If you love books with heart, with twists, and with questionable superhuman powers, you’ll love THE ART OF STARVING! This powerhouse debut from Sam J. Miller is about a gay teen boy named Matt who battles with anorexia—and starts to believe that starvation is actually granting him superpowers. We know. What?! He decides to use these new powers to find out the truth behind why his sister ran away *and* to get revenge on the the bullies who he thinks ruined both of their lives. Yeah… okay, definitely sign us up for this.
THE ART OF STARVING hits shelves on July 7th, but you can scroll down and start reading it for free right now!
You have acquired one human body. This was a poor decision, but it is probably too late for you to do anything about it. Life, alas, has an extremely strict return policy.
Not that I’m some kind of expert or anything, but as an almost-seventeen-year veteran of having a body, I’ve learned a few basic rules that might save you some of my misery. So I’m writing this Rulebook as a public service. Please note, however, that there are a lot of rules, and some of them are very difficult to follow, and some of them sound crazy, and please don’t come crying to me if something terrible happens when you can only follow half of them.
Understand this: your body wants the worst for you. It is a complicated machine built up over billions of years, and it wants only two things—to stay alive and to make more of you. Your body thinks you’re still an animal in the jungle, and it wants you to eat ALL the food, and stick your DNA up in anything you can hold down. Lust and hunger will never leave you alone, because your body wants you grotesquely fat and covered in kids.
Total calories: 3600
When you say it like that it sounds soft and harmless, like laissez-faire or any of the other weird sets of meaningless words they make you memorize in school. The letter from the psychiatrist sounded so calm I had to read it a couple of times before I saw what she was trying to say. She didn’t quote me. She didn’t tell my mom I said, Sometimes I think if I killed myself everyone would be a lot better off or Five times a week I decide to steal the gun my mom thinks I don’t know about and bring it to school and murder tons of people and then myself.
Instead, the psychiatrist said a lot of scary things in very tame and pleasant language:
Recommend urgent action—
Happy to prescribe—
Facilitate inpatient treatment—
Poor thing. How could she know my mom hides from the mail, with its bills and Notes of Shutdown and FINAL WARNINGS? I didn’t want to go see the psychiatrist in the first place, but the school set it up for me because I am evidently an At-Risk Youth. At risk of what, I wondered, and then thought, oh right, everything. At risk of enough that one or all my teachers filed whatever due-diligence report they’re obligated to file on someone who is obviously headed for homicide or suicide, so his or her blood isn’t on their hands. And as soon as the psychiatrist’s report came, addressed to my mom, I plucked it from the mail pile.
I read it on my walk to school. My mom still thinks I take the bus, but I stopped around the six thousandth time someone called me a faggot and punched me as I walked through the aisle. That kind of thing can really start your day off on the wrong foot. Plus, walking to school makes it easier to get there late, so I’m spared the agony of playing Lord of the Flies while we all stand around outside waiting for the first bell to ring.
The branches were almost entirely bare overhead. Stark and black like skinny fingers clawing at the sky.
One crooked tree still had half its leaves. Hunger rumbled in my belly, and I felt like if I reached out hard enough, I could stretch myself taller than any of the trees. Hunger is funny like that.
Anyway. I shredded the letter, let it fall behind me like a trail of breadcrumbs. Lesson learned: Don’t tell people you want to kill yourself. Although really I should have known that one already. If high school teaches you nothing else, know this: Never tell anyone anything important.
I slowed down. Savored my last few steps before the hill crested and brought me in sight of the school. Stared up at the trees, and down the garbage-strewn road. Stopped. Breathed. Wondered what would happen if I turned and walked into the woods and never came back. I thought about this a lot. I had plans. I’d hitchhike or ride the rails or follow the river.
Under my bed there was a bag, full of books and hoodies and diet soda from the vending machine behind the ShopRite, and one of these days I would be ready to sling it over my shoulder and run away for real.
