It’s the feeling of blood filling up your stomach. Or, what you think that would feel like. Warmth gushing up and up until it’s on your tongue and you have to spit it out into your lap. You reach around in your bag for a fast food napkin, a tissue, anything that will get the old man in the row of seats to your left to stop staring, mocking your pain. Hasn’t he ever seen a skinny girl before?
You find a tissue but it’s half used, crumpled and stuck together where past snot has been snotted. It’s fine. You’re reminded of sitting in church during cold winter mornings. In the last pew you could pull out a tissue and no one would notice, their devoted heads always forward facing while you doubled over to try and hide your dribbling nose and filling up your pockets with crusted tissue. In the back row you realize cleanliness is next to godliness and you aren’t very cleanly, even though your socks are white and go up to your knees and you brush your teeth three times a day. You form a new religion to prove your godliness, making confessions to a blog. Your priests are the girls who hang on your words like scripture. And every religion needs a martyr. Someone who physically tortures themselves for the sake of their followers. You do it, for them. Sugar is cut out, dairy, fat. You only eat apples but not before noon. Iced black coffee, diet coke, and you. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Martyr’s are supposed to suffer but the relief after puking is next to ecstasy.
Martyr’s are also supposed to die but you don’t. You get sent away to be rectified. Cast off by family who can’t bear to look at how you’ve sacrificed yourself. They just don’t get it. On the other side you come out reborn but as a regular person, or as regular as you feel that you can be. You’re trying and that’s what matters. You fall, like Lucifer out of heaven and become just another girl with a problem. But this is the type of problem you can’t keep in your head. It’s written all over the flesh pulled tightly over sharp bones and the way you settle into one stiff position and don’t move for hours, like delicate stone. Limbo becomes your life when there’s no one around to worship you.
You pass through one town after another, looking out the window to distract you from the man who won’t stop staring. At the second to last stop you see a young woman on her bike, waving her arms and making hand signals. You stare at her and it seems like she’s staring right back, mouthing something, communicating like a priest up on the pedestal on Sunday morning. The groaning of metal on metal emits from underneath your feet and the train gets moving again. The woman on the bike follows for as long as she can, shouting and moving his hands. She’s following—the train’s disciple—until you can no longer see her. For a moment your muscles unfurl, stone melting into moss, and then you remember why you went away in the first place.
Maybe you did just like the pain.
Alexandra Ameel is a writer living in Chicago. This is her first published work.