I Pray for Absolution

I encountered pornography for the first time in sixth grade. The video, left up on my friend’s laptop, kissed my chin and invited me to observe. I wasn’t horrified, I didn’t mind that the actors were naked, I somehow expected it. But an eerie disquiet settled in my stomach, heavier each moment I waited for the woman to realize someone was watching her. Her eyes eventually met their leery match, but she didn’t seem to mind as much as I did. Voyeurism. I learned that later. 

I encountered the same emotional range again, four years later, when I watched him through the sliver in his doorway.  His back arched, eyes rolled, skeleton convulsed. It was like watching someone die. Emphatically. I wasn’t horrified, I didn’t mind that he had just embarked on destroying his life — and mine. I somehow expected it. 

I was always a chubby kid, but nothing compared to my medically obese other half. I prayed for his weight loss, but I couldn’t bear when others did the same. On one occasion, his father slapped his stomach and asked when the baby was due. I wanted to tear his eyes out, and I might have, had I not seen the desperation to escape in the tear dripping down my companion’s bulging cheek.

So then we ran to a faraway park. And that’s when the fat started to melt. 

“Don’t worry, Neha, you won’t have to feel sad for me again.”

My friend hit quite an aggressive growth spurt. He grew tall and lean and athletic. And he finally fit the role of the hero in our fantasy games. We leapt around the garden, shooting make believe arrows out of clothes hangers. We shot them at the sky and through his parents. He said it made him feel in-control of the divorce. He shot one at my face.

“I’m going to live with my dad in the city. Don’t worry, Neha, you won’t have to feel sad for me again.” 

He didn’t last long there. He came back so gaunt that I prayed for weight gain. I asked him about boarding school. His stepmother, stepsister. About his friends, parties, uniform, favorite food, anything?

“Good, good, yes, fine, mhm.” 

For the next year I bathed him. I dressed him. I washed his hair and cut it. I wanted him to look like a hero. I brought food to his table. When he didn’t reach for it, I brought it to his mouth. I tried to shove spirit down his starved throat, I tried hard. I was desperate, but not horrified. I somehow expected it. Anhedonia. I learned that later. 

In a dream, I sat cross-legged on the bathroom floor, holding the convulsing skeleton. I looked down at its bug eyes bulging out of their sockets in harmony with the racing heart beating out of its cage. I prayed for death. It read my mind and gave me a watery smile, flashing gap-ridden, corroded teeth.

“Don’t worry, Neha, you won’t have to feel sad for me again.”

I did not feel sad again, but I felt Grief when I learned that my devotion could not compete with a few grams of synthetic feel-good. 

-Neha Dronamraju

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Neha is currently a sophomore at The University of Texas at Austin pursuing a public health degree. She is passionate about women's health and equipping self-identifying women to make informed decisions about their bodies. In her free time, she enjoys trying new restaurants and shopping.