would photograph me, reading in the afternoon, as sunshine peaked in through the venetian blinds. Of course, as the leaves changed colors, I would realize that Tristan was abusive and start sleeping with Greg, the baker from queens. Greg would be partners with his brother-in-law Morty. His sister, Victoria, or Tori- as all the gals call her- would be a closeted lesbian. I would pop her real good, and as she heard our husbands farting around in the kitchen she would say: “Morty, did you get the apples?!”
I found out I was a 32A, and left the store with a strange craving for apple pie.
Going to the grocery store without feeling a sense of being crushed by four tons of metal and an index card organized by calorie content and in alphabetical order is a new thing for me. I had never set foot in a fresh food market, but, the Taffy green roof and dark windows called to me like the Witch’s house in Hansel and Gretel. I walked inside the doors and was greeted with a display of candy. Not just any candy, but smarties, maplenut goodies, black licorice, cashews covered in caramel and redhots. Anorexia had left like a bad roommate, taking her lettuce and tears with her - and I was left with the freedom of another room and the right to zone out eating chocolate peanut butter krispie treats while reading about gay alien sex. It’s not that you do anything more scandalous than leave cereal bowls in the sink, snack on humus without a second thought and occasionally dance around in your underwear to Sheryl Crow smoking Marlboro lights but— my shopping cart was full of possibility. I realized I could live off angsty sexual poems, diet coke, and bowls of corn and mashed potatoes, I could astral project myself to the moon; I could have a bisexual love triangle in which I sleep with an intoxicating yoga instructor named Ginger, and then, sleep with Diego, an alcoholic cashier at pottery barn. Baby, I want to take you away from all this ceramic.
Having grown up with conservative parents as enthusiastic about spirituality and Swiss chard as they are about women’s right to contraceptives and the morning after pill, I had a lot of catching up to do. The Fresh Market was like Disney world- I couldn’t stop smiling at all the different aisles and the smells that waivered down each one like rides. I spun with my arms stretched out by the organic coffee like Julie Andrews.
“This place is so FUCKING cool!” I said to no one really. After laying around reading gay porn and visioning myself on the moon eating holiday side dishes, I had forgotten social graces. I also had very few friends.
A woman in a pastel green tank top gently placed on her hand on my shoulder and moved in close- as If we were mother and daughter in a discussion. Now sweetie, I know you like Dante, but he simply is not the guy for you.
“I’ve never been here before!” I beamed and the woman nodded with a smile. I was literally bouncing like an ompa lompah. Or in this case, a kindergartener that had to pee. I had been up since 8am and finished two pots of coffee. Then did some yoga and got some Starbucks. Yes, to the sweet pink mat, Yes, to the downward dog, Yes, to relaxing solitude, Yes, to the meditation-hey, did I leave the coffee pot on? I should text my roommate and check. Unless the fire has killed her in her sleep. Fuck, Ashley, concentrate. The incense smells like sandalwood. Or Cinnamon. God, I want a Venti iced cinnamon dolce.
My bladder was as full as the produce section. There is an expression people usually use to describe shock and awe- “looked at me like I was a spaz.” This would be that woman’s face. “Do you know if they have a bathroom here?”
“Yes, over there.” The woman pointed and I turned to see a sign over a maple wood doorway. I looked at the woman, her blonde hair half up and her glasses wire rimmed, and I imagined my life with her in an instant- not in a sexual way, but as her daughter. I’ve often fantasized about a mother who didn’t smell like margaritas or count the calories in grapes. This woman smelled like rosemary and goats milk. When I got my period for the first time, she wouldn’t shout “Don’t flush your rags down the toilet!” in a crowded superbowl party before promptly blacking out. She would take me on a Mother/Daughter trip to a volcano to celebrate my lady lava. We would nibble on trailmix as she talked to me about sexuality, and how healing and transformational sex can be.