But I wasn’t ready, not yet. As miserable as it made me, I had to go to school. Not because I cared about college or education or a career or any of that pig shit, because anyone who spent five minutes in a Hudson High School classroom would know there was no actual educating happening anywhere in sight. The reason I couldn’t kill myself, and I couldn’t stop coming to school, was because Maya beat me to it. Because five days ago, my older sister ran away from home. She called the next morning from somewhere on the freeway to assure us she wasn’t kidnapped, she was taking a week off (“or whatever”) to go to some studio near Providence to record her band’s first album, she’d catch up on school when she got back. We shouldn’t call the cops. Etc.
She says she’s fine. She says nothing happened. But I don’t think that’s entirely true. I think someone hurt her. And I know who. And I had to keep coming to school because I had to find out what happened, so I could hurt him back.
So I crested the hill and walked down to the squat sprawling one-story building, an ugly heap of aluminum and brick, cursing my abject failure at estimating travel time, for I had arrived too early, and they were there, my peers, my fellow primates, hooting and hollering, pounding chests and grooming each other.
My senses felt like they’d been turned up too high. Maybe it had something to do with skipping breakfast, with the churning engine of my empty stomach generating electricity that danced in my limbs, crackled in my head, but these people stunk. They spoke too loudly. Their clothes and bags were head-achingly bright. It made every step toward them harder.
And there, at the door, arms folded like the bouncers outside a club in a cop show, they stood. Three of them: Bastien, Tariq, Ott. Hudson High’s soccer stars; the shrewd-eyed roosters at the top of our pecking order.
“Pretty,” Ott said as one girl approached.
“Not pretty,” to the next. Grinning hyena-style at how her face crumpled.
“Thinks she’s pretty.”
At this, they cackled. Everyone but Tariq. Tariq, with his perfect stomach and impressive chest and a beard thicker than any high school senior’s ever, Tariq of the dimples and broad nose, Tariq who could have stepped out of my computer screen, because he’d fit right in on the sites I spent all night searching when my mom was asleep. Pages packed with boys, beautiful ones—a secret nation to which I would never belong. Tariq, who somehow made me feel fat and scrawny all at once.
Tariq, who saw me and looked away as fast as he could but not fast enough to hide the guilt that soured his face.
We had both been crushed out on Tariq, my big sister and me. He wasn’t like the other boys on the soccer team, even if he did spend an awful lot of time with them. He wasn’t a bully. He was handsome and smart, and even nice, sometimes.
That’s what made him so dangerous. Everybody knows to steer clear of a bully. Maya would never have gone to meet up with Tariq in secret if he had already showed us all he was a brutal thug.
But he seemed . . . human. So she did.
He didn’t know that I knew. And, admittedly, I didn’t know much. Just that they met up that night. So maybe nothing happened. Maybe he just gave her a ride to Providence, to this recording studio I don’t really believe exists, or to where one of her bandmates lived. The fact that he gave her a ride that night wasn’t what made me suspicious. What made me suspicious was this: something shifted, in Tariq’s body language, after that night. He doesn’t look me in the eye anymore. He turns his shoulders away from wherever I am standing.
Like right then, as I approached the front door, where he stood with his best friends, staring at the ground with his perfect lips pressed tight together.
I gnawed my fingernails furiously.
My mom tells me it is a disgusting habit. She tells me to stop. I can’t stop.
It hurt, how much I wanted to smash my face against those perfect lips. I wanted it even though I felt pretty sure Tariq did something terrible to my sister. And the wanting got rolled up with the shame and filled me with a sputtering, stupid animal rage. How could it be, that in spite of everything, I still felt lust when I looked at him? Lust, and hate, in equal measure.
That’s why I’m writing this Rulebook.
Your body is a treacherous savage thing and it is trying to kill you. I am here to help you win. Together, we are both going to win.
Ott saw me stop and stare daggers at Tariq.
“You want something, Matt?”
That’s my name: Matt. I didn’t want to tell you, because I hate it.
A matt is something people step on. A matt is full of filth.
I debated lying. Making up something badass or manly, Damien or Colby or Barrett or Bo, something gay-porn-star-y. But honesty is important. I want you to trust me. Because pretty soon I’ll be telling you some things you’re going to have a very hard time believing.
