N is for Necrosis


When my mum died, she weighed two hundred and sixty two kilograms.

As a kid, I never understood why she couldn’t come for parent teacher interviews, or school plays, or even pick me up. It’d always be a nanny or a neighbour driving me to school, at least until I was old enough to take the bus on my own. And whenever I’d come home, she’d be slumped in a chair, chin dripping with grease and sauce from whatever ready-made meals she’d eaten. Our entire house reeked with the stench of sweat stains soaked into fat rolls, the musty aroma of a carpet left on its own for years. I wallowed in it for years, my childhood wasting away in that rotting house. I didn’t know then, but now I realise some part of me always felt the sickness of it all, the festering disease that was eating away at the very foundations.

As I started to get older, my ignorance turned to disgust. It was a combination of shame and fear; shame that this was who I’d come from, that this was what I could become, and fear that she was going to die one day, die and leave me all alone in this world. And I grew angry. Why couldn’t she get better? Why couldn’t she just stand up, get herself further than the kitchen, maybe even out of the house. A part of me wanted to starve her, keep her choked for food until she shed that rubbery exoskeleton of fat. She was still my mother though, and I couldn’t just do to her. She was the only person I had. Still, having to rub between moist flaps of skin and fat with a damp cloth every night, clothe her, and even take her to the bathroom started to eat away at me.

You have to understand what I was escaping when I got into med school the next state over. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t directly responsible for that corpulent pig that was my mother. She’d stay in our sleepy Midwestern town, with a carer paid for with her insurance, and I’d be free to live my life. That’s what I figured anyway. The thing with that kind of plan is that there’s always something to drag you down, something to eat at your hopes until there’s nothing left. For me, it was my mum’s necrosis. If you don’t know what that is, here’s a basic definition.

Necrosis: the premature death of cells in living tissue

What it really meant was she was rotting away in a cage of her own flesh. The weight of her own body had crushed the flesh on her backside that it had stopped circulating blood, had started to die. It meant I had to go home and take care of her again, after only twenty six days of freedom. I came back to a familiar smell of piss and sweat and mould; but that was all mixed with a new taint, the sour and yet sickeningly sweet smell of rotting flesh. She wasn’t in her usual chair. Instead, I found her collapsed on a mattress in a bedroom she hadn’t used for as long as I could remember, the springs creaking under her weight. She was dressed in a simple blue shift, almost like a hospital gown, and lifting up the bottom edge, my eyes came level to where she was rotting.

It almost looked like some rabid animal had taken a bite out of her, except there was no raw wound. The entire gash was instead coated in some black, crumbly lumps of flesh, dry blood oozing from the cracks in between each globule of meat. Suddenly the rotting surface jiggled, and my mum turned around to look at me.

Her forehead was beaded with sweat, her glassy eyes straying away from mine. Shame flickered across her face for just a second, but that was covered up with a weak smile. No. I wasn’t having it. I backed out of the room, shutting her behind the bedroom door. I’d deal with her later. Instead, I went to pack. My neighbour, Michael, raised his right hand and waved. Looking at his other, I realised it was just a stump. Things had changed around here, a lot faster than I’d realised. Things were only going to change faster from there though.

The rot ate into the back of her thigh in just a week, pale white bone coming to surface, poking through a pit of slimy pus, lumpy flesh and dark, clotting blood. The doctor had told me to just keep it clean and disinfected, but it seemed like every time I tried to scrape off the gunk, a new layer would ooze out. I’d also started to ration her food, feeding her with a diet half the size of a regular person’s in the hopes that it’d maybe help her slim down.

That was a mistake.

I caught her one night when she thought I was sleeping. Watching from the darkness, I saw her hand reach behind her, into the weeping crater of her rotting thigh. She scooped out some of the gunk and the flesh, her nails scraping against the exposed bone. Shivering and groaning, obviously in extreme pain, she brought her shaky slime-filled hand to her mouth and stuffed it in. I silently gagged as I watched her lick off the filmy white goo from her fingers, smacking her lips loudly. The next day, I covered the wound in several layers of bandage, and tried to forget that image. I still have nightmares about it.

I nearly saw her do it several other times afterwards, turning away every time I got close. I think the only reason I didn’t bring it up was because it would make it too real, and force me to acknowledge the truth of what I’d seen. She was eating her own, sour, rotting flesh, and I was just letting her do it. When she finally died of a blood infection, I couldn’t even stand her breath, as tainted as it was by the sickly stench of decay. She’d lost twenty six kilos at that point; sometimes I still can’t help but wonder how much of that she’d eaten. In the end, I’d had to call in a crane to carry out the final, decaying remains of my mother. In a way, that was the most tragic part of her death possible; the first and last time she’d left the house was out of living memory.

These days I look at my own thickening waistline and shiver. Will I become her? Will I surrender to my impulses, the hunger in my belly eating me alive? Will I start to rot away, start to eat myself just to feel like I’m full?

I wish I could see the future.


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