It’s a funny thing when your mouth itches with emptiness; you’d think that it would have gotten used to that feeling by now. But there are times it just wants to crunch and devour something. When it craves.
That is not the same thing as being hungry. There is a difference.
I am not hungry now, but there is a slice of cake in front of me. Buttery and soft, with a thick layer of white, sugary icing.
I sink my teeth into it.
First year in college. 10,915.51km from home.
Warm, solid hands, a perpetual upward tilt to his lips. He touches my cheek and plays with my hair. Keeps secret recordings of me singing because he wants to show me how nice I sound. Changes his clothes when he comes to my room because I notice when he’s worn it out. Buys popcorn in anticipation of watching a movie together in my room.
A new best friend. I feel like I’ve known him forever.
It’s the easiest thing in the world to take another bite.
Deep winter. Sleeping over and waking up to his arms wrapped around me.
Stealing kisses when his friends aren’t looking because we’re nothing, not really, not officially. His hand around my waist in the dark of the room while we’re all breaking glow-sticks.
We hold hands, a little unsteady on our feet, at the back of the line to the club. Dance with our hands on each other under dim, bruised lights, screaming the lyrics together.
Easter break. I stay over alone, in college.
I wake up to him on the screen every day and close my eyes to him every night. He sneaks pictures of me while I’m writing essays.
I cry into the phone over trivial things: homesickness, crushing sadness.
He lies to his parents and travels two hours to make soup with me on my birthday.
He’s still unsure about me.
My gums throb. It’s probably the icing.
Spring blooms, finals loom. He doesn’t know if we should be together, doesn’t want to tell our friends about us. I swallow the ache like a daily vitamin.
Nowadays he looks at me with his eyes glazed over. He turns from me like I’m no longer the sun. I am always asking for more, and he is always only half-listening. I can’t even hold him accountable - who is he to me?
I keep giving him my heart, and he keeps forgetting it’s in his hand.
Nobody else knows. There is an ancient rot in the hollow chamber deep inside my chest, and it keeps spreading.
We don’t talk much now. But we kiss, and grip, and he takes, takes, takes.
It hurts, but I don’t think I can stop eating it. It’d be such a waste, and my mother gave it to me.
The rot spreads. I lash out, we fight. Triggers I thought I’d killed years ago, springing back to life. Wounds my mother planted, reopening like flower buds. Roots so deep they intertwine with my veins - the insecurity, the jealousy, bleeding out when I touch him. I have the faintest sensation of the floor beneath me shaking all the time.
Is the love of my life? He can't be. The love of your life is supposed to love you.
He hurts me, so I start to hurt him back, the way our ancestors did. Nothing in me but primal fear and rage, the sickening instinct to maim and bleed dry.
Call it quits? We tried.
How do you quit someone who won’t quit you?
The inside of my mouth fills with salt, and I spit out something red. My tongue stings.
One last fight.
Now I know what it looks like to watch a person freeze over, turn ice-cold.
One last hug. And then a flight back home.
I drop into the darkest hell I’ve ever known.
“Just throw it away,” my sister says.
I nod, but I keep pushing more into my mouth.
I go home utterly quiet, the words crushed out of me. I don’t want to speak anymore, don’t want to do any more damage. In the mirror I can see the flatness in my own eyes. There is so much blood on my hands, I can’t even begin to wash it all off.
If you turn my journal to the side, where the sides of the pages all press together, there is a noticeable blank chunk.
Every thought inevitably leads back to the same name.
I spend the whole of summer trying to wipe my mind clean.
It doesn’t taste good anymore.
I hide things so well from my friends and family, smile so big so often, that nobody notices a thing. And I discover that this, too, is a sort of strength. I am no longer afraid.
Still broken. But I know I can fit it all back together, even if I’m utterly alone.
It helps that I’ve given up. So he hates me, so I’m never going to find someone like him again. There’s a sort of calmness that rolls over you, as though everything were slowed down, when you watch the pillars around you crumble into dust.
I'll rebuild them with my bare hands.
It doesn’t taste like much anymore. I keep chewing, keep swallowing.
We meet in person to talk. We're both older now, and colder. I can look at him without tearing up.
But I still feel the urge to close the distance.
I lean in, and he does the same...
The moment we hug all the pain melts away. A wave of comfort so strong it almost sends me to sleep.
I cling to him like he'll let go at any moment. He doesn’t.
My sister places her hand on mine.
"Enough", she says.
The easiness comes rushing right back. He is still my best friend.
But moments of somberness break through - unreadable gazes, pauses just a little too long.
How do you repair what's broken if you can't even see it?
We try again to leave it. Maybe it's easier to be friends.
I put the fork down.
It’s not easy at all.
He looks at me now like I am the sun. I stroke his cheek like I know how precious he is. He cooks for me, I tuck him into bed.
What's easier is keeping our promises. What's easier is trying to make it work, properly.
Maybe it was only so hard before because we didn't want to put our hearts on the line.
I save the cake in a box for later.
He tells his friends about us.
We are not hungry. We crave. There is a difference, in that we could stop if we wanted to.
We just don’t want to want to.
And maybe that's all we really need.