So, Ott called my name. My whole body twitched with fight-or-flight triggers, but I knew either choice would be disastrous. If I fought, I’d get my ass beat, and if I ran, my limited ability to make Tariq feel uncomfortable, to apply pressure, would evaporate.
People were watching. If Tariq hadn’t been standing there, I’d have gone about my business, but he was my real audience. Ott didn’t matter.
I winced, tasting blood where I bit down too hard on the cuticle of my ring finger.
In movies and books, all you need to do to stop a bully is to punch them back. Bullies are cowards, the story goes; they can dish out violence, but they can’t take it.
This, you should know, if you haven’t already found it out the hard way, is bullshit. I tried it, in middle school, and it made things worse. Maybe it’ll work for you, if you’re stronger than me, or a faster runner, but it earned me a lovely session of puking up blood.
I knew that hitting Ott wouldn’t get me anywhere. But I did see something flicker in his eyes, something like fear but not exactly that, something bigger, messier: hate and fear all at once. I took a step closer. I took a deep breath. I smelled him.
And don’t ask me how, but I knew. I knew from the smell: I made him nervous. I terrified him. My existence, my gayness, threatened his whole way of understanding the world, what it meant to be the male of the species.
I’d never understood the word homophobia before—people who are homophobic are not afraid of gay people, they just hate them! But in that moment it all made sense. Straight men will insult and assault and beat and kill gay men because they are terrified. Because masculinity is the foundation they built their whole worldview on, the set of lies that lets them believe they are inherently better than women, and gay people expose how flimsy and arbitrary the whole thing is.
I turned to him and said, “No, Ott, I don’t want anything. I was just wondering. What about me?”
His mouth curled into a snarl. “What about you?”
“Which one am I?”
He unfolded his arms with a slowness that revealed his uncertainty. “Which . . . one?”
“Yeah. Am I pretty? Not pretty? I definitely think I’m pretty.”
A girl giggled. Even Tariq cracked a grin, though he turned his head to hide it from me.
I took another step forward. Ott’s lips parted slightly, and I saw muscles tighten in his arms. He was confused and getting angry: he sensed I was humiliating him, but not in any way he could reasonably understand. He was desperate for me to touch him, or explicitly insult him, so he could hurt me. I had planned to tap his chest with one finger when I delivered the finishing line, but that would have made Ott feel justified in a physical response. So why bother.
Seconds ticked away—
“You are Not Pretty,” I told Ott an instant before the first bell rang.
Then I slipped by him and walked inside.
For the student of the Art of Starving, and dear reader, that is what you are, knowledge is the most important weapon. The strongest warrior in the world cannot achieve victory if she does not comprehend with perfect clarity the fight that she’s fighting. Here is the most fundamental fact; the most essential rule:
Hunger makes you better. Smarter. Sharper.
I have learned this through practical experimentation.
Day: 1, continued . . .
Try it yourself sometime and see. Skip lunch and watch what happens. I’m not talking about sitting in a classroom or a cubicle: go out into the world. Put yourself in challenging situations. Walk a crowded sidewalk, run errands, get in an argument you’ve been putting off for a while. Your brain, your nose, your eyes are suddenly turned up to eleven. Your skin tingles, newly sensitive. Your muscles thrum with energy. Hunger is your body working as hard as it can. So all the bullshit gets set aside.
Based on how much I’ve gone on and on about how hungry I was, you might have gotten the mistaken impression that I’m an impoverished waif, starving from noble poverty. This is not the case. Whatever my mom’s money troubles, she keeps the cupboards stocked. We lose cable, sometimes, but never meals. Especially since Maya left. Mom told her closest friends—but not, for some reason, the cops—about Maya’s disappearance, and now people show up at our doorstep with all kinds of food, pressing plates of cookies and bowls of pasta salad and baskets of salami into my mom’s hands. That won’t last forever, though, and I for one am desperate for it to stop. Resisting a fridge full of my mom’s friend Shirl’s feta kalamata casserole is torture.
No, my hunger has no such dignity. I am that most wretched of creatures, the First World boy who sends his vegetables to the garbage when there are Starving Children in China. Across town there are trailer-park kids who eat three lunches at school because there’s no food for them at home, and here I am feeding the trash can.
