Short Story: Control
I was born sick. So, I’m used to hospitals, though I now realise I never stayed in one back in the day. I was lucky enough to be cured with all those expensive medications, the expensive treatment; that’s why my mum never got to live the life she wanted, isn’t it? Those are the thoughts passing through my mind as I stare at a bowl of sliced apple in front of me. That’s also what I was thinking when I first realised I was getting better at finding conversation topics at the dinner table to fill the time between sitting there and deciding I’ve spent enough time before I go back to practising the piano.
My parents were so thrilled with me putting maximum effort into my piano practices and my new interest in running in the morning and my new chatty mood. I was almost perfect. As if perfect was a real thing. The night I became conscious of my happiness of making it from the dining room to the kitchen without my parents realising that the full meal is still on the plate cut into slices, into cubes, into bird food, I ran up the stairs to my room two at a time. I attempted to reach for the door, but it was like the scale in the bathroom was calling out to me. My frantic movements climbing the stairs were replaced by rather heavy steps. I stepped on the machine made of glass. On the screen, some numbers began to appear out of red lights of lines, but when the final result was before me, I failed to interpret it. The image in the mirror was not of a body pretty enough to be on the cover of a magazine, that’s what all the signals going through my body to and from my brain were sending through me, but my feeble hair said lack of nutrients. I felt like I didn’t know anything, I couldn’t comprehend anything. With my first instinct, I went for a run, hoping to sweat my thoughts away with the wind hitting me in the face and showing me all the truth I needed to see. My head felt so heavy, yet so empty. I wasn’t okay. I had to stop. But I couldn’t. I needed help, but I just couldn’t stop grinding to keep up this fabricated image of an impeccable child.
“How hard could it be?”, “You should just eat”, “You? Fat? Don’t be ridiculous and start eating” these are the things we are told, the people like me, I mean. I know that, okay? I’ve been hearing the doctors telling me that I’m so thin that I might die, every day for the last six months. So, it’s not like I don’t know, trust me, I really do. There is this condition called a ‘phantom limb’ when someone first has a part of his body cut, but they still feel it there. And it hurts. Don’t they know that they don’t have that part of their body anymore? Oh, they do. And that actually makes it even more painful. And I feel this extra weight on my body that I do not have. I know that I don’t, but it doesn’t make it any less agonising to feel I do have it.
Besides, contrary to what people are thinking, it wasn’t that I wanted to lose weight, in the first place, it wasn’t because I wanted people’s approval. Fuck what people think of my body, it is mine, after all. “You’ll never get into Juilliard if you don’t practise enough”. My mother’s words. That’s how it all started.
I once skipped the lunch at school to practice, and when my mum listened to me practising that night, she was almost satisfied with the way I played. So I did it again the next day. And the day after that. And the day after. Then, I realised I didn’t need lunch; the briny, tidal sea hitting the walls of my stomach wasn’t unbearable. I just needed to work more, that was everything I needed in my life, at least until the exams, until the recital, until the competition… I had to be worthy of my survival. I had to be what my mum wanted me to be. I had to pay that money back to my parents. That money they spent on keeping me alive, that money I stole from my mum’s dreams and my sister’s future. I wasn’t a prodigy, I wasn’t a model-like beauty, I only had my long fingers and ears with a sensitivity to music. Now that I think of it, maybe I did want to be loved, maybe I did care what people thought of me, and maybe I did let people’s words pierce through me. But it was just the people I cared about. I just wanted to be worthy of this life granted to me.
I thought I could fix it. I forced myself to eat but it only made my stomach hurt, and I ended up going for a run. It was like I had raised another person inside of me and she was punishing me for fighting her. Running until the sweat covers me like I’ve just come back from swimming until my feet cannot possibly carry me anymore. And some days, I couldn’t even keep the food inside, it was like that new devil inside me was just pushing it back burning my gullet and leaving a rotten taste on the roof of my mouth and inside of my cheeks. By the end of that month, I was even less willing to eat, and I was weighing myself more, and I had limited rehearsal time for an important recital, so I had no more time to spend on recovering. I had to practice, I had to have all my focus just on the piano. I started lying to myself again. “There’s nothing wrong with me I’m just a bit stressed, I’m gonna be fine”. As the stress crept over me, I felt like food was the only thing I was able to control, while it was the major thing I had lost control over. But my brain never accepted that I lost control because if it did, I was going to break down, I needed to seek help, but the voice inside me kept saying “You can’t get help. Your parents do not deserve a broken kid. They don’t have any more money for you. They could barely afford to cure you of your illness before, and you ruined yourself again, and this isn’t even a real illness, you’re just a pathetic girl who doesn’t eat”, and I screamed to myself “I can’t, I can’t eat!”.
So, I had the perfect way to suppress the voice: the very reason for that voice. My piano practices became even more extreme, and I stopped sleeping. It was one of those days. My sight was getting hazy, and it was not able to catch up with my fingers’ pace playing Beethoven. The pain from my fingers was spreading through my arms to my shoulders to my spine to my whole body. It felt as though someone was crushing my fingers like snapping a pencil into two. But the relationship between me and my piano was a masochistic one. I liked the pain going through me, it was stopping me from thinking, feeling the hunger, satisfying me of my hard work and maybe deep down, it was my way of punishing myself for all the pain I’ve ever caused to my parents, for all the pain I was causing myself and for being so stupid. It was when the sound of the metronome was contradicting my heartbeat vibrating through my chest that a tear emerged from the corner of my eye, flowed down, stroking my cheek. And I still didn’t stop playing, it was as if my fingers were no longer under my control and it didn’t surprise me because it felt like I didn’t have power over anything, anyway. When my fine-spun shell containing what was left of me dropped down the piano stool, the music was still ringing in my ears.
These things, any of the things I’ve been telling you about, they don’t matter now because I’m way behind my practice schedule, in my mother’s words, “I killed my chance to be anything”. I am no longer a person but a failed experiment. Hopefully, they have a backup plan. My parents don’t let me see my sister because ‘I may be a bad influence on her’. I guess they are right. And I guess my doctor is right to limit my parents’ visits. No, I’m not dumb, I do see that my parents are not good for my condition. They have faults that they do not accept and maybe even repeat with my sister. But I can’t just blame this on them, or perhaps every bit of reason you’ve read so far is not enough to describe this. It’s much more complicated than that. So, don’t worry reader, you won’t get sick because you are stressed, or maybe you will, or you did; who am I to know?
Every time I walk through the corridors of this hospital, I feel people’s gaze on me, those eyes saying “You don’t even look ill”. Some days I tell myself it’s just my imagination, some days I say, it’s the baggy hospital gown (which I quite like), but most days I say, they are right, I’m just stealing the attention from people who actually need it, the way I steal my parents’ money. So, sometimes I say, what is the point? What is the point of all this? I should just finish this once and for all. I wrote multiple letters, all of which ended up in the bin until this was finally written. I contrived vast numbers of ways to quit the space I’m wasting on the face of this earth.
I’m still struggling with the dilemma, to fight or to quit but for the first time, I don’t have to prove anything to anyone but to myself. I don’t know who I am, and I don’t know what I want, so I take the last piece of apple from the bowl. It’s green, I remember how much I loved the sweet-and-sour taste of it when I was a kid. I take a bite as my eyes turn into a river bank that cannot hold all the sediment and begin flooding, searching for that same taste beyond the metallic taste of my mouth. And I pray, for the strength of yet another day.
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