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Just A Little Feeling

By Christine Lee Zilka

I like laughing. I like laughing until my sides ache, until everyone else around me laughs, too. Some people laugh in gusts, others sound like they’re choking. Some laugh like a ringing bell. People who don’t laugh too much have a creaky chuckle. Maybe they’re trying to stave off wrinkles. I wish them well.

You know a good cure for wrinkles? It’s food: Eat and fill out your skin. Nourish yourself. People starve themselves until they like the dull ache in their belly. It makes them feel good, like it’s an achievement to seal their lips. Once, I didn’t eat for a year: Okay, two slices of light bread with a piece of Louis Rich turkey and light mayonnaise a day. Maybe, in a weak and hungering moment, an ice-cream bar that filled me afterwards with sugar, guilt, and a desire to punish myself. The turkey sandwich was one hundred calories. I drank gallons of Diet Coke and Crystal Light. The NutraSweet made me sick, gave me migraines every week, but I didn’t care. It was worth it. I lost forty pounds. I was so happy the day I hit ninety-five. I didn’t laugh, but I cried. In hindsight, I am not sure they were tears of joy. At the time, I thought they were.

I’ll laugh until I cry. I like to cry, but only for other people and things. I don’t like crying for myself. I like crying during gold medal ceremonies; I like crying during long distance phone commercials; I even like crying during the stupid Ernest & Julio Gallo wine commercials, even though I know that their boxed wine totally sucks. I like to cry at weddings. I like that leap of faith and hope. On that day, everything is perfect and the groom and bride are full of fantasy. On that day, they’re not thinking divorce or fights or heartbreak or late nights waiting alone. I cry for their hope. I like the thought of home and true love and love pairings. Human beings don’t seem so lost when they’re in love.

I like anger. I like that feeling of hot heat in my head, caring about something so much. I like the moment before I break a chair or smash a window. Once, a guy I knew took me out to a shooting range. He loved his guns and I shivered as he handed me a magnum to hold in my hand. “It’s safe,” he said. “The safety’s on. Pull the trigger, it won’t shoot.” How could it ever be safe? He picked up the gun and pointed it at me, and pulled the trigger. I hit the floor as he reached over to hug me and said through laughter, “It’s safe, the safety’s on.”

I prefer anger to sadness. I like to think about revenge. One time a boyfriend raped me. He sodomized me. He was too drunk to hear me whisper “no, stop.” I don’t like to say what I need; I like it when people just know. I like to think about revenge, I like thinking about tying him down and sticking a spiky dildo up his ass until he bleeds and hurts so much that sound doesn’t come out of his mouth anymore. I like to think I’ll say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, I don’t know what came over me,” right back to him.

I was a cutter. It didn’t have a name back then. Anorexia and bulimia were more fashionable, but, then again, I’m not much for conformity. I used to cut myself. I liked it so much. It didn’t hurt. I wanted it to hurt, but nothing cured my numbness. The voice in my head told me what a horrible person I was and choked me until I couldn’t breathe, but, when I cut myself, I could breathe again, at least for a little while. I dragged the razor across my wrists slowly and deliberately. I liked to watch the blood ooze in ruby drops. I liked to watch my cuts scar. I cut fresh lines into the old scars. I like that I have a lot of scars. I like wearing tank tops and short sleeves. I don’t like to hide my scars.

I stopped cutting myself the summer I fell in love with a yellow squash. It was a gift. The rapist ex-boyfriend came by and said, “Here have a squash. Someone brought some into work.” It was the size of a small child. I liked the squash so much. I don’t know why. The minute I cradled the squash, I sat down on my couch and didn’t leave my apartment for a month. My body was a lead weight ­I felt heavy and dull and standing up took a strength that I could muster only a few times a day. I went to sleep with the squash and sat with it in front of the T.V. while I stared out the window into the parking lot of my apartment. There was a poster across the way in someone’s window of Courtney Love, her lipstick smeared, her mouth open in a scream. The squash got tender in spots but I never let go—not like Kate Winslet’s character in Titanic. I liked the squash, then I liked it very much, then I fell in love with it.

Someone knocked on my door one day. The squash was tender all over by then. It was the guy who loved guns. He walked up to me and took my squash and said, “You need help.” I stared at him; I had forgotten how to speak. I had been in that apartment by myself for a month without company. He moved so quickly, like he was in fast forward. He grabbed a knife and said, “I am going to chop this fucking squash to bits.” I started to cry and words finally came out of my mouth, a torrent of grief, as he chopped the yellow squash up into reckless squares. The sound of the garbage disposal drowned out my cries. He rinsed off the knife and asked, “What is going on?”

I liked that he cared so much. I imagined he was going to save me. I forgot about the squash. I liked him, and then I really liked him.

I don’t talk to him anymore.­ When we broke up—a mutual decision—he asked if we could be friends. “Let’s not,” I said. “Let’s not make promises we’ll break.” We went our separate ways, having never broken a promise. He gave me a wedding present years later with a simple generic message, “Congratulations.” That was polite of him. I like politeness, it creates pleasant distance. I don’t like to get too close to people.

Christine Lee Zilka's short story Bile was published in the Fall 2003 issue of ZYZZYVA. She is an MFA student at Mills College. She says thank you to
Professor Elmaz Abinader for inspiring this piece.

 

Top Photo "Magdalenna Crying" courtesy of Nara Vieira da Silva.
Bottom photo "Dried Blood Hand Smear " courtesy of Devin Boyle.

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