In my defense, though, I like vegetables. I like food, no matter how healthy or unhealthy. I was always an obedient eater, unlike my sister, who, my mother will be the first to tell you, is Picky. She’ll say it like that, too, with a capital letter, like a medical condition or a Deadly Sin.
My sin, my condition, is way worse. I choose not to eat because I am an enormous fat greasy disgusting creature that no one will ever feel attracted to.
Now, you can’t see me, but if you could, you’d probably say what everyone else says.
What are you talking about?
You are so skinny!
Here, eat something.
No, really, take my sandwich.
Matt, you’re crazy.
If you did say one of those things, I’d do what I do with everyone who says one of those things, which is: smile, nod, and silently hate you forever—for you lie.
Thanks to the magic of Afterschool Specials, I know that a disconnect between what I see and what others see is a very banal aspect of eating disorders. Here is the thing—what I have is not an eating disorder. I’m pretty sure boys can’t even get eating disorders. Lord knows there aren’t any afterschool specials about it.
My best guess is that a spell has been cast on me, so that everyone else sees me as a scrawny gangly bag full of bones, and I alone see the truth, which is, as I mentioned, that I am an enormous fat greasy disgusting creature.
This whole thing is not easy. It’s a fight, most days. Me vs. Food.
Food usually wins. My body, that traitorous thing, makes me cry Uncle. Drags me to the cupboard and makes me frantically scoop peanut butter out of the jar and into my mouth with my finger until I gag on it. But that day, the one that started out with me telling off Ott, I was winning. I was stronger than my hunger.
For once, I was in control of something.
By lunch, I was buzzing, flying, on fire. I watched in horror as boys chewed with their mouths open, spoke with their mouths full, spat flecks of food when they laughed, their voices sounding low and dragged out, like time had slowed down just a little for everyone in the school but me. Everything was going smoothly—
Then lunch fucked it all up.
You probably already know about lunch. High school cafeterias; the stink of scorched taco “meat” and spilled sour milk; hundreds of hormonal mammals heaping abuse on each other and preening for potential mates. If you told me it was a complex sociological experiment or a brutal gladiator-style reality show dreamed up by rich spectators somewhere, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.
I spent fifty cents on a side of tater tots, not intending to eat them.
“Hey, Matt,” Ott said, swiveling on his seat. His voice had the high commanding tone that demanded his fellow barbarians come to attention, that signaled he’d be hurting someone for their benefit and amusement.
I didn’t say anything. I picked up a tater tot, dipped it in ketchup, put it back down.
Do your worst, Muggles, I thought. Sooner or later someone will come along and tell me I’m the Chosen One. And then you can be damn sure I’ll punish every one of you who hurt me. Me, and the people I love.
“Been wondering something.”
I turned to look at him. Bastien grinned and leaned forward, the slick, haughty haircut of a filthy rich kid cocked sideways. Tariq stared deep into his phone. Beyond them, dozens of people who don’t matter licked their lips or started up text messages and status updates to report the coming fireworks.
“How’s Maya? Haven’t seen her around in a little while.”
An oooooh went through the crowd.
“She’s fine,” I said, and, in a panic, stuffed three tater tots in my mouth.
“I’m really glad,” he said. “Because . . . that’s not what I heard.”
Bastien asked, “What did you hear, Ott?” in the loud, practiced tone of a perpetual accomplice. I hated him more, somehow, than Ott, even though I hated Ott an awful lot.
Ott, at least, was dirt poor, like me, with his mom working shit-shifts at Wal-Mart and his dad a hog-farm grunt like my mom. They both worked at the same slaughterhouse where Bastien’s dad made a cool million a year as a manager, his feet up on a fancy desk all day while she and a couple hundred other grunts swung hammers against the skulls of pigs and used massive knives to tear heavy strips of flesh.
A word, perhaps, will be useful here, on the respective bullying styles of these three. Bullying is an art, too, and their styles say a lot about who they are.
