I met you on New Year’s Eve.
It was your family reunion of four years, the aromatic notes wafting from the dinner table, plates filled to the brim with sugar-laden delicacies. I watched, disguised.
You shrugged when your aunt asked why you had not touched the cake slathered in icing that stuck in clumps to your paper plate. You said you were not hungry but you were never hungry and really you didn’t like the way it coated the inside of your esophagus when you swallowed as if it weren’t something necessary to sustain life but instead something much more bitter and ugly.
I watched you tuck it neatly under your scorched tongue (because you were a guest and had an obligation of courtesy) and despite your best efforts you could not alter the composition of cake and those sweet crumbs were dissolving faster than what little of your sanity remained. You pinched the fat clinging to your thighs as the taste lingered on the tip of your tongue, strangely artificial like the metallic tang of blood––the color of the cake itself. When you excused yourself to the bathroom, chair scraping against the varnished wooden floor, I went with you.
Are you grateful?
See, you have tried to part ways with me, but I stay.
I stay because over time I have made my home in the deepest crevices of your mind, nestled among all your insecurities and falsehoods and twisted realities.
I stay because here I am content and because in this battle there can only be one winner and in the end you always let me win.
I stay because your body is my shelter and I am the mask you hide behind and who else would offer undeserved forgiveness when you devour an entire birthday cake (the ones from Target that taste like plastic) alone at 2:47 AM and it’s not your birthday, not even close to it? Who else would wait until the early hours of dawn while you step on and off the scale, carve those numbers into your memory over and over like constellations inked into an obsidian sky?
Last New Year’s Eve, I went with you to the bathroom and looked with you in the mirror, and in that splintered glass I saw fragments of your reflection and mine. Somehow under those faded yellow lights we looked the same.
Art by Michelle Dong