Instead, I got a Book called The Care and Keeping of you, and a box of snowcaps. The Care and Keeping of You was made by the American Girl company that produced dolls from historical periods. I had three- Kit, Molly and Josephina. After I saw the centerfold of how to put on a tampon, Kit was left on a bus, Molly was shoved underneath my bed with the creepy ass furbies, and Josephina mysteriously fell down a flight of stairs. I was so terrified of my vagina that I got urinary tract infections 6 times a year. Whenever I see a woman reaching for a copy of it in Publix, I want to rip her arm off like Josephina’s.
I smiled at the woman’s graceful touch, seduced by her earthy sandals, and squeaked.
“Thank you so much! I’m really excited!”
“Ooohkay, Honey.” She laughed as I skipped off past the baked potato chips. To her knowledge, I was the adorable little imp ecstatic about gluten free cranberry scones, but if she knew skeletor being off in carried off in a stretcher because a salad had become too risqué- she would be clapping like a seal: GO, BABY! GO!
Like all obsessions, and fantasies, Eating disorders are sneaky that way. You never really know what a person is thinking about, or who a person is day dreaming about making out with by the Jar of Butternut squash. You just know by the way the guy holding the eggplant smiles at you and the consuming desire to stick your tongue in his ear.
As I plopped down on the toilet and kicked my feet, I know I’ve dreamed of other mothers. Ones that would laugh if you ever asked them to buy flaxseed oil peanut butter and have never used seashells to decorate their zen garden but do make great baked stuffed clams.
My Aunt Jen took me for ice-cream and asked me about crushes after my mom told her I left my rags all over the place. She had long brown hair, a pine coffee table, and wore red lipstick as decadent as my hot fudge Sundae. It was the middle of the afternoon, and I was sitting on her beige couch, sipping her iced lemon water and looking at one of her books while Aunt Jen twirled her fingers around my hair. Her nails were perfect.
Unlike my mother, who wore purple glittered acrylic- she would get them done after work at the bank job she hated before coming home and watching Days Of our lives while spooning Velveeta (Weight Watchers 2 pts)- Aunt Jen’s nails were round and short and painted clear. Her toe nails matched her lips, and popped against her skin as immaculate as her “Fantastic” Job and her vocabulary. Aunt Jen knew so many big words like Breathe taking, Unacceptable. My father’s youngest sibling, and the only one in the family to attend college, she was at that post-graduate age where it was still okay to milk ones credits in Comp while simultaneously rubbing your face in it. She didn’t smoke like the rest of Dad’s sisters. At Baptisms and birthday parties while the air reeked of cake and cigarettes, Aunt Jen would sit next to me and ask me what was on my summer reading list. After a short stint caring for Alzheimers patients, She became a pharmaceutical sales representative and had a vanity full of make-up and sparkly things. My mother had a wicker seat and a soft cvs travelers case. My Aunt Jen gave me one of her gold chains with a three tiered white charm. “I don’t wear it anymore, darling.” Mostly, I loved smelling all her candles- my mom wasn’t “allowed” to burn things. Aunt Jen didn’t take that shit from her man. Her favorite novel, The Hours, was about three women’s lives. Granted, the women are also sexually confused and facing an identity crisis-but bitches got to buy the flowers for themselves. Aunt Jen never let anyone ever see her cry, but there was something inside her that caused her apprehension, like she was a broken brita filter away from jumping off the beacon bridge. One day, I found her outside staring into space with her sunglasses on. There was a monarch butterfly flying around her stone wall, and her husband was out playing golf. I came up behind her and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Don’t ask me why.
“It’s okay” I said, not knowing what was supposed to be okay, but like using duct tape instead of hemming, my mother had trained me to apologize.
Aunt Jen wrapped her arms around me. Both of our hair was fluttering around like the butterfly. My hair was its natural mousy brown then, the same as hers, and as she took off her sunglasses, I saw we had the same eyes.
“You’re so sweet” Her voice trilled as she pulled me into her, mascara running down her face. “Oh, god. I must look like a raccoon.”