Ott is all physical. Big and dumb and broadshouldered, he is at his best when he is punching things. There is no finesse to Ott’s abuse, no intellect. Thick curly black hair and the pouting lips of Roman busts in our history textbook—he is the thug Caesar of the high school hallways.
Bastien’s brutality is all verbal. Emotional abuse is where he excels. As far back as second grade, Bastien was stringing words together to watch people weep. Most of the time those words include faggot, or other equivalent snatches of hate speech, but he can be eloquent where eloquence is more effective. Slim-hipped and blond, with the chiseled cheekbones of an underwear model (from hell), Bastien is the kind of smiling psychopath you could very easily imagine becoming president or the villain in a Lifetime original movie.
Tariq’s bullying style is more abstract. He watches. He witnesses. He sees what they do, his friends—he validates them with laughter or silent approval. He never tells them to stop. He is their audience. The one they perform for. He, by the mere fact of his presence, makes whatever they do that much worse.
It goes without saying that I hate them all. What is perhaps less obvious is that I also desire them, desperately. By some cosmic joke, they are all heart-hurtingly beautiful.
Like I said. Nature is a jerk. Your body is a total asshole.
“What did you hear, Ott?” Bastien asked again, rubbing his hands together, leaning forward when Ott went in for the kill.
“I heard she ran off with one of the eight different guys she sleeps with.”
I stood up, stepped toward him.
But suddenly, it was gone. Whatever I’d tapped into that morning, when I’d been able to see right to the heart of his trembling cowardice and take him down effortlessly with words, it had vanished.
The tater tots. They stuck like mud in the gears of my body’s engine. I sputtered uselessly for five or six seconds that felt like infinity.
I made a noise. Maybe a gasp, maybe a sob. Whatever it was it made people laugh.
“Dude, Ott, chill with that,” Tariq muttered, very deliberately not looking up from his phone, working hard to hide the guilt on his face.
Laughter boomed in the stinking cafeteria as I turned and ran.
Eating slows you down.
This is basic biology. Evolution at work. Animals exert a lot of energy hunting and killing food, and afterward they find a nice place to curl up and doze off. High blood-glucose levels switch off the brain signals for alertness. Blood gets rerouted to the stomach and the intestinal tract to support digestion. Your mind and senses dull.
The diligent student of the Art of Starving will be strong enough to resist both evolution and emotion.
Day: 1, concluded
My mother is a magnificent monster. Round and terrifying and able to shout louder than anyone you ever met in your life. When we were little and it got dark out and she called for us to come home for dinner, the echo of it boomed for miles. People made fun of us for it: our mother the foghorn. Muscled-up from a couple decades down at the hog farm, there’s probably no one in town she couldn’t pound into submission.
Except, you know, life. Life has got her down for the count, and it’s counting slow. The rent, the mice in the walls, the cold, the loneliness, the threat of the slaughterhouse shutting down, they all teamed up on her. And when life couldn’t beat her fighting honest: Maya happened. Maya running off might be the death blow. Ever since that, Mom seems to be losing her light.
When I let myself in to the low-ceilinged one-story house we call home, she was passed out on the couch. She was passed out on the couch most days when I came home from school. It was why she still hadn’t figured out I was walking home, instead of taking the bus. The air inside was smoky from the woodstove, and the cigarettes she said she’d quit. The television gurgled mindlessly.
“Food in the fridge,” she said, when the front door shut behind me. Even in her sleep, the woman doesn’t miss a beat.
“Thanks, Mom,” I said, and stood over her. She didn’t stir. Her hands smelled like blood. The smell never comes out, not all the way, no matter how hard she scrubs. But I like it. It smells like love, to me, and power. Her brow was furrowed, her lips pressed tightly together. Stressed out over something. She doesn’t set her burdens down, not even when she’s dreaming. I spread a blanket over her, but it was so warm in the room I took it right off.
And there I was, in the long wide gilded mirror on the opposite wall. Mom had found that ridiculous oversized thing by the side of the road and single-handedly wrestled it onto her pickup truck, something so big and beautiful it somehow made the rest of our home less shabby. As far back as I could remember, there he was: that boy, in the mirror, happy and laughing, until a couple years back when he started going all Portrait of Dorian Gray on me.
