5.08 / August 2010

Writing about Our Island of Epidemics

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1. Our island had epidemics, which came and went, but the epidemics were not exactly illnesses. They were epidemics of  unrequited love, or  memory loss, or  obsessing, or  unstoppably growing hearts, or farts. Our island had always had epidemics, as far as we knew.

2. Our island of epidemics was small, about the size of one hundred thousand people back to back, or two hundred thousand stacked on each other’s shoulders, or twenty thousand making love side by side. Although the animals and mountains and lakes would get in the way of that. And also there weren’t that many of us. Sometimes we died and sometimes the epidemics even killed us.

3. Our island had an east side and a west side. The north was the same as the south. The east was different. The east was a thin strip of land. It used to be farmland for  dragonfruit and before that it used to be home to  cannibals. It was separated from the larger west side, on which we all lived, by the hills that were almost as tall as mountains but not quite and were covered in forest.

4. Our island was fickle and like a loveably quirky novel character, somehow more real and complicated and yet unreal, even though our island was real, than real life. Our island liked to give and liked to take away, we thought. The epidemics were how our island did this.

5. The epidemics had a way of evening themselves out. Our island of epidemics had a way of inspiring trust but also of inspiring madness. There was a lot of  confusion. In the outside world there seemed to be a lot of hate and/or jealousy.

6. We were grateful for the epidemics. This was more about us than about the epidemics, but for a long time we thought it was out of our control. Our gratefulness, and everything else.

For a while we wrote about the epidemics. We made extensive lists of each epidemic we remembered, as far back as we remembered, and of the epidemics that were rumored to have happened before that, and how long the epidemics lasted, sometimes minutes and sometimes years, and how severe the epidemics were, and how they’d made us feel, and how we’d reacted to the epidemics or how much we’d wanted them to last or go away and leave us alone or how curious we’d been to see what was next. We filled a book  about the epidemics, a book like a collective journal, as if we were a many headed child writing our island’s dreams.

The above were some of the things we wrote.

This period of writing the book of epidemics was in between the epidemic of delirious joy and the epidemic of confused identities. While we wrote the epidemics seemed to stop, as if our island wanted us to write about it, and then it seemed to us that the epidemic our island wanted was an epidemic of writing about our island and we’d all caught it.

Our Organs Would Explode Inside Us

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Our  Island of Epidemics was struck by an epidemic of hunger. The hunger wouldn’t go away. We borrowed huge sums from the outside world and bought up all the delicacies we thought our stomachs craved: durian and emu meat and shark fins and spam and cactus apples and cod tongues and dookers. But these washed down our throats with little effect. It wasn’t that we couldn’t taste them—they were glorious tastes on which we willingly spent all our island’s money—but we hoped the right taste would subdue our hunger, if only for a moment. If only for a moment!

We gained weight, and cramped from overeating, and feared  our organs would explode inside us. We hobbled around our island, our bodies pumpkin carriages waiting for midnight. We ate and grew and ate. We wished death on our hunger as our bodies inexplicably lived. We didn’t know how to make our bodies stop.

Thinking the earth would fill us up, we swallowed stones. Some of us threw up the stones and ate them down again and again to feel that weight—but still we weren’t full. We couldn’t bear to look in the mirror; we couldn’t bear to do anything but eat, and we couldn’t bear to eat. We began thinking of ways to thin, in a scientist’s one hand a stone sandwich and in the other, a new inevitable liposuction. Our plastic surgeons put us under and we loved that sleep in which we didn’t hunger. We invented machines, and sold our machines to the  outside world, and continued our hunt for food. Someone even theorized filling our stomachs with plastic before we saw this was just a form of death. We buried each other in hunger’s graves and waited for our ghosts.

We ate everything we could think of to eat, and our stomachs were little miracles of immortality, surviving, surviving. We started commenting on each other’s stomachs, asking, when we passed each other on the street, “How’s your stomach?” The answer was always, “Strong.” And it grew to be a comfort, that one inner piece of us succeeding. We ate until it was a strange normal thing, and something happened: we got used to being hungry. We forgot to suffer our bodies. We looked in the mirror and saw people we used to know, and the hunger  stopped.

5.08 / August 2010