with commentary by
RICHARD LYONS STEVE McCARTY PATRICK MILIAN MATTHEW MOORE JON THOMPSON
The Carolina Quarterly
Vo l u m e 7 0 . 2 Winter 2021
PUBLISHED AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHAPEL HILL
Founded in 1948 P U B L I S H E D AT T H E U N I V E R S I T Y O F N O R T H C A R O L I N A â&#x20AC;&#x201C; C H A P E L H I L L
V O LU M E 70.2
ED ITO R - IN- C HIE F
Kylan Rice A S S IS TA NT EDITO R S
Eli Hardwig Bailey Fernandez F IC T IO N EDITO R S
Paul Blom Matthew Duncan P O E T RY ED ITO R
Colin Dekeersgieter NO N- F IC T IO N ED I TO R
Jo Klevdal R E V IE W S EDITO R
Carly Schnitzler MA NAGING EDITO R
M O R E O NLINE AT
ON THE COVER
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BOOK REVIEWERS Tegan Daly E. Jones Rose Lambert-Sluder
Winter 2021 | VOLUME 70.2
POETRY HENRIET TA GOODMAN
Postcolonial Melancholia · 8
Memento Mori, but Hair of the Living, Too · 10
CHARIT Y KETZ
[pastoral for the aughts] · 12
[mining] · 15 RICHARD LYONS
Erosion · 19
Deserted Shack in Bright Sunlight · 20 Sunlight on Otters· 21 PATRICK MILIAN
From the Clearing · 22
Mistresswork · 25 The Asymmetries · 28 The Prodigies · 30 JON THOMPSON
A Question of How Far Back You Want
to Go · 31 Obligation · 32 On the Art of the Gods · 34
FICTION KATE BLACK
Doreen's Teeth · 36
STEVE McCART Y
Appalachia and Other Inventions of the
Postmodern Imagination · 44 MOLLIE SWAYNE
Game Theory for Beginners · 56
NON-FICTION JENNIFER ANDERSON
Fasting: A Diptych · 82
OLGA-MARIA CRUZ JARED SHAFFER
Undulation · 72
Friendly Reminder · 88
THE FRIEND G.C. WALDREP
On Matthew Moore · 92
MAT THEW MOORE Anabasis · 94
The Etymology of Union · 96 Not My Horses · 98
The Vegetable Lamb's Entrance into Charleston
in 1858 · 99 Yankee Among the Swallows · 101 In Heresy Relapse · 103 Envoi · 104
REVIEWS Fossils in the Making by Kristen George
Bagdanov· 106 E. JONES ROSE LAMBERT-SLUDER
An Orphanage of Dreams by Sam Savage· 111 Further News of Defeat by Michael X. Wang· 116
H E N R I E T TA G O O D M A N
Postcolonial Melancholia The way downward is easy… But to retrace your steps to heaven's air, There is the trouble… — The Aeneid 6.187-190 At first it didn’t feel like falling. More like being caught in a pair of talons and shaken, hard. In American Falls, I read Midnight’s Children in a cold room off the hangar while he repaired the plane. Flying home, we traced the Snake River, then the Salmon— River of No Return, turbulence jolting us north. Based on the name, you might think the worst of that current-carved tunnel of black-green water, might assume it’s a metaphor for time, not just a river too steep and rocky to run upstream until Glen Wooldridge made it look easy in 1948. Over the river, a hawk—accipiter—from accipere, to grasp, to seize, but how did it come also to mean accept, as a gift? Accipiter once meant, too, a rapacious man— plundering, greedy. From Latin, like rape and rapt and rapture and raptor. From rapio—to grab, snatch, carry off, and there is, of course, what snatch means as a noun. Rape once meant to transport with delight. And other obsolete definitions—rapt: to carry
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away by force, or an abducted woman, or raped or taken away by death. Later, rapt became only metaphoric transport: to carry away in spirit, or deeply absorbed or buried inâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;so death became metaphor, too. For Christians, the transport of believers to Heaven, though motion, not the end of motion, best consoles: the way a child asleep on the seat of a car resists being carried to bed. Rapt now: transported by joy, delight, or a trance, ecstasy, rapture. Rapture of the deep: by most accounts, a seductive death. A person cannot, it seems, choose to be rapt any more than one could choose to be raped. So rape and rapt split based not on choice but enjoyment. That night in American Falls, we played Straight to Hell on the jukebox, made out across the space between barstools. How does an American fall? Like the river, clear as winter ice? Or is what looks like falling an eagleâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s stoop toward prey, wings pulled in, tilted horizontal, like the plane in a deliberate slip.
