TINGE Magazine - http://www.tingemagazine.org

Issue 6

Peanut Butter Cups

 · Nonfiction

Sometimes she chewed her lower lip like a retarded child, and yet she was a genius. The first time I saw Abiah bat Dishon I felt instantly drawn to the beauty of her enormous brown eyes and to her gentle mouth. Her face was delicate and charming and her voice quiet and alluring. We met through an internet dating service in 2007. She was a thirty-eight-year-old womana violin prodigy and a psychological ruin. At age fifteen shed played violin solos with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, all the while submerging the traumatic memory of a father who had raped her repeatedly between the ages of five and nine. She would spiral into the darkest caverns of mental illness in her late twenties. I met her ten years after that, when she was attempting to live independently and work at her musical talents. Her arms were ravaged from the anger of cutting. Crisscross scars ran from her wrists to her biceps, not a patch of skin left bare. I wanted to wail with her in pain and I wanted to run. This woman, strong and fragile, delicate and steely, a spirit to behold, a body to be heldAbiah bat Dishonschizophrenic, manic depressive, virtuoso violinist, intellectual genius, love-starved and gay.

She lived in apartments for the elderly in Boston, Massachusetts, because the state considered her disabled. After ten years in mental wards, they gave her subsidized housing. I did not understand where she was living until I drove into the complex for our first in-person meeting. I do not know whether Abiah held back the information on purposethat she was living among the agedor whether it didnt cross her mind to mention it because shed been there for two years and considered it home. Compared to the time she had spent in psychiatric hospitals, perhaps it didnt strike her as odd that a youngish woman such as she was living with hundreds of old people. But I flinched the first time I drove into the parking lot and read Boston Jewish Housing for the Elderly on the sign at the front entrance. The air was cold and biting, and the sky was dark. It was early February, and there was a sliver of a moon.

I could have turned the car around that first night and never have appeared in her life. Abiah was living in this place because she had serious problems. I could have written her off as a freak, but I kept hearing her kind and sweet voice in my head, the one Id heard over the phone, and how sane and loving shed sounded. I wanted sane and loving. I drove forward. I found a parking spot directly in front of the Genesis House entrance.

The elderly apartments sprawled across a city block, constructed as a cluster of tall red brick buildings and housing hundreds of old Jews who barely spoke English. Many of them sat in wheelchairs outside the backdoor or in the hallways, yapping in Russian, Polish, Yiddish, and Hebrew. When Abiah opened her apartment door to me the first time I joked with her, How old are you, really?

Can you believe that? she said, amused to be living in a building called Genesis House, a situation she found ironic and serendipitous because of her deep belief in Judaism. Her father, the rapist, was a non-practicing Jew, and her mother, who never believed her about the rapes, was not Jewish at all. Abiah had converted. She took her Jewish-ness seriously, almost superstitiously, kissing her fingers and touching the Mezuzah with each passing through the door. She said her Jewish prayers on the Sabbathor Shabbos, as she would say in Yiddish to make it sound all the more Jewishchanting those prayers under her breath like a child says a nursery rhyme for good luck.

We were to attend a local house concert in a nice neighborhood in Brookline for our first date. We had some time before the concert was to begin, so Abiah put on a Norah Jones CD. Abiah was not much into popular music. She was into Turkish music, and Muslim music, and Persian music, but she did like Norah Jones. I asked her if shed like to slow dance, right there in her apartment. I danced with a lot of women and figured it was a fun and potentially romantic thing to do while we waited to go out. She had such a sweet way about her, an engaging smile, a youthful face, that quiet voice, and eyes that looked directly at you, large and expectant. Her gentleness made me want to touch her. Her hair was short but thick, an unusual copper and gray color.

You want to slow dance? she asked. Im not sure I know how.

I was surprised. I thought everyone knew how to slow dance.

Oh, its easy, I explained. You just hold on and move to the music.

Okay. She was tentative.

