• Reading time:6 mins read

Food, when I was growing up, amounted to, “I don’t know; don’t bother me. Make yourself a bagel if you’re hungry.” My school lunch was perhaps a Fruit Roll-Up and a Kudos bar, in a brown paper bag. If there was nothing readily available, I just didn’t eat.

I think I never really got in the habit of food. Even four decades in, I remain vague on the idea of Eating Things. Even when food is available, it’s this abstraction. Yes, ideally I would consume it on occasion. Mostly, I forget—and mostly, I don’t.

When I was a little older, the same friend who helped me to escape from my most recent abuse scenario and set me up where I’m living now—his parents sent me a sort of care package; just, all this food, to eat. Since they knew there was never anything at home.

I stored that in my room for a few months, until I worked through it. Saved me having to enter the same air as my parents.

The two of them, they had their own specific things they ate, which were always, uh. One of them was just liver and onions, all the time! The other, I hope you like boiled rhubarb. If not, tough. And if so… well, it was theirs, right. So they did them, and then went their way. And I had to figure things out on my own.

When I was a little older my paternal grandmother, who was a horrible person in every respect (I won’t approach the racism), regaled me with a story of when I was perhaps two, and she saw me trying to make a bologna sandwich with green luncheon meat. Which… tracks, yes.

Come to it, when I was really young they did that thing of, if you’re bad you don’t get to eat, right. And I was “bad” all the time because I was a weeper. It seemed like everything made me cry. So I just got used to self-punishing and keeping out of the way.

I’m 6’5″ now. I wonder how tall I’d be if I weren’t malnourished most of my life. I wonder if this has anything to do with how late puberty hit me.

Every so often my father would scream at me that I was anorexic. And, then, well, that was the end of it. He just needed to scream that at me, so that I knew it. It wasn’t technically true; I was just scrawny, as I remain. But let’s just say that I was. Do a little math. Why does one imagine I might be that way?

Both my parents were… shall we say, deficient, as people. It’s not my job to sort through or apologize for what damage may have brought them to the point that I entered the story; they were who they were, and they were the kind of people Roald Dahl served to illustrate. Of the two I think my father took a little pity on me, inasmuch as when he happened to be stuck with me and we were out of the house he would always take me for fast food. Often my choice. So there was that. When he had to be there and see that I existed in front of him, occasionally I received the bare minimum of care.

Too much contact, though, made him uncomfortable. If he could get rid of me he would. I’ve already talked about the mall thing, where he’d dump me all afternoon, evening, and night until closing, because he didn’t want me to burn down the house, as he put it every time, but if I chanced to burn down the mall then that was out of his hands. If he remembered he’d give me five dollars for pizza. But with my training, I could easily not-eat—especially if there was a new game in the arcade. Something that introduced new ideas, like Rolling Thunder or OutRun or Double Dragon or Rastan. Or one of a few favorites that happened to cycle back in somehow, like Vs. The Goonies.

As I unpack the tangle of disasters that has brought me to my current situation, I gain more and more perspective on the complicated intersection of ways in which I was set up to fail in life.

My whole response to any scenario, I was taught: go away; don’t remind anyone that you exist; keep quiet, don’t show any emotion; don’t give them reason to punish you. I was taught to be a non-entity, to want nothing, not to attend to my own needs if I even knew them. I’m a bad student, but eventually I learned.

If I make myself invisible enough, I an rewarded with neglect instead of active abuse. So, I can stay quiet. I can make myself sit still. I can just not ask for anything. Ignore my bodily functions. Remove myself from the equation, remove myself from myself. 

Maybe I should eat something.

Between all this and my lack of romantic or sexual attraction, such that every relationship I’ve been in has been a matter of other people inveigling themselves into my life, telling me they’re my best friend until I rely on them, then handing me this ultimatum where for the friendship to continue it must do so on their terms, to which I have replied, “no, don’t go; I’ll do what you say; I’ll be good,” I can recognize a few central mechanics to the manner in which my life has, historically, sucked.

Of course now, as I approach my 42nd birthday, I have begun to learn my own systems—as opposed to the whims of narcissism that have shaped my my every fear and expectation for the first two score of my knowledge. So we’re not great, but we are at a turning point. Had I the capacity to cope with everyday life, and could I support myself financially, I would be well on the path to hunky-dory, and could begin to address some bigger structural issues. For now… I have a quesadilla in the oven.

Got to eat, Azure.