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[pastoral for the aughts] The boy at the plow knows the word that opens through all its frame, the seed now left and lodged in broken rows of old success gone lovely— that place for cranes to nest and feed by pools reflecting blue and stubble turned under some blade-wrenched root. Now crows come, and now the cold spreads around its presence too, lays out its feathery sheet and holds. The seed explodes
at the appointed time, which comes, perhaps
to cold-worked dirt that would inert its threadlike seeking for depths to raise and lose its flag of self in season. He’s young and goes out singing. Goes out cursing, for many things don’t seem altogether impossible, though
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the hush light, the acrid swallow, the smaller ills and dim triumph, yes, he enjoys. Still the blue sky widens out and out, and he hears his heart, quiet as a pebble, or struggled on its line. In the neighborâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s den, he tells friends that sex should be accompanied by the gift of the life, the marriage. Some will snort and pass him a beer, some girls move close because they want to touch his hair. Here it is, some version of the life, caught in its going around the room. Or he bears the thing, shrugs them off and smiles staring down as though this field will show blue too when its furrows mud and thaw. Year by year, to someone it seems, one sows, another rips away
the very fiber and warm spine of the thing— To another, there’s more left in the hand like a word, however under moving skies it’s heard.
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A Question of How Far Back You Want to Go Memories like the names of ancestors, rain plowed into slate. As if they ever had a body. As if someone, somewhere, remembered someone else crying out to them in a scene where the urgency was like the weather itself. It’s awful to think that it calls out to no one, that it’s self-sufficient in its big-sky theatricality. In tall fields you can see asters and amaranth, “love lies bleeding,” with their chili-red, strangled flowers dangling down. When I arrange my tongue to make the sounds, my name seems even strange to me, like something I’ve borrowed, and have to return.
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Doreen's Teeth Doreen examined her fangs in the window of the brunch restaurant. “I don’t know, maybe I should keep ’em. They’re kind of badass, aren’t they?” “Jesus, Dor,” Doreen’s sister, Claire snapped. “Quit doing that—you’re scaring the children.” It was Doreen’s fourth day with the fake teeth and she was hardly used to them. They weren’t meant to be permanent. She had gotten them Halloween morning from a hole-in-the-wall costume shop to round out her getup for a party that night. The teeth looked like two pointy false nails and came with a tiny tube of already-dried-out glue. The denture adhesive she tried using wasn’t working, so in a last-ditch effort she dabbed a freckle of superglue on each canine tooth and stuck them on. It wasn’t as stupid as it sounds, she swore to Claire. Someone on YouTube said that coating your teeth in olive oil first prevents the superglue from forming a permanent bond. She realized now that the person who made the video was probably trolling people like her. “Who were you dressed up as, anyway?” “Vampire RBG.” “Who?” “Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ya know, sucking the blood out of the patriarchy.” The costume was far cooler than Claire could have appreciated. Claire was eleven months younger but eons older than Doreen. Claire straightened her hair. Claire dated accountants. Claire was an elementary school teacher who was steadfastly committed to her unironic duty as an elementary school teacher. Can you imagine? Doreen once bemoaned to a friend, Doing a job because you just love it? Doreen flashed her fangs again. Claire fake-shuddered and rolled her eyes. “Shouldn’t you not be eating before the… procedure anyway?” “It’s not surgery, Claire,” Doreen said, shoveling a forkful of dry tofu scramble into her mouth, chewing delicately around the open canker sores worn into her lower gumline. Doreen compulsively pulled her phone out of her tote, checked the Twitter exchange she had with the guy she was meeting. She ran her thumb over her tweet from November 1: so… what does one do when they’ve… um… SUPERGLUED FAKE TEETH to their mouth and also is broke and doesn’t have benefits and is also terrified of dentists. asking for a friend xoxo. She included a picture of her teeth, slightly whitened on the photo editing app