We lifted ourselves up from the futon, which served as a couch in her living room. I put my arms around her and attempted to slow dance. She put her arms around me, and the weight of her felt very heavy, although she was an averaged-sized woman. She did not move her legs; she just held on. Slow dancing assumes a partnership, but this dance was like a sack of rocks over my shoulders. I did not understand what was happening. Even if she did not know how to slow dance, wasnt it obvious in any dance that you move your feet? That you take on your share of the weight? Its dancing. Shed said in her online dating profile she liked dancing. Eventually, I would learn that she meant she liked watching dancing, like Turkish dancing or black cultural dancing.

I did not know what to do, as she stood there, a dead weight. I looked up at her. Her eyes grew wider and more expectant. She moved her face closer to mine, and I sensed she wanted to kiss. I kissed her. I was love-starved, too, and she had a sweet mouth. I also was out of other options to gracefully remove myself from this awkward dance situation Id instigated. As soon as my lips touched hers, I felt tongue and passion invading my mouth. She may not have known how to slow dance, but she did know how to kiss.

I had not been with anyone for more than a year so I enjoyed this passionate, no-holds-barred kissing. But I was nervous. This was too fast, yet the lesbians Id dated almost never waited more than a few dates (if that) before sleeping with me, so what was different about this? I participated in the kissing in a way Abiah was unable to participate in the dancing. I carried my weight.

We finally stopped. Okay, I thought, now we can get out of this apartment and go to the house concert, salvage a normal date.

I have an idea, she said in her soft voice. I dont know what you will think.

I waited for her to go on.

Well, she hesitated, Well, maybe, maybe, maybe…um, maybe? We could just stay home and hold one another?

I noticed a lilt to Abiahs speech, almost as if she had a slight European accent. Hadnt she told me she grew up in Cleveland and Boston? At some point I would ask her about her speech and would hear about her multiple personality disorder (to go along with the post-traumatic stress disorder, the bipolar disorder, and bouts with schizophrenia, all in the past, for the most part) and the French girl who had become part of her newly integrated personality. But I did not ask that first night. I thought about how lonely her life must have been over the last ten years, battling mental illness, with no real intimacy except for the last cyber-relationship shed had, which had ended badly. Was this situation essentially different from the many strange first dates Id had with women in the past? Not really. Id known Abiah in person for an hour before she asked if we could stay home and touch.

I hesitated and said, Well, okay. Ive never been good at saying no to women. I work on it in therapy.

We ended up having sex. Why should this have surprised me? When have I ever just held anyone in bed? Even that first night, Abiah was a good lover to me, immediately understanding what I needed and providing it: a soft touch, a sexy body grind, a teasing and vibrating tongue. I tried to do the same for her. She said she never could come from a tongue so I asked her what she did want.

I want you to shove your fingers inside me, fast, very fast, she said. Nothing short of a ramrod seemed to please her. Not a gentle finger penetration or even a simple two-finger fuck, but a two-finger ramrod, a brutal shove over and over again deep inside her, until my forearm was aching and my soul was tired and my mind confused. This wasnt the kind of sex I liked. I found it unromantic and odd for two women together. Penetration is one thing, but this quasi-violent thrusting was quite another. Yet I gave it another go, thrust upon thrust upon thrust.

Am I hurting you? I asked several times. If she had done this to me I would have been dead from the pain.

Oh…no, no, no…no, no, no…dont stop, dont stop, dont stop… she said in her soft lilt, that pattern of word repetition and slight accent beginning to emerge slowly in my consciousness. I would hear her moaning and sounding as if she were ready to come. I wanted her to orgasm so this activity could end. I continued to ramrod till my arm wanted to drop off. And still she would not come.  I lay my head down on her chest.

We got up, half-dressed and went into her kitchen because I was hungry. She looked at me, looked at my face, my body, my arms, my torso and said, You know you are very sexy, you know that, dont you? Oh my god, you are so cute. She held my face in her hands.

She said this as if shed just noticed me for the first time, as if, too, she was trying to justify our sex on the first date by telling me how sexy she thought I was, as if that meant she could not have helped how far we had gone that evening. I smiled and said thank you. I was forty-four at the time. I worked hard to stay in shape. I liked the compliments. And although I did not like the sexat least the part of it I gave to herI did like Abiah, her affection, her attentiveness, her sensitivity and her soft voice.

