Clutter

The drawer on the right side of my desk is similar to the drawer my mother kept under the counter, next to the refrigerator in my childhood home. One I opened daily in search for something, but never finding what I needed inside. Hers held

old pens with the names of realtors and contractors;

mini-calculators, mostly broken;

half-eaten Snickers bars and bags of M&Ms.

Mine with old ticket stubs,

ash from cashed pot pipes,

candy wrappers and

antidepressants spilled from the broken, child-

proof lid, lost somewhere beneath the chaos.

***

I am fourteen years old and on my way to take a shower. My bathroom is adjacent to my parents’ bedroom, her door is slightly ajar. I walk in, hoping to grab a towel, freshly washed, dried and warm: it is laundry day.

When I turn the corner, I see my mother, stark naked, digging through a makeup drawer. We gasp at the same time, and I run from the room, apologizing all the way out. I skip my shower, warm water already swishing through my stomach.  

Later, at breakfast, my mother is over the stove, cooking eggs. She scrambles them with cream cheese, so they are soft and light and creamy. She keeps her eyes down in the pan when she apologizes to me. I tell her that there isn’t a need to, that I shouldn’t have walked in, that I should have knocked, that I’m the one who should be sorry.

She sets my plate down in front of me and turns, avoiding eye contact.

“No one should have to see their fat mom naked.”

***

There are unfinished, pocket-sized Moleskine journals in my drawer, covered in long forgotten imagery. Inside each is nothing more than abandoned, half-baked short story ideas:  a writer who turns into a pencil, a bed that consumes its sleeper, a man who implodes from the stomach. I title each entry “Fiction,” trying to hide my confessions even from myself.

***

I am attempting to coax my brother off the Playstation. He beats me home from school every day and usually gets first dibs, but our permitted school-day hour of video games has long since passed, and I want to get my time in before mom gets home. I tell him his feet stink, that his breath is putrid, that maybe what I had for lunch isn’t sitting too well in my stomach. I begin to gag.

Not buying it, he tells me to stop and continues playing his game, not looking away from the tv. I continue to fake-choke, telling him that if he doesn’t leave soon, I’ll puke everywhere, that the stench of his presence is just too much to handle.

I gag and gag and gag until, finally, my body takes action and purges me of the contents of my stomach, onto the brand new carpet, installed not even a month ago.

My brother runs screaming from the room, grabbing my father, “Andrew puked! Andrew puked!”

I apologize to my dad and attempt to explain the situation: that I didn’t think I was actually going to vomit, that I didn’t even feel it coming until it was already out.

Dabbing the carpet with a rag and cleaner, my father mumbles, “This is what gluttony leads to. This is because all you boys do is snack and snack and snack. This is what happens when all you do is eat.”

***

It is 4:00pm and I am making a PB&J sandwich at my parents’ house. They are both at work, and I am home from college for a few days’ visit. I am shaky and aggravated, my stomach grumbles with anticipation. It is my first meal of the day.

I go to pull a butter knife from the drawer. I open three other drawers before I find the one with silverware. When my mother gets bored, she rearranges the rooms of the house. Every time I visit, something is somewhere else.

The drawer opens halfway but catches, so I can only see the hilts of each utensil. There is a spoon caught between its tray and the top of the cabinet. I push the drawer back in and pull out once more, but the spoon does not budge and the drawer, again, catches. My mother’s cat watches as I do it again, and then again. I am not sure why I keep pulling instead of reaching a finger in to flick the caught spoon down, but I keep pulling, until the spoon is bent, until I have chipped away at the cheap wood holding the drawer in place. I am shaking and close to tears. I scream “FUCK” and slam the drawer shut, scaring the cat from its perch on the table’s chair. I cannot reach a knife, so I lift the trashcan lid, and pour what’s begun of my sandwich into its mouth.

***

In my desk drawer, beneath everything else, are old pictures of me and my friends, before I had a beard, before I grew my hair long, before I was this skinny. I keep them there as reminders of how far I’ve come, how much I’ve grown (or shrunk).

The weight was not dropped on purpose, but lost like a memory in a move. Placed in the wrong box labelled “Misc.” and stuffed in the back of whatever closet had enough room.

Before I take showers now, especially after a few drinks or after I’ve been crying, I do not look at myself in the mirror, opting to stand off to the side by the toilet. When I am sitting or staring down at myself, the curve of my stomach looks larger than it actually is, but I still get shivers whenever the underbelly touches the cool metal of my belt. When I am brave enough to look at my figure in the mirror, I notice how my skin bulges over the band of my underwear.