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she’s downloaded for the occasion. On November 2, a message appeared in her Twitter inbox: shrub88 Hey, I know this sounds weird, but I could help you out with your teeth if you want. shrub88 (I’m not a creep, I promise.) doreenabobeena just saying, there’s nothing creepier than starting a conversation by saying you’re not a creep shrub88 Yikes, I understand. doreenabobeena but I’m down, ha ha. How much? shrub88 Don’t worry about it. doreenabobeena really? shrub88 Yeah, it’s cool. He sent her his address and phone number and he since had deleted his Twitter page. That was the more bizarre thing to Doreen. “But seriously,” Claire ventured, solemnly stirring galaxies into her yogurt parfait. “Isn’t there a free place you could go? Like in the university or the place where they do homeless people’s teeth?” “I’m not homeless.” K AT E B L A C K
“If you say so.” Claire reached across the table and thumbed the torn hole in Doreen’s jeans. “I don’t know. I just feel bad. We’ve been texting for two days. I can’t ghost him now.” Doreen had never returned anything in her life. The other week in the grocery store checkout, she realized she had put baking soda, not powder as she had intended, on the belt. She decided to pay for it anyway so she didn’t hold up other people in line. She often felt like little more than a prop for life’s activities. She spent a lot of time on Twitter, reading people’s proselytizing about the end times. She tried to translate this to Claire, who hardly checked Facebook. “And who cares? We’re basically on the cusp of nuclear war, Claire. Forest fires, hurricanes—” “Hepatitis C?” “Whatever.” “You’re doing this for the memoir, aren’t you?” Claire imbued verbal squiggle lines around the word “memoir.” Doin’ it for the memoir had recently become Doreen’s artful interpretation of YOLO, her creed. It had all started, Claire thought, when Doreen went on a vigilante mission to retrieve her iPhone after it was stolen from her coat in a dive bar downtown. When Claire confronted her at the post-mortem brunch, Doreen shrugged and said, “at least it’ll make a rad story for the memoir.” Doreen believed her propensity to live life interestingly didn’t have an origin story. It just existed. If Claire was drunker, she would have said something more cruel, like that you have to be an interesting person in the first place to write a memoir. That you have to be a writer to write a memoir. And that having a BFA and tweeting sardonic nonsense at 2 a.m. and working full-time scribbling people’s names on takeout coffees doesn’t count. But today, the novelty of the heavily garnished Bloody Mary was making Claire feel more charitable, not less. Alone, Doreen started off towards the address, just ten minutes from the comfortably gentrified neighborhood of the brunch spot. Her pocket buzzed with a text from Claire. Don’t die!!! A minute later, a second one. But seriously, pls text me when you’re done The text inspired in Doreen a small pang of fear. She swallowed it. She had friends who had gotten their nails and eyelash extensions done in people’s basements, all likely (all definitely) unlicensed. She even had a friend get Botox done in in someone’s leaky suburban crawlspace. Did her lips swell more than intended? Yes. But still. Doreen, oddly, was looking forward to this occasion. There was so little mystery these days, she mused to herself. Perhaps Hannibal Lecter lived on the other side of those
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Twitter messages. Alternate perhaps: the great love of her life! It was an adventure. And like a meme she liked last night said, If I die, I die, bitch! Doreen was afraid, though she had not yet learned to admit these things to herself. She arrived at the address and was heartened to see what it looked like: a threestory brownstone, a precious remnant not overtaken by a glassy condo. The lawn was decently kept, nicer than the one in front of her place, though that hardly said anything. She double-checked the address and buzzer code on her phone. She paused. This moment felt significant. One day—no—later today she may very well look back on this moment and regret it, slap herself for this version of herself: the version in the stupid thrifted leopard print coat, the version reaching her finger to the chrome number pad, and with what is hard to distinguish between a carless display or complete absence of agency, buzzing once. Nothing happened. She buzzed again. A masculine voice