“Kinda” I chirped, and Aunt Jen laughed. Somehow, her laugh that always sounded as trained as a blind tightrope walker relaxed and she gave me a kiss on the cheek too.
“Come inside, beautiful.”
Sure, now I see Aunt Jen’s words as marshmallow fluff, and think she’s a stuck up bitch- but at 12, she read books about ladies kissing, and sold drugs. As Aunt Jen took off her watercolor painting from her cheekbones, I flipped through The Hours sitting on her coffee table. I didn’t understand the language, but I like the way sentences flowed together. I told Aunt Jen my plans to write the next great American vampire novel as she changed in her room. Unlike my mom, who walked around naked with a pick in her fried permed hair, Aunt Jen was a woman of mystery. A woman who celebrated her twisty soft serve curves, wide feet, and dangerously brown hair. A woman who asked: “Would you like to go to Cherry top?”
As we drove for ice cream, she told me about her first boyfriend, and her bad attempt at a Bob hair cut her freshman year at Mount St. Mattress University, and I told her about her awesomeness. “You’re so pretty!” and “I want to be just like you!” makes any woman’s summer day scorching.
I don’t really remember the ice cream, but I do remember the way the grill smelled like greasy cheeseburgers, the way Aunt Jen clipped my hair back in the cool breeze, tilted her head and laughed.
* * *
Paula- or “Momma Paula” as she coined herself, was en vogue along with shag haircuts, earthy tank tops, and whole-y flip flops. Gone were my days of Michael Cunningham and classy sapphic innuendos and in in its place was Faith Hill and raunchy tales of ex-boyfriends. Paula reminded me of Meg Ryan, especially when she smiled and showed the spongebob gap in her teeth. I loved the nights I spent on Paula’s lanai, watching her smoke and sipping blackcherry soda. I had just moved to Florida, and I’m sure she wondered why I liked hanging around some 40 year old binge drinker so much, but she didn’t seem to mind the company. Paula had a thick Kentucky accent that curled like the side of my spiral notebook. I was in remedial reading class because I didn’t want to take gym. I always finished the week’s work on Monday and would spend the rest of the classes writing crazy stories. “Whatthehellyoualways writin’ sweet pea?” When Paula got drunk, her words would be mushy black marshmellows- the kind still on fire that you had to get on a graham cracker right away or else you would burn your hand. I sat across from her Indian style, watching the grey ropes rise from her lips as she fingered through her hair. She made homophobic fist bumping gestures whenever I talked too much about one of my girl friends, and told me to get some cranberry juice on the nights when I was sobbing from urethra distress. Paula loved my new short haircut. She tousled her hands through it as we drived home from the grocery store eating Jalapeno chips. In another scene, we are drunk on eggnog in her sunflower kitchen cooking for her Christmas party. Paula is lifting me, giggling at how tiny I am and how much weight I’ve lost. “You need some earl for them veggies!” “Skinny, you need some eye-ron.” She never talked about my pant size like my mom. Her fingers were defined as she painted my toes, cut sheets of glass, chopped black olives for deviled eggs. On my sweet 16, she bought me a pair of crocks. I wondered why she didn’t just shove my face in some Indigo Girls groupie’s lap. She was a very hands on, rough and tumble kind of lady with a room full of wielding tools- so much so, that if she didn’t talk about all her ex-husbands, you would think she was gay. The night of the homecoming dance, I kissed my best friend. She was sad about some boy who didn’t want to dance with her, and I wanted to make her feel special. I left early, crying. I was freaked out, but nothing can compare to the sight of a drunken southern woman screaming at you to take off your dress. Paula was waiting for me and wanted to hear all about it.
“What happened?” Paula said.
“Nothing. I’m just really tired. I’m going to go to sleep.”
“Take off your dress if you’re going to bed.”
“It’s fine.” I wanted to crawl into a whole. As I turned around and opened my door, Paula unzipped my pink dress for me.
“When I lose a limb, I’m going to borrow this.” Paula said. “Take off your dress, girl!”
