Artemis Walsh / Essay / March/April 2018

The Starving Stones

Written by Artemis Walsh

[Trigger warning: Eating disorder]

When I have a spare hour before an afternoon class, or some time after a class, I walk around Saint Stephens Green, one of Ireland’s main parks. The treecover is thick. The leaves cast green shadows. On each corner of the park, there stands a statue or a landmark to Irish history. And on one of the corners stands a group of statues. Withered figures, their limbs barely sticks, pulled into poses of desperation. This is a commemoration of An Gorta Mor, the Irish famine of the late 1840’s to early 50’s.

I am unavoidably tied to the famine. It cut the population of Ireland in half. It drove my great-great-great-grandfather Martin Walsh onto a boat. Had the potato crop not failed, my ancestors would never have left County Offaly, successive generations before me would not have met, and I would not have been born. A million Irish people died of starvation, and millions more escaped this hunger across oceans.

And yet, six generations later, I return to the old country, just as malnourished as him.

I have been struggling with an eating disorder for nearly 4 years. I have a hard time calling it that, because it didn’t start out as a conscious choice, and for the most part remains unconscious. I do not actively deprive myself of food; in fact I am often trying to return to a healthy pattern of eating. But whatever part of my brain has me seek out food, and reminds me to eat, at some point that part was switched off. I just…forget to eat. That’s all there is to it.  

Every time I walk past that statue, I wonder if my ancestors can see me. I wonder if they watch as I miss a meal. I wonder if they can understand, if they can feel the same hollowness in their stomach, the tight skin wrapping around bones like a veil.

Or do they resent me? Is my situation alien to them, for we live in a world where everyone on the planet could be fed, but I have simply forgotten to. I’m sure to them, it is almost a joke that I could live in a country where I am afforded the opportunity to eat at every turn.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve been trying to eat more. I’ve been trying to eat better. I recently made it through an entire week with 2-3 meals a day (a huge success for me.) I like to think I’m doing it for them, the dead generations from who starved under the English boot. Maybe I can show them that hundreds of years from now, their children are doing alright.

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