implored from the other end. “Hello?” She sounded back. “Hello?” “Doreen?” Her name. There were two ways to be a 25-year-old Doreen in 2018. You could shorten it to something short and floral, Dora, Reena. She had tried that in high school and it never felt right. The other option was leaning hard into her name; this was the option she had chosen. She had her curly frizz intentionally cut into something like a mullet and dyed it off-red, in what she believed was a nod to the ’80s. She had learned to like the way her name sounded, like the opening of a well-oiled hinge, an exhale. Dor-een. The building didn’t have an elevator and was kissed with the delicate musk of an old woman’s perfume. This was slightly concerning. A murder could happen here. She ran up the first flight of stairs. It was a bad choice. She was sipping heavy, quickened breaths when she knocked on the door, which opened immediately. And there he was. He was an age she’d hardly met before: early 40s. Beard, flecks of dandruff on his faded black button-up. An attempt. Or was it a disguise? A flash of his hairy belly winked out of the space between the bottom of his shirt and his khakis. “Hi, Doreen?” She loved how her name sounded in his lips. He almost knocked out the second syllable. D’reen. He wasn’t old enough to have hot teacher/best friend’s dad fantasies about. But his eyes were warm. “Hey,” she offered her hand, cooly. His felt dense but not rough. “I’m Shrub,” he K AT E B L A C K
said. He didn’t seem to believe himself. She counted four doors in the suite: bathroom, bedroom, bedroom, bedroom. To have more than a two-bedroom—more than a one-bedroom in this city—meant you were moneyed. Especially if you lived alone. His place had the touch of a bachelor: leather couches, browning succulents, the faint fruity aroma of trash left steeping under the sink a day too long. Doreen didn’t realize how nervous she looked, unconsciously chewing her cheek. She almost asked for a glass of water, decided against it, and silently reprimanded herself for almost stepping out of character. Stay cool. “So, well.” He clapped his hands lazily. “I guess we can get right to business, then.” He opened the third bedroom door and revealed what would look almost exactly like a normal dental examination room if you had squinted your eyes. The chair was a massage table. Comforting afternoon light was streaming in through the window. Doreen was heartened to see a steel tray with real dental tools wrapped in medical plastic blister packs. See? Claire didn’t know what she was talking about. She was feeling bold, not afraid. “Want to know a secret?” She didn’t wait for permission. “Going to the dentist is literally my worst fear.” She smiled sheepishly, her attempt at a flirt. Shrub half-grinned. “We aren’t that bad.” She shimmied her jacket off her shoulders, revealing the crooked tattoo of a dagger on her bicep. She knew the tattoo was unmistakably shitty. “Stick and poke, huh. That means your friend did it for you themselves, I guess?” Shrub sounded neither condescending nor caring. “Uh huh.” “But that’s probably pretty unhygienic, isn’t it?” Doreen smirked. “Well…” “I wear gloves.” “Alright.” “My tools are very clean. Never used twice.” Doreen nodded. Shrub chewed on his next words as if he were making a decision. “Look, I am— I was, a dentist.” “Huh.” Shrub shrunk. Doreen felt bad. “We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want.” “Thanks.” Doreen laid herself onto the disarmingly firm table. Light as a feather, stiff as a board. She said a silent goodbye to her teeth, which she had come to enjoy, a little bit, over the past few days. Like her tattoo, they gave her a bit of an unexpected edge. A little air of don’t fuck with me. Doreen appreciated that Shrub didn’t ask why she superglued
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fake teeth onto her own teeth. Even if he was judging her, he was quiet about it. He just got to business. She wasn’t used to that kind of kindness from authority-medical figures, if you could call him that. Shrub snapped on gloves and a surgical mask. Down to the light beaming on her skin, everything still looked almost exactly like a real dentist’s office. Shrub just wasn’t wearing a white coat. Did dentists even wear white coats? God, she hadn’t been to a dentist since she had lived with her parents. Her gums bled and she never went back. Not that she could afford it now, anyway. He slid his gloved index finger under her lip, inspecting the fake teeth. A shiver trickled down her spine. It felt good. It felt weird. She closed her