I was sitting in a hospital in a room full of women, all of us determined to starve to death. I was asked to write down three things I was grateful for. Number one was my best friend Katy, to whom I spent most of my early adulthood joined at the hip and was like a sister to me. Number two, my grandfather who was like a father to me , and my husband was number three. Within a decade, none of these people will be in my life. My grandfather will soon die at the age of 92. In four years, Katy will lose her fight with congenital heart disease at the age of 35 making me even more eager to have a daughter named after her. That’s when my ex-husband will change his mind about children, which is another way of saying he will change his mind about me.
Today, I don’t starve, or do 1,000 sit ups, or smoke cigarettes. Instead, I spend hours googling exotic strains of weed. I chew Nicorette until my gums bleed. I duck into a dark bar at 11:45 in the morning on a Thursday, telling no one I am there. The bartender is a young, finely chiseled thing who is preparing a gin and fresh grapefruit juice with her back turned to me. The cursive tattoo between her brittle-looking shoulder blades reads, “The seasons have changed and so have I.”
I wish I could say the same. It’s true, I no longer starve, but, as a result, I have to eat through the raw emotions, feeling everything that made me desperate enough to whittle myself down to nothing. Added to that is a new complaint that’s been front and center since Katy’s death -- a profound, unending loneliness which follows me into crowds. Over and over again, during rehab, we, the starving ladies, were asked, What are you hungry for? What are you starving away? It was a question I knew the answer to but didn’t dare speak out loud because frankly, my own neediness sickened me. I was starving for connection, intimacy, excitement, love, a family, and more. Today, I can’t help but ask myself, if I couldn’t feel fulfilled when the three most supportive people in my life were in my corner, what chance do I have now?
Ten years have passed, and I still don’t know how to live with my seemingly never-ending needs. Instead, I try to spend as much time as possible ignoring them. How I do that most these days is play pinball. I play so damned much that the man behind the counter never asks for my membership card. Johnny-Behind-the-Counter is California mellow, Midwest genuine and sometimes gently calls me “Champ.” He once told me it makes him laugh every time a new player says, “The ball went right down the middle.” “That’s exactly what a pinball machine is designed to do,” he says, to drain, to go ‘right down the middle.’
Today, the pinball machine is doing exactly what it is designed to do. A bumper sends the ball pinging wildly towards the outlying lane. At the last second, the ball grazes a post and begins bouncing back and forth, back and forth-- the most dangerous motion in pinball. I nudge the machine, but the hazardous pinging continues. The ball is nowhere near the flippers, yet, I know it will drain if I don’t do something. And, still, I’ve done everything I know to do.
In desperation, I clamp both hands on each side and yank downward - the Death Save - which does absolutely nothing to alter the ball’s side to side motion. All I can hope is that soon, some unknown instinct I have will float to the surface-- that today I won’t drain, simply because I don’t want to.
Born in West Kentucky, Amanda Futrell lives in Alameda, CA where she is working on a novel. You can find more of her work at amandafutrell.wordpress.com/about
Amanda feels lucky to have the privilege of mental healthcare, especially when there are many communities that experience barriers to access. She asks that you please consider donating to BEAM, an organization “committed to the emotional/mental health and healing of Black communities.” Visit: www.beam.community