On our second date, she gave me a tour of the apartment. I laughed when she offered the tour because the place was tiny. The apartment was a functional square, with a small kitchenette, a rectangular living room, a similarly shaped bedroom, and a small full bath. Most of our dates over the next few weeks were spent in these small square spaces. Her place was neat and clean and felt institutional. Abiah pointed out the handmade artwork hung along the walls. She made a little money making collages out of paper for people, often for the children of her grown-up friends, and a few shed made for herself and hung on her own walls. I noted a cutout collage reminiscent of a childs school project, along the living room wall behind the futon, with a long narrative poem written inside it in tiny inky handwriting. I would read the poem later, but I noted the signature, Silvia Levi, Abiahs birth name.

The scars on her arms from the cutting were a major topic even before we met in person. Shed tried to prep me on the phone for what I would see. Wed made love in the dark the first night so I couldnt see her arms, although I could feel some odd textures along the skin when Id slid my fingers down the insides of them. I asked to see on the second date. I figured if shed cut her arms to pieces at one time in her life, she must have had good reason to do so, although the facts about her fathers abuse were still unclear. She did not explain the rapes to me right away, just that she and her father had had a very difficult relationship. I did not push her to talk about what she did not want to think about.

Are you sure you want to see my arms in the light?

Yes, I really want to see.

Okay, its ugly, really ugly. Slowly, she rolled up her long black sleeves.

I did not know until she lifted her sleeves that such scars healed a bright, shiny white, leaving a conspicuous landscape of raised gashes and slashes on the skin. Only major skin graft surgery could ever hide those scars. She didnt have the money for that or for anything. Truly, her scars were hideous, a physical living metaphor of a brutal childhood. The view was indisputably frightening and ugly, yet I wanted to be a hero and kiss away her pain. I let this all slip bythe strangeness of this situationseeing such brutality on the arms of a woman on just our second date, kissing those arms as if I were a hero. Abiah sounded so sane. I told her she was the sanest person Id met. On some level, this was entirely true. Sometimes, I believe a person must withstand the worst kind of torture and climb out to the other side to even begin to understand what sanity means. Abiah was in the process of climbing out.

I was angry, she said.

That was Abiahs explanation for her ravaged arms. She never mentioned the word suicide. Cutting is not necessarily about suicide but about anger. Her birth name, Silvia Levi, reminded me of Sylvia Plath, which brought up all kinds of images of mental anguish. Abiah had legally changed her name to Abiah bat Dishon in complete defiance to any identity with her father. Abiah is Hebrew for G-d is my father. Dishon was a variation of her mothers maiden name, Dixon. She admitted eventually, that her father had raped her over and over as a child. She explained this matter-of-factly one night, nearly off-handedly. She was aware of her tone.

After all these years, it is difficult to speak about it with any emotion anymore.

Somehow, shed managed to earn a degree from Yale and become a virtuoso violinist before she had her first mental breakdown. Shed studied violin in Paris for a year under a master violinist and became fluent in French. Abiah then managed to earn a masters degree in Jewish studies and come close to getting her graduate degree in violin at two different, famous conservatories of music, all the while breaking down on a regular basis. She had played improvisational violin solos with the Boston Symphony Orchestra as a teenager and she was cutting up her arms and being admitted to psychiatric wards by age twenty-nine.

Cutting up her arms hadnt hurt, she said, since shed been in a state of dissociation, until the last time she did it, when shed screamed, Oh my god, what am I doing! which meant she was getting better. I looked over her arms, I touched her scars; I kissed those arms again to show her the scars didnt matter.

Three weeks into our dating, Abiah stood in her yellow flannel pajamas on a wintry night, a two-hundred-year-old violin perched in the crook of her neck. The violins own neck rested like a baby on her inner forearm. She played for me, her new lover, after the sex and talk and life stories. She moved from one foot to another, as if standing in the center of a teeter-totter trying to keep her balance, or as if marching to the orders of some moronic drill sergeant in her head: back and forth, back and forth. Abiah rocked as she played violin. She put bow to strings and the most amazingly beautiful sounds cascaded through her Boston apartment. She was becoming known as one of Bostons premier experimental violinists, and here I was privileged to receive a private concert in her apartment.