eyes. The shrill scream of the drill flaked off each false fang in minutes. She felt the same sweet pain of breaking a bone. Shrub mumbled from behind a surgical mask. “I can polish these guys down a bit if you want them.” Another kindness. Was it a catch? Was this his way of disarming her? She didn’t care. “Uh, yeugh,” she said, with his big, warm fingers in her mouth. The outer rim of his belly caressed her shoulder. There was something hot about it. She had never been turned on at the dentist before. She wanted to grind the warm parts of herself against his short, bratwurst-like thighs. Doreen wondered if he wanted her too, if that was what this was all about? Now that would be a story. Doreen closed her eyes and luxuriated in the sensation of his latex hands flirting with the contours of her mouth. This whole time, she thought she was holding the steady focus of his brown eyes. Doreen rose from the massage table and ran her tongue over her teeth. Not a trace of the sour glue of this morning. “So what’s the deal?” she cocked an eyebrow. She had caught Shrub off-guard. “Your deal.” “I just like to…” He trailed off, unnecessarily reshuffled his tools. “You like to what?” “We don’t need to make it an, uh, a thing,” Shrub said. “You seemed like you needed help.” If Doreen wanted to, she could excuse herself to his bathroom, rifle through the prescription bottles in his medicine cabinet, discover his real name. She could search his name on the college registry and discover why he really isn’t a dentist anymore. Maybe it was a hand, a gutsy glance down a patient’s front. Maybe he yelled at a hygienist. Maybe it was neither. Maybe it was less sinister. Maybe it was financial. Not as interesting, but not boring either. K AT E B L A C K
“Why’d you delete your account after you messaged me?” “I’m not sure,” Shrub said. “Look, I don’t know what your deal is. I fixed your problem. You should be happy.” “I am.” “You don’t look happy.” “I am happy.” Doreen exhaled sharply. “I’m grateful. Thank you.” “Okay.” Doreen slipped on her faux fur jacket. She was about to leave, then reconsidered. “You know though, you can tell me. If you want.” “I don’t talk about it,” Shrub said. He was getting frustrated. “I mean, there’s nothing to talk about.” “But I just—” “For the love of fuck, Doreen.” Shrub dragged both of his palms over his face, revealing the crude red bloody underside of his lower eyelids. “If that’s even your real name.” He scoffed cruelly. He formed a loose, harmless fist, caught himself, released it. “My name’s Doreen,” she said. Shrub reddened. “Why would I choose that as a fake name anyway,” she said in a voice so quiet he couldn’t hear. “Okay.” They looked at each other for a bit, trying to figure out each other’s deals. Doreen wasn’t wrong. He was pretty good-looking. Is this sexual tension? Doreen wondered. She reached out to touch his arm, looked into his eyes. It usually worked. She was under no illusion that she was a pretty girl, but she knew she was seductive. “Okay,” Shrub repeated. He snapped his arm into his chest. “Okay, well.” She laughed nervously. She spun on her heels. “See ya later.” She knew she wouldn’t see him again. Why was she so weird? “Have a good one, eh?” Eh. Yuck. She shuddered. It’s like he just changed her tire or something. Doreen had lied on Twitter. She had lied to Shrub. She wasn’t scared of the dentist. She knew what her greatest fear was. When she and Claire were babies, their parents took them to Disneyland and she saw the backside of the It’s A Small World building. From the front, it looked like the most whimsical castle: white and silver and gold, a charming spinning moon face, a larger-than-life cuckoo clock. After that, she couldn’t stop seeing the holes in everything: the park’s rocks were just speakers in disguise, the mascots’ mouths were actually breathing holes for the people inside. Whatever that feeling was what she was most afraid of encountering. Once you see what’s real, you can’t unsee it. She’d never gotten Claire’s side of the story. Had she seen the same thing? She’d bring it up when she called Claire on her walk home. She imagined the story she’d tell
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Claire: a nice dude, hotter than she expected but in a weird way. He’d fixed her teeth. That wouldn’t be a good story. She considered seven different potholes on her way home. She considered the unusual November sun on her face. She considered her unwritten memoir. In the memoir she’d say she fucked the bootleg dentist. She’d call it the most interesting afternoon of her life.
