BY ALEXIS GROULX
From our third floor window, I contemplate the bird circling our street. Her small body lifted by the spread of wings. She almost gets lost among the darkness of the clouds, as if she’s trying to escape the morning rain. How, I wonder, can she fly so swiftly when it’s raining this hard? For such a light body, she is so determined. When trucks pass, our entire apartment reverberates. As if we’re in a cement basement in the middle of a Sonic Youth concert. But the rain shudders against our window. When I step away for a minute, I think the sound is the bird, flying into the window. I come running—as if my own child has fallen off the couch. There she was, still above our tree line, just circling. She transcends power lines and the tops of trees.
How hard it must be to be a bird. I once read somewhere that most birds eat twice their weight. Where can they get all of it? How do they fly and fly endlessly under an unforgiving sky? Twice their weight in food seems a bit unbelievable. There are days that I think I must have eaten three times my weight. When I was in high school, I would skip lunch to stand in the only private bathroom we had so I could lift my shirt to my neck and contemplate my stomach. I would suck in all the air around me until I couldn’t fit anymore in my lungs. I stayed away from boys, and dressed in clothes that I stole from my grandmother’s chest. It never did any good, and soon I would be checking my stomach in the mirror to see if I had gotten bigger, almost wanting to see some kind of growth.
Eventually, I would look at my stomach for another reason. Not to contemplate its size because of my BDD (or Body Dysmorphic Disorder, as a plain-faced therapist would later tell me) but because of something more important. A child, or a baby, or a mass of cells. Something that didn’t make it into the safe spot of life. We spent hardly any time together before the clotting started. Then just as fast as it came, it was gone. In disbelief, I watched the toilet water stained and swirling unsure of what to do with my shame. Eight weeks and I was just another body again. My hand must have hovered over the lever on the toilet for minutes before I could convince myself to let go.
Now, every time I see road kill, it’s all I can think of. How I failed her, my little mass of cells. Birds, they’re the worst to see—feathers splayed into the hardness of cement on the freeway. When cars pass they try so hard to fly up. The smallness of their eyes. The puce-stained ground under a Crow, the bird who has the biggest brain in the bird family. Nobody cares enough to pull them onto the softness of grass, away from the rubber of balding tires. But that includes me. Why won’t I stop? The thought of scraping this fragile thing off the ground makes me ache. So I drive by it every morning and every night. The rain almost washes its body away but not quite. Soon the only thing left is bone.
A friend and I used to make knuckles and compare who had the boniest ones. It was so childish— just a game that would make us laugh. Girls: so good at being competitive. What I never told is when her knuckles showed more white than mine, I would go home and purge anything left in my body. Keep it clean all week. Just so I could prove my knuckles could be better. I was more determined than her. She would bring lunch from our dingy cafeteria, and watch as I pulled apart the halves of a bagel sandwich.
RELATED: We Don't Know How to Love Our Bodies
I can remember her looking through the slit in her glasses at me. The deconstruction of my lunch bothering her more than I could ever understand. I would eat enough to keep her eyes away, and when she wasn’t looking, would toss it in the trash.
There were times I thought I would be ready to tell someone. But I thought that it was a lost conversation. Always better off to be unsaid. Once, my mother and I were sitting on her back porch looking out on her lawn that she maintained meticulously despite her Lupus. She was telling me about a bird’s nest she was thinking of moving so her cat’s couldn’t get at it. She was desperate to protect her Tree Swallows. We were trying to look up whether it would be safe to move it, and it struck me that my mother should know she almost had a grandchild. But I couldn’t do it. She was so worried about the birds. She set out a plate of cut up bananas for Hummingbirds. She watched for them at night, knowing that when she saw fireflies they wouldn’t be far behind. They would come in troves, hovering above the crystal plate. She insisted on using the dinner plates for the birds while she ate her dinner on paper. In the end, she thought it would be too risky to move the Swallow’s nest, and so we left it. The cats were uninterested in such exercise, and weeks later we could hear the small peeping that comes with hungry, freshly hatched, birds.
When I was a child, I feared my mother would hate me if I got fat. A teen mom, she was quick to buy things in bulk for a deal. But when she would catch me from the corner of her eye reaching for a bag of chips, or cereal with my entire day’s worth of calories in one serving, I would pull my hand back. I started to devote myself to skipping meals. I wanted to help her in some way. It was hard enough for her to have me at her side and admit that no, I wasn’t her sister. I didn’t want to give her anymore of a burden than she had to have.
There’s a statistic somewhere about statistics. As if anything could be so trite…It says something about the probability of being a teen parent drastically rises when their parent was a teen parent. How close I was to being a statistic. Though, according to another study, 50.63% of women suffer from some form of BDD. 10-20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. So it may seem that if we escape one form of a statistic, we are guided into another. People need to be analyzed, and prodded on order to be understood. But why? What makes us so different from the bird circling prey, or the mother who is desperate to save birds so fast she will never be able to catch them?
Alexis Groulx’s work has been previously published, or is forthcoming in Blue Lyra Review, Bridge Eight, Gravel, Off the Coast, Sun & Sandstone, The Missing Slate and others.