Odelia Kaly

Me Versus Me


ISSUE 32 | SMALL WARS | SEP 2013

My stomach sounded like thunder clapping. I sat in an open office at school, where I spent my lunch period every day because the cafeteria made me feel like a snail in the midst of wild animals. Today, however, my lunch stayed in my backpack, in that cute little red bag that said “Lunch Bag” on it, and I was about to pull it out and start eating. But then I heard the sound of thunder.

I used to think that thunderstorms were God’s football games; the clouds ramming into each other making loud, cracking claps, and the angels’ camera flashbulbs making silent bright illuminations in that empty sound-space. I wholeheartedly believed this. I was a child, and I didn’t like football. I was a child, and I believed that God facilitated football games. I’d stopped hearing those games long ago. Now I just heard God crying, and I was crying with Him, and my thunder was internal.

It wasn’t a premeditated thing. That day, I just decided that I wasn’t going to eat my lunch. I hated the word anyway. Lunch. How barbaric. Disgusting. I couldn’t stand to pronounce it, so there was really no sense in eating it. It was a game, that was all. Just something to kill the boredom. Each passing minute was a small triumph. I wanted to see how long I could go without giving in. After a few hours, the players returned to the locker rooms and the fans returned to their cars and drove home, and my insides turned quiet. I waited for the grumbling to start up again, but it didn’t. I sat in the public library after school reading Siddhartha. He was a wandering ascetic, a man of true wisdom. I longed to be wise, but knew little of how to get there. Perhaps if I acted like Siddhartha, followed his exact path, I would reach my goal. I handed the contents of my lunch box to a homeless man on a street corner and felt lighter. I got on the train, marveling at my skill. I’d beaten the system. Typing up notes about ancient China, Shi-Huangdi blah blah blah, I sat on the couch surrounded by textbooks and papers and felt the power that had been slipping away from me rapidly return to my body. A strong girl battered by the public school system regains strength through basic rebellion. She rejects the indisputable importance of simple life functions to show the Universe who’s boss. Headlines of sorts. But around eight or nine p.m., my vision began to blur. I abruptly determined that it had been idiotic and childish to play such a fruitless and naïve game with myself. So I heated myself up a bowl of turkey chili, shaking my head at myself for being so stupid.

The next day I woke up and decided that I hadn’t given myself much of a chance. It was just the first day, and I was by nature not a quitter, after all. I tried again. I like to give second chances.

It became a routine. Breakfast at six-forty-five a.m.—because the rational, gradually-being-muffled part of myself kept reminding me that starting the day on an empty stomach is not propitious for achieving academic prowess, which of course I absolutely had to do. But there were no rules about what I did after the most important meal of the day. A-ha, the loophole. My morning meal was followed by infinite subway rides and hours of classes throughout which I bored holes into my watch with my tear-filled eyes in an attempt to speed the minute hand—hell, the hour hand—up until the next bell, the next passing mealtime, the next day.


It’s not a sadness. Sadness implies emotion, a feeling of some sort. An active, sinking, drowning, stagnating unhappiness. It’s more the non-feeling feeling of a complete, all-encompassing lack. Lack of anything. It’s when a vacuum cleaner sidles right up to you and you get that creeping dread, like when you know there’s someone standing too close to you who really shouldn’t be there, and it starts to suck and slurp every ounce of anything from your being. You begin to panic, worrying that this mode of thought is permanent, and your masochistically sybaritic brain forces you to list all the reasons why everything is gray, feebly masking this blatant expression of self-pity with a misty cloud of false hope. Maybe I’ll go running in the morning... No, think about how monotonous that gets. One foot in front of the other, minute after minute. Think of all the seconds in each of those minutes, dragging on for millennia. Well, then breakfast. I love breakfast. Yeah, but you have breakfast every day. What could you possibly want that won’t bore you to death? Cereal? Eggs? Yogurt? Oatmeal? Jesus Christ, it’s all been done a million times. Oh God, okay, maybe hanging out with my friends? All you’ll do is sit there and be silent because the earth won’t spin faster, and they’ll watch you in your self-absorbed melodrama and internally roll their eyes because you are a nuisance to have around. It will just be you, existing in front of other people. How painfully dull.