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Fasting: A Diptych Once upon a time, in a faraway land, a little girl was born. Now, this little girl wasn’t an ordinary little girl. She had a special Power. She didn’t need food. She was almost never hungry; she didn’t have to eat unless she really wanted to. In a world that sang, What would you do for a Klondike bar?, the little girl walked like Socrates through the marketplace: Look at everything I can do without.
The ideas you have about eating disorders, especially anorexia, are probably rubbish. Most people think anorexia afflicts tween girls with controlling mothers; they restrict food to take back power over their lives. Others assume anorexic girls are emulating supermodels or ballerinas, thinking they have to be thin in order to be beautiful. Perhaps these ideas have some validity. But they never applied to me. My mother
The girl needed her Power when her parents wanted her to clean her plate, or eat in front of strangers at a restaurant, or place an order at the baseball field concession stand. They didn’t understand that appetite was embarrassing. She would rather do without. They called her stubborn; they called her a picky eater. But the girl knew her Power, and she kept it secret, close inside her heart.
has always been empowering and I was a grown woman, in graduate school, happy with my size six frame, when I began restricting food to such a degree that I went from 120 to 95 pounds in less than a year. This was not a diet. I was not trying to lose weight or look like a celebrity. I never hated my body until I had been fasting for several months, and the disease had taken hold of my mind. Two things triggered my eating disorder: a book and a quest for holiness.
The girl needed her Power when she went to Elementary School: although the rooms were painted butterscotch and avocado, and the vast hallways had glossy floors, a darkness shimmered there. The darkness was strong in the hallways full of taller, louder children, and on the playground where they
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A few months after graduating college, I went into seminary. I was twenty-one. The first book we were assigned was Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline: each student was to pick a spiritual discipline and practice it for a month. I signed up for meditation: it sounded peaceful. A
spent themselves in games that made no sense to her. The darkness gathered in the enormous stony bathrooms that magnified every sound, and especially in the cafeteria, dominated by the Grey Ladies, who covered their hair and whose massive bellies and swollen bosoms strained against their grey robes. She would not ask these huge creatures for food, but gathered her Power to herself. The girl sat in silent judgment over the swollen ladies, and over her classmates. How they ate! Look at everything I can do without.
naturally quiet person, I thought I’d be good at it, but how difficult to quiet my mind for any length of time! After the first week, I picked up the book again. What were my other options? Fasting, I thought, sounded like a nobler challenge. No one else in class had chosen it. And I had never had trouble skipping meals —in fact, I often forgot to eat, especially under stress. Foster’s book stated, “Food does not sustain us; God sustains us.” He gave advice on how to go from skipping two meals a day to a full forty days with no food, just like Jesus in
The girl used her Power to ward off the creeping darkness when she was moved to classes with older children; when she started violin lessons and there were rehearsals and performances and a grown-up orchestra. She often felt shaky inside, like she might be sick at any moment. But if she used her Power, she felt light and sparkly, more confident. She made a secret pact with herself: she wouldn’t eat on days she had lessons or rehearsals or performances. And every time she used her Power, it got stronger.
