hobart logo
My mind was an airport photo

This was the summer that I tried to be bulimic again, but my gag reflex had weakened from years of stabbing at my throat with two smoke-stained fingernails the colour of butter. So all I did was spend July eating chocolate cake by the refrigerator light (fingers, no fork) and then crouch over the toilet and hawk up acidic spit and no chocolate cake whatsoever. My throat, my neck, my stomach had outsmarted me. Eyes stinging, knees patterned in diamond bathroom tiles, I would stare at myself in the mirror afterward and realise I was probably somehow still beautiful, made perhaps more beautiful by the fact that I was a bleeding, open wound, facing myself wet-eyed and nude.

At least, I felt that I could be beautiful, but every day I was a different woman and I couldn’t keep up with all the faces. I was obsessed, in between sipping five day-old riesling and having sex that was symbolically pleasurable but physically underwhelming, with trying to understand more deeply what I looked like. Nose to the wardrobe mirror, I would breathe into my own mouth, snap pictures of myself and study them. I knew that my eyes were brown, my hair black, my lips full, but I didn’t know what all of these things meant in tandem to each other. I was good enough at gazing at the reflection of all of my individual features, but I couldn’t understand them as part of a whole.

I would ask my favourite man to have sex with what I looked like and he would point at the wardrobe mirror, as if that told me anything. It was parallel to my bed, so I could watch myself as I straddled him. Were those my breasts heaving, was that my rumpled hair? Those lips parted, dry - all mine?

My lips would be so dry in the morning that I would wake up with my mouth cracked, bleeding. The trail of kisses I left down his spine would be red, as if I was still wearing lipstick.

My mind was an airport that summer. Meaning mostly that money and time were both unquantifiable entities, the interiors were too bright, and I didn’t feel real. A black hole of harsh fluorescence, bored consumerism, and mirrors that surely, surely, were giving me the wrong information.

I would distract myself from the mid-year heat by watching my reflection fuck with abandon. The image was often more fascinating than the act itself. Worried about the way it might contort my features, I would still my core, focus everything as I undulated on preventing an orgasm.

It was hardest with him, because he would hold my hand, ropy strands of saliva still cobwebbed between my fingers, and I would forget to watch myself. It would become about more than just our bodies, but about everything that we could feel inside them and everything beyond them. I felt like dirt and rust but I felt clean. My body felt like his, and it was always easier to love somebody else’s body.

When I was a child, I wanted to be an artichoke. The layered petals, the soft nuttiness, folds of silvery green unwrapped like a gift - I had never eaten one before, but they had hearts, and I thought they were beautiful. They grew from the ground. They stayed with the earth for longer - that seemed like a better way to be.

I pretended to be obtuse about the constant nausea that engorged me, and lay out on the fire escape at night, soaking up the sirens and humidity, though the fine was a tough $60. All people did was yell and smoke and spit on the sidewalk. Traffic shook the railings and shook my insides. I wondered about all these bodies encased in ambulances, these bodies at risk, what they looked like, whether they looked like me. The night was never placid. Were they all dying, or were some of them just playing it safe? Was I dying? How close could I get to death without the act itself?

This was the summer where I slept in my own blood, throat always sore, too spent to change my bed sheets after period sex, even days after. You can lay down a towel and it never does anything.

I wore white, shapeless dresses that I stained yellow with sweat and discharge, yellow like my fingers and eyes. On the fire escape I smoked and realised I no longer liked the taste of mentholated cigarettes. But inhaling so much tar felt somehow productive. What else would I have done but eat and reapply my mascara again and again until my eyelashes were so dry it felt as if they might snap and fall off?

By August I ended up having only enough energy to have sex with just the one man. These pornographic portraits of myself no longer interested me so I lay on my stomach, face tucked into my pillow. Before he even finished he asked me gently when the last time I took a shower was. I didn’t know how to explain to him that once I got in the shower I might never get out, and that was something that just wasn’t financially viable. Whenever I got in the shower, it seemed that all I had was a body, that there was skin everywhere I looked, that if I lathered up enough soap I might just be able to scrub it all away.

When I didn’t answer him, he said he wanted to have sex in the shower. I nodded and walked naked to the bathroom, even though everyone knows that shower sex is just a recipe for sore joints and dimmed vision.

This was the summer where steam hissed off the tiles and he walked into the cubicle first to handle the shrinking bar of soap with fingers that had handled me. I watched him. He didn’t shampoo his hair, he skipped straight to the conditioner.

He massaged soap into the crevasses between my neck and shoulders, and my throat, still always sore, became sorer still. My perfume was the first to go: cheap, fickle, easily washed away. My lashes cracked and black leaked into my eyes. But the dirt took hours to wash away. I scoured away at this rind of myself until he said, it’s gone, it’s gone, it’s all gone.

This was the summer where I wore red to the supermarket, walking down the streets where men sold earrings and creased LPs and incense to tourists, because you couldn’t hide in red. And this was the summer I stole an overpriced punnet of blackberries to have as a snack for later, because berries should cost nothing, least of all the inner lining of my stomach.