Everyone loved to bite me, to take little pieces of me whenever they felt like it. Right at the end of family dinner one night, for example, my older brother took my hand, lifted the pinky to his mouth, slobbered it up a little, and then just bit it off, ripped it right from socket. People were always doing that to me, just taking what they wanted without asking, as if I had a blinking sign over my head that said “Eat Me.” But did anyone ever think about what it was like for me get eaten, to sit around afterward with only the dark little hole where my pinky had been? With my wound?
“Why don’t you all ever eat anyone else?!” I yelled at my family finally, my brother sucking the bone of my pinky clean. I was so sick of it. But they just laughed and waved me off, as if that wasn’t even true that I was the most eaten person.
“You’re just the sweetest one,” my mother said, to console me.
“Plus, also just the perfect kind of pudgy,” my older brother said. “So biteable. Hnnnggggg,” he said, and bit into the tight area of my triceps.
Later, in the warm glow of my lamplit duplex, I inspected myself and did have to admit, the pudge of my stomach with its little fold creasing over my belly button did look scrumptious. It made some sense that people would want to come in and scoop out some of that nice pink flesh just for themselves. I was yummy, I guess. I really was. And maybe I should have been happy about that. Happy to be wanted. But I was exhausted, so eaten up by everyone’s wanting.
My friends, for example, they knew, no, they assumed they could always rely on me to be their endless store of flesh. That I’d always be up for any old adventure, at any time. That I’d bend over backward whenever they needed, just so they could lean over and take a good bite out of the tight skin stretched over my pectoral. “Want some?” They’d say, holding out their forearms, as if dutybound to offer. “No, I’m good,” I’d say, just like they knew I would. I didn’t want to inconvenience anybody.
My clients too, professional as they were, just couldn’t help asking whether it wouldn’t be possible, if I couldn’t just, slip a little piece of flesh from the fatty outer edge of my palm into their package when I sent it out. This happened again and again, and then, whenever they’d actually come to the office for a meeting, there’d I’d be, ready to assist them, and as if unable to help themselves, they’d dip by on their way in and say, “I’ll take just a tiny nibble, just a little something to hold me over till lunch,” and there’d I’d be, all nibbled out, like a wheel of cheese the rodents had gotten to. Pockmarked.
My big worry in all of this was that some scarring would occur, that things just wouldn’t grow back the way they were supposed to. There were only so many times that someone could chomp off my pinky or come and nibble on that fatty flesh roll under my belly button without it leaving a mark. Plus, I began to feel that I was always half-chewed off, a partly eaten apple core, a donut leaking cherry jelly. I was worried that I would be permanently damaged and the full me would never grow back.
I had seen it in some of the older people, in my grandfather, that skinny man, who was mostly bones in the end, as if he had stopped eating so that people wouldn’t take anymore from him. His skin, when he took off his shirt one summer at the lake, it was mottled with scars.
And then there were those mothers and fathers at the beach half carved away in their swimsuits, their kids gleefully ripping flecks of their flesh from their sides whenever they felt like it, much as they swatted them away. It wasn’t like they were ever the same after that, those parents.
But there was my friend Wendy, who ate and ate and invited just about anybody to come over and nibble on her, I swear. I did it too, more often than I should admit, a big bite from her round breast would last me months, and another, from her lovely shoulder got me through an especially difficult time. She was ample, giving. It seemed to give her joy, to have this to offer to others. To be needed, hungered for. I almost, or only very infrequently, allowed her take a nibble on me as a way of returning the favor. It was, in truth, a very unequal relationship, and I took advantage of it because I knew she’d let me. There was that day though, when she bit right into the far end of my eyebrow, that thin skin there over the socket. She pulled it back between her front teeth, stretched it out as far as it could go and then severed it with a quick bite, taking the spiky hairs and all. Weeks it took for that to grow back and I was a little afraid of her afterward. I got the sense it was a kind of payback for all the times she’d given me so freely of her body’s store.
Something had to change. I decided I was done getting eaten. Finished. Someone had to take a stand. I couldn’t be the only one who felt this way, though people sure had a way of making me feel lonely about it with all of their denial of the way of things.
I had a shirt made that said, “Not For Eating” on it. The shirt was orange—nice and bright. Everyone would be able see it. The lettering was white and it even glowed in the dark in case anyone wanted to mount a night-time snack attack. I felt a little uncomfortable, admittedly, taking such a strong stand against getting eaten. I didn’t like, generally, telling people what I thought or how I felt about things. But I also didn’t like when people I barely knew leaned over the conference table and took a bite out of my bicep like it was nothing. Like Steven from work with his handsome face and big muscles and good at dressing-and-talking-to-people-ness. So, it seemed like a worthwhile thing to do, to set this boundary; to plant this flag in the soil; to put up this barrier. People had to know where I stood.