the wilderness. Fasting was a new idea to me; it sounded mysterious and powerful—a bloodless sacrifice. I believed renouncing food would add power to my prayer. Foster promised, “Fasting can bring breakthroughs in the spiritual realm that will never happen in any other way.” I could tell in just the first few weeks that my seminary was in political turmoil. Professors’ faces were grim after Wednesday faculty meetings. A bomb threat shoved us out of chapel onto the
There were a few places where the darkness seemed to stay away. The park. Her mother’s garden. The tree in her front yard. The children’s library. When she read a new book, learned a new
lawn one morning. But I didn’t want to leave. I was—we were—here to do God’s work. Fasting would be a tremendous way to start. O LG A - MA R I A C R U Z
song, hiked with her family. She didn’t need her Power then. She found other things to be good at: grown-ups praised her for being a helper, and for remembering things she read and heard.
Hope carried me through the first three days, when I felt a lift in my spirits, which I thought was the Holy Spirit. God was drawing me even closer to Himself! Toward the end of the first week, I knew in the back of my mind I should probably
But the girl used her Power again when her family moved to another part of the country and she went to Junior High. The hallways were not so empty nor so glossy, and the Grey Ladies in the cafeteria spoke in strange accents. The darkness tugged when she thought of her old friends— would she ever see them again? Then the girl’s Power grew bright inside her heart, where she told herself: Look at everything I can do without.
quit, but I felt compelled to continue fasting. The seminary was still struggling, and there was always need for prayer, some crisis in the nation, the world. If fasting could strengthen my prayers, how could I quit? I ate nothing for a month. Today I understand there are options. I could have given up one meal a day, devoted those food dollars to charity and meal hours to prayer. I could have sacrificed certain types of food, rather than all food. But I was ignorant and
She needed her Power the most when her beloved father died in his sleep and the darkness closed around her. It seeped from the heavy scent of flowers and the grown-up voices saying, “Fourteen. What a terrible age to lose her father.” Was there a good age? Why did the fruit trays and the cold cuts and the pound cake taste like Styrofoam? The girl retreated inside her Power. She could do without this.
eager, trying to prove something: if not to my professor, then to God and to myself. And it wasn’t my style to do things by halves. The assignment had been for thirty days, but Foster highlighted Jesus’ forty-day fast, so I kept going past the month. I ate briefly after the forty day mark, but fasting felt so good, I soon went back to it. I lived alone that first semester; no one noticed when I continued to fast. Spiritu-
The girl used her Power to shield her from the darkness when she went away to College and five students were murdered her first week there. The
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ality was private work. I would not let my right hand see what the left was doing. I felt lighter inside, lighter on the earth,
darkness made her stomach hurt every day. She lost weight and started to get weaker, though the Power made her feel strong. She still skipped meals before performances and now she was playing several instruments several times a week. Her teachers noticed her weakness and told the girl she couldn’t come to class unless she had eaten. She felt their judgment, and she judged them for judging her. She determined to win.
lighter in my spirit. If my hands sometimes shook, if my heart trembled, it must be the Holy Spirit. Without knowing it, I was becoming addicted to starvation. Unintentionally, I slid into anorexia. Soon, I was so bony I couldn’t sit comfortably on chapel pews or metal classroom chairs. I slouched over my desk, resting my weight on my thighs, and keeping my knobby spine off the back of the seat. I probably looked halfasleep, but I was always paying attention
Soon the cafeteria misted over with darkness. When the girl tried to go inside, she froze up. Her mind went numb, her Power told her to walk away. There were too many eyes. Too many people eating too much. So the girl bought a mini-fridge and microwave. She learned some recipes. She got stronger, but still resented the whole business of having to eat. Wasn’t she special?
