The Body, The Onion: A Balagan

It’s January 2014, I’m twenty-six, and this is Indiana Part Two. Part Two because there’s also an Indiana Part One—I moved there twice. This is the story of bourbon and polar vortex and doctor and heart and the hanging basket in my kitchen where, normally, I stored onions.

Before Ricky, I preferred red onions, but he rearranged my appreciation of them. Red onions are purple and sweet. This is why I chose them, and this is why it was necessary to rearrange. They’re to be chopped for salads, sliced thin for sandwiches, or quick-pickled into garnish. Yellow onions are the proper neutral cooking onions, the ones to keep always in a kitchen, in a basket.

Indiana Part Two: three bottles of bourbon in the pantry and translucent papery curls flattened to the basket’s bottom tier. But I’m not in the kitchen, I’m in the bathroom. And on the phone, Ricky: “Is that the story you’re telling yourself?”

In the mirror is the story of my body in this moment. Phone in my right hand, wrist bone obvious: I’ve lost weight. My skin is Midwest-winter pale, my hair without sun, brown. My other hand, I use to brace myself against the bathroom counter. Body trembling, adrenaline maybe or a chill—a polar vortex, they keep calling it, the worst winter Hoosiers have seen in decades. My California-born body cannot make sense of winter, of seasons, and of this: Ricky.

“Is that the story you’re telling yourself?”

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If the story I’m telling myself begins with Ricky as lover, then it begins the summer I’m twenty-four at a Jewish summer camp outside of Yosemite. Camp Tawonga. He managed the kitchen; I managed the counselors. It begins with a metal counter between us. Today, he has prioritized my dietary needs: no gluten, no dairy. He’s baked me a dessert: a tray of shortbread drizzled with a berry sauce. He says that there are hundreds of people who he’s responsible for feeding today, but today, he has baked this entirely for me.

Outside of camp, he was a chef applying to medical schools; I was an unemployed bachelor of the arts living with my parents.

Or maybe the story begins the first year I worked at Camp Tawonga, the first time I met Ricky. I was twenty, and he was dating a beautiful Israeli woman whom my friends and I worshipped in our young feminist way: an elven river goddess, we called her.

But that summer was more about my body, naked in rivers in the mountains during my time off. I accepted many parts of my body out of necessity. I refused to be limited by the imperfections of them. The shape of the stomach in particular. I naked rock-hopped, sun-bathed, waterfall-jumped, fire-danced, hot-boxed. My naked body was part of camp, and camp was part of being twenty.

The Jewish and Israeli parts of camp are parts of another story. That summer, I did not think or know much about the connection American Jews have to Israel. Then in the fall, I applied to a program that would mean five months in the Middle East studying the environment and peace.

I was twenty, and I had just dropped out of college for the second time.

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I could tell my story of the Middle East through onions, but because the Middle East is messy, chaotic, balagan, I tend to leave it out, to exorcise it from the story I’m telling. It’s too big.

But, while I was applying to the Arava Institute, Ricky was breaking the heart of his Israeli goddess, telling her that no, he would not come live with her in Israel. And while I was in Israel, living on a kibbutz in the southern Arava Desert, she was in Israel too. She visited me and spoke of Ricky in abstractions: “Men,” she said, “always with their patriarchy.”

We were on the roof of my apartment, last desert light casting everything copper—the hard, cool tiles, the courtyard benches, the acacia tree, her body, mine. Her body was narrow, angular, her cheek bones, collar bones, the knuckles and slender feminine hands, all defined, all collecting shadow or light.

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“Is that the story you’re telling yourself?”

Implied: There is a more objective version that I’m choosing to ignore.

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In New Mexico, now, at twenty-nine, I am living multiple stories. The graduate-school story. The being-alone-in-New-Mexico-at-twenty-nine story. The story where I am kept up at night by the quiet sounds of the desert: cockroaches and wind.

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Ricky, too, keeps me up at night. Any stray thought of him. And sometimes, drifting off, I’m in Indiana again. Indiana Part One: he’s in the kitchen, preparing his daily predawn oatmeal. The pot on the stove, cutting board on the counter. Soft sounds of an apple cubed, a banana coined. He’ll wash everything except his bowl, which he’ll leave soaking in the sink.