I watch the mirror fog as the shower warms up, staring into the emptiness it reflects, just a door with dirty towels hanging from hooks.

***

I am in high school when the Denver Museum of Nature and Science begins its Body Works exhibit, where those who donated their body had their flesh stripped away to show only the muscle and bone and fat underneath. My mother takes my brother and me, although she seems disturbed by the prospect. She waits outside the exhibit and allows us to roam through freely.

I expect the room to reek of decay and blood, like meat unknowingly spoiled in a broken freezer, but it smells sterile, like sheets on a hospital bed.

Some bodies are standing like mannequins, propped up by poles welded to what used to be their person. They stand in different poses, showing how different exercises affect different muscle tensions. Some move mechanically, attached to pedaling bikes or walking in place.

In one corner, there are torsos with the flesh and muscle stripped away to show the inner organs beneath the rib cage. My brother is fascinated by the beating heart and breathing lungs, while I’m intrigued by a body bigger than the rest, one that shows more yellow than red and white, implying the fat buildup over the lifetime of unhealthy eating. On the body’s torso, there are handles, so I grab and pull to reveal the things this body has consumed, things that made it swell like a balloon: candy, pizza, soda, hamburgers, fried chicken. Above the body is a sign that says, “You Are What You Eat.” I grimace and close the drawers, continuing to wander around the room of bodies that are all but living.

***

This is what I keep within myself. It is a deep sense of shame with every bite I take, every bit of me that I no longer want to love, that I want to watch wither and fall from my body like leaves from a hibernating tree.

I tell myself

that I do not have a problem, rationalizing the constant rumble in my stomach. I still eat something every day. I snack, late at night, pulling peanut butter pretzels from the cabinet, hiding Ben and Jerry’s deep within my freezer (not in hopes that my roommates won’t get to it, but that I may forget about it behind the frozen strawberries and flour), candy hidden in the glove compartment of my car. I can put down an entire box of pasta over the course of three meals, as long as those three come between 5 and 11 at night.

I tell myself

that this is not a problem that men have, even if I have worked to break down every other gender stereotype forced on me throughout my younger years. I have even read other stories of men that share in my shame, but I see them as smaller versions of myself, further cementing the idea that I am overreacting when I think otherwise.

I tell myself

it isn’t a problem in and of itself, but one that sprouted from my depression. A way of coping with the sadness I feel. It’s not that I’m wasting away because I’m ashamed of how I look, but simply too sad to pull myself from my bed or my couch or my desk to nourish myself. A body unused is a body unneeded.

I tell myself

that even if I do have this problem, it is my burden alone to carry as I have carried this extra weight I believe that I have. I learned to politely cross my legs so that I do not see my thighs spilling out over the bone, to suck in my belly when the seatbelt pushes against it so that I do not have to see what bulges over from where it hugs me. I only take a single piece of pizza, maybe two if the party is small, and I see someone take three.

When I am hungry, I spread peanut butter on a piece of stale bread folded in half, drink a couple cups of coffee, chew gum to swallow the sweetness—anything that will satisfy me until I can’t stand the hunger shaking in my hands, blurring my vision, phasing my mind.

Eventually, I may fold all the way into myself, implode and disappear, my stomach a black hole so hungry it begins to swallow itself. It is not my goal to be nothing, but I often find myself envying those who can disappear into a crowd instead of stand out in one.

I am a drawer within which I keep all the things I have lost and no longer want or need. The clutter within myself has become so unmanageable it has since been forgotten. I hide my problems as much as I try to hide myself.

Maybe I will eventually tackle the organization of my drawer, unhook it from my track and shake out all the dead pens and crumpled sticky notes, find myself amongst the chaos, find peace in the simplicity of order. Maybe one day, when I feel broken or incomplete, I will be able to point myself to the right drawer and pull out all the tools I need to fix, to clean, to eat,

to feel worthy in the space where I exist.

##

Andrew Walker
Andrew Walker is the co-founder of Howl With Us, an arts collective aimed at spreading accessible art around the country. His fiction, nonfiction, and poetry is published or upcoming in New Pop Lit, Literary Juice, paperplates, Crack the Spine, and others. He is a graduate of Colorado State University and is currently writing in Denver, Colorado.

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