Paula and I shared a bonding moment for all women kind, as I let the dress fall to the floor, and stood before her in my period stained underwear.
She hung up my pink dress for me while I put on a T-shirt and Pajamas. Paula was a woman of wild motorcycle past and divorce courts, a woman who got drunk and peed off the side of boats. A woman who said: “Sweet pea, you’re a big girl. You need to get some plugs.”
As Paula and I cooked spaghetti with spinach and feta cheese, she told me about her mother’s death to cancer when she was a teenager. The tampon didn’t feel as bad as I thought.
I met Debbie while wearing a rainbow vagina. After six months, I was determined to get my period back, and came leaping into her store as a last effort. As any good sorority girl can tell you, staring into an empty toilet is not a happy thing. It was almost as if I lost a friend- someone I could laugh with, someone I could cry with, someone I could suffocate with cotton after telling them I committed a murder. My lover at the time had her period and hated it. This was the beginning of the end for us. I felt dry and shriveled and sad like my sister had abandoned me in the dessert, and she was bitching about some spilled tomatoe juice sitting next to an angry black woman on the greyhound to Lady Lava Land. I missed Lady Lava land. They had cool waterslides. I couldn’t fucking come anymore. When your body thinks your running from a wolf in the dessert, you pretty much lose everything: hair, toenails, periods. You survive in the dessert by shedding that stuff you don’t need, until the wolf catches up with you and bites off your arm. Until you have heart problems. Until you can no longer have kids. Orgasms shut down when you can’t stand long enough in the shower. Sorry, lady, but you need energy for your jollies. Cake would work too.
She handed me an appetite stone, and told me if it didn’t work, she knew a pot dealer. Debbie ran a metaphysical store next to Starbucks and saged every morning after getting her Frappuccino to clear and protect sacred space. Like my mother, she had a tattoo on her chest, except hers wasn’t a midlife crisis impulse. Hers symbolized her dedication to Diana, the goddess of fertility and the hunt. I purchased rose quartz, and wore it around Aunt Jen’s gold chain. Debbie’s stone for appetite rested firmly on my bookshelf, next to my fertility candles. She gave me purification and healing bathsalts, and told me to think of elephants clearing away mud as I dunked my head. When I got in the tub, I began to feel very strange. It wasn’t the faucet but it was as loud as a pan boiling over on a hot stove. As I went under, it was sharp and clear:
YOU CAN’T DO THIS. NO ONE CAN GO THERE. NEVER NEVER NEVER AGAIN.
I coughed and sputtered, flopping like a fish onto the bathroom floor. The room was covered with steam.
As I watched Debbie smoke, I told her I heard a very strange noise, almost like a voice screaming at me. She looked at me and took a drag from her cigarette. “It’s doubt. You can do this. You need to do this.” When I saw blood in the toilet, I called her crying. It was so touching.
The next day I saw her, we high fived that shit.
“My little woman, is that a vagina on your shirt?!”
During Debbie’s spirituality classes, we burned things in cauldrons. Debbie loved fire, and giggled like beevis and buthead when we dumped in vesta powder after raising energy.
“We aren’t raising energy,” Debbie told the class. “We are raising power. Fuck that new agey bunny energy shit. We are taking our power back. I know you got it, but some of you just choose not to use it.” She looked at me, and my heart felt like an Italian ice on an Indian summer. I wanted so badly to leap onto her lap and say: Can we, can we, can we?!!
We were sitting outside at the picnic table, when she asked how my little friend with the wheelchair was.
“We broke up.” I said.
“Oh..” Debbie said. The funny thing is, a lot of people looked shocked when I tell them I sleep with women. Perhaps my canary like voice distills the fact that I’m hitting on their sister.
“I just fucked a dude.” I said. I began to cry. “I don’t know if I’m a lesbian.”
“Did you identify as a lesbian before? Is this a bad thing?”
“HE’S MY BESTFRIEND AND NOW MY STUPID VAGINA HAS RUINED EVERYTHING!”