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Both red and yellow onions are considered globe onions because of the bulb’s culinary importance, its spherical resemblance. And there are white onions too, which I consider interchangeable with yellow—no Ricky now to scold me. Red, yellow, white: these are the common varieties. There are also green onions, but I have no regular use for them.

Usually when we say globe, we mean world. Metonymy is a kind of metaphor that means substitution based on association. I have always heard it explained through example: when we say the crown, we mean the king, when we say boots, soldiers. The globe, the world. We understand idiomatically.

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The story I’m telling myself is really a balagan of intersecting stories, a peeling away at them. There is the story of the eating disorder, the story where I sleep with as many men as days or the wrong men or enough men that I can’t remember their names, the javelina story. There’s photography and Greece and the Middle East and Santa Cruz. There’s the story of digestive destruction in South America. The story of running—cross-country running and running away from college, from men, from my body. There’s family. There’s childhood. I can peel and peel, but they come apart in the wrong order and there’s no fitting them back together.

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Allie stands in place for Allison, Ricky for Ricardo.

In California, Ricky was always just Ricky, but in Indiana, to everyone outside of me, he became Ricardo. This is also a kind of metaphor: two names, two people, one merely a part of the other.

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My mother calls my traveling globetrotting. I picture one of those three-dimensional globes, tilted on an axis, balanced on a stand, paper peeling at the seams—the one in my childhood living room. I imagine a miniature version of myself trotting its circumference, across the continental U.S., over the Atlantic, through Portugal and Spain, Italy and Greece, the Mediterranean, the coast of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and then south.

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Ricky and I were never friends. I didn’t know he even knew my name. He worked in the kitchen; I worked with the campers. I knew of him when I was twenty while he was dating Israeli goddess, and then I didn’t see him again until I was twenty-three.

And the next summer, when I’m twenty-four, he’s at the counter talking about this tray of desserts he’s made entirely for me.

I consume three while he watches, then smiles, from across the dining hall, before I sneak away to vomit.

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Ricky as lover brought me on the back of his motorcycle through the winding mountain roads from camp to The Green, a bar at a neighboring lodge. He insisted I wear his one helmet as we sped past dense walls of ponderosa pines in the near dusk, the sky behind us moving from orange to pale blue and then dark. Ricky as lover brought me consumable gifts: a pluot he bought in Berkeley, my favorite Gatorade, kombucha, a bottle of the bourbon I ordered at The Green.

I was advised against him. Ricky was notorious for breaking the hearts of Tawongan women. This was hippie California summer camp: there was little space or time for wooing, but Ricky as lover wooed me. I hadn’t ever been wooed, not at camp or outside of it.

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I begin the story of the eating disorder in the Middle East. I try to make myself throw up for the first time during my second week there. I’ve eaten myself ill at the kibbutz dining hall—schnitzel and boiled egg. In the bathroom of my flat, I rehearse the words in my head: stick your finger down your throat. It’s instructional, and also an expression I’ve heard somewhere or said at some time: “It’s not like I’m going to stick my finger down my throat.”

As in, I’m not going to take that drastic of a measure.

Implied: I am feeling desperate about and against my body and brain, but not that desperate, not that against.

And then I am and I do. Squatting over the toilet, door locked, shower running. I touch the back of my esophagus with the tip of my index finger. I cough, my throat contracts, my body quivers, nothing emerges. And for three years, it becomes the story I don’t tell anyone of the time I failed at having an eating disorder.

Three years later, twenty-three, I succeed.

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I dated Ricky from the beginning of twenty-four through the end of twenty-six, and we lived together for the earlier half of that time. He is four years older, and when we met the second time, he was waiting to hear back from medical schools. We lived together at camp, and we spent the fall working weekends and visiting Ricky’s favorite wineries. Then we moved to Tucson where, between his cross-country flights to interviews, we played out the story of what a life together would look like.

