There is a small painting of a spoon pouring out water hanging above my trashcan. I have had this painting since the day I graduated from high school and it has followed me everywhere I’ve gone. I keep it not because it’s interesting or because it was given to me as a gift or because I hate blank walls. All of those things are true, but I keep the painting of the spoon pouring out water because it is supposed to be me. I am the spoon.
The letter taped to the back of the painting is printed on yellow rice paper in a font that is most definitely, unfortunately Papyrus. It is folded neatly into an envelope with my name on it and taped to the back of the 6x8 canvas it begins with “let me explain.” The lady who wrote the letter and painted the spoon was my art teacher in middle and high school, and she presented all six of my classmates with similar pieces. “I was thinking about all the special qualities that I see in you and your classmates and then I tried to put an object with those thoughts,” the letter explains, “your object is a ladle.” She uses the word ladle, but since their purposes as utensils are (basically) the same and the painting is supposed to represent me anyways, I say it’s a spoon. Something about this needs to be funny, right? So I am a spoon.
When I was very, very bad – far under 100 pounds, crying on the floor when someone hid the scale, sneaking out at three in the morning to run without shoes – I went to therapy twice a week across the hall from the nutritionist’s office. The therapist did not have plastic food on silver trays, but there was a fake waterfall the likes of which you’d find in a strip-mall-nail-spa that made me equally uncomfortable. The therapist was trying to figure out what had made me this way, and for a long time I had no real answers.
“I got stress fractures in my legs,” I said, “I moved a long way away from home and I gained weight on birth control.” That’s why. That has to be why.
I was just as confused as she was; what the hell had happened? My parents were still married, I got good grades, my childhood pet was still living. My life was normal, right? But the therapist asked when was the last time I remembered being myself. I did not know how to answer her; I did not remember myself.
“I fell out of a tree once and broke my ankle,” I said, “That was all me.”
The therapist shook her head. She wanted to know when I stopped feeling like I was worth taking care of, and I thought back and remembered accidentally ripping the page of a library book, I remembered watching my baby sister get stitches on her forehead in the emergency room, I remembered apologizing whenever my parents bought groceries. These are the things that therapists like, right?
I remembered falling out of a tree and my mother saying that my ankle was fine. I remembered not complaining but I also remembered her face when the doctor at Patient First showed her the x-ray of the fracture. I remembered her telling me not to limp to the exam room. I remembered running a race with the cast on my spindly left leg, and that there was blood when I finished from where the cast had cut open the skin. These are things I did not tell the therapist. These are things I learned to look over, and she’d implied that they weren’t important anyways, right?
The therapist asked about relationships. No, I said, I was never anyone’s girlfriend. But I remembered a boy I was supposed to love spitting on my face and how my mother laughed about it, I remembered crying and being told to stop, I remembered journals and journals of angry words, pleading prayers to whatever god was out there to get me the fuck out or just please kill me dead. I remembered reading a letter out loud to my mother, explaining how my lungs were atrophying and my heart was shrinking up but I was still just trying to be good, I was still trying to love and I remembered her in the piano-room chair, shaking her head and saying, “you’re just a selfish bitch.”
I remembered standing on the porch holding a box of cereal while my father smoked a cigar. I remembered him asking why I let them control me and I remembered myself saying that I did not want to make them angry. What I meant was that I wanted to be loved. What I meant was I had no control.
That was all I remembered of myself but I did not tell the therapist those things. She did not want to hear them and I did not want to remember. I told her that once I gave away my shoes so that someone else could play a game while I sat on the curb and watched. The therapist liked that; she wrote something down.
So I am a spoon. “I feel that God is going to use you to pour into others for their nourishment and strengthening,” the letter on yellow rice paper says. “When others are weak you are their encouragement.” It’s interesting that she uses the word nourishment, because I know exactly when I stopped nourishing myself and exactly how my strength declined. I remember all the times I cried in the grocery store, I can tell you exactly what I ate on every day of the last two months of my freshman year of college. But I cannot say when I stopped mattering to myself. I do not know when I became weak in my soul. Was that always there?
Human bodies are supposed to be 60% water. Approximately 90% of body weight is water, the lungs are 83% water, and water is 73% of the brain and the heart. If you believe in souls I’m not sure how you want to divide that up. But I like the idea of souls, and I like the idea that souls are all water because water gives life, water grows things, and what else defines our existence more than that recalcitrant thing inside that’s not any bone or organ?
But I am a spoon. And somewhere I’ve become a nearly empty one; all the water is gone, it’s just a valley with not much left inside, very little that could sustain life anymore. I’m a little better now. I haven’t seen a nutritionist in two years, although that is mostly due to my insistence that I can do it myself. So I can do it my damn self; so I am a spoon. I am good at it.
Pouring myself out is as easy as skipping dinner and finishing the bottle, as simple as answering the phone at 3 in the morning. Filling myself up is as hard as not taking a free drink from the guy at the end of the bar, as impossible as learning how to stop feeling someone else’s pain. I can do it my damn self; I know I need to stop drinking, start eating, quit sleeping in beds in houses that warn to Beware of Dog. I know those things like I know that the back of my right hand has a scar on the thumb. But what I really need to know is how the hell am I supposed to fill myself up again? What do I do to become whole?