Friday, March 20, 2020

The Inheritance by Su Zi

Gramma carried mint candy in her handbag, along with a linen handkerchief with a hand needled lace edge that she carried without using ever. Other talismans were a tube of deep red lipstick and a crumpled paper tissue. The handbag was a top strap, traditional shape with a snap close of brass, and was completely different than the soft, shoulder slung bags my mother favored. My mother did not carry mint candy, she carried mint gum. When I became old enough to need a handbag of my own, I had neither; however, by then I understood that the contents of a handbag were distinctive, individual. It was a long time before I understood why these significant women in my ancestry were always accompanied by mints.

After I had access to a car, I would visit Gramma on my own. We would sit in her kitchen and she would tell me of her life: of our shared ancestors, of how she came to this country, of her marriage to my beloved grandfather. One time, she asked me a series of questions about my eating habits—did I like to eat breakfast, what meal was my largest, why was I so skinny “you are a little bird” she told me forever. As a preteen girl, she had lived alone with her father (she wanted me to know his name was Shopkin), and Gramma felt that my eating habits were just like his: she told me I had “A sensitive stomach”.

My propensity for intestinal malaise was well documented among those who orbited my childhood consciousness. I was told I had been a colicky baby who wept for months; when my mother decided to experiment by feeding us McDonald’s, I had painful hours hanging my hind end over the commode; then, at 18, I had a bout of not being able to tolerate food…at all. I was sent to a doctor, who handed me a script for Lomotil—I was not to eat for a month, except a poached egg, or overboiled noodles. I had further bouts of food intolerance, but I did not go to a doctor again. A sleepless night, a significant exam, meant an hour in a pain filled Thinker position, and a queasy public bus ride to class. I began to photograph the private corners that housed my agonies—gas stations, restaurants, home: I had gotten used to chronic diarrhea without thinking about it, it just was part of who I was, just as not being tall was part of who I was.

My mother laughed about it. As a child, there was always a big bottle of Pepto Bismol that never saw lack of use. When I bought my mother concert tickets for her birthday, we went to dinner afterwards, and the very posh Ladies’ room immediately after dinner. I sat in one stall, my mother next to me, and while we both let the burning mud escape us, my mother laughed and laughed.

Over a few decades, such episodes of sudden incapacitation grew ordinary; my economics always made the acquisition of food, any food, more of a concern than whether or not it would tear me up. My constant emaciation was met socially with offers of drugs or dick; I was unaware I was starving.

One Thanksgiving, I had been invited to dinner and arrived to find the kitchen full of young women I did not know. I ate their offerings, they liked my homemade cranberry sauce. They were concerned when I retired to the bathroom for the better part of an hour: I remember repeated attempts to force the door, and also the fever sweat dripping to the tile and bleaching away circles of ground-in sand; the paroxysms had my elbows around my knees, and pain was an incoming tide of electric shocks and burning. Eventually, I made the drive home; yet every time I ate was another episode of agony. Weeks went by. I was in a new town, knew no one, went to job interviews as I lost weight, lost weight until I could barely make it ten feet from my couch to my kitchen without a head rush that had me swooning in front of the concerned cats. That one took two months from me.

Life unfolded as it does when you don’t die young. Eventually, two women stood in my yard and welcomed me to the woman change, bestowed upon me the title of Crone, though it was still decades away from the number the government gave. I was still thin, but the changes to my body included more episodes of lost time with increasing severity.

A few summers ago, I once again lost the ability to tolerate any food. I struggled for a month to find something that wouldn’t bring forth the fits of endless shitting, until I was keeping myself alive with only miso soup. One Sunday, I had been invited to go for a pleasure cruise in a classic car and we stopped at the farm-to-table pizza-salad place. I nursed a cigarette and a fancy root beer. Everything began to echo, and my vision became a vignette of darkness and shooting stars. My forehead was on my knees, my dress was damp, an elbow helped me rise, there was a man on either side of me, and then…. I felt myself lying down, I felt a hand on my ass—perhaps my dress had flown up—I felt how the ambulance needed new shocks and how the tech kept my palm on her knee, how the driver called in my vitals with a sugar level of 30.

It has been a learning, albeit late, of language, although I am still infuriated: I rage against the lost time, the social media posts of foods that I know will kill me have become a kind of pornography. I had one friend who endured what I did, he would lift his shirt to show the scars of multiple surgeries and the cane he needed for resultant tremors; just this past holiday, he died—the last photos of him show a ginger skeleton. It was he who used the word the doctor had: Crohn’s. We had Crohn’s. It had gotten worse as we had gotten older, and so my Crone status was also my Crohn’s status.

In social situations, I make people nervous—there are shunnings. I have been known to steadily eat two dozen sugar cubes while performing other tasks; I have been known to blithely eat as many mint candies. A free lunch is a cocola and a plain chocolate bar. I weigh myself daily, trying to stay more than the 88 pounds that resulted in a public view of my panties.

I do not carry mint candy or gum in my handbag, but I know now why the women who came before me always did.
~*~
Su Zi is a poet/writer and artist/printmaker and edits, designs and constructs the eco-feminist poetry chapbook series Red Mare
Publications include poetry, essays, stories and reviews that date back to pre-cyber publishing, including when Exquisite Corpse was a vertical print publication, and a few editions of New American Writing. More recent publications include Red Fez, Alien Buddha and Thrice. A resident of the Ocala National Forest, with a dedicated commitment to providing a safe feeding respite for wild birds, and for a haphazard gardening practice that serves as a life model for all aspects of her work.

2 comments:

  1. Su So, thank you for sharing this piece of memoir. It is a much more extreme version of much of my life. I wrote in random toilets rather than taking photos, and the reasons wrote different.

    I especially enjoyed the description of your grandma and her purse.

    Congratulations on your long commitment to literary arts.

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  2. I didn't notice autocorrect changed the spelling of your name and can't figure out how to change it. Sorry, Su Zi

    ReplyDelete