It was mostly a nice story. We rented a small house with a dilapidated yard that we fixed into a cactus garden. We spent our weekends hiking the desert—saguaros and the unimaginable blue of the southwest skies. Our house had a fireplace, and in the winter, Ricky chopped up a cottonwood trunk into firewood. He would be outside for hours, shirt off, a small camping hatchet in hand. His body was fit and strong and muscled, and sometimes it was difficult for me to distinguish between my desire and my envy.

I spent my first holidays away from my family in Tucson where Ricky and I collided our traditions together. Mostly food: turkey taquitos, a gluten-free, dairy-free gingerbread house. He did not want to make his mother’s tamales, though, no explanation offered.

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Friends are always wanting to know more about Ricky. Was the relationship troubled from the start? What was it like before Indiana?

In one version, our relationship was never perfect, but it was me who was the problem: my illness. At camp before Tucson, I was hospitalized for dehydration, too much vomiting at too high an altitude with too little water and too much alcohol. An illness of the brain and the body. The plan was to finish out the summer and check myself in somewhere, an institute, a facility, anywhere: my body had become unmanageable. Ricky knew and he wanted to live with me anyway. I could get better, he insisted. Or maybe I insisted. Maybe I wanted to get better. I’ll find a therapist, or I should find a therapist, or maybe, we should find you a therapist. A woman, I decided. She diagnosed me: it was a list. She medicated me, also a list. He wanted to live with me anyway. Or I did.

In another version of the story, there were signs everywhere: the warnings from other women; the fact he wanted to hide our relationship from the young female prep cooks at camp; the manner in which he approached my mental illness like it was his to fix; the too-detailed accounting he took of our house every afternoon when he returned (incense lit, a book out of place, bed unmade, food wrappers in the garbage); the ways he couldn’t admit his anger or frustration with me and would detach himself instead, once disappearing in the middle of the night, once breaking up with me for an afternoon.

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The onion: asymmetrical layers, sharp to the eyes. Cutting through peels. Sometimes you have to take a break.

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Indiana Part Two, twenty-six, polar vortex.

In the bathroom, I am faced with a series of choices or this is how Ricky is presenting it. He says that I am victimizing myself. He says that I am choosing to be angry. I can instead choose to be rational, “to use the analytical side of my brain.”

So, I rationalize, though not about him.

Eating disorders perpetuate social and economic inequalities, I tell my body in the mirror. I’m enrolled in graduate school here—Butler University—and, in my critical theory class, we learn about capitalism, about Marxism. I don’t know what Marx would have to say about eating disorders, but I have my own theory: it is privileged and disgusting and very unfortunately linked to sex, to men, and it’s about vanity—unrealistic expectations for how my body should appear.

Standing in the bathroom, in Indiana, I am wrong about many things including the relationship between eating disorders and economic privilege. It’s difficult to separate the occurrence of diagnoses from the privileged ability to receive a diagnosis, difficult to determine disordered eating as existing outside the realm of other forms of mental illness. Is it a symptom or is it the disorder itself? Is it really about patriarchy or consumerism, representation or body image?

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In New Mexico, I have a cookbook that suggests onions are a global phenomenon because they are inexpensive and full of flavor. Even for those whom food is a source of worry, it is also a source of pleasure.

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At camp, the summer I’m twenty-four, a few days after the dessert, Ricky tells me that he’s Mexican but that no one believes him. When I meet his family a year later, I will be surprised—he doesn’t look anything like them. Except his nose, which is broad and a little flattened at the bridge. I will wonder about the ways in which this difference and his desires—chef, doctor, expensive wine, no children ever—have influenced his chosen alienation from them. His brother and sisters all had children young, did not go to college. He does not treat his family to vineyards in Napa, he does not bake them special desserts.

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The onion is a member of the lily family which consists mostly of ornamental plants—flowers. But the onion is cheap and easy to grow, and microbiologists theorize that it can actually make food safer to consume.

Onions are also mythical. They have been used to ward off the things that make us ugly. Diseases. They were considered an absorbent or purifier, a disinfectant, a digestive aid. There were onion syrups and onion poultices, warts cured with the onion, complexions cleared.