in class. “What do you all think? Anyone?... OlgaMaria? Are you with us?” I’d lift my head—I had the answer. I always did. As months turned into semesters, I ate no more than one meal a day. I lost hair by the handful. My nails became brittle and refused to grow. My skin healed
The girl learned to lean on the power of God, learned the power of prayer, the power of faith that grew by reading and singing. At last, she felt part of a community, a “church family,” they called themselves. They gave her a place to be safe from the darkness. Maybe the pastor and deacons could be like new fathers for her. But there was often food at church, invitations to dinners,
more slowly, each blemish or bug-bite left a mark that wouldn't go away, until I began to look like I had acne from all the scarring. My mind grew weaker as my body lost nourishment, and I became depressed. Soon I began to believe I was heavy, flabby; then, that food was a special treat I had to earn. My shape was never correct; other people’s shapes were either enviable, or more often, repulsive. O LG A - MA R I A C R U Z
hints that she should get a boyfriend. The girl held onto her secret: she could do without.
My meals became limited to bites, my daily intake about the same as a prisoner at Auschwitz. I grew anxious and listless at the same time.
The girl pulled her Power in tight against the darkness so she didn’t have to feel anything when boys pestered her to go out with them, when they grabbed at her or called to her across the murky campus green. She wasn’t interested in them, any more than she was interested in food. The girl was interested in music and God and Big Ideas. And when one boy tried to corrupt her with his dark energy, she gathered her Power into a protective shield. Tiny as she was becoming, she felt strong.
One morning in my second year, I was shaving my legs and noticed the reflection of my right thigh in the silver curve of the tub faucet. It looked tiny, two inches wide. Immediately, I wished my thighs were that small; then realized the first thought was not only irrational but suicidal—my thighs could only be that small if I were dead. I had seen and held a woman’s thighbone, in an anthropology course two years earlier. The professor had passed around a femur—“Female, 5’4”, 120 pounds,” he
The girl finished college and went away to a far- off Seminary. She thought the darkness wouldn’t be able to find her there. She wanted to use her talents for a higher purpose. She would read the Scriptures. She would be holy and pure and close to God. But the darkness was everywhere. A man dressed as the Grim Reaper stalked the campus green. The seminary was full of arguments and protests and bomb threats. But when the girl called her pastor for advice, he told her to carry on. She’d be fine.
announced. Exactly my size. I remember being surprised, even skeptical, at how large and heavy the bone was. But I held it next to my own thigh, and it matched perfectly. I understood then that my leg was mostly bone; the muscles and skin wrap around and over. Didn’t women describe their legs as “muscular” or “fat”? Why had I never pictured the bone, the deeper source of strength and sturdiness? The memory of that femur came back as
She read her first textbook, about spiritual disciplines. She tried one—medi-
C A R O L I N A Q U A R T E R LY
I looked from my thigh to its reflection in the bathtub faucet. Part of me wanted
tation—but her mind skidded away in other directions. There was another chapter on fasting. She knew she could win at fasting. The girl prayed instead of eating for forty days and forty nights, just like Jesus. She felt holy and pure and close to God. She felt full of light and energy.
my leg to be as small as the reflection. But another part knew that was impossible. Even if I lost every bit of fat (and muscle and nerves and blood vessels and skin), there would still be a sizable bone under there. I asked myself, Would that be enough? If my legs were two inches wide? Would I be
One day, the girl put on a favorite dress to find it was suddenly too big.
happy then? The answer came right back:
“Is it possible,” she asked her roommate, “for a dress to get bigger in the laundry? Instead of shrinking?”
No. What would be enough, then?
“No,” her roommate said. “It’s not.” Nothing. Nothing would be enough. Only
Was that judgment in her eyes?
when I’m dead. When there’s nothing left of me, I could be satisfied.
Oh. Right. She was the one who was shrinking.
Here is the true impulse behind my fasting—I wanted to disappear. That
As she had been growing smaller, the Power had been growing bigger all along. Now it was bigger than her. It had managed to slide outside her, had gotten away. It was beyond her control now. And it had turned against her.
day, I decided to seek therapy. Somehow, I realized, while striving for spiritual perfection, I had wandered off the path. My life was in danger. And the danger was me.
O LG A - MA R I A C R U Z