When I wore the shirt into the living room of my parents’ house that first day my older brother just laughed and reached right into my stomach and scooped out some small intestine. He looked at me thoughtfully while he chewed on it as the fluid ran down his chin. “Did you really think that would work?”
“Yes,” I said, shocked at what he had done.
“Huh,” he said, and laughed. “People are just gonna think it’s a joke and eat you more.”
“But I don’t want to get eaten more.”
“Yeah, but you’re kinda asking for it now, aren’t you?” And he reached in for one more little grab, just to show that he could.
I guess I just always wanted to be the kind of person that people would naturally be cautious about eating. The kind of person that people would tip-toe around a little, would ask if it were okay if they just, you know, took a little nibble off the top of that middle knuckle there. Or, the kind of person people wouldn’t even think to ask, as though it were unimaginable that they’d actually let you eat them, the kind of person like my father, who sat at the head of the table and watched others get eaten, who might partake as well, but who surely, really never, allowed anyone to get close to him, anyone, that is, except my mother, though even that was rare, and to hear her whisper-tell-it, this really only happened a very long time ago, “When your father would, oh, I don’t have to tell you, but he would be so open, so generous with his body. ‘Anywhere,’ he would say to me, ‘you can eat of me anywhere,’ and he would offer himself up. ‘Any part at all.’ And I would feast, I would really feast. He was so, so tasty then. He just gave me all of himself.”
That was all before I had come into the den and seen his secretary sitting up on his desk, her legs crossed inside her tight pencil skirt, laughing and chewing so happily, so casually, on his ear, and him with her shoulder in his mouth. I knew what it meant. She saw me first, started giggling with discomfort, and then he saw me as he glared over her shoulder from his big office chair, his mouth red with pieces of her, and he told me to, “Get out son; just get out and forget what you saw.” I never did though, and neither did he, and he never spoke to me the same way again. I guess maybe he worried I might tell someone, someone like my mother, but I never dared. I figured that was his job. But once he realized I wouldn’t spill, it was like I became nothing. He went from being a little afraid of me to not respecting me at all. It’s true. Once, as I walked by him, he stopped me, grabbed my hand, and just bit the thing off. The whole thing. He kept walking as if nothing had happened, just chewing on it like it was an apple. He even tossed it jauntily in the air. It took me almost a month to grow it back. A whole month!
That was all before I moved out, of course, and got my own place.
And then there was Natalie. She only seemed to think of me as a flesh repository while I yearned for her, year after year. I was just a friend to her, and nothing else. While Steven, my co-worker and team leader, of course, was infinitely interesting to Natalie because he wasn’t the type to get eaten, not barely ever, though she was working on it, she told me. “Someone like that, mmmmm, I would just, phew!” This was after I’d made the mistake of introducing them at a party and now she was at my place telling me all about the restraint she’d shown at a concert he’d taken her too the week before, and him in a scrumptious white button down too. He was beginning to respect her, she was sure. She’d be one of the chosen few. It would only be a matter of time now, she said. The whole time we’d talked she had been chewing, absently, on a fold of my stomach and working her way inward, and the longer she was there, the more of me she hollowed out. I was afraid by the end there wouldn’t be any of me left.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, “did you want some too?” and she held out her skinny wrist to me. I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction, but on the other hand, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. It was Natalie, after all. I’d known her since we were little, and hungered for her ever since. Not that she’d noticed. Still, I reached for her wrist and carefully chewed off just a bit of the skin, let my tongue graze across her tendons, along the smooth edge of her bone. I shivered.
“Are you okay?”
“Just a little cold,” I told her, and hid the last bit of her skin in my pocket for later snacking.
I wondered, if I wore the “Not For Eating” shirt in front of her, would she listen, or would she lift it up to eat away at my stomach just as my niece and nephew had done, screeching with laughter when my brother told them what the letters said. “But you can’t keep US from eating YOU,” they said. And I guess they were right. I couldn’t.
But if not them, then who?
When I wore the shirt to work people just laughed and cheered, some as a joke, and some out of actual appreciation, as though I were taking a stand they had long wished to take themselves, or hoped someone else would take. I mean, you should see the state of some of these poor people in their cubicles, barely a limb left on some of them, all hunched over on their half-gored torsos. My boss Ryan came out of his glass enclosure to see what was going on and when he put together that it was me at the center of attention he did that little hand summons thing like in cop shows where the captain motions the wayward detective into his office. I hated that. We weren’t a precinct. Anyway, in I came and sat by one of the chairs at the door, since I’d never been invited to sit in front of his desk.