I shrank back from the sight of him now, that boy, that body, stooped and limp-wristed, doomed to never be desired. I envied Dracula, who at least didn’t ever have to worry about seeing himself and knowing how gross he looked.
“The power of Christ compels you,” I said, making the sign of the cross. My exorcism did not work. Probably because I’m Jewish.
Mom knows. She’s got to know I’m gay. Mom knows everything. Hears everything. It’s a small town, and she’s friends with everyone. I know I’m gossiped about. But until I actually tell her, she can convince herself it’s untrue. Malicious slander. Small-minded hicks who see a sensitive smart boy and say faggot. But to Know, to know for sure, I think, would kill her. Not because she hates gay people. It would kill her because she’s spent her whole life worrying about How She Messed Up Those Kids, and what better proof of her failures as a mother than a son condemned to a miserable life of abuse and loneliness?
Raising us on her own, everybody told her she’d Mess Those Kids Up. A boy needs a man in his life, they told her, again and again, like I couldn’t hear them, sitting in the shopping cart in the supermarket, building a wall of baked-bean cans. No telling how he’ll turn out otherwise.
Mom said, All he needs is love, every time; All he needs is me.
And she was right. But tell that to Hudson’s army of backseat-driver moms and men incapable of minding their own business, self-righteous gossips and SUV commandos. All of whom would have the final victory in the moment when I told Mom how damaged I was.
If Maya leaving came damn near breaking her, finding out I’m gay might finish the job.
Knife blades poked and prodded at my stomach. Hunger made me wobble. My stomach never really stopped hurting lately, but by now it was starting to worry me. The three tater tots from lunch hadn’t lasted long.
And then I saw it. The photo, stuck to the side of the fridge with a magnet I made in first grade (a crescent
moon, made of dried macaroni spray-painted gold). A photo I’d seen a thousand times without truly seeing. Very small, very old; in color but so faded you could barely tell. My mom. My age. Smiling. Skinny.
“Obese” is maybe the wrong word to use to describe my mother now, but it isn’t completely wrong. How had she gone from super skinny to super . . . not? And did that mean the same metamorphosis was waiting like a genetic time bomb inside of me?
I couldn’t say why I noticed it now, when it had been staring me in the face for so long. Something to do with the pain in my stomach and the pleasure it gave me, that small bit of control when Maya’s absence made me feel so helpless.
I scurried down the hall, avoiding eye contact with the fridge—but I could still smell tuna fish in the air, smell the lime-juice-and-too-much-mayonnaise mom used, smell the soft challah sliced too thick.
Maya’s favorite. The day she left, Mom went out and bought a loaf of challah and made it all into sandwiches, so they’d be ready for her when she got back. Yesterday they were approaching the edge of staleness, so she brought them to work to share with her fellow grunts, and bought new bread, and made new sandwiches, so that when Maya walked in the door her favorite comfort food in the world would be waiting for her.
Even in my room, even with the door shut tight, the tuna smell persisted. I never liked the stuff, but I’d eat it when Maya made me. I always did whatever Maya told me to do.
She was no delicate flower, my sister. When she was around, no one dared to say a word about me. She cut her hair short at fourteen. She beat up a boy once. She has badass dropout friends. She has metal spikes on her jacket, on bracelets, on collars and boots. Spikes everywhere.
She’s had boyfriends, but none of them the assholes who go to our school.
She would have had a dazzling takedown in response to Ott’s lunchroom insult, a brilliantly delivered profanity-packed lecture about how boys are allowed to sleep around but girls get punished for feeling desire. And then she’d have punched him in the throat for good measure.
She’s in a punk-rock band, plays guitar, sings scary songs. She’s her mother’s daughter.
That’s why I know that whatever Tariq did, it was something terrible. There was no other reason that my sister would be gone, would be this quiet, this long.
Without even thinking about it, my body booted up my computer.
