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Milk and Bones - poetry by Olivia Cahill

Content Warning: eating disorders, self harm.


Milk and Bones

I drank milk

Gulping down the calories

So my bones wouldn’t deteriorate

So my bones would grow strong and thick

So I wouldn’t look so skeletal

So when people saw me they didn’t see a dead girl walking

So the dentists wouldn’t find me out

So when I finally stripped my skin off

I’d be a pretty skeleton

I wonder how much I’ll weigh

When all my fat, muscle, and tissue is finally stripped off

To reveal my pretty bones

I wore sweatshirts and sweatpants

So no one would see how bad it got

In private I would admire my angles

Where the bones protrude through my skin

In public I’d pretend they were curves

That I was somehow healthy and bone skinny at the same time

So no one would see my ribs at the beach

So no one would know how cold I am

So they could see how skinny my thighs were

Without seeing my skin tight around my bones

Wearing my sweats I could convince myself I was okay

And that no one noticed my wan face or thinning hair

I became a storyteller

I told my doctors made up numbers that fulfilled their fantasies

I filled the calories with fairytales of food

A spoonful of oatmeal becoming a bowl of saccharine cereal wearing a tiara of strawberries

Half an unseasoned egg white bibbidi bobbidi booed into cheese and vegetable omelettes

I told stories of avocados with spears of greasy asparagus attacking the village of my mouth

Dragon fruits slayed by wizards in their starfruit spangled capes

Salads defeated by the fork in shining armor

The pretty cupcake princess

The ding dong in distress

And the pancakes I “ate” last week

And when I got home it was the food I ate for lunch

I told my parents of the fried happily ever after I was eating

How I married the chicken nugget prince

And moved to a veggie side kingdom

In a forest of fries far far away

And I wore my sweatpants and crewneck sweatshirt

Like a knight in shining armor

I wore my “fast metabolism” like a crown

And cast my stories like spells

Putting the kingdom of worried subjects into a sleep of lovely dreams

I was an artist

And my body was my art

I sculpted by body into lines

Like the skeletons I drew in art class

Drooping with flowers

I became them

I became the skeleton

And when that wasn’t pretty

When my skinny waist and thin thighs were marred by thin hair and ghost eyes

I carved roses and thorns into my skin

Roses can't blossom without the thorns

I know this because I can’t make size double zero look big

Without my elbows making my arms look too small

I know this because I can’t eat negative calories

Without also being starving not hungry all the time

And when I eat too much I can’t get rid of it all

Without spending too much time on and over the toilet

I made my arms a garden

Where I grew lovely blood blossoms

Hoping to someday peel off every layer of skin

Until I was finally just bone

But I never go deep enough

Because ever since I almost died

I’ve had images stuck in my head

Of my bones on a flower bed

Of my parents placing a floral funeral wreath by my coffin

And I remember my will to live

Before the clinic I used to forget

All the time

Before the clinic they found me in the woods

Bleeding out

Blood staining

The little white daisies around me

And my parents were a wreck

Whenever I cut myself I remember their tears

Mixing with my water-thin blood on the chamomiles

So I can never cut deep enough to kill again

I just carve bloody roses

And remember their tears

Opening and closing the pre-carved wounds

My skin like a garden blooming

I was an actress

On thanksgiving

After the clinic

I put on a show for my family

I was the ringmaster and the food was the circus

I tore into the turkey and potatoes and stuffing

I licked the cranberry sauce off each finger with a smile

And people smiled back at me

The corn walked a tightrope into my mouth

And I laughed as the mac ’n cheese did somersaults into my tummy

The turkey was the clown

Who’s red face made me laugh across the table

Who’s laugh disappeared down my throat as I snarfed him down

The brussels sprouts tamed the bacon tigers

And I put them in between the barred cages of my teeth

I moved the audience to tears

The next day I went to the empty gym

The show was over

The audience was gone

And ran until I dropped to the ground

Until the lights went out

And the darkness welcomed me

The applause echoing in my ears

Wondering if it was worth the cost as my head hit the ground

I was happy

I wasn’t depressed...

On my birthday my parents got me a cake

Dripping with creamed sugary vomit and roses red like the devil's eyes

And I ate it daintily

Plucking off each rose as they mocked me

Shutting them up one by one between my teeth

Shyly I told them thank you

Letting a pretty tear fall as I reminded them that this was my first cake in years

Letting them be proud of me

And I was happy

I pretended to enjoy the cake until I wasn’t pretending

Until the sugary frosting didn’t burn my insides

Until I realized I wanted a second piece

And that’s the thought that got me to stop myself

Tighten my leash and walk myself to the bucket

In the dead of night I puked my insides out

Cake down the sewer

I rinsed the bucket out with the hose

Only the moon watched me

With it’s unblinking milky eye

I made friends

New people looked at me

More people talked to me

Even if it was just about my weight

Even when I stopped sitting with my friends in the cafeteria

I was scared they’d say something

And horrified by the sounds the monsters made in their mouths

Smack smack smacking them into caloric oblivion

I couldn’t take it

I stayed in the bathroom

But I never felt alone

Because on my phone I go through comments on my instagram

Telling me how beautiful I am

How lucky I am to be so skinny

And the girls who came to me

My new friends

Asking how they could get rid of the monsters like I did

The answer is fear, counting calories, and becoming insatiable

Insatiably strong

Insatiable when I meet food and strong enough not to eat it

Insatiable when I step on the scale and watch the number drop

And strong enough to let it keep dropping without dropping dead myself

I am…

Gone really

I was so good at it all

After the clinic I knew how to do it so my facade wouldn’t crack

All they saw was my happy, my art, my acting, my new friends, my stories and fairytales,

My food (I never ate), my milk, my sweats

I never let them really see me

They never got a glimpse

They saw what the so desperately needed to see

And I made it so they saw it

I made it so perfect they wouldn’t want to see anything but my stories

I came so close to the end

My death weight

My skeleton draped in pretty funeral flowers

Farther than I had ever been before

Life was like shuffling through a dream

And death was what I was dreaming about

I didn’t realize it was all a nightmare

A nightmare when they found me lying still in my bed

A nightmare when they brought me to the hospital

A nightmare when they realized I wasn’t okay

And I hadn’t been okay for a long time

A nightmare when they realized their daughter was gone

She wasn’t dreaming, but trapped in a nightmare

By some miracle I woke up

Now I can say it was a miracle

Then it felt like my worst nightmare

Now I can say I’m alive

And I’m happy to be alive

There’s no clear road to recovery for me

And everyday is a struggle

I still have the voice in my head that shames me

I still can’t eat birthday cake without it clawing back up my throat

I don’t participate in the Thanksgiving circus

Every bite is facing a monster I know all too well

I no longer own mirrors, scales, or knives

But I’m here

I’m fighting the monsters

I can still live and breathe and laugh and smile

For real this time

And it feels so good to be happy for real

It’s nice to feel like a soul in a body

Not a skeleton trying to tear this body apart

It feels good to live life in the moment and not feel like it’s all just a dream

Filled with nightmares and bloody roses

Its feels good to know that I am more than just milk and bones

And my body

My body

Not some skeleton

Is no longer only milk and bones


Olivia Cahill always has her nose stuck in a book. Ah well, that’s not always true. Sometimes, when she actually puts her book down, she writes, creates art, takes dance classes, performs in musicals, hangs out with friends and family, and fangirls over fashion, stories, and art of all kinds. On a dry fall day, you can find her unapologetically wearing her pink sequin Ugg boots.

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