“Making quite the ruckus out there.”
“I hired you because of your mild manners, did you know that? You’re always so good at getting along with everyone, at smoothing things over. A company like this needs one of you on every team. I’m wondering, can you still be that person?”
I thought I could. After all, I hadn’t changed.
“Good,” he said, “good, good, good, all right,” and then he motioned me out of there with a little wave of his hand. As I got up he said, “Oh wait! Here, the big guy upstairs wanted just a little, just a little taste though,” and he reached into my pocket, just right in there, and took a chunk out of my upper thigh. “Ooh yeah, that’s a good one. He’ll like that. Great work today,” he said. As he withdrew his hand it brushed the hem of my shirt and stained it just a little with blood. He patted it down. “No one will notice that, don’t you worry. Your secret’s safe.” He winked at me and turned away to answer his phone.
I limped back to my desk.
Of course, Julia was there waiting for me, pale and wearing her grey mini-skirt and blazer, her long hair tied back, her whole perfect appearance ruined by the desperation in her face.
“How did it go in there,” she asked, her expression melding into concern, deep concern that extended her hand out toward my knee, whose fingers spread over it and tightened, like a claw. “I was so worried when he called you in.”
“It was fine, you know, typical boss stuff”
“They expect so much,” she said, squeezing tighter.
“They do,” I said.
“I thought it was so brave what you did, wearing that shirt in here of all places.”
I nodded and smiled and tried to turn away to get back to my computer.
“I know so many of the others were so impressed,” she said, as her nails broke the skin. “I feel like even I could do that now, now that I’ve seen you do it,” she said, as she began to break into some of the fibery muscles around my knee with her nails. “I just didn’t even know it was an option,” she said, as she pulled free a small string of my muscle and put it into her mouth.
“How did you decide to do it?” she asked, sliding her chair right in front of mine so I couldn’t turn toward my computer. “You really are an inspiration, ” she said, as she lifted my shirt, tore at my open flank. She took a mouthful, then another, looking at me urgently, expectantly.
“I guess I just wanted to put up some boundaries, you know,” I said, as she chewed attentively.
I tried standing up but she had gripped onto my belt so that when I turned she sort of half swung out of her chair, clinging to me.
“Hey wait,” she said, but I told her I had to go to the bathroom and she finally released me with one long last scrape down my belly.
I didn’t go to the bathroom though, no, I just got out of there.
Of course, I couldn’t leave without passing Steven in the hall; but I was proud that I didn’t wave like how I usually did, as if I was pretending he wasn’t my nemesis. This time he gave me a nod followed by a perplexed look as he caught the words on my shirt.
“Really?” he said.
“Really,” I said.
“Goo luck with that,” I heard him mutter as I got into the elevator.
But I didn’t care. I went to the print shop and had them make up some signs like I was running in an election. “Don’t Eat Me,” they said. I put one out on the front lawn, and another I stuck next to the “do not solicit” sign right on my door. I closed all the curtains, didn’t pick up my phone, didn’t check voicemails, texts. When people knocked, I didn’t answer. I kept the lights off. I put away messages up on my social media profiles, explaining that I was taking a break to focus on “Growing back my essential self.” But I couldn’t totally stay away. At night, when things got desperate, I logged on to my computer thinking I might lurk a little; I was a social animal after all. But just like that, it was as if hands were reaching out of the screen for me, trying to grab me, trying to eat me. I closed out of those pages as quick as I could. Instead, I did the second-best thing. I opened a private window and typed in the search terms, logged into the private channel, and watched the model eat small pieces of herself as directed, dropping coins as I went, pretending it was me eating her all along.
When it was over, I fell back in a paralysis of desire and shame and fear and regret.
Something had to change. I got my phone out, went to the app store, typed in the word Vegetarian, and downloaded the icon with the happy sprouting celery stalk composed of fibrous musculature. It promised safe, fair consumption. I put in my information, a picture of myself with as little of my body eaten away as possible, and wrote my tagline: seeking reciprocal consensual consumption. I waited until the first ding, late that night. This might work, I thought, when her pale, anxious, hopeful face appeared, with part of her earlobe nibbled off. I typed out a message and waited for a response as I anxiously carved away small strips of my stomach with my fingernail and put them bit by bit in my mouth.