So I want to skip this part, gloss over it and get right to the next day, when my real work began, when my darkest and most horrific fantasies began to really take shape. But what kind of Rulebook would this be, if I left out the ugly parts? I need you to understand what you’re up against, when you’re dealing with the care and handling of a human body. When you’re trying to master the art of starving.
They were endless, those sixty-or-so seconds while my computer came to life. I spent them looking around my room, shocked to see how small it was, how cluttered, how sad its walls were with their crooked posters that belonged to Ten-Year-Old Matt, Thirteen-Year-Old Matt, Now Matt.
Whales; The Nightmare Before Christmas; Venom and Spider-Man grappling; Albert Einstein. I don’t even remember how or when he got here.
Every night, I sent Maya an email. Sometimes something short about how my day was, sometimes something in-depth and ultra-whiney, throwing a typed temper tantrum because I wanted her to tell me what happened, how I could help, when she’d be coming home.
She rarely wrote back. When she did, it was in single sentences. Everything’s great talk to you soon.
I opened my browser.
I always start with video games. Wholesome, childlike pursuits. I do homework. Lurk around social media sites. Look at Maya’s Twitter and Facebook to see if she’s said anything. Browse fan art sites, look for loving graphic beautifully rendered illustrations of my favorite gay ’ships (Harry/Draco; Zuko/Sokka; Selina Kyle/Harley Quinn). Sometimes I’ll go to chat rooms, find like-minded people to talk to. There’s a Hudson one, even, for gay guys in my same small town. Lots of people use these spaces for finding hookup partners, but I don’t dare. I know how this really works. They’re all faking it, all trying to trick me and any other actual homo, and lure us to a dark place where they can take their long slow painful time murdering us.
And then—somehow—I can never pinpoint when, or how, or figure out what triggers it—BAM! My screen is full of naked.
Boys. Men. Men alone, looking moody on beaches or beds, holding themselves lewdly, leering at me, saying You will never have this; you will never be this. Men together. Doing unspeakable, marvelous things.
I moaned, out loud, when the first ones shuffled across my screen.
I wish I were strong enough to stop. But really, porn isn’t the problem. I only got a hand-me-down computer in my room six months ago, and I was feeling miserable about my hideous self long before that.
Every television commercial, every movie, every photo in every magazine showed me what my body should look like. Every walk down the Hudson High halls confirmed I would never be one of those jock boys with the perfect hair and clear skin and jacked stomachs and invincible confidence. I’d never be Bastien, never Ott, or Tariq. But I had this. This this, oh god, this.
When it was over, when I looked down at the mess I had made, when I once again snapped back to reality, terrified that my squeaking chair had made too much noise and awakened my mom and she was standing in the doorway Disappointed In Me, I was almost crying. Because I was so goddamn hungry, because I was breaking my mother’s heart, because I was disgusting, because my sister, because my body, because Tariq . . . because life.
I stood up. With Lust momentarily sated, Hunger returned. Black stars bloomed and faded in my peripheral vision. My legs wobbled; the room dimmed.
Finally, I thought. It’s happening. I’m breaking through,escaping the physical world, becoming a ghost, unencumbered by this ugly body.
I am dying.
But my body was strong. It fought back, held tight to the here and now. Stabbed me in the gut again and again, the stomach pain so sharp this time that I doubled over.
Barely seeing, I stumbled down the hall. Mom had gotten up off the couch and gone to bed at some point. All was darkness. I didn’t need light, though. I knew my way in the dark. Ninja-silent, I moved through the house.
When I opened the door, the fridge blinded me. Bright, clean white light. A crinkled landscape of tinfoil-capped casserole pans and cookie tins and deep glass bowls. So much food, from so many different hands. Food was love. All these people—they loved my mom, loved Maya, and they wanted to help, and the only way they knew how was to make food. I wanted to throw up.
So much food, so many of my favorites, but there was only one thing I wanted. Only one food could make me feel better. The one thing that was irreplaceable.
Sobbing, squatting on the floor before the open refrigerator, I stuffed tuna-fish sandwiches into my face until there were no more.
What did you think of the first three chapters of THE ART OF STARVING? Do you want to give Matt a hug as much as we do? Tell us in the comments below!
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