A white corridor lined with doors, each one shutting in turn as your vision trails down the hallway towards the vanishing point. Endless, invisible, tangible nothing.

Eating became a sign of weakness. I watched other monsters shovel potato chips and sandwiches and cookies into their mouths and sat by myself, gloating. I was stronger than all of them. Look at those pigs. Absorbing fat and carbohydrates and sugar through every orifice of their lumpy, useless, low-functioning bodies.

It wasn’t simply a matter of being skinny. Being thin was just a way to reenter the rat race. I regretted every word that left my mouth, if any words left it at all. I worked ceaselessly on my schoolwork but always felt inadequate, even when the indisputable facts of my success stared me in the face in red ink. I questioned and dissected and manipulated every thought in my head until I let the wind dry my tears or I excused myself from class to go listen to The Smiths in the bathroom, salty beads splashing onto my iPod screen. I was convinced I couldn’t do anything else right anymore, so I thought I’d give anorexia a try, because of how anathema it was to my usual activities. Do this, do that, do another thing, do something else—and for what purpose? Do something that will create a nothing. The world doesn’t need more things; realize how easy it is to flick off a switch and impose the absence of light, to shroud yourself in a literal nothing.

My fingers were slowly losing their grips on the control panel, pulling and grasping and yanking at everything in sight, hoping to hold on just a little bit longer. Stay on course, soldier. You must not lose your way. There is one goal, one end-point, and if you fuck up, it’s over. Good. Glad that’s settled. Restriction was the only option then. It was the least conspicuous, and according to myself, the least harmful.

I’d been overweight, maybe even obese (according to WiiFit), until I was thirteen. Then one muggy summer day I was sitting around when I realized that a pen could get lost between the folds of my stomach fat. I cried all the self-repulsion out of myself and decided that day that something had to change. I logged every calorie, every minute of manic exercise, every pound lost. A year later, no one who hadn’t seen it believed me when I let slip that I used to be fat. But what no one seemed to understand is that being fat is not a physical state. It’s a mental state. It doesn’t disappear when the number on the scale goes down. It’s burned too deeply into the backs of my eye sockets for me to forget the way it feels to look at a reflection of my physical manifestation and be repulsed and disappointed. I always expect to feel disgust at the sight of my own image , or at the very least disapproval. It’s perpetual and perennial. Fatness is like herpes: it may lie dormant for a while, but it never truly goes away.


Good days were the ones when I was able to make it until eighth period before eating lunch. Great days were when I made it until ninth period. Bad days were the ones when I succumbed at sixth period. I was always hungry, but I was never starving. My pubescent processes were halted almost immediately and I lived in a constant state of internal physical discomfort and hormonal malfunction, but I ate something three times a day.

I don’t really know what my goal was. Skeleton, perhaps. Skin and bones. Protruding collar bone and visible rib cage and gaunt, sunken features. I think I wanted someone to look at me and say “holy shit” when they realized that my frightening appearance was the result of inexplicable anger, self-hatred, societal-hatred, everything-hatred, everything-gloominess. I was furious about the fact that I kept tripping and falling, but I became even more enraged when no one noticed that I’d fallen on the ground. I was jumping up and down and waving my arms in a pitch-dark chamber praying that someone would see me and understand. I locked the door to that room and kept the key in my breast pocket at all times, but even so, someone could just break down the door, couldn’t they? Why didn’t they see me jumping and waving, though? Why didn’t they?

I only ended up losing about seven pounds. 125...123...121...119...118...If I got all the way down to 105, maybe 103, I’d officially be in the “unhealthy” weight range according to my BMI. All I had to do was hold out a little longer. I was determined to emerge victorious, weightlessly flying over my ostensible competitors as a show of triumph. And then, most of all, I wanted to lose control of my wings and drop out of the air, falling falling falling into a stale white bed in a clean room where I could hate myself in complete solitude and not have to think about school or other people or existing. I would just sit there, and I wouldn’t feel anything or think anything. And then I wouldn’t have to fight anymore. Ever again. That’s really what I wanted.