I lay on her futon watching this child-woman rock and play. I was silent, riding the waves of her passion and pain with every flurry of notes. Every note she played was new, arriving into and traveling out of her brilliant and troubled head. Sometimes she held the violin bow up and plucked with just her fingers. There was texture, there was grace, her music and persona hypnotic. Abiah could do amazing things to a violin, with or without the bow. She improvised her music as she improvised a sane life.

Beautiful Abiah bat Dishon.

For the first few weeks of our dating, all Abiah and I did was have near-violent sex in her apartment in Genesis House, and then spend hours talking and reading to one another and pretending, as two women so often do, that wed found our soul mate.

I would like to go dancing, Abiah said one day. I expressed my surprise, remembering the first night Id met her and the torturous slow-dance in her apartment. I will practice at home! Perhaps you could help me practice?

I visited Abiah every weekend for the next three weeks and watched her move her body self-consciously to music as she attempted to dance. The first weekend she had chosen a tough rap radio station full of angry lyrics and barely danceable music, playing through a tinny old boom box. She was not into sound technology or popular music; after all, the violin was centuries old, purchased by her abusive father many years in the past. A gift of repressive guilt, I imagined. My daughter is a prodigy, he must have told himself, instead of: I raped this girl for years. She showed me a letter hed written to her after she became an adult in which hed said, I did not abuse you in the way you say I did. Read carefully, thats not exactly a denial of abuse.

I went to my car and brought in a Stevie Wonder CD and a disc from Pink. Abiah was unfamiliar with this music. Her eyes grew large and thrilled as the music reverberated through her apartment. Her face took on the expression of a surprised child, an innocent kid whom no one had ever hurt. Something new and extraordinarily wonderful comes into your lifea lover, a million dollars, music with a beat, lyrics, and melody sung from the souland your face falls into a state of joy. Abiah started to dance with me in her bedroom. She did not want me look directly at her yet she continually asked how she appeared. Did she come off as stupid? Would she embarrass herself?

Oh, no, no, no, dont look, dont look! she would exclaim in her tiny voice, sounding like a shy little French waif. Abiah moved her arms in the air with an eccentric open fanning gesture as she twirled her body in circles. She reminded me of Mary Poppins on a less than suitable dosage of Thorazine. Or of Bette Davis in Who Killed Baby Jane? at the end of the movie, as she danced oblivious on the beach holding an ice cream cone while her sister lay dying in the sand.

You look fine, I said to Abiah, although she did look quite strange. I watched her in the full-length bedroom mirror so she would not think I was staring. The bedroom was stark like everything else in that apartment: a bed, a dresser, a mirror, a stationary bike, and two lesbians dancing to Stevie Wonder songs. Just what youd expect to find inside the Jewish Housing for the Elderly.

Id seen everything at lesbian dances. I did not care how Abiahs dancing might appear and didnt want her to care. Over the weeks her dancing improved, or I became used to it. I was growing fond of her sweetness and sensitivity, and her awkwardness as she tried to find a place in the world. She was a misfit. She appeared to be a most giving, loving, and caring misfit. She stared completely and unrelentingly into my eyes when I spoke to her. Every moment was intimate. Physically, she was overly giving, an overcompensation for her lifelong deprivation of love. I understood touch deprivation. I had spent plenty of years all alone with no one to touch, and although those days were far back in my own past, remembering them was too easy.

The night of the dance, I picked her up and she fed me dinner. She fed me seeds and nuts. I was always hungry when I was with Abiah because she kept no real food. She served me a tasteless, homemade pureed-squash soup. She thought it was delicious.

Isnt this wonderful, she said during dinner at regular intervals, Yes, yes, yes, yes…such good food. I smiled as if in agreement. Abiah was cute and endearing, but, God, I wanted a hunk of meat and a big chocolate cake. Wed had this dinner of squash and salad a few weeks back with a friend. Her friend also had said it was delicious, but I think her friend was lying. I got the feeling people tended to placate Abiah because any progress she made was one step toward her genius and one step away from her insanity. I said nothing but finished the salad and the salad dressing, a homemade concoction. I left Abiahs apartment as I always did, dreaming of cheeseburgers.