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During the peak of my eating disorder—behavior that the DSM-5 would classify as “extreme”—I am post-Middle East, pre-Ricky, and living alone in a cabin in Prescott, Arizona. I am twenty-three years old, and I have just finished my undergraduate degree. The pillars of my diet: bourbon (one fifth per day), coffee (two thermoses), zero-calorie cream soda, cigarettes, kale chips, and, sometimes, bacon. I spend many hours in grocery stores, walking the aisles, reading ingredients. I’m hungry but afraid to eat. Or I’m not hungry so I do not eat. Or I’m drunk. Or manic. Or just millennially restless. I just need to get to London. Or to Coyote Joe’s for happy hour. Or I just have this idea about this photo project or about this book—a children’s guide to the U.S. Constitution. And I can’t sleep or eat because the idea is taking up all the space in my body. I need to get it out.

This is what I consider the javelina story: every morning, they herd past my house while I’m on the porch, smoking cigarettes. Sometimes I’ve slept, sometimes not. Sometimes I’m alone, sometimes not. Whole families of them, hooves muffled by pine needles, sunrise split by ponderosas. In the javelina story, I spend hours in the darkroom printing photographs, I read the Constitution, and my hair thins and breaks and knots in the drain. I have to call a plumber to fix this problem. He lectures me on locations: where I should and should not brush my hair. He says, “You could also just cut it.”

I did not recognize this hair-drain situation as relevant to the eating disorder story until much later while speaking to my therapist. Here are the symptoms, she said to me.

Or maybe it was Ricky. “Of course,” he said. “It wasn’t obvious?”

Symptoms of the body not contained by the body: clogged drains. How am I supposed to recognize them?

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My story of the Middle East through onions: I was twenty. The program that brought me there was contained and easy to hold with its thin paper seal—Peace and Environmental Studies—but opened, it was complex, unpredictable.

I lived on a kibbutz in the desert and across the road—the highway that stretches the eastern edge of Israel from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Sea of Galilee, that cuts through Palestine—was a large field of onions. My flatmates consumed raw onions with tahini and za’atar for breakfast. Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, and American Jews: together we drank arak and smoked nargila in a mud hut zula. We buried onions in the fire pit there, then dug them up among the embers, peeled and ate them whole, steaming and charcoaled.

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When you cut into an onion, you take part in a chemical reaction—you break cells, release contents. Enzymes mix with acids and produce compounds that react with water—your eyes. Your body attempts to eliminate the irritant. Tears.

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Ricky’s only positive memories of his family are of preparing tamales at Christmastime with his mother. Ricky as a child, learning from his mother, the first scoldings of a kitchen: Do not hold the knife like that, she may have said. In Spanish, though Ricky is not fluent. Not speaking Spanish is maybe a choice he made, another separation, his story divergent from hers.

Onions can be slick, his mother may have explained, and the knife can slip from its intended target to and through layers of skin.

She would have wanted to protect him then.

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The story where I sleep with as many men as days or the wrong men or enough men that I can’t remember their names is not a story I’d want my mother to read. Or any mother. This story mostly stretches between the Middle East and Ricky, though it is true that I slept with too many of my friends before the Middle East too.

In this story, I binge-fuck. I don’t sleep with anyone for months, and then I sleep with three different men in three days. And then I purge. I run, swim, master cleanse, juice cleanse. I cannot eat without moving after. I walk alone for hours at night. I go to bars by myself without any money. I read only books by women. Virginia Woolf, Adrienne Rich, Anne Carson, Sylvia Plath. I listen to only Ani DiFranco, Tracy Chapman, Cat Power. I make lists of who to apologize to and for what. I make lists of men: those I regret, those I don’t. The latter is very short, and I resolve to do better. No fucking. Or: no fucking without dating. And no dating. And then the cycle repeats. Fruit and veggie fast. Light sage. Smoke nargila in the bathtub. Read Sappho.

