Stop Eating My Sister

Stop Eating My Sister

I don’t remember the first time I laid eyes on you.

Looking back, you existed in more subtle clues;

an invisible presence, a lack of something nameless, a shadow,

a slowly fading light combined with increasingly pronounced bones.

A parasite, attaching to her appetite,

ensuring she never ate at the table alone.

You were little but fierce, persistent company, a nag,

like a cute puppy with separation anxiety.

Totally harmless at first sight;

we didn’t see you coming till playtime became a hard bite that broke the skin.

Was it the criticism laced in Mum’s opinion

that she might’ve carried a bit of weight back from holiday?

Was it school friends, was it a trend?

Was it society, was it from growing up in our family?

How did you get here, who invited you for tea?

If you were a beggar on the street I would not give you money,

no matter how frozen and wet and dirty,

no matter how the sorrow in your eyes still sparks my empathy

you deserve to sleep out in the cold without a home

because I know now how you prefer your clothes baggy,

your stomach empty

and your lovers skinny.

I’ll tell passers-by to keep hold of their pounds, keep on walking

to their intended destination and not to feel guilty,

not end up sectioned in hospital,

not going round and round in constricting circles

as the staff repeatedly tell her to stop exercising and sit down.

I feel like I failed her,

but at ten years old and six years her younger

I didn’t know how to stop an eating disorder

and it takes a doctor to bring back dying organs from failure.

I missed her home-cooked lasagne

as dinner time became plates hurling passed my ear,

cheesecake splattered across the wallpaper, spreading out the calories;

wasted food, wasted body, famished personality.

My childhood therapist asks me to sketch you in pencil

and I create a monster, with Mr Tickle limbs

and a giant cavity where the mouth should be,

a black hole swallowing all her energy. I draw on tiny eyes

whilst explaining how she cannot see the emaciated shape of her thighs.

I’m asked to imagine you are a person and together we’ll send you a letter –

“What would you say to this demon, Roz, if you could make this all better?”

I grip the pen and write three naive lines on the paper –

‘Dear Anorexia,

pick on someone your own size

and please stop eating my sister.’

Home Economics

Home Economics

Each week had a theme:

cheese, pasta, chocolate, cream –

an adolescent’s carbohydrate diet dream.

Sourcing the best local ingredients

from the fresh fruit and veg aisle at Safeway,

she became Gordon Ramsay whipping up a feast of mashed potato

with the perfect ratio of green beans to gravy,

rolling the shortest of shortcrust pastry

for her savoury tart recipe had to be better

than those shop bought frozen pies from Linda McCartney.

This chef’s stained apron was miles away

from the ballet-dancing teenage girl asking

“Jeeves, are there calories in toothpaste?”

Who stole the spare house key

and snuck out of school early

just to have ten minutes alone

to inhale a few rounds of toast before her Mum got home.

“Where’s the cooking you made in food tech today?”

“I accidentally left it at school,

tripped over Emma’s bag and it spilled,

had to leave it to cool,

bought the wrong flour,

the milk had gone sour and no one had spare,

the tin was too small,

it was too heavy to carry,

I burned the top of the brownies,

the sauce curdled and split…”

Whatever you say, don’t say you ate it.

Groundwork

Groundwork

I would like to rely a little more on myself

and not see hope as a chore,

like eating healthy or being kind to my anxiety,

something other than just coping

when lack of sleep slides into the bed beside me

and swears he’s the only intimacy I’m worth.

Can I place a hand over where it hurts,

yours or mine, or both together,

allow scars to touch bare skin

without lying about their origin,

my longings and wishful thinkings,

mistakes and misplaced trust.

Of the things I find hard to accept,

the most difficult is knowing

how the next steps require

I must let go of them all.

Brainwork

Brainwork

Meandering around the back alleys of my brain

the dark accentuates the corners and amplifies the space

left for the odd socks, neglected ideas

like pennies that drop out your pocket,

falling between the car seat and the door,

the lost and found fashion of mismatched PE kit

and school pumps that stick to the gym floor.

The cleaners don’t come here, dust lies so thick

I could make a snow angel with it,

constricting rusty daydreams of the place’s potential

like an amateur home improvements TV show.

Being alone is not the same as being lonely

and though the air here tastes stale,

it’s comforting to be away from the restless nerves

my body becomes a slave to, under pressure

to play the game, this world’s trivial pursuits.

I think I’ll visit myself more often, bring back some food

for the frightened mice who find solace

in this hideout too, maybe we’ll share a picnic,

finally sit across from our fears

and talk until we forget

which of us was taming who.

Equilibrium in Motion

Equilibrium in Motion

This is not a war

and there is no you outside yourself

to fight.

It’s just the passage of thoughts

and fleeting feelings,

laying themselves to rest for awhile

inside an impermanent body,

which you also inhabit

as an everlasting spirit.

Part of being

is life becoming,

all in this together,

and nothing in nature is exempt from this change.

So notice how we change with you,

refined for our next revolution,

even the rivers and streams have currents.

