The following is a guest post by Toti O’Brien, whose creative non-fiction piece “On the Bridge, In the Rain” appeared in Issue 11 of Typehouse.
I have written about anorexia a few times, in different forms. A couple of takes were remote—they approached the subject through myth, fairy tale, archetype. One was very serious—it examined the subject from a Marxist, then a feminist point of view, also touching at legal, medical, sociological, economical aspects. Such break down had required time, study, labor, research, and of course it meant lots to me. I hoped an anthology about mental illness would accept it—probably the ideal publishing venue. I found one that was interested, but my essay exceeded the word limit. The editors suggested I choose a section and make it into a whole. Well, cut-and-paste rarely works. Or it does but the result is quite scarred, Frankenstein style.
I decided this was my occasion for starting afresh, utilizing the same raw material in a different way. Having limited time, I followed the advice Grandma patiently administered when I was a child—sometimes still hesitating in front of a task that seemed new, complicated, or just task-like (an unpleasant feeling itself). “I don’t know where to start,” I would say. The banal excuse! Grandma laughed out loud. “Then start in the middle,” she replied, so amused I suspect she was repeating a trick the nuns had played on her—in the orphanage—when she felt abandoned, or helpless, or lost. Well, she needed to grow strong and brave, apt to do whatever had to be done. So did I.
I learned to approach things—especially delicate, controversial ones—jumping in with no intro, no bows and no curtsies. Simply dive. “In media res,” said the Latin. All right. On the bridge, then. Why would writing about anorexia be delicate? Only the universally accepted cliché finds an audience. A snapshot, a codified scene, possibly involving throwing up in the toilets, a fucked-up body image, a quasi-corpse narrator tormented by guilt, possessed by strange demons. Sometimes sorely repentant, sometimes redeemed, horrified by her past sickness. I am using female pronouns for a reason.
What could have been nerve-wracking, what could have caused hesitation (and not knowing where to start), was my need of not providing the expected snapshot, but tell another story. Or just tell a story. Tracing the arc (the very shape of a bridge), designing the curve, constituting the fabric of a life—mine. But if anorexia draws the contour, makes the core of my existence, then it is rather a form of identity than a freaking twist of insanity. And who wants to hear that?
“On the bridge, in the rain” sees anorexia as a process, a path, with its own set of meanings. I have wanted to say this out loud for a long time. No wonder. It takes centuries for the oppressed to find their voice, and this is a story of oppression. But she (the oppressed) finds it, for sure. And it sings.
You can find Toiti on her website.