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The man who taught me there was an art to flipping onions was not a chef or a doctor. He was a French chemist working on a PhD at UC Berkeley, and he is one of the men on one of the lists, between the Middle East and Ricky, though I cannot remember if I slept with him or just beside him.

I met him there, in Berkeley, on the street after the bars closed. Me and my friend and her tall German boyfriend. The French chemist invited us to his apartment for a meal. The boyfriend could speak French or maybe the French chemist could speak German. Either way, we were drunk enough and the boyfriend was tall enough that we decided to go home with them—the French chemist and his other French colleague.

Their apartment was sparsely decorated, simultaneously old and sterile. A lone Radiohead poster or a periodic table. Not a home, but a temporary place to house their bodies. My friend and her boyfriend sat on the couch with the one while I stood in the kitchen with the other.

He filled a pan with onions, held his hand over mine, and slid the pan abruptly forward. The onions were in the air, shimmering with oil and then back in the pan, popping. His hands were strong and he wore a slim gold chain around his neck. When I attempted flipping the onions alone, I lost many to the floor.

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It requires very little to understand what makes an eating disorder disgusting. I now have a much more complex relationship to public restrooms—their cleanliness, the height and shape of the toilet, the privacy of stalls, single or multiple occupancy, the type of lock on the door. Thus, I could tell my story from twenty-three to the moment standing in the bathroom in Indiana, Part Two, twenty-six, through public restrooms, but I fear it would be too repulsive for even the most generous audience.

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When Ricky first became my lover, he did not want to have sex with me. He insisted he wanted to wait, wanted it to be special, wanted me to be sure about him, wanted my body to be sure about his. With this, he won over my body completely.

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Women are the most common victims of eating disorders. Victims, as though the disorder exists somewhere beyond us, threatening to break in to our bodies.

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As a child, Ricky was a victim of abuse. So were his sisters, his brothers, his mother. His father was the culprit, and Ricky, more than the others, was always getting in the way of him.

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Is that the story you’re telling yourself? Is that the version of events you’re deciding is true? Is there a more objective version that you’re choosing to ignore?

In Ricky’s story, he was the hero of the family, the one always putting his body between his father and his sisters, the one who was strong enough to leave them, to choose a life beyond them, without them. I wonder if this part of the story makes it possible for him to tell it.

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Imagine: vomit as metonymy for delete. Backspace, white out, erasure. Something has happened in my brain that connects vomit to erasure, sex to the desire for it—a way of crossing men off my lists. It doesn’t matter if I haven’t eaten anything or if I’ve eaten twenty-six whole almonds. I fear the word bulimic because of bingeing. This is shameful behavior—excessive, an American cliché, a byproduct of capitalism, I decide.

But also, bingeing is not just eating. This is maybe more difficult to understand.

In those public restrooms, I am not contemplating thinness or beauty, I am contemplating men, their bodies, mine. The ways I would eliminate the story of them, their skin.

In the bathroom in Indiana Part Two, it is Ricky. His body, almost three years of it.

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The first meal I cooked for Ricky, before we moved to Tucson, was liver and onions. It is a strange meal to cook for anyone, let alone a lover you have just started seeing. Many people are actually repulsed by eating organs. My mother, who once wanted to be a doctor herself, says that if you really learn what the liver does, it’s difficult to justify eating it.

I overcooked the liver and did not prepare the onions correctly—red onions unevenly sliced with too much oil. I was not a chef, but Ricky had only praise for me then.

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After Tucson, I followed Ricky to Indiana after he was accepted to medical school in Bloomington. This was Indiana Part One.

Ricky attended school; I worked part-time selling shoes and part-time at a high-end restaurant. We still cooked meals together. The weather grew colder. Ricky had exams. I tried to cook more so he could study. The leaves changed colors. I forgot to dry his special set of Japanese knives the correct way. The leaves fell, and Ricky raked them into a pile in the yard. I cut the zucchini unequally. Don’t you know the difference between medallions and spears? Here, let me show you. The leaves froze in their pile and then thawed in thick wet sheaves. And here’s how you hold a knife. And here’s the proper neutral cooking onion. Red onions, we rarely use, and yet, “Allie, you’ve purchased an entire bag of them.”