My last girlfriend had cooked me whole roasted chickens and mashed potatoes with butter, green beans and peas, with apple pie and ice cream for dessert. Sometimes chicken with broccoli and chocolate sundaes for after dinner. I became a little heavy the year I dated that woman. With Abiah, I became thinner. My ex-lover had smothered me with carbohydrates; Abiah let me fend for myself and gather seeds.

As we drove to the dance after dinner, Abiah and I talked about food. She did not eat meat, she told me, because of a traumatic incident with her uncle when she was a child.

There was a time when I could not even sit at the table if meat was served, she told me. I would get sick to my stomach.

We were on Route 95-North headed for Portsmouth. It was dark outside, but we were energized. This was one of our first public events together. It was one of the few times we got out of her apartment. Abiah was excited to be attending her first lesbian dance, to be attending a regular old event rather than something intellectual and highbrow. I was her pop culture guru. She was my insane genius.

My uncle tied me to a tree with a rope, she said. A vague fear penetrated my bones; how could one child get caught up in so many abuses and with more than one man?

He tied me up, she repeated in her soft lilt, and he started a fire across from me. He would not let me go. He made me watch.

What he made her watch was meat being roasted over an open fire, meat from the carcass of her best friend whom he said he had killed.

It was a lie, she added. I know this now. Maybe it was a deer or a rabbit. I could smell something roasting and see that something was cooking in the fire. He said I would have to swallow. As a child, she believed the story her uncle told that her best friend was open-pit roasting across from her. He made her swallow the meat as she remained tied to the tree. The story was outrageous, yet she told it to me in a way that made it hard to doubt her, with all the sincerity of a child awakened from a nightmare. She was not out for revenge or pity. She was trying to explain why she did not eat meat.

I had read the poem embedded in her artwork, the collage with the inky poetry that hung above her futon. Her poem was about swallowinga dead and bonfired friendand her fathers semen. Two men, two different abuses. How does this happen? Shed led a life of misery side by side with a life of prodigy. Her arms were ravaged from cutting. Her violin was centuries old. Her pain seemed older.

I never did see my best friend again, Abiah continued, but I believe now she and her family moved.

I did not ask her about her uncles motivations or why she thought two different men in her life had abused her horribly as a child. I thought it would be rude to ask, as if in asking, I would be questioning her credibility. My father throwing a dish against the wall when angry seemed like nothing compared to a best friend roasting on an open fire or a father raping his daughter. The evening was dark. I watched the green highway signs that lit up from my headlights, steering us both toward Portsmouth.

I was trying to balance the story she told with what I knew of the not exactly insane and not exactly abusive life I had led. Id had trouble with my father, too, and Id developed problems with panic attacks in my youth, but what Abiah described made my own suffering look like a few adolescent blemishes on an otherwise smooth ride through life. We were on our way to a dance, to have a night of fun. I let much of this strange story go. After all, Abiah had overcome so much. She was living independently for the first time in more than a decade. She was such a success story. She should have been on Oprah.

Rarely is life unexpected and beautiful, but it was that night in Portsmouth, at a VFW hall where a few lesbians had rented a room so a larger group of lesbians could get together and spend time with each other. Abiah and I owned the dance floor. As weird as we may have looked together (or at least one of us), we had a crowd of people staring and smiling in admiration. We were free. Screw the past, whatever it was. No hang-ups here. No burned carcasses, no anxiety attacks, no rapes. We were two middle-aged yet youngish-looking women cutting up the dance floor. Beautiful, unexpected: Abiah, for the first time, danced as if she had never been the victim of abuse. She let her body move freely; she was not self-conscious. I danced as if I had never in my life suffered a panic attack. I looked the confident dancer. Mental cases? Misfits? Not tonight. This woman was happy. I had made her happy. I was proud of my virtuoso violinist and former mental patient. She was happy with her pop culture guru and new lover. We danced for hours.

Later we slow danced. She had improved since that first date. She had learned to move her feet.