*****

I changed his contact name in my phone to “Nobody.” So that if he ever texted me or called me again, it would be like Ulysses and the Cyclops in The Odyssey. “Who blinded you, Polyphemus?” “Nobody blinded me!” That’s what I wanted him to be: a nameless, formless, nonexistent thing. Because I was losing. He was fine. He wasn’t ‘hung up on it.’ And I was. Stripping him of his identity allowed me to shove him out of the driver’s seat and take back the steering wheel. I’m in control. Let him fall apart, not me.

It was the uncertainty that nagged me and made me violently rake my hair with twitching fingers. Why hadn’t he texted me back. Why haven’t I heard from him in a week. Why is he ignoring me. And then I started answering the unanswerable questions on my own, because I am independent. I can answer my own goddamn questions.

He thinks I’m clingy. I remind him of his suicidal ex-girlfriend. I’m overbearing. I’m too anxious. I’m not pretty. I’m not skinny enough. My boobs aren’t big enough. I’m too inexperienced. I’m too serious all the time. I’m too insecure.

Every so often I somehow ended up hanging out with a group of friends in his room, because it was summer, and he had A/C. At those times all I could think about was him and I, walking down Tenth Avenue, my arm around his waist and his arm around my shoulder. Or when we laid in his bed with intertwined fingers and told each other fantastical stories in the dark-but-for-the-sunlight. Or how right after the first time we kissed, the first time I’d ever kissed anyone, he said, “That wasn’t so scary, was it?” and I shook my head and we held each other, standing in that playground in the post-rain nighttime. The redbrick walls had swelled with vivacity. Everything had felt vibrant. Each interaction had felt like a marvelous experience. Things had tasted differently, the way your tap water tastes after you’ve spent time in a foreign country. It was a pleasant different. Ha—...Hap—...Happ...y?

Now I turn off my cellphone at ten every night and I deleted his phone number after I saw him on the street holding hands with another girl and I hid his profile on Goodreads. I don’t want to remember. I don’t want to dwell on any of it. I already lived it once. The beautifully terrifying thing about Time is that it doesn’t exist. Once something happens, it’s not frozen in Space and Time, it turns to invisible mist and you can’t go back and retrieve it. But the invisible mist becomes memory, easily retrievable and manipulatable and dwell-able, so I take deep breaths and avoid certain subway stations and listen to music as I meander up Broadway alone, wondering if there’s a way I can walk the next eight miles home without my mom knowing that I never got on the train.

*****

I never reached my goal. I saw that no one was coming to my rescue so instead of quietly shutting my gaping mouth, continually poised in a pre-screaming position, I stuffed it with food. I ate to distract myself from the wearisome uniformity of each day, the monotony of every second. I gained back the pounds I’d lost and then some. It took months before each bite of food was no longer weighted with the guilt of my own weakness and perpetual fatness. Hurting my body was comparable to taking a sledgehammer to the walls of my home while muttering, “No, no, this is all wrong, this fucking thing takes up way too much space, gotta get rid of some of this...” It was created to allow my soul—if such a thing exists—to live in the physical world. My body’s utter lack of verifiable existence, its paucity of a presence in reality—whatever that is—could either be a source of anguish, or a well of positive thoughts. The choice was mine, and I had to choose the latter.

I started reading again. I originally re-took it up in a quest for answers and solutions, but the hobby soon morphed into a constructive distraction. I couldn’t read anything too dense, or else my mind would wander and get all tangled in an interior homespun web. I couldn’t read anything too easy either, because simple words leave room for mental multitasking. The trick is to find something just right, the way Goldilocks did it.