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The French chemist taught me there is an art to flipping onions, then Ricky taught me that there are many incorrect ways to approach them. In the Middle East, I watched an Israeli man bite into a peeled onion like it was an apple. I hadn’t thought of onions that way—whole and worthy of entire raw mouthfuls.

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My therapist once asked me why I threw up. I took a breath and began my detailed self-analysis: patriarchy, capitalism, privilege, men. She stopped me halfway through.

“No,” she said. “You did it because it worked.”

I hadn’t thought of it that way.

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I was not particularly qualified to work at a high-end restaurant in Indiana—I had worked in cafés and coffee shops—but the owners adored me for being from California, from wine country. And for my petite attractiveness, too, Ricky suggested.

“It’s objectively true,” he said. “You’re an attractive woman.”

Or perhaps he said, girl. “You’re an attractive girl.”

In Indiana, I was afraid all the time because I wanted to get better, but getting better meant gaining weight. Would I still be attractive to him? I wasn’t throwing up to stay desirable, but maybe that was about to change?

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About my body, the French chemist said: “Beautiful.”

This was before the eating disorder. I woke up still drunk in his arms, a plate of half-finished lamb and caramelized onions on his dresser. He would like to take me out on a date.

What kind of man thinks a woman he picks up on the street, drunk, in the middle of the night will believe he wants to now buy her dinner? The encounter could have been dangerous. Anything could have happened. Maybe anything did happen, I just couldn’t remember. I was suddenly very angry. My friend and her tall German boyfriend had just left. We had eaten the onions and the lamb together and then they had left me alone with the two French chemist strangers in their old sterile apartment.

He asked me to write my number on a piece of paper. And my name.

I should leave the wrong number. I should assert this small power.

I could imagine, then, either outcome, and be satisfied. I am a strong feminist who refused or he is a good man who really did try to call.

But then I wrote down my actual number. And he did call, did invite me on a date on my voicemail. I never called him back.

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The very center of an onion is deceptive: there is no center, just smaller and smaller pieces. And sometimes there’s rot there or fine white hairs. Or sometimes slivers of green, meaning the onion is alive when we cook it.

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I lived in Bloomington for five months before I ran away. That’s how I tell the story. I ran away from Ricky, from the restaurant, from the winter, from Indiana.

At the restaurant, I learned that a ramp is a wild onion. I learned that you serve the oldest woman first and then work your way through all the women before beginning to serve the men.

I learned that Ricky wasn’t the only one who believed I was hired for my being a woman-girl and attractive: many servers resented me. Part of this resentment made it difficult for me to handle parties larger than one, which is any party. Because we were required to carry dishes with serviettes and because of my particular petite-ness, the smallness of my hands, I could carry only one dish at a time, gripped with both hands, like a child. The back servers waited longer than necessary to help, while the owners urged me to practice. Ricky, in his books of medical study, could not understand how something so little became something so defeating. I agreed with him. Still, it made me wild with anxiety. One night, in a fit of moving room to room, thinking serviette, hands, serviette, hands—one too slippery, the other two small—slamming cupboards and doors, cursing, while Ricky tried unsuccessfully to sleep, I pushed him over an edge.

I hadn’t known we were close to an edge, and yet, there we were, beyond it.

He asked me to leave. Told me he didn’t want me there or at all.

And so, I boarded a plane back to California the following afternoon.

End of Indiana Part One.

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Between Indiana Part One and Indiana Part Two, Ricky and I drove cross-country together. We spent four days in New Orleans with a friend. We ate oysters and pork belly, beignets and po-boys. I pretended my dietary needs didn’t exist. We drank Sazeracs and bottomless mimosas.

West Coast to Midwest. I moved to Indianapolis, Ricky back to Bloomington.

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The onion: nature’s nesting doll.

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Here in New Mexico, a mentor suggests that my relationship with Ricky was violent and that I should consider that. So I research. My research consists of an internet search:

When is it important to not call violence violence?

What is domestic abuse?

