Roxane Gay talks a lot about the before and the after in Hunger. Before and after the rape. Before and after pictures in the pamphlets about gastric bypass surgery. This book doesn't bypass, is uncompromising. Roxane Gay says this book is "not a story of triumph," that there won't be a cover picture of her standing inside one leg of her fat pants. This is a true story. Sometimes it reads like an apology - and maybe it's an apology to that past-self she wants to warn and hold and speak to. There is even something of an apology in the parentheticals around 'my' as in "a memoir of (my) body." This memoir is, still, a before and after story - the two cleaved parts of it. Even though 'cleaves' sounds to me like it should mean coming together, clutching, a tightness -- it means split. Cut up. A broken chemical bond.
Roxane Gay calls it 'delusion,' as in, "we continued to delude ourselves that our bodies were our biggest problem." One of the biggest problems is that our bodies are most visible. Our bodies are a catalogue. I think of my body as my house sometimes, and sometimes I trash my house, and sometimes I hate being stuck in it all the time, and often I think: I should take care of this, this is where I live. But Roxane Gay reminds me that bodies are haunted, they are hoarders and buriers (barriers). Roxane writes, "I buried the girl I have been because she ran into all kinds of trouble...and perhaps I am writing my way back to her, trying to tell her everything she needs to hear."
I had a therapist who told me to imagine myself (the self I am now) holding my younger self. I pictured 10-year-old self. Would I tell her she was worthless, ugly, stupid? Probably not. Sometimes when I would break down sobbing I would try to imagine it was 10-year-old-me crying (not adult-me curled up like if I made myself small enough I would disappear). I was supposed to tell the younger-me it was okay. Saying it outloud to myself felt stupid. Wrapping my arms around my elbows felt stupid. It was not an exercise I was proficient in. It was easier to deflate myself to nothing, to stomp on that nothing. "I want to be able to hold the why in my hands," Roxane Gay writes. She writes, "I don't want them, or anyone, to think I am nothing more than the worst thing that has ever happened to me."
She writes, "I don't know if such understanding is possible."
What's hard about reading Hunger is the rawness. It's not like reading a diary - it's like reading a mind. It's like being in a mindful body, a body mindful of how it's been addressed. Roxane Gay has names for her body:
the truth of my body
a body, one requiring repair
the problem of my body
more solid, stronger, safer
the body I made
a fortress, impermeable
a crime scene
something gone horribly wrong
a safe harbor
a matter of public record
the subject of public discourse
the girl in the woods
the trash I knew myself to be
"Smaller and therefore better." This is a way Roxane Gay describes her parents' hopes for her body. It's also the way many of us (internally or externally) do -- better, for women, often means lesser - less loud, loud pimply, less unfashionable, less intrusive, less needy. Spaciouslessness. Protestlessness. The prefix 'un'. Unabrasive. Unassuming. Unintelligible. Roxane Gay writes she had no reason to have such low self esteem as a young girl in love with a boy who would destroy her. She maps out what so many of us have felt in abusive relationships -- that feeling that we should be grateful that they bothered to treat us terribly. It's that early hunger that is weirdly untraceable. Where does that idea come from - that we're lucky to be maltreated, because at least we're treated? That we'll never be good enough -- that this is the punishment for not being enough.
Right now in Tucson it's monsooning. Every summer it happens. All the waterless days, the empty rivers, the uncrackable heat - cracks. The sky shakes with lightning. Thunder bodyslams, thunder so forceful it sets off car alarms in the parkinglot. It pours loudly, perversely. There are no grates in the streets so they flood. If you're out walking, the monsoons sweep you into them, they pour out everything all at once, pushing over and through you, and then they vanish.
The air hangs wet.
Mosquito eggs incubate.
The New York Times has a beautiful review of Roxane Gay's book: "At its simplest, it’s a memoir about being fat — Gay’s preferred term — in a hostile, fat-phobic world. At its most symphonic, it’s an intellectually rigorous and deeply moving exploration of the ways in which trauma, stories, desire, language and metaphor shape our experiences and construct our reality." The Times notes Roxane Gay's structure, how "[t]he story burrows in on itself while expanding exponentially. She grapples with exposure, with the price of silence, with the fact that her story is horrifying yet banal."
Banal. So lacking in originality as to be obvious and boring.
Silence, then, as symptom. Banality as symptom. The horror is the unremarkableness. To be destroyed is almost a rite of passage. I remember reading an article a many years back, a woman narrating an assault, and how at the time she was thinking to herself, 'This is it. This is my rape. What day is it? How old am I?' I remember thinking that when I had a near assault. I remember not having the language during my actual ones. I keep thinking now how 'lucky that it was only...' 'lucky that at least he...'
She writes, "I wrote story after story, mostly about women and their hurt because it was the only way I could think of to bleed out all the hurt I was feeling." Most of what I feel reading Hunger is yes.