Entwined

Dahna Cohen-Schwartz

Grace held out a bag of maggot-colored stems, and Jordanna apprehensively took one.

“I just think I should take less than you guys, maybe,” Jordanna said.

“We’re not even taking that much,” Johno said, Jordanna scowling at him. He’d been hanging around all summer, since he’d started sleeping with Grace, and Jordanna wanted him to go away.

“We couldn’t afford more,” Grace explained.

Jordanna breathed in and ate the mushroom.

“They don’t taste … ugh,” Jordanna gagged.

“Yeah don’t do that. Take some orange juice with it.”

“Vitamin C enhances the trip.”

She went over to the refrigerator. Grace’s parents kept everything neatly stored in Tupperware, tiny bits of leftovers that would never last a day in her own family’s refrigerator, too small to constitute an entire meal. They had strange wheat-free pastas and breads. Jordanna grabbed the orange juice from the door.

Grace and Johno were in the living room, listening to Pink Floyd on Grace’s parents’ record player, staring at one of Grace’s mom’s paintings. Jordanna had envied Grace’s family from the first time they’d invited her over to dinner. Grace’s mom was from China and had met Grace’s father, who was fifteen years older and divorced, when she was an art student in New York. Grace’s parents went out dancing, kissed in public all the time, and made Jordanna feel sorry for her own parents, who spent most of their time watching TV in separate rooms.

There was a sculpture on the coffee table, which Grace had made her freshman year. It was a tangled tube with many twists, like an inner ear or the Borg. Jordanna finished her mushroom stems quietly, chewing the fungus with quick sips of juice between each bite, focusing on the multicolored mouths of each of the seven tubes in the sculpture, trying to ignore that everyone else around her was making out with somebody.

“I think I’m going to throw up,” Jordanna said suddenly.

“Keep it down. It’ll pass. Don’t waste the mushrooms.”

“Tripping on psilocybin is really a form of food poisoning.”

Jordanna got up and went to the kitchen, slumping against the wall by the floor, which she’d come to find was the only comfortable position. She felt an intensified sense of emptiness, particularly when she thought about digestion and food poisoning and throwing up. She pictured the mushrooms entering her stomach, pumping through her blood, affecting her organs, doing precisely what she never allowed food to do.

Don’t waste the mushrooms, she thought, don’t throw them up and waste them like you waste food, waste your life, waste, waste, waste. She felt overwhelmingly guilty and shockingly aware for the first time of how her body was empty, just a hollow thing, a conduit for this psychedelic experience.

She wished she had someone to touch her then, the way her friends, making out in the other room, had another heartbeat, another breath, someone else’s flesh to ground them in their own. She sat by herself. It was painful and cold. She found a long sheet of white paper and some markers and began trying to map out her words in lines of what amounted to the word salad poetry of adolescence, which she had always tried to redirect into a narrative. She stared at the long magenta lines of babble, waiting in the kitchen for someone to notice her, as The Wall started playing again.

She found canned food in the pantry, corn and beans and soups, which were enough to eat away the terror, usually, or if not to permanently eliminate it, then to blanket it in the soft soothing oblivion of self-destruction. But she could not find a can opener, only a knife, a good knife, resting in a wooden block. The blade reflected off the white light bulb above her head and the white tiles of the kitchen floor; all of that clinical white was startling, sickening. All the light was white, and she needed to see red.

Don’t throw up, don’t waste the drugs, she thought. It starts in the stomach and ends up in the brain, but first it must travel through the blood. Human beings were really walking pools of red viscous fluid, so strange, with thin sacs of flesh to contain the circuitry, the constant motion within, while outwardly all appeared so still and permanent. Blood, like some sacrifice to a hideous ancestress, was coded with guilt, manifested in shame. She had not seen menstrual blood in the years since she’d stopped digesting her food.

She wanted to see what her blood looked like; not just the drips of it startled in its tracks; she wanted to see it at work, in motion, spiraling through the veins of the universe, carrying chemicals from her body to the moon.

There were scars on her arms from Bic razors she’d used to scratch the surface, particularly from the summer before ninth grade, when her best friend Meghan had stopped talking to her and she read Catcher in the Rye. Her parents and peers and therapists had called it “attention seeking,” and it was. So was the bulimia, at first, or not so much attention seeking as communicative, expressive, nonetheless, there to be seen. Then it became increasingly alienating, these attempts to have her pain validated, recognized, until the torture became simultaneously an attack on herself and on everyone else. She hurt herself because she could not hurt them.

There were scars from toaster-oven burns that she’d given herself binging on toasted bagels in her parents’ kitchen. It had at first been an accident. She’d hit the top of her hand against the coil. Then halfway through her binge she turned the toaster back on and held her wrist to the electric heat until she couldn’t take it anymore and went to the bathroom to throw up.

There were scars on her knuckles where her incisors had dug when she would shove her fingers down her throat.

It was too much violence. She just wanted to be free. She looked at the burning edge of the blade.

She pressed the knife against the toaster oven scar on her left wrist, then got scared. She didn’t want to die, she just wanted to see her blood. She pressed down, and a light stream of red appeared, as it had with the Bic razor. She was getting good at this. She moved the knife laterally across her wrist, pressing down a little deeper, and there it was, her blood, quenching the flame of the blade.

It was a relief. There was no pain.

She pictured her veins bifurcated like endless roots of the tree of life, splitting only ever into more roots, like Fibonacci spirals, like the idea of eternity, which usually felt like a punishment, but seemed miraculous for once.

“Oh shit.” It was Johno. He had come into the kitchen to get juice.

“I wanted to see my blood,” she explained.

He kneeled down to where she sat on the kitchen floor.

“It’s not too deep,” she told him.

He took his shirt off and tied it around her wrist.

“Why did you do that?” he asked.

“I told you, I wanted to see my blood.”

She started to feel the anguish return.

Grace came into the room.

“She cut her arm,” Johno told Grace.

“Shit Jordanna, why did you do that?”

“I wanted to see my blood.”

Grace paused.

“That kind of makes sense.”

The blood soaked through the shirt slowly, Jordanna watched the fabric darken. She felt the pressure of the wrapping against her wound, felt her skin tighten and the bleeding stop. She sat there all night listening to the sounds of fucking in the other room, and when dawn broke, she had to get out.

The air outside was damp with morning mist. The wet grass brushed against her ankles. When the sun hit the water from some sprinklers, the light refracted into rainbows everywhere. Jordanna stood there with her bandaged arm and stared.


Dahna Cohen-Schwartz is a recent graduate of the MFA program at Manhattanville College, in Purchase, NY. She has spent the past three years working on her first novel, which is a fictionalized account of her real life struggle with bulimia and depression.