Mild domestic abuse.

Mild domestic violence.

Mild violence.

When calling yourself a victim is not productive.

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In the Middle East, I learned to eat palm-sized peels of onions raw. My stomach ached every morning, but I accepted it as part of the experience.

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Back on the phone, in Indiana Part Two, in the bathroom, sitting at the edge of the bathtub now, the toilet my companion. Which is true, objectively. The shape of it between my arms, my body beside it, emptied into it more times than I can remember.

I tell Ricky, in a whisper that is more question than statement, “You hurt me. I had bruises.”

The phone between my ear and shoulder, I touch one wrist and then the other. Nothing now, but two weeks ago, a pale purple, darker where his thumbs had been. His hands wrapped around my wrists.

Ricky says, “Is that the story you’re telling yourself?”

My knee too, from where I hit the tile in his kitchen: a bulb of bruise.

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Indiana Part Two: it is difficult to keep track of days here—the gray, the cold, the bathtub, the bourbon.

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An Israeli man I slept with thought it was fantastic that I was a writer. I don’t remember even wanting to be one then, but I must have claimed I already was. He said, “Talk to me like a writer,” and: “They think of the world differently, don’t they?”

Implied: They—we—decide the stories we tell ourselves.

Implied: We can live in our brains, not our bodies.

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Indiana Part Two: before the moment in the bathroom on the phone is the story Ricky is referring to, the events leading up to the bruises. It was a lull in the polar vortex. I drove down to Bloomington because, Ricky said, we had to talk.

I arrive and wait inside his house—I have a key, of course. His furniture is my furniture. Our furniture. It is a version of our house, only I don’t live in it because I ran away from it. I sit in the living room, drink from a flask, finish it. I take a few Ativan too. Then he’s home and accusing me of drinking. He can smell it on me.

Next, there are more accusations, mild and then violent. I’m selfish, I’m sick—mentally—I’m too sensitive, I expect too much from him. I abandoned him. I left him (Indiana Part One). How could I do that? How could he trust me? How could he really forgive me?

He is correct on all accounts, I admit. I do not defend myself.

He’s angry at my low self-esteem, at my jealousy—it looks ugly on me, he’s always saying.

Then he’s telling me he’s not the kind of person who can be with just one person. He has an appetite, and that if I really truly loved him, I’d understand, I’d let him be himself and love him all the more for it.

And now I’m angry. I don’t believe he’s capable of what he’s saying, capable of wanting more, of opening our relationship. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

Then his erratic pacing, his flip-flopping apologies.

“Let’s just pretend I didn’t say anything,” he says. “Just, let’s imagine everything’s fine.”

And then his desire over me in the sheets, his maneuvering of my body and his, the familiar, now unfamiliar ways they betray us.

“You’re not enough,” he tells me. “You’ll never be enough for me.”

I tell him to get off of me. He won’t.

He’s had an affair, he says. Or seven.

I refuse to believe him. He’s not that kind of man.

He says, “Well, you’ll never know then. You don’t know me at all. I can lie or tell the truth and you’ll never know the difference.”

“Get the fuck off me.”

He’s done with me, he says, for real this time. He rolls away.

Then he apologizes again. Maybe he’s just hungry. “Let’s forget this happened.” He needs to sleep, he says. Or maybe just more sex.

▴ ▴ ▴

That weekend. The story I’m telling myself. Like an onion, I peel away at it.

▴ ▴ ▴

The scene in his kitchen, the next day, sober: I’m screaming or he is. I’m begging, he’s begging. He’s got me against the wall. Or is it the side of the refrigerator? Either way, his hands are around my wrists, both hands, both wrists. His body is fit and strong and muscled. It is difficult for me: my desire, my envy. And I am not afraid of him. He is still my lover, my partner, three years of his body, mine. Cannot be dangerous. I am not afraid. I tell him to go on, then, hit me. I dare him to do it. I want him to do it. “Hit me,” I say, again and again.