I started doing yoga again. I returned to class as a way to stretch my stale limbs, regain the strength I’d lost, relearn how to focus on my breathing, but first and foremost as a worthwhile way to spend an hour. If I wasn’t in a yoga class, I’d have been sitting in my room, almost obsessively and cyclically checking the same eight websites over and over again, occasionally pausing to eat another bowl of cereal or get another glass of water. I’d have been digging ditches in my head and then filling them up with dirt and then shoveling them out again. Miraculously, time would have passed that way.

I sat deep into my chair pose, clenching my back and bracing my abs, biceps by my ears and sweat beads rolling manically towards the ground—this girl’s about to explode, we better skedaddle—until I was almost positive I would collapse. In order to maintain the pose I had to concentrate all my energy on keeping my abs tight and keeping the oxygen flowing, so there was simply no room for other things inside my head. In two three four, out two three four. I laid in final savasana until they turned the lights back on and everyone else was up and milling around. I was always the last one out of the studio; the teacher was already out on the fire escape hanging the rental mats out to dry as I slipped my shoes on and was forced back onto the streets.

I started walking and turned on my iPod. I’ve always had a special affinity for music, but it has come to serve as an essential mechanism for trying to obliterate negative thoughts. I stopped in the public library and picked out some new books to occupy myself with, and some new CDs to distract myself with. It was four o’clock, five o’clock, six o’clock, I walked to the edge of my subway line until I had no choice but to get on the train and go home, where my computer screen and cereal boxes awaited me.


Following this path of self-improvement, I’ve convinced myself that anything that has mass cannot possibly be real. Tables, chairs, clothing, dust, bugs, bodies. All of it is a figment of a collective imagination adopted unhesitatingly by the individual.I actively reject the “reality” of tactile, material objects. All there is is space, sound, and time. Ideas, thoughts, emotions, bodies, selves: they are all byproducts or combinations of these three things. I haven’t figured out the logistics of my belief system yet, but I’ve digested its consequences anyway, and in turn I have accepted the fact that despite the complete nothingness of everything around me, I must still interact with the physical world if I want to exist at all. My body is the sole vessel I was allotted for my time in the physical plane, so if I nurture it only because I have to and ignore it otherwise, then perhaps...Well, perhaps something right will come of it. The Universe and Infinity and Eternity are indefinite, so reluctant resignation seems to be the only viable option. I can never live anywhere else (I flood with terror), so as long as I belong to this world, as I must, this body is my humble abode. It is unimportant, pay it no attention.


To reinforce these thought processes, I began carrying a sheet of paper in my wallet filled by a list of mind-clearing statements that I wrote down one time in an afternoon feverish frenzy on the 1 train. They help achieve a (very fleeting) self-induced state of nonexistence, nonobligatory impermanence, and floating transience.

I am here right now.

I am nowhere else.

I am just a messy amalgamation of atoms, empty space surrounded by empty space.

I exist, but only because I say I do.

I am a breath of mist.

I am a speck of eternity.

I am a blemish on the face of infinity.

No one is more real than I; none of us are real.

I can destroy just as easily as I can create.

Nothing matters, because nothing exists.

The walls are invisible; it takes but a powerful breath to knock them down.

It is all an adventure; the walls and ceilings must dissipate, and every non-mistake mistake should be made.

Mistakes are social constructs; as is everything.

Experience is false on occasion, and often.

Me and my skin are a lie and should be ignored.

I am the enemy; but I do not hate the enemy; I destroy it until all that is left is the “I.”

Ignore nothing; everything is nothing; nothing is everything; ignore everything.


When I realize that I am merely a mass of cells, I let the truth of it wash over me. I let the harsh reality of it efface all attachment I have to the physical and metaphysical worlds.

I know it’s a bleak outlook, but it’s better than being in constant combat with my own brain, when both sides anticipate the other’s next move. It feels healthier to direct my anxieties into infinity where they can get lost in outer space than to inject them into my own blue veins and watch helplessly as the welts bubble up beneath my skin. Neither method is particularly conducive to positive thinking, but we take what we can get.

Place your bets, everyone. It’s Me versus Me.