I’m standing in front of a mirror. It’s an ominous lover. A best friend unafraid to be honest. I’m naked, pinching the folds of skin on my belly, arms, legs. The full-length mirror that leans against the gray wall of my bedroom wants me to know the truth. It twists and expands no matter the angle, but when I look at my eyes, I see everything I’ve always wanted to be. One moment of feeling beautiful, of becoming. They only call me pretty when I’m with the woman in the mirror. There’s a fat woman behind me. A morbidly obese woman who loves the softness and protection of her body. I see her waist, the curve defining head and body. I reach out to the mirror and press my hand against the reflection of her trunk. It’s hard to believe we are the same woman. The thin me spends too long pulling at my skin, wishing I could see beauty in the way our joints fold and unfold—my body broken and hungry, a hand grenade the fat woman crawls inside.
I can’t recall when or where I learned the word “fat.” I just know the external context meant nothing to me. “Fat” describes the battle I endure within myself, the discomfort of being in my own skin, both then and now and the longing to go somewhere else. I stare long and hard until the focus is no longer my body but my pupils—as black as the woman’s and reminiscent of water darkened by depth from a distance. The fat woman is a stranger to me. She is the stranger even to herself. I’m this stranger. I’m convinced I’ll go blind from staring, no longer able to see my face clearly, our skin, the faint line on my forehead, the creases at the corners of my eyes and lips. I feel a sudden wave of hot air down my spine, nausea swirling in my stomach and a feverish, sweaty chill breaking through my 43-year-old body as I fall off into an abyss. It’s in this moment I crawl inside to find the quiet. One by one, everything that was me dissolves into the air, and I feel nothing.
I take the shape of water, the shape of my mother’s womb, the womb that bore me, and the womb that bore the two children that shaped me. I float. Not an uplifting floating that pulls the body from itself as if it is rising. I float, but it is a subtle pull down. I fall into the darkness. The mirror, all the angles, the lights, they stay above me, in my periphery, they stream, flood toward me, and I grab the folds of my belly until I see the lines across my stomach and decades of hidden brokenness. I’ve never been this cold before. A cold that aches in the feet, convulses in the jaw—it freezes the mind, thoughts stuck on repeat with no volume control or power button to stop them. I’m eight keys of a singular octave in a stairway of pianos stretching from here to the sun, yet I’m cold. Really cold. All the world is an electrical impulse roaring its beauty for the fat woman inside me, her dizzy blue light and skipped heartbeats. We can’t get back what we’ve stolen from each other or erase the scars or stroke our bodies simultaneously, tenderly, becoming a radiant impossibility, angelic fire—be one again.
I feel my body twist, all the extra skin, my hands passing in front of me, my breath coming in whispers, words I’ve not known trailing along the tip of my tongue. The deep red of muscle flexing beneath my ribs, seeping into my vision, in some semblance of words. I float above it. My hands pass through the fat woman’s light, rays splaying through the spaces, shimmering off my fingers. Everything slows down, every fault of my body amplified. I sink. The light dulls, fades, becomes particle-like, specks of energy shimmering in front of me. I’m awake. I’m a chemical eruption of color, the intersection of potassium and sodium—not bone or blood or cell. The particles chase my fingertips, stream behind the motion; stars escaping from my pockets, yellow pennies bubbling from my skin. Thump. Thump. Thump. I hear it though I’m not sure I’ve ever felt it. The fear protecting my body from pain. The skin peels back without friction, embracing the sunburst inside of us. This is as close as I’ll get to seeing myself dead. I raise my arms and the skin curls upward. I pull my hands to my side. They’re heavy. I lift my arms into the weight, the viscosity, fold my hands on my stomach, each one resting on the other. I look hard and deep into the light, look for signs of motion, hold my breath and listen, wait for the new me to push through the water, to rise to where there’s a sweet negative space—wait for the fat woman to pull her hair off her face and dance like a waterfall around me.
I wonder if, even hope, that she and I are much more than an equation. This moment is all I’ll need to feel my own passing. I grow out of myself. It’s a silent, tender moment, private even. I pull my hands up to my breast and press firmly, wait. My chest doesn’t rise, but I feel a beat through the points of my fingers, a vibration radiates through my wrist. I wonder whose beat I’m really feeling as the light waves its soft tentacles. I return the gesture. I’m hungry from this sloughing, this newness unfurling in great, glittering swaths of potential. I bite down hard on my tongue to satisfy my sudden hunger and spit out my darkness. “One day,” I tell myself, “Maybe I will go there. Maybe I will see I’m worthy of loving myself.” Today, I’m all breath and movement and growth; I feel alive, haunted, and for now, it’s enough.
Ariana D. Den Bleyker is a Pittsburgh native currently residing in New York’s Hudson Valley where she is a wife and mother of two. When she’s not writing, she’s spending time with her family and every once in a while sleeps. She is founder and publisher of ELJ Editions and the author of many poetry collections and chapbooks, a novelette, an experimental memoir, and even a few crime novellas. She hopes you’ll fall in love with her words.