Vigil

Vigil

This should feel like bliss,

like it does for him

except you’ve gone from tired to high alert

in the time it takes to drive

the five minutes back to his place.

His sweet embrace does nothing

to change your unconscious response

to different bedsheets

as insomnia replaces your ability to sleep.

Counting sheep hasn’t worked in years;

they’re just prey, after all,

to your predatory fears come out to play

and your mind is a coward,

feeding you to the ghosts

for your usual dose of triggers, growing like weeds

somewhere you’re trying to plant only seeds of peace,

but for the former to die and the latter to grow

they both need exposure to air.

So as he holds you close, remind yourself

that underneath this choking layer of soil,

somewhere lies a radical act of self care

and you’re prepared to take the hit,

maybe eventually your body will switch off

and dissolve these flashbacks bit by bit,

maybe one of these days you’ll sink into the pillow

next to him, reaping what you sow,

his gentle breath on your neck,

in a bed that feels like home.

The Body Keeps The Score

The Body Keeps The Score

At its best,

post traumatic stress

is that feeling of being constantly on edge,

like when your feet hang out the covers

and touch the monster under the bed,

except the monster’s still inside your body

and poised ready for attack,

you better not ever close your eyes,

you better not ever turn your back.

He’s hacked your nervous system

with a pistol to your head

which you’re convinced is loaded

so your muscles remain frozen

and you’ll spend years beating yourself up

for not trying to escape instead

and hating your body for how it can’t change

it’s natural, evolutionary response

to threat of death.

You can’t even simply control your breath

as the tightness in your chest

becomes a self-asphyxiation,

lungs compressed in hyperventilation

as something reminds you of your degradation,

as an act of supposed love and fun

becomes none of the above,

and this concept of ‘recovery’

battles with your constantly intrusive memories

like his hand on the back of your neck.

Then how he gathered up your hair

as you’re dripping in his sweat,

body weight forcing open your legs

stained with bite marks

that took over a week to fade.

Now you try and tell me

that there’s nothing to be afraid of,

that leaving my house is safe,

that I could spend a night at someone else’s place

without being kept wide awake

and sitting up with the light on,

heart racing, skin caked in fear

that something bad could happen here.

It might have been almost three years

but the monster is always near the surface,

rising when you least expect it.

There’s a red car there that looks like his,

there’re at least ten men his height

with his haircut in front of you at a gig.

You fantasise about killing him.

Triggers still make you physically sick

as your mind tricks your body into thinking

that night is still happening

and he won’t let you leave till the morning.

It took too long to stop self-blaming

and exchange shame for its real name

of false imprisonment

but sometimes that reality is still too draining.

Sometimes when touched by a lover

you’ll react like you’re still being hunted

and you’ve got to stay in front.

It doesn’t bear to think of what would happen

if his hands caught up

and you know he knows where you live.

Your skin replaces sensations of pleasure with numbness,

it took over six months for you to come

with someone else’s hands over your pants

and over a year with penetration.

You’re an expert at dissociation

and though it’s defined as lack of concentration

you’re not sure you agree.

At first it took a lot of focus and attention

to leave your body

but now spacing out is easy,

so much so that you’ve forgotten what you did on Friday

or how you got that razor blade cut to your thigh,

it looks like it was painful

but you don’t remember letting out the slightest cry.

You can’t stand in the shower,

how can you wash and towel dry

a corpse

and you hate going out in summer,

that warm weather with skin uncovered

could only spell out danger

and you won’t eat on dates.

You’ve got no appetite, no sense of taste

and you’ve got to control your food intake

in case this gets to third or fourth base

and your anxiety belly gets in the way

and you lose your ability to say

that you’re not comfortable.

Because your mouth is bound

with imaginary sticky tape

and the last thing you want

is for him to know that you’ve been raped

so just fake how great it was,

rather than explain that these shaking limbs

are a stress response

to panic defenders wearing thin

and say you’d love to stay over

but you’ve got to get off home.

Make up some excuse

about forgetting your phone charger

or having other plans,

but really you just need to be alone.

Crawl into the hottest bath

and plaster over the cracks

where your past got passed the sensors

because you started to relax

in the arms of another man

and almost forgot that such comfort is banned

because last time you trusted someone

look what fucking happened

and do you want that to happen again?

Wouldn’t you rather spend your life

in a state of red alert?

You know what? No I wouldn’t.

Vulnerability is a strength

and this is going to fucking hurt

but I deserve better

than co-existing with this monster

and he’ll be gone but not forgotten

the more I write him into words

and now everyone in this room has heard

what you are.

I’m bathing in the medicine of self care

and whilst all you’ll do is shrink

I’ve got plans to still go bigger.

See my name in the paper,

my face on your TV picture,

on the BBC Breakfast news sofa

talking about violence against women,

about self love and recovery from trauma

and you can’t run from the truth anymore

as yours will eat away at you

and I’ll ruin your life the way that with mine you tried to.

I’ve chosen the method for your

slow and lasting torture

and each step I walk forwards

draws my pen closer to your slaughter.