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.
Lily Myers Shrinking Women CUPSI 2013
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 inbetween the threads which I can still feel as I walk through this.
Evergrowing 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.