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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 15 page 21

memoir

Onions, Sulphites, and Panic Attacks

by Francesca Pierini

Human beings are not peaches, but onions: layer upon layer upon layer upon nothing. This is not to say that character does not exist, it does, but it is not an essence — it is a constellation of expressions, suffused within the onion, a constellation which expresses itself through the onion's outer strata. I think it is important to try and be a moist onion, which means, to try to keep alive the consistency and coherence between the damp and more compact inner layers, and the outer ones which tend to be dry and paper-like.

This is just another way to say that it is important to keep alive the child within us, but that’s an essence. Also, it seems to me that’s a problem I don’t have: I love myself — when I do love myself — for the child I used to be, for the whole story and the whole history, for the narrative I have imposed on events in retrospect, which is something we all do, and is therefore a very natural thing to do. People who bend over backwards to avoid coherent narratives do something very pretentious, if you ask me. If the mind needs structure, let it structure. If our life does not really go the way we tell it, that does not mean we do not perceive it the way we tell it. Work on “uniformity of dampness,” let the outer resemble the inner, let the narration resemble the events. After all, an objective view on one’s life is just like a person’s essence: it does not exist.

I have learnt I do not have an essence because Chernobyl has damaged the thyroids of so many women my generation all over Europe, including mine. As soon as I turned forty, my thyroid, which has always worked too hard, now I know, way too hard, spun out of control. I was apprehensive and anxious (but I had always been apprehensive and anxious), and my eyes, red and dry, were slowly and painfully trying to get out of their orbits, they were bulging too much for my eyelids to close on them at night, I was sleeping with my eyes open. I did that for years.

The medicine that I took calmed me by slicing off many of my outer layers: my constant agitation, gesticulating, spasms, shaking, spinning brain, anxious breathing, the perpetually boiling chakra or energy node on the top of my head where hair used to grow higher like grass on a patch of contaminated land, many of my convulsed ideas, much of my exaltation, occasional grinding of teeth, my (false) feeling of doing always a lot, my (real) frustration for not getting enough in return — my personality, I am saying, got substantially reduced by the medicine. It was soothing and painful at the same time, like being a hamster and hearing someone whispering to your ear that running inside the wheel is not taking you anywhere. I felt relief and melancholia, gratitude and discomfort.

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