There were ways in which I could match Abiah, instance for instance, in the insanity department. She and I spent much time discussing food, if not actually eating itshe with her vegetarianism and me with an obsession of how food might affect my body. Ive never had an eating disorder, but when I was younger my anxiety manifested itself as a series of undiagnosed stomach aches. A nervous stomach, is what the doctors called it in the late 1960s, pre-teen and pre-anxiety attack. Later, when everything was labeled a disorder or a syndrome, I had irritable bowel syndrome along with panic disorder and agoraphobia. During the height of my anxiety issues, I believed someone, perhaps my own mother, wanted to poison my food or drink. It was then, in 1979, at age seventeen, when the psychologist I was seeing, Dr. Rudin, suggested I might want to take a little break, a little respite, a little R & R, in a place called Westwood Lodge. Westwood Lodge was the local mental hospital.

I never ended up in Westwood Lodge or any mental ward, as Abiah had, perhaps because I never cut myself or threatened to hurt myself. I merely panicked. The panic at that time in my life was so severe I did think Id lost my mind. I was young and this experience of an imploding terror was new to me. I would sit in my French class, my favorite class when I was in high school, and as the moments ticked by, I could feel a white heat of panic emerging from my stomach and fanning out, at first slowly, and then like a jet engine through the rest of my body, until the tips of my fingers were shaking and I was experiencing hot flashes as if I were in menopause instead of adolescence.

I would rush out of the classroom sure I would fall down and collapse due to the heat and the perception of dizziness infiltrating my being. Ms. Coppenrath, the teacher, watched with alarm as I bolted from my chair in the middle of her classroom. Shed been my teacher for three years, and I was one of her best students. How odd and frightening I must have appeared to her, sitting one moment, and then racing away the next with a streak of terror like war paint on my face. I soon quit high school.

I quit everything at the time: school, my part-time job at the local supermarket, my social life that had been full of friends. For the year 1979, I spent nearly every hour of my life in a two-bedroom apartment I shared with my mother. I watched Laverne and Shirley reruns, Happy Days reruns. My high school boyfriend asked me to my Junior Prom. I had to say no, and stayed home again that night, watching some horrible old sitcom re-run, a visual drug to keep my mind off of itself.

Once a week, my mother would drag me to see a shrink one mile from my house. My father, who couldnt fathom my problems despite his own impressive array of mental illnesses, convinced Dr. Rudin that I should be locked away. Thus, the suggestion of Westwood Lodge. I was as good a salesman as Dad, and convinced Dr. Rudin that he should not be listening to my dad. Dad should be locked away, I argued, the crazy bastard having been up my butt emotionally for all my life (all seventeen years of it).

He is what put me here, I cried.

In any case, when a young girl feels confined to her house for a year, she does go mental, and I certainly did. I had paranoia over my food being poisoned, I lived in the gravest fear of having to face my father because of the pressure to act happy lest he fall apart, and I could not sit outside on the stoop of my apartment building without having to face a panic that sent me racing back upstairs behind apartment doors.

I knew mental illness, too. I never cut myself to shreds as Abiah had, but I could understand how someone can suffer mental illness and yet have more aspects of sanity to her being than those who merely walked blindly through life without a thought. Abiah was like this. I was like this. We were crazy in some ways, yet introspective, self-evaluating, observant (too much so) of the insanity of the world. Even my shrink said to me, as Im sure Abiahs must have had said to her in some way, You arent crazy; you see things very clearly. Its hard for people who see so clearly in this world to remain sane.

And we had both overcome so much in the decades of our lives. The fight against our own adversity, and the winning of it, was our strongest link to one another.

When I explained my battle against panic disorder to Abiah she said, Oh my, that is much, much worse than anything Ive been through.

I checked out those crisscrossed scarred arms of hers again, arms that had cut and bled for the anger and indecency of the rapes to her body by her own dad, and said, Youre kidding, right? My father was a pain in the ass but he was no rapist. Furthermore, as badly as my father may have behaved, in his own way, he had self-awareness.

You know me, Cindy, hed said, if Im not angry about one thing, Ill find something else to be upset about. Her dad was in complete denial of any wrong-doing. My panic was not psychosis or schizophrenia. My arms were smooth.