Or maybe I’m asking him not to. Maybe I’m begging him. Isn’t that implied? With the body. Then, in the kitchen, I’m freed from his hands and the wall. He’s walking out the door, saying something like, “You’re insane” or “I’m leaving.” His jacket is loose and I’m grabbing at it. “Do not walk away from me.” It really is a scene. A scene in a kitchen in Indiana. The tile is, to my memory, stone, but perhaps it is just tile. Either way, it is cold and when my knee connects, taking all of my weight and some of Ricky’s, it does not give.

▴ ▴ ▴

Before Ricky, I hadn’t thought of men as lovers. Men were men. They fucked. My body an accessory to their pleasure. Ricky was an excellent lover. My body trusted his body.

▴ ▴ ▴

He didn’t hit me, I report to my therapist. It was a physical situation. But I was complicit. I wanted him to hit me, I tell her. Maybe then I could categorize it. I could say, Ricky hit me and therefore I left him. I’m a feminist.

A lover hits you and you leave. It’s simple.

And maybe I would accept it as part of the experience: being woman.

“Well,” my therapist says, “this is something new.”

▴ ▴ ▴

I do not leave him immediately or really, at all. We go rock climbing, I buy him an expensive dinner. I throw up everything into the toilet at the restaurant. We have sex twice. And then I don’t talk to him for two weeks. For two weeks, I think about how the worst thing is not what he’s done to my skin but to the rest of my body.

I talk to him on the phone in the bathroom.

“Is that the story you’re telling yourself?”

I’d like to say that I was mad when he said this, but I wasn’t. It was a relief to hear that he did not believe the story either, that I could change it, rearrange it.

▴ ▴ ▴

The women who hear this story believe that the violence is the heart of it: “The bulb of bruise, the polar vortex,” they say. The men are skeptical: the metaphor doesn’t hold up, the center thing, the pieces. “It’s so much more than one incident, as bad as it was.”

I nod and nod. Yes, yes, the balagan. Awful, the pieces.

▴ ▴ ▴

My most recent contact with Ricky was a text message in which he asked if I was still gluten free. Zero contact for over a year and then: I ask because I recently spent some time on a research project that studied some other interventions for associated conditions with gluten sensitivity.

This is metonym for “I’m thinking about you,” one of my friends suggested.

I was in France when he texted, at a party with colleagues. I left and walked back to my flat. It was dusk and the snowy peaks around me were, appropriately, the color of new bruise. I was in Chamonix, the Alps. I hadn’t slept with a man since Ricky. I made it back to my flat, to the bathroom there, the toilet.

▴ ▴ ▴

When we were together, Ricky used to say, mind or body, I always focused on the wrong details.

▴ ▴ ▴

In Israel, I remember many evenings spent strolling from the kibbutz to the date orchard across the street. I remember walking through the field of onions—rows of raised dirt shot through with green stems partially wilted and browned by heat. I walked to the short wire fence that marked the edge of where I was allowed. There was Jordan, its mountains, just there, sun still carving up the shape of them. The signs on the fence indicated danger, landmines. I cannot remember how they made this clear: Hebrew, Arabic, English. Perhaps a friend translated. Or perhaps it was an image that warned us all, something universally understood. A circle with an ignited wick, a stick figure with its limbs blown off.

▴ ▴ ▴

In France, I did think once of the French chemist. I never saw him again after that one night in Berkeley, but in a lavender field in Provence, the sky clogged, rain looming, I pictured him there. A child running between rows, fistfuls of purple stalks.

Or maybe it wasn’t him specifically. Maybe that’s not the true story. Maybe it was any child—me, Ricky. A small body moving through lavender under rain clouds.

▴ ▴ ▴

I imagine cutting into an onion is like cutting your way to a heart. If Ricky has maintained his course of study, he is now halfway to becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon. A heart doctor. There is a metaphor there, but I cannot make myself write it.

Allison Field Bell is originally from California, but has spent the better part of the past decade living and writing in the Southwest. She holds an MFA in fiction from New Mexico State University. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Witness Magazine, West Branch, The Pinch, the Florida Review, Fugue, New Madrid, the Gettysburg Review, and elsewhere.