People tells me that I’m very brave for daring to share my emotional and sexual life on a blog; typing away my feelings and thoughts freely for the world to see. Truth be told, I’m far away from that. There’s no courage in what I do, but a great deal of self-indulging discourse and bragging. Because for a reformed nerd like me, the mere fact of having sex is already amazing, let alone experiencing love, hate and the whole grayscale in between.
I’m a coward, to be honest. In my 33 years I have avoided talking or writing about the subjects that affected me deepest, for their effects are scars I will carry for the rest of my life, in my mind, body and soul. Among them all, one stands out. A condition so heavy and disgraceful that practically my whole life I endured in silence, ashamed and alone, segregated from the norm and the values of an ever-evolving society that -I felt- would frown and look upon me as a lesser being, for having suffered what I did. This silent burden, my secret torturer, is not other than one of Humanity’s greatest tragedies and worst executioner: Hunger.
Brought up in a low-middle class family, in the midst of a horrible dictatorship, from an early age I noticed I was different. My parents put a special effort -and pressure- on me, the first child, to get the best education I could, given our circumstances. That meant that, most of the time, I saw myself surrounded by people of a more comfortable -not to say “better”- socioeconomic background. This difference, even in my youngest years, exposed me to the bullying and mockery of my peers. My humble clothes, my shyness, my looks, my extremely thin body: everything was a reason to pick on me. Where they afraid of my -unfortunately for me- clearly superior intelligence? Or were they repulsed by a condition they didn’t -couldn’t- understand? Maybe. Whatever it was, they messed with me a lot.
I never questioned the lack of food at home. Opening the fridge to find a barren was normal for me, and being hungry was only one more issue to deal with, next to my crippling social -and general- anxiety, the constant fighting of my parents and the bullying I grew to believe justified against my person. And so I became a man. One that weighed the same than a kid half my age.
Going to university made it absolutely clear: I was not normal, nor a part of the place in which I was now set. Not only I was constantly hungry, I was also broke. I could only afford the fare to commute for hours, to and from college. I was studying on a scholarship, and I was the best in my class. The skinny and nerdy guy not many people liked. The secretly starving poor kid from the slums of the city, who craved for a bite or two every time he was near the canteen or every time he saw someone eating nearby. The one who could only feel at ease when, trembling and exhausted, could eat that one apple he could bring from home and that was both his lunch and dinner.
Time made it much easier for me. Having a job, making my own money and getting a girlfriend helped me forget for years what hunger was. Physical hunger, at least. Once the lack of food was covered, other shortages began to show. Love, purpose, and more philosophical questions started to come out from the comfort zone I found myself in. Anxiety kicked in in full force, and a terrifying angst stole my sleep and my ability to ingest food as a normal human being. A nervous lump in my throat made it hard for me to eat around people, and only in the comfort of loneliness I could find refuge to my new condition; I could swallow without feeling that the next bite was going to choke me to death.
A most needed breakup and some years fixed -pretty much- the struggles with eating. The lack of food continued to be a problem from the past, as I continued to move on. Until a very irresponsible and simply stupid accident left me locked in my apartment for almost two months, unable to walk. Those were some new rough times, when I couldn’t afford food because of my medical expenses and, frankly, because even if I had money, I just couldn’t go to the nearest supermarket for groceries. I relied entirely on my friends, family and some lovers for the basic goods and humane affection. Still I lost 5 kilos in the process. Sickly thin again.
Living in Norway, supported by my ex’s dad, I never missed a meal. Not only that: I had too much to eat. Like an unconscious beast, my primal animal instinct dictated that I had to feed as much and as often as I could. It was easy. A big fridge full of food was available 24/7. Secretly, I was impressed by the change that unpredictable events brought to my life. From the hard, starving days of my upbringing to a seemingly luxurious life in Scandinavia. From a barren refrigerator, to one stuffed to its limits with all sorts of food.
One day, having breakfast with my ex, it finally hit me. It felt like crashing into a brick wall at full speed, head first. I was spreading butter on a toast, and in a split second, 32 years of dietary misery came back to me, falling with the heaviness of its whole weight on me. A succession of flashbacks played before my eyes. I could see myself as a small kid, starving in the schoolyard, alone and afraid. Then I was an exemplary university student, his ribs showing under his shirt. At last, I was a grown man, his broken ankle in a plaster, staring at the walls of his room with an empty stomach. And then I was back there, paralyzed by a puncturing sadness. “What is it?” my ex asked. I left my face fall on my hands and started crying, wailing for a life of hunger that I lived without ever complaining, embarrassed by the poorness and helplessness of my condition.
Until this day, I have only told three people about this. Not even my parents know that, feeling the big responsibility of the oldest brother, I gave away my right to a proper nurturing by leaving the little food we had to my siblings instead of feeding myself; or that I never asked them for money, so I starved every single school day. Nor my oldest friends know, so it was easy for them to always call me “cheap” or “kike” -as in “jew”- because I didn’t want to spend money; ignorant due to their socioeconomic privilege about what being poor entailed. Nor any my lovers ever found out, except for my ex. I trusted her enough to come clean, to redeem myself, as if starvation was some kind of sin I committed.
I am not strong, brave nor some sort of hero or saint for this confession. I’m the walking, living and breathing consequence of systematic starvation. I won’t pretend to be better than anyone for suffering what I went through. There’s no win in that, just freedom. Now, the scars are out there in the open for the world to see and judge, if that’s what they want to do. No more secrets, no more silence, no more shame. But, most importantly, no more hunger. Just some belly fat to carry with pride, and some muscle mass to feel a bit more like a man and less like an ill, dying stray dog from the dirty slums of Santiago, from the meager times of my past.