Your arms are so beautiful, Abiah had said, caressing them up and down. It wasnt my muscles she was commenting on; it was the scar-less skin. Although debilitating at various times in my life, panic disorder was not much more than a highly developed neuroses set off by messed up brain chemistry.

My problems with panic were difficult, but panic is a much easier issue to treat than the issues youve dealt with, I said to her. Abiah must have known this, especially with anti-panic medications working so well, while doctors were still floundering in their white coats and text books and journals, trying to get the right balance for all of the rest of Abiahs long list of screwy head problems.

Ive had panic problems, too, she said. I think they are the worst. Im glad they were not a major part of my illness.

This trading of mental case histories led to our discussions about food, her vegetarianism, her desire now to eat healthily, how I no longer worried anyone was trying to poison my food, that now, thirty years later, what I worried about was gaining weight from eating so much. I worked out five times a week at the gym because I was so worried that in my mid-forties Id end up fat. Abiah actually weighed more than I did despite the lack of red meat and partially hydrogenated oils in her diet. I wondered how this could be. How do you gain weight on seeds, nuts, and pureed squash soup?

One afternoon, over the phone, she relayed to me a secret.

I have something to tell you, she said so quietly I barely heard her. I was at work. She continued, Sometimes, um, sometimes, when Im walking home from the T-stop, she hesitated. She stopped.

What, Abiah? Tell me. We were four weeks into dating, although to see us together, youd think wed been in love for years, with all the physicality and emotional intensity that brewed from us.

I stop at the CVS on the corner, she said, finally.

And so? I asked.

Um, well, well, I buy Reeses Peanut Butter Cups.

I laughed. I was waiting for the sky to fall, to hear yet another horrible and tragic tale of her past; somewhere inside, I knew I could not tolerate one more such tale, one more would set me over the edge and forbid me from being able to see Abiah as healthy and normal. I understood the sanity-insanity poles wed both lived through, but my own experiences with mental illness were farther in the past. Abiahs were more current and affected her daily: her anger at her parents, the feelings of abandonment by her mother. She chose him,” her father, “over me, she would cry. She does not believe me about what he did.

Do your brothers and sisters believe you?

Yes, I think so.

I needed to check the credibility of her story. I asked my therapist if it was unusual for a parent to molest one child and not the siblings. She said, No, its not unusual, and its very rare that someone would lie about such molestation. I believe Abiah is telling you the truth.

I was glad she was telling me the truth of her past, but the truth was becoming unbearable. Repeated rapes and a char-broiled best friend, two different men, family men, those scenarios played in my subconscious, sometimes they outright yelled at my conscious brain: Something is really fucked here! This girl cannot possibly be okay or even on the road to okay. But all she was talking about now were peanut butter cups.

Whats wrong with that? I asked. I eat them, too. You cant always eat healthy.

I eat a lot of them.

What do you mean?

I buy a bag of them; they sell them in bags.

Well, how many are in the bag?

I think like thirty of them.

And how many do you eat?

Hesitation. Pause. Deep breath on the other end of the phone.

I eat them all, she whispered in such a small voice that I had to ask for clarification.

You eat them all? What do you mean, over the course of a week or a couple of days?

No.

What then?

I eat them all in five minutes.

She may not be putting knives and blades to her arms anymore, but there was something psychotic about this peanut butter cup frenzy.

How often do you do this? I asked. I would end up asking several times over the next few weeks, hoping for a better answer than the first time and always getting a worse answer. At first she said, Once every couple of weeks. And I thought: well, thats not so horrible. When I asked again, she said, Once a week. When I asked the third time, she said, A couple of times a week. For all I knew, Abiah was eating thirty full-size Reeses Peanut Butter Cups every day. This certainly explained why she weighed more than me.

I tried to help her because I could not deal with this one fact: that my new girlfriend could not control her consumption of bags of peanut butter cups. How could anyone eat thirty of them in five minutes without puking? I didnt worry about her getting fat. I worried about what this said about her psychological state.

Out loud I said to her, I guess thats better than cutting up your arms.