The way she looked at me suggested that I was the only woman who has ever cried over not being a lesbian, but also that I was being ridiculous.
“You’re twenty. Nobody knows anything at twenty,” Debbie said. Her face was inches away from mine, and as I jumped on her like a puppy, her eyes widened.
Debbie was a woman of magic and wisdom. A woman who communicated with the clan of troubadour fairies with cornbread and milk. A woman who said: “I think I need to get high.”
While I walked past the frozen vegan cornbread, I discerned my life was very strange these days. For one thing, I needed to buy tampons- something I didn’t have to do for a long time. It still surprises me, and makes me dance for joy. RED RED GLORIOUS RED! I found the color so beautiful! Whenever I see it, I always feel like James Stewart in It’s A Wonderful Life! Bells rang and Clarence got his wings. When women get angry about their periods, I want to shake them. In fact, it immediately makes me think less of them as human beings. Why be upset about the oil that runs the machine of Madame? Sure, the cramps aren’t fun. Sure, you probably shouldn’t believe the commercials- hold off on wearing that white jumper to go bowling with your boyfriend next Tuesday, babe. But when you really think about it, periods are vitality. It’s no coincidence Eve offered Adam an apple- the symbol of fertility. Red is the color of passion. Red is the color of the heart on everyone’s door in February. Red is the color of a child’s converses waiting for the bus on the first day of school.
For another thing, I was learning new things about myself and the world. I learned I liked green bean chips and pepper jack cheese. I learned I liked nights at home on my lanai surrounded by bad poems, the smell of white sage and cigarettes. I learned I liked the way a penis wiggles like a bobble head once in a while. They’re like butter pecan ice-cream- not too sweet, but juust right.
I don’t know if I’ll marry a woman or a man. To me, marriage isn’t forever. After all, nobody knows who they will end up with forever until they die. “Forever” doesn’t exist. Not when there’s terrible bus drivers, poorly operated crosswalks, and sexy EMTs that “have” to cut off your clothes and give you cpr. Marriage is a huge commitment, like deciding to get lasik eye surgery. Sure, all the cool kids are doing it, and it will make the snow sparkle on ski trips and the sunset look vibrant - but what happens ten years from now when your surgeon has been sued for banging the blind minister’s wife and you can’t fucking see? Asking me if I plan on marrying a man or a woman is like asking me if I want read Steve Almond or Sloane Crosley in bed each night. They both tickle me under the covers. It depends on my mood, and who will let me set things on fire. Heh-heh. Fire.
The idea of possibly marrying a man is new to me. I’ve never fallen in love with one, but I’m not going to limit myself. I wasn’t going to be trapped in a loveless marriage, a dead end job, and binge on soap operas, French fries and 100 calorie snack cakes. I was going to be my own person, who did many different things, and genders. I wasn’t who I was before—I was pangea, constantly shifting. It’s scary, but it also is the passion that keeps me alive- And every flower, every glass of orange juice, every sunset, and every fucking squirrel would remind me that I am a woman coming into her own.
My mother would find other ways to bond with me. Like shopping. And eventually, we would be close again, through the buying of the booze, and not telling my father about that one crazy summer with Uncle Ray in a golf cart. But my tarot cards say that the day when she will meet my significant other and smile instead of sob into her Carrabas napkin is far away. They also say that I’m judgmental, hyper-sexual and going to burn down a house. They sound about right.
As my butter pecan ice cream chilled in the freezer, I sat on my lanai listening to Dan Savage’s sex podcast. There was a cigarette in my mouth, and I was painting my toes red.
Dan: Sometimes people just aren’t capable of somethings and the consolation prize is to gradually up the size of the butt toys to fit your boyfriends cock. Find the intermediate Butt toys, and see if you can get there-
I took a drag from my cigarette and the smell of apple pie baking in the oven blew in from the kitchen. It was going to be a good night.
Dan: The ass— the sphincter muscles are very elastic. What you also can do is clamp your ass around his dick and let him dry hump you.
I smiled. A very good night indeed.