Lily Myers – “Shrinking Women” (CUPSI 2013)

Across from me at the kitchen table, my mother
smiles over red wine that she drinks out of a measuring glass.
She says she doesn’t deprive herself, but I’ve learned to find nuance in every movement
of her fork, in every crinkle in her brow as she offers
me the uneaten pieces on her plate. I’ve realized she only eats dinner when I
suggest it. I wonder what she does when I’m not there
to do so. Maybe this is why my house feels bigger each
time I return; it’s proportional. As she shrinks the space around her seems
increasingly vast. She wanes while my father waxes. His stomach
has grown round with wine, late nights, oysters, poetry,
a new girlfriend who was overweight as a teenager, but my dad reports that now she’s “crazy about
fruit.” It was the same with his parents;
as my grandmother became frail and angular her husband swelled to red round cheeks, rotund
stomach and I wonder if my lineage is one of women
shrinking, making space for the entrance of men into
their lives, not knowing how to fill it back up once they
leave. I have been taught accommodation.
My brother never thinks before he speaks. I have been taught to filter.
“How can anyone have a relationship to food?” he asks, laughing, as I eat the black bean
soup I chose for its lack of carbs. I want to tell say: we come from difference,
Jonas; you have been taught to grow out;
I have been taught to grow in; you learned from our father how to emit, how
to produce, to roll each thought off your tongue with confidence, you used to lose your
voice every other week from shouting so much. I learned to absorb.
I took lessons from our mother in creating space around myself.
I learned to read the knots in her forehead while the guys went out for oysters,
and I never meant to replicate her, but spend enough time sitting across from someone
and you pick up their habits. That’s why women in my family have been shrinking
for decades. We all learned it from each other, the way
each generation taught the next how to knit weaving silence in-between the threads
which I can still feel as I walk through this ever-growing house,
skin itching, picking up all the habits my mother has unwittingly
dropped like bits of crumpled paper from her pocket on her countless trips from bedroom
to kitchen to bedroom again, nights I hear her creep down to eat plain
yogurt in the dark, a fugitive stealing calories to which she does not feel entitled,
deciding how many bites is too many, how much space she deserves to occupy. Watching the struggle I either mimic or hate
her, and I don’t want to do either anymore
but the burden of this house has followed me across the country.
I asked five questions in genetics class today and all of them started with the word “sorry.”
I don’t know the capstone requirements for the sociology major because I spent the entire
meeting deciding whether or not I could have another piece of pizza,
a circular obsession I never wanted but inheritance is accidental,
still staring at me with wine-stained lips from across the kitchen table.