And she said, Not really. She knew it was a sick behavior and she could not control it.

Well, its less lethal.

It doesnt feel that way, she said.

I felt sad on her behalf and helpless. My memory of a white-hot panic zooming its way through my stomach made hints of a comeback because something was wrong, bizarre, out of control here. I hated out of control.

Cant you try buying a regular two-pack of Reeses Peanut Butter Cups? I even added that they sell a large three-pack which would be better than eating thirty at a time. You must feel sick after you each that entire bag.

I feel sick after I eat three of them.

Why do you continue?

I dont know, she said, so quietly I wondered if she would cry.

Well, maybe next time you go to the CVS, you could try buying the three-pack and see if that satisfies your need. Do you talk about this in therapy? I felt as if I were trying to talk her in from a chocolate-and-peanut-butter-covered ledge.

My relationship with Abiah disintegrated after the peanut butter cup confession, and other issues that at first seemed fineher crying jags, the scarred armswere becoming problematic for me. Summer was coming and how would I explain Abiahs arms to my friends when she traded in her long-sleeved shirts for tank tops? Would I proudly hold her hand and show the world her scarred arms did not matter because Id found a lovely human being? Or would I cower and distance myself, embarrassed to be dating a woman who had been so severely mentally ill as to wreck her body? I made the choice to abandon the relationship. Her emotional pain was excruciating. I was feeling walled up inside it and imprisoned with her in her apartment.

At a dance in Waltham, Massachusetts, on an early spring night, we ended our relationship. She clung to me on the dance floor, trying to slow dance with me even to the fast songs. My eyes kept wandering to the other attractive women I saw. I imagined their arms were smooth. When the deejay finally played slow dance music, I grabbed hold of Abiah guiltily. I tried to convince myself that I could stay close to her for the three and a half minutes it took for the song to end, but I was repulsed, and disgusted with myself for feeling repulsed. She was a troubled yet lovely woman. What was my problem? As we slow danced, I pushed her body away in a subtle and subconscious way. I could not bear to be near her. She felt hot and smelled sweaty. The black long-sleeve shirt and olive pants were the same clothes she wore every time I saw her. She had only two outfits that she felt fit her body and hid her arms well, and both looked alike, drab and stifling, covering her from neck to toe. Again I thought how this would need to change in summer, her arms exposed to the world. Her body clung to me like a nasty vine wrapping itself around my jugular. Shed become a leper, this sweet woman with the quiet voice. She pulled, I pushed. The torturous dance finally ended and we sat in chairs along the walls. I said nothing as she tried to engage me in conversation. My eyes wandered to an attractive blonde woman on the dance floor so nicely dressed, cute figure, so pretty.

What is wrong? Abiah asked when I got up abruptly. I ignored her and exited the building. I stood in the night, taking deep breaths and feeling ashamed. She followed me into the hotel parking lot.

I dont understand. If you didnt want to take me here, why didnt you just go alone?

I promised you a great night out dancing and I acted like a mean bitch, I said. It was all I could manage to speak.

We got into my car and said nothing during a twenty minute drive back to her apartment. I was brewing a mixture of anger, guilt, and sadness. I wanted to break up with her, but I wanted to do it in her apartment, in a place where she would feel safe. When we arrived, she asked me to come upstairs to talk. We sat on her futon.

I cant do this anymore, she said.

Neither can I! I said in a nasty tone, and yet I was relieved that she was dumping me.

She added, That anger! I dont want to be treated like that ever again! She was visibly upset.

You dont deserve it. I got up to leave.

I had fucked with her head. Perhaps my rejection of her on the dance floor, and especially my silent fury in the car, had felt invasive and frightening, like someone furtively raping her body in the night. I maintained my anger throughout our final conversation, so we would not end up crying in a heap of one anothers bodies and arms, stupidly apologizing and resolving to try again.

She opened the apartment door for me. I walked down the long hallway of Genesis House toward the elevators. After I pressed the elevator button, I took a look back and I saw Abiah turning her head away quickly and closing the door as she re-entered her apartment. She had stood watching me. I had looked back.

